Cover Issues

This post is a very brief one – either a rant or a bit of helpful advice depending on how you choose to take it.

It’s common knowledge that ebooks and self-publishing are on the rise; I’ve even taken my own first baby steps in this brave new world. And while some people, hopefully a minority, are using self-publishing as a shortcut to get out the manuscripts that have been multi-rejected and putting little or no thought into it, most of us really want the best for our babies. Er, sorry, books.

So why, why, is there still not enough importance put on cover design? I have to admit first up that I do have some interest in this area as my husband’s launched his own design business, part of which is Design for Writers. Which is, er, designing stuff for writers – including websites and book covers. But this post is mostly provoked by a series of things I’ve read lately.

The first is in this month (June)’s issue of Writing Magazine. In Q&A on p73 a throwaway sentence made me bristle: “If you typeset your novel…design your own cover (if you are or know an artist or photographer this won’t be difficult)…” I’ll be writing a letter to Writing Magazine but can I just say, this is not particularly good advice! And I really love this magazine, I get it on subscription as it’s really helpful. This bit, though, just… isn’t.

It kind of sums up the problem with self-published covers. Almost everyone thinks they are, or can be, an artist or photographer. It isn’t that easy! Writers get notoriously (and rightly) prickly when someone mentions in casual conversation that they “always wanted to write a book” or similar because writing is not just a question of getting words on a page. Cover design is not just a question of getting a picture and a title on a wrap-around bit of card (and ebooks are a minefield unto themselves)!

Go into a bookshop. Any one, any shelf, any section. Pick up and look at a few professionally-published books. You will see none of the following things:

  • clip art
  • fancy fonts
  • a variety of fonts and colours “because they look pretty”.
  • any trace of Comic Sans.

Go on, test me, and come back and gloat in the comments if I’m wrong.

A properly designed cover has had someone with a talent for design spend several hours asking the editors (or author¬†if it’s self-printed) what ‘feel’ the book should have, considering the genre, playing with any images used to get the best out of them, trying a range of typefaces to find the most suitable ONE ¬†(and having a good knowledge of the typefaces available) and arranging all of the necessary elements so that the cover looks as attractive and enticing as possible.

The other thing that sparked this post is that I’m just reading the section on cover design in Catherine Ryan Howard’s new book, Self-Printed. I’m lucky enough to be a proof reader for this, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Go to Catherine’s blog, subscribe to updates, and get in line to buy this when it’s released if you have even the vaguest idea of venturing into this area. It really will be invaluable. And, as I expected, Catherine is spot on when she talks about cover design. She says that most writers forget everything they know about books when it comes to the cover design for their own, and she’s absolutely right.

A good designer, which I have to say my husband is (and he designed Catherine’s covers, if you’re interested), will listen to the writer about their book but then take their ideas and make them better, just as a good ghostwriter, say, would take someone’s idea and make it into a readable book. I know one of the benefits of self-printing is having control over things that you wouldn’t through a traditional publisher, but this can be a double-edged sword. Step back from the book with your hands in the air, and let someone who really does have a talent for design handle the situation. This is an emergency, people (sorry, watching a bit too much ER lately).

If you can’t afford a professional designer, at least do yourself the favour of doing some research into current cover design and limit yourself to one font, one picture and NO borders. Yes, some books have more than one of these but if you’re not totally sure what you’re doing then play it safe. A clean, fresh design is better than one that makes your eyes bleed.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll get back to reading…