Owning a teeny-tiny publishing company, I have to wear many hats. One of my most favorite hats of all is design. Now, many indie-published authors should consider hiring someone to design the cover (and possibly publicity material), just like they should hire an editor. Lucky for me, I not only have a professional editor in the family, but I also personally have experience (and moderate training) with design. My experience stretches back more than fifteen years, even though it is less extensive than a true professional. So, when I am working away on the average day and A) am really excited about a new project or B) just can’t seem to write another line, I often wander into the design program on my computer and play around with covers. This is why, frequently, the cover art is the first thing that appears on my book pages. (Plus, playing with the images for a book often helps me clarify and/or brainstorm the story itself.) It also highlights some of the real benefits of being a self-published author.
Before I get to those benefits, however, I want to point you to the Book Cover Archive. This is a great website that has just pages and pages and pages of great book covers. It is not only great for coming up with ideas for a specific cover, but is great for honing that cover-sixth-sense (or looking for books to read). Check it out here.
Now, back to the cover-related benefits of being a self-pubber:
For me, (now mind you, I am an artist/painter,) the cover of a book is integral to the book itself. A cover not only sells the book, it also lets the reader know what to expect from tone and content. On top of that, covers can contain clues or details that may or may not be as evident in the text itself. When in control of my own cover (as a self-publisher), I then get to sort of loop that cover into the cohesive piece of art. For me–as a visual artist as well as a literary one–this is extremely important. I have seen, in my mind’s eye, the story unfold, and have a real aesthetic bone to pick with the reader. For example, my novel The Family Elephant’s Jewels used to be under the working title The Date and the Cockroach. When I decided to change the title, I figured I could move that phrase into the book as a section heading. That didn’t work out, but I was still able to maintain the idea of the date and the cockroach–a metaphor for the main character–in the cover art.
So, why do we usually leave it to the professionals, then?
- Standards. Let’s be honest. Most self-published covers look more home-made. The average writer doesn’t have an understanding of the difference between a cheap-looking cover and an amazing, professional-looking one. It’s largely in the details, of which the general public does not have a working knowledge.
- Tech. Most writers also don’t know what programs to use, how to use them, how to take needed photos, how to format those photos, how to acquire permissions… There are reasons people go to school for specializations. Your cover artist won’t know diddly about the Hero’s Journey or an agent cover letter, but that’s cool.
- Sales. Flowing out of these other reasons, a professional cover is going to (theoretically) help with sales, or at least not hinder them. I imagine most bookstores won’t stock a terrible cover (especially if it looks homemade), and readers on the internet will be unimpressed, as well. To be honest, this is probably the number one reason to go with a hired designer, and a reason to make sure they’re good.
- Innuendo. There are all these little things in every field of work that grow on us (in that field) like barnacles. Over time, we not only take in the information of our field, but also the connotations and the meta-narratives and the feelings, etc. This is true in book cover art just as it is elsewhere. If your cover artist is worth their salt, they will have an almost spooky sense of “You just can’t do that,” or “This is the way we represent that.”
- Aesthetics. Cover artists should have a sense of art, beauty, balance, color, etc. that most writers do not have. You may think that’s a lovely shade of puce, but it is so not trending right now.
It would be nice, I suppose, if writers with traditional publishing houses could work more closely with their cover artists and marketing team because the author could gain an appreciation they often lack and the final product could be more of a complete artistic piece. In my perfect world, the cover is not just a sales poster, but a piece of the story’s whole. Or at least it should be and could be. Until that happens, us self-published people could work closely with our hired cover artists to arrive at the same ends. Or, like me, you can get some training and experience and go rogue.
My life is my rebellion.