Friday, February 23, 2018

Judging a Book by Its Cover


A short post this week, because I’ve been writing like mad on the first novel in my new series while juggling my regular job and a freelance project that, although no doubt worthy and often interesting, seldom rises to the level of scintillating writing. Don’t get me started on tax season, which I have spent the last few weeks denying, even though I know I need to buckle down to 1099s, W-2s, and all those work expenses that require categorization and totaling.

An article dropped into my in box today that gave me pause: an interview with three independent publicists, it included lots of information about rates (high) and dedication (also high) and numbers of clients served (surprisingly low), as well as some tips for those of us who can’t afford the high rates. 


All good, of course, but the article seems to take one crucial point for granted: before you hire a publicist, you need a professional product to sell.

Specifically, you need a great cover, a properly formatted text (print or e-book), and most of all, stellar prose. I can’t tell you how many pitches I get from publicists for New Books in Historical Fiction for books where the cover looks like something drawn by a middle-schooler, the fonts are small and bland, the book description goes on for pages without ever capturing the story, and the writing—assuming I get far enough to research the book online—is as flat as the proverbial pancake. It may sound mean, but these are not authors I want to interview. They shouldn’t sink their funds in publicity but use them to hire a writing coach and a competent book/cover designer.


Because this is a short post, I won’t go into the specifics of what makes a professional cover design. You can find out more, if you’re interested, in JD Smith’s The Importance of Book Cover Design and Formatting (you can also hire JD Smith herself, if she has the time, to produce a cover for you—check out her portfolio).

If she’s too busy or her work is not to your taste, there are many other gifted cover designers out there. You can team up with writers who have the design skills you lack: here at Five Directions Press we have our own cover designer, who is building her portfolio with the occasional freelance job, as well as professional editors, book designers, and typesetters. 


You can also work with a subsidy publisher: She Writes Press selects books for high-quality writing, then contracts for editorial services as well as cover design and typesetting, yielding appealing and well-written novels with minimal errors. Book production companies like Bookbaby include cover design in their packages.


Or you can hire a graphic designer who specializes in book covers. In addition to searching the Internet in the usual way or posting requests for recommendations on social media, one place to check is Reedsy.com, which vets editors and cover designers, with whom you can then contract on a one-on-one basis.  

In all these cases you should check the output online to be sure you like the style before you commit yourself to spending several hundred dollars. But unless you know what you’re doing, don’t use free software offered online, including the “cover creators” offered by the various online booksellers. Be wary of sites that advertise book covers on the cheap. Don’t use your own artwork. Don’t design your book or your cover in a word-processing program. And don’t assume your book will sell itself.

To stand out in a crowded market, you need a great cover, a great book description, and most of all, a great book. Even with those three things, your book sales will probably fall far below your hopes; it’s the nature of today’s market. But without those three things, there’s no point in spending a small fortune on a publicist, because the best publicist in the world can’t compensate for the fact that we all judge a book by its cover.


Images sprinkled throughout this post represent good cover design independent sources. No cover appeals to everyone, but each of these examples includes an image that captures the story and the genre of the novel, fonts used creatively and well, and respect for proportions and alignment.

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