Judging books by their covers…

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I confess I have an artistic streak. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming to be any good – I just have a need for self-expression that occasionally goes beyond the printed word.

In my past life I designed newspapers and magazines, and frequently created the kind of symmetry and modular layouts that helped make reading a daily joy for readers. These are the sort of design skills no one ever notices because they take it for granted that papers or magazines have always been easy to read.

Maybe I should have been a graphic designer. Or not (as you see above, my skills are limited in this area!).

So what does this have to do with publishing?

Nearing the completion of my first self-published book I decided to have a stab at designing the book’s cover. I had seen some covers that I really liked and set my mind to replicating a couple of them – an eye-catching tabloid-style of cover with block colours and arresting images, and a darker more academic effort. I’ve included both in this post.

If it was any good, I reasoned, I would have saved myself some money and added an extra string to my bow (writer, editor AND book designer!). As it was, it really wasn’t very good at all – but at the time I thought it was Magnificent! Genius! A Work of Art! That was until I showed a graphic designer friend Tim Hartridge who politely considered it. He never said ‘Oh sweet Jesus this is an abomination!’, but he did design something much, much better.

I’m not above sharing my book cover boo-boos for a few reasons:

1. To show you that yes, of course it is possible to design your cover (it might even rock – or not).

2. Creating your own cover can occasionally help a graphic designer with their brief (however in this case it really didn’t).

3. Graphic designers always do it much, much better!

In the book-buying world, books are often largely judged on the quality of their covers. While we prefer to think intellectual rigour and well-crafted writing triumphs when it comes to selling books, just as frequently readers will walk out of a bookshop with a so-so written mass-market novel that caught their eye because of the pretty pictures and flowery fonts. Yes, really.

When you produce a book for publication there are many steps to refining and polishing the raw product before it is ready to be shared with the world – and this includes how the words are arranged on the page, and the front and back cover.

If you’re smart you will hire and editor to pick up all of your mistakes – and there will be many, no matter how clever and careful a writer you are.

And if you’re really smart, after spending so much time and energy writing, and then having your work professionally edited, you will make another really important investment. You will hire someone to create a whiz-bang cover for your book. A traffic-stopping ‘look at me’ cover of epic proportions you would be proud to hang as a poster on your wall – or in a bookshop window.

Many graphic designers offer additional services such as laying out the inside of the book, the creation of book marks, flyers and website design to create a strong connection between your marketing materials and your book.

This doesn’t have to cost a lot. There are a lot of people offering cheap book covers – even cheaper if you’re publishing only in the e-book format. However if you’re publishing a book I’d recommend at this stage to pay for covers in all formats.

Graphic designers will often present you with several concepts but you can save a lot of time by indicating the type of cover you want – whether you do this by referring them to book covers you like, or have a stab at designing something is up to you.

Paying for the services of a good graphic designer is part and parcel of investing in yourself, and getting your readers to invest some time in getting to know your writing.

I’m very pleased to note that the ranks of self-publishers hiring talented graphic designers is on the increase. I have no firm statistics to back up this assertion, but anecdotally I can tell you that the calibre of the book covers I am seeing, primarily those created by contractors for my fellow Alliance of Independent Authors members, is outstanding.

Self-publishing is coming of age in more ways than one. Feel free to judge the covers – those who are seriously committed to publishing excellence are leading the way with professional products that rival their traditionally published peers.

Well played, self publishers, well played.

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