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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Publishing Myths, Part 8: You Can't Tell A Book by its Cover

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


I know, I've fallen down on the job. I haven't posted since that silly April 1 joke. Time to get back on track. The link that sparked today's entry actually jumped onto my radar screen a couple of weeks ago, but I managed to lose track of it. That's what I get for cleaning my desk, and I'll know better next time. ;-)

Scott Pack, with HarperCollins UK, writes a blog called Me and My Big Mouth. He doesn't mince language, especially in this open letter to self-published authors about book covers.
You have slaved for hours, weeks, months, years over a hot keyboard. You have poured your heart into your work. You have honed, tweaked and crafted away. The least you can do is put a decent jacket on the bloody thing.
The man has a point. I have a small collection of self-published and vanity-published books. The covers range from outstanding to something put together out of an 8-bit collection of clip art. I fail to understand why an author doesn't put the same care into selecting a cover for a book that he or she has taken in selecting the words that go inside.

Yes, your cover makes a difference. No, it doesn't have to have a photograph. Sometimes well-designed text will do the job. Graphics don't have to be overbearing. I'm not a fan of the Twilight series, but I'm a huge fan of the cover designs. They're stunningly simple.

Walk into a bookstore and look at the titles that get table and end cap placement. Put aside your genere prejudices. What works? What doesn't? And yes, a particular cover isn't going to work for everyone.

You'd be surprised at all the parties who have input into a book cover designed for a commercial title. Wrapped around all that is a designer (or team) who knows what they're doing. Many years ago, I worked at a small ad agency. I spent several years freelancing to an in-house agency for a retailer, and working with agencies who designed ads, product packaging, and other items. I've watched these people work. It's not just putting together a good image. A designer has to know how about ink and paper combinations. What type faces look better embossed? How do you make that red type stand out against a grayscale photograph? Is there a better color choice? How can you make the text on the spine stand out (in a good way) from other books? Add into that the whole "artist" thing, and you see wny most of us writers aren't qualified to design our own book covers.

It really is all about getting your book noticed. The booksellers have opinions, your agent has an opinion, the publisher has an opinion. And then there's the poor design team who has to make it all work. A finished cover will go to the printer for a test run, after which it comes back and the art director and designers will make sure the colors are true to the design and that nothing looks out of place. (Ever shoot a great picture and print it out on your inkjet printer and say, "wait a minute! It's too blue! Or red!" Even the pros run into those problems with their expensive software and hardware.)

So what chance do you have if you're not a designer? It may be worth your while to hire one. If you don't have that budget and you have no choice but to do it yourself, take the time to read up on the book design process. And remember, sometimes less is more.

People looking at a brick-and-mortar or online bookstore are going to judge a book by its cover. That's just the way the world works. Do yourself a favor and make sure you have something that stands out in a good way.

Previous installments:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Tags: Publishing Myths

Filed under: Publishing Myths            
5/22/2009 2:34:00 PM
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