Book Covers – Making Improvements

The beautiful thing about independent publishing is that nothing is ever really set in stone. In today’s digital age, with POD printing made as simple as uploading a PDF of your book onto an idiot-proof website, it’s incredibly easy to fix the little things that pop up as problems after you’ve hit that “publish” button the first time. It’s wonderful to know that you don’t have to live with that typo you just found on page 57 this week. Everyone who’s already bought your book  has to live with it, of course. But you can fix it going forward, and that’s an awesome thing.

The terrible thing about independent publishing, though, is that nothing is ever really set in stone. And if you’re like me, that means that you never really let go. Even after you’ve hit publish, even after your book has sold, you will (from time to time) look back and what you’ve done and think “I know I could make it better.”

That happened to me recently. Actually it’s been happening to me constantly, but just recently I decided that it was time to do something about it.

You see, when I first began this whole journey into independent publishing I realized that all of the research I’d been doing and all of the skills I’d been developing needed a test run. Before I published anything of significance (my first big project was a devotional book for my church, written by one of my pastors, that I absolutely did NOT want to be a disaster), I needed a test run (or two or four). And so I went to the most ready source of writing I had available to me – a blog I’d been keeping for a few years. I pulled together 30 posts that all connected to a central theme, put them together as a short devotional book of my own, and used that work as my lab-rat.

This book (along with two more I later developed in a similar manner) was the experimental creature upon which I tested all of my theories and ideas about bookmaking. It was never specifically meant to be a “seller”. I didn’t plan to make any money off of it. After all, ALL of the content was already available for free on line, if you were willing to dig for it. It was just a way for me to get my feet wet.

The results were … passable. Some things worked, some things didn’t. But the books served their purpose – I learned a lot in the process of making them.  And as time went on and I learned more and more, I went back and fixed or improved upon these three projects.

One of the biggest failings of these books were their covers:

Let’s face it – they’re awful. I’m NOT a designer, and these early attempts are proof positive of that fact. But I wasn’t about to spend money on covers for books that I wasn’t serious about selling. So I picked a theme (bricks, to go with the concept of the narrow way) and did what I could with them.

But now, more than a year later, those covers still bother me. They don’t fit in their genre. They aren’t pretty. They aren’t very readable, and the imagery is muddled at best. They were barely better than white lettering across a colored background. Simply stated, they sucked.

With every other aspect of these books I have gone back to make improvements, to fix, to tweak, and to otherwise make them more appealing. And for months I have looked at these ugly covers and thought “I need to do something. These can’t stay the same.” And finally I was simultaneously shamed and inspired, and so I finally came up with these new and significantly less-sucky covers:

I would call them “new and improved” but that suggests that they’re much much better. The truth is that I’m still not a designer. The type still isn’t as legible as I’d like. Anyone with any design know-how would probably look at them and cringe just a little bit. But they no longer glare at me from the computer screen. They no longer make me want to cry. They’re hardly stunning. But they’re not embarrassing any more. They don’t stick out like sore thumbs in their amazon categories. They’re significantly less awful.

And so this is me, making improvements. And that’s the good thing (and the bad thing) about publishing your own work. You won’t get it all right the first time around. But you don’t have to. Because you always have the opportunity to go back and make things better.

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Book Covers – Getting them Right

No matter how the saying goes, the truth is that the cover of a book has a huge impact on our perception of what we’re going to find inside. That’s why it’s SO important to get a book cover RIGHT. It’s about more than just making something that looks pretty. A cover that’s done right will instantly tell the reader a lot about the book that they’re looking at.

Would you like an example?  Great! Let’s make one up.  Let’s pretend that you’re in a bookstore and you run across a bestselling book entitled “Poppies for Polly.” What is it about? What section of the bookstore does it belong in? Is it the type of thing that you’d like to read? That’s hard to say, isn’t it? I mean, with just the title to go by, your guess is just as good as mine.

That’s why the cover of a book plays such an important role. So let’s look at three different covers, for “Poppies for Polly” and see what we can deduce from them:

dark kids pink

Here we have three different “covers” for three distinctly different books. Now to be fair – these aren’t anything close to legitimate book covers. I threw them together in the middle of writing this post using a word processor, and the whole process took me less than 5 minutes. Actually, you may have noticed that the only differences between these three “covers” are the background color and the font that I chose. But don’t those two simple choices convey an incredible wealth of information? As ugly, unprofessional, and simple as these covers are – don’t they give you much more insight into the content of the books they represent than the title alone ever could?

Even without pictures or graphics it’s pretty obvious where each of these books belong in the spectrum of current literature. The first cover obviously tells a dark story – some sort of mystery or thriller. It feels modern and menacing. The second clearly belongs to a children’s book (or perhaps a book about children) – clearly either aimed at or discussing younger kids. The third cover would fit on a romance novel or a chick-lit story.

Like I said before, these covers aren’t great. They aren’t even good. But they are CLEAR. Just by looking at them you learn something about the books that they represent. And because they so clearly represent the genres into which they fall, they will manage to perform their most basic function – namely to draw the attention of the author’s intended audience.

So what lesson should you take from this exercise?

The answer is simple – make sure you get your cover right. Identify your genre, and then do your research. Look at the 10 or 20 best selling books in your category and see what their covers have in common. Figure out a formula of what your target audience expects to see and then STICK TO THAT FORMULA.

Your cover doesn’t have to be dull. It’s allowed to stand out. But it should never look out of place among the other books that your readers are reaching for. There is no quicker way to lose readers than to present them with a cover that fails to convey the information they’re looking for.