The job of a good book cover is to make you pick up the book and flip it over to read the back cover. Or click on it to read the blurb. It does that by attracting the eye and providing the right “symbols” to clue you into the book’s genre. If you see a good-looking man and woman on the cover, you would be forgiven for assuming that the book’s a romance. If the man and woman are scantily clad and posed provocatively, it’s probably safe to assume the story contains hot and heavy sex scenes.
As an indie writer, I create almost all my covers. I (usually) enjoy the challenge and I can’t afford to hire a graphic designer for each cover. I mean, really, it would be embarrassing if the graphic designer earned more money on the story than I did.
I know, however, that a bad cover can spell disaster. I also know that “good” and “bad” are subjective. For example, the cover for The Mount by Carol Emshwiller. I had never heard of Ms. Emshwiller when I received her book as part of a goodie bag at a World Fantasy Convention. I looked at it among the 20 or so other books I received and was turned off by the cover. Still, I brought it home. It sat in my bookshelf for years. Every once in a while, I pulled it down and read the cover blurb and then put it back. I just couldn’t get past that ugly (to me—someone else might really like it) cover. Finally, desperate for something, anything, to read, I started reading it.
Well, hot damn. It was a great story—I could NOT put it down. But that cover had put me off so much that I didn’t get to the story for years. That cover failed to do what it was supposed to do, as far as I’m concerned.
While cover art is subjective, a good graphic designer can create a cover that has great appeal. But what if you’re an amateur, like me? You study the genre you’re aiming for. What do those covers look like? What elements do they have in common? Any colours that predominate? Then, trial and error.
When Carina published my first Mendenhall Mystery, The Shoeless Kid, they used the wonderful John Kicksee as the artist. To say I was blown away by the cover is an understatement.
When I decided to continue the series as an indie writer, I knew I wanted to carry on John’s vision. I knew I needed elements of mystery, without going too dark, but I also wanted to carry through the style of title and byline that John had used on Shoeless. What I ended up with was not as gorgeous as John’s original cover, but at least the covers look like they belong in the same series:
Every once in a while, however, imagination fails me and I can spend weeks (if not months) on a single cover, trying to get it right. “Bloodhound” was published as part of the Superhero Universe: Tesseracts Nineteen anthology. I wanted to put the individual story up for sale, but it needed a cover. Do you think I could find an appropriate image? It was like pulling teeth. The story revolves around a young man who was injured at Antwerp, during World War II. The injury left him with asnomia, or the loss of his sense of smell. Once back home, a series of events reverses the effect, and then some.
I fooled around with ideas for weeks, trying and rejecting, with kind friends looking them over and reacting with “no” to “hell, no!” Here are two of the “best” that got the “uh, no” reaction:
And here’s what I finally ended up with. It may not be perfect, but at some point you have to say, enough, and move on:
What about you? Do you create your own covers? How do you go about it? Any tips…?
(Originally published at Not Your Usual Suspects on February 27, 2017)