As part of my effort to make my books more attractive to readers who apparently judge a book by its cover, I had already been thinking about changing the whole layout of several of them to make them consistent across the range of the series. Today I started changing them, though I don’t know when they will be published. I have just finished changing the platform that I get them distributed from, so it’s a matter of uploading revisions. Which of course costs money.
See, this is what few people understand. Books do not spring up out of a cardboard box like magic. Writing a book can take about 2 years, which is a rapid pace, to as long as 5 years. I have heard of writers taking 10 years just to reach a serviceable first draft. Then, when the final draft is finished it is edited and polished into the galley manuscript. Depending on the scope and complexity of the book, this can take anywhere from a month to 6. Then a good cover must be designed and created. This can take as long as another 6 months, and even then there will be critics, because of course they have never written a book or designed a cover. Or if they have, suddenly they grant themselves the right to judge others’ works with seeming impugnity. This of course results in the stones being thrown back.
One cannot expect perfection. I have not been satisfied with my own designs, but I can’t keep redesigning them, then throw them up against a wall and see what sticks. There are too many authors in a similar circumstance. Perfection is an illusion. There is no such thing.
There are several elements involved in designing the cover. First of course are the primary elements like the title, a subtitle if necessary, and of course the author’s name. Then, there is a rudimentary symbolic representation of the plot. Which can get tricky because there are so many so called “experts” willing to get in line and tell you because they have not read the book; they simply want to interfere with an artist’s process or to pump themselves up. To them I say: “try it. I guarantee you will fail.” Then there are color schemas. Depending on the mood one is trying to convey, one cannot simply slap stock photos on a dark background and hope that it will work. And yet I see thousands of covers just like that on what is expected to sell.
Case in point: a writer friend of mine posted a cover on Facebook which was for a book by another friend. It was supposed to be a vampire novel, but the cover suggested that the artist thought it was supposed to be a children’s book, because it was all wrong in terms of what the book was about. There was even (ugh!) pink in the background. It simply did not evoke any kind of terror, or romance or anything remotely resembling a cover for a book about vampires. And this was supposed to be a novel published by a big house. The author was distressed; no input from her was invited, and I don’t know what became of it, because it certainly was not going to sell.
As an artist, I studied advertising design in college, so I do know about graphic design. What I don’t appreciate is everybody getting in my face and telling me how to do it, when they don’t have a clue themselves. Cover design is a difficult process, and requires special handling. Often, I did not have the proper tools to make them better, and maybe that’s my fault; but in the final analysis, my covers are really no different from anyone else’s. I’ve seen some truly awful covers on some best sellers, and I am not going to tell you which ones, because I’ve got the sense not to stand there and criticize. Yet they seem to get by just fine without the harsh input an independent publisher like me receives.
So the next time you see a book that has a “bad” cover, pick it up, read a few pages, and you may discover that judging a book by its cover is not the best way to discover a good book.