Three Tips for a Better Book Cover


Well, to be honest, the best cover you could have involved investing a thousand or two into a bona-fide cover designer. That’s what we used to do in the old days when I was a book editor. But now that I am a indie publisher, I don’t have the cash, and I suspect you don’t either. So here’s the poor man’s solution to book covers. Others might have found some different short cuts, but this is what I have found works for me.

The new cover. This says it all, I think.
The new cover. This says it all, I think.

1. Invest in great cover art. Money begets money. Nothing succeeds like success. You pick the cliche–they’re all true. Your cover is your number one sales device (well, maybe #2 after your title), and you MUST find a way to invest in it. When I was in the business, my publishing house wouldn’t bat an eye about investing $1,000 in a great painting or photograph for the cover. And I know why. It’s an investment. But you don’t have to spend thousands on your cover. Let me introduce you to deviantart.com. The site is full of great–and not so great–artists and their art. Most of them post their painting, drawings and photography just because they love art and they want to share what they are doing. My first use of it was to shop for an artist to do the cover for Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp. I ended up asking six artists if they would be interested in working with me for a cover, and got responses from three. I settled on Mateusz Ozminski, a young artist in Poland, who agreed to do the cover for $250.00. The upside was that he did a great job in coordination with our desires. The downside was that he was so busy that it took six months to get the final image from him. But I can’t complain about the price, and I would do it again if I had the choice. Fact is, Mateusz has already offered to do art for the sequel.

This year I am working on five more books, and I have decided on a different approach. Rather than having an artist do art to order, I looked for art that was already completed. When I found what I was looking for, I offered them $250 for rights to use it on my cover and for promotional purposes. Of the three artists I have contacted so far, two have said yes.

Great cover art doesn’t have to be expensive, and you may not even have to spend $250.00. Perhaps you will find an artist who is satisfied in just getting exposure by being on your cover. But don’t settle for amateurish work. Spend a little more and it will make a significant impact on how your book is perceived.

2. Learn Photoshop or InDesign. If you don’t know either of these, find a friend who does know them. Design work for a cover isn’t a big deal. CreateSpace and Smashwords have templates for covers that you can follow. The biggest need is for a good eye for design. Make sure that your type conforms to the needs of the cover, and the basic requirements of marketing your book. For example, my designer and I are always going round and round about whether the title or my name should go at the top of the cover. I don’t think my name is big enough (yet!) to sell the book, so I want to make sure the title is big and bold on the top of the page. Also, make sure that your image is there to sell the book, not the other way around. Experiment. A lot.

3. Write great back cover copy. This is your #3 selling point. Think about what you do when you go into a bookstore, or when you visit Amazon. You look at the title, then the cover, then the back cover. Back cover copy is advertising copy, and should be written as such. It should entice the reader to find out more, which means you have to give enough information to give the reader an idea of what the story is about, but ask more questions than it answers. It’s all about getting them interested in reading the book.

Well, there you have it. That’s what I have learned in the past year. It’s not rocket science, but it does take some thought, commitment and work. You can have a great cover, but you have to invest in it–with time, money and a little help from your friends.

And yes, I am open to any questions you might have.

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