I’ve been running a series on my MySpace blog called “Adventures in Indie Publishing” where I tell everyone how I made a muck up of it all so that they don’t have to. At the moment I’m exploring “How to Get a Cheap Cover” and, after a suggestion from Ruth, I decided to post it here as a series (because it’s a long, long post!)
This is actually a pretty huge topic, but I’m going to try to be as brief – yet informative – as I can be. The first thing you really need is some kind of an idea what you want for your cover. I know you may be thinking here, “Hey! I’m the writer! I’m not an artist! This isn’t my department!” but you’ve looked at books before, haven’t you? You know what you like to see and what you don’t. Right there is half the battle!
First, though, you do need an idea. Even if you have someone else make the cover, you should come to them with an idea in mind, no matter how sketchy. A good place to start getting ideas is to go to amazon.com or Barnes and Noble and browse through books that are like yours. In my case, I checked out vampire books. One thing that leaps out instantly is that they’re all black. They usually have a woman, often with special emphasis on the curves of her neck. There’s generally an old tree, or a full moon and often there’s blood – or something blood red like a rose – to make you think of blood. This is a formula, if you will. The black is like the night, the red is the blood, the woman symbolizes the sex appeal, etc. Every genre has things like this, and the more covers you look at, the more you’ll be able to quickly pick them out. For instance you know a romance book the minute you see the cover, or a thriller or a mystery.
This is where you can decide whether you want to go with everyone else or whether you want to be different. Different can be good, but it can also backfire. Did I do well by choosing to go white instead of black, or by choosing a more minimalistic red dawn (which I am aware prints up slightly pink-ish) approach for the background as opposed to a creepy midnight scene? I have no idea. I know I went with white because my thought was if you had a stack of black books and one white one in the middle it would stand out more. However, I’m not sure if that really translates well into selling online. Is it immediately recognizable as a vampire book – or even a thriller? No, probably not. I guess time will tell. Anyway, I’d like to lie here and say that, before I designed my “daring” and “different” cover, I went on to research a lot of theories and such, but I didn’t. I looked at other covers. I screwed around in Paint Shop Pro over and over again and finally came up with what I liked. I’ve never been an “art theory” person. That’s not to say they aren’t right, but I always just go by guts. Something either looks good or it doesn’t.
One thing I do suggest, though, is that you don’t have too many different colors. Pick a few and go with variations of that “color”, like for instance you might have twenty shades of purple, but purple is still the main color. Also, just FYI, the most eye catching color combination is a cover that is ½, or more, black and ¼ white/grays with something bright red, preferably in the center. Yes, knowing this I still went white because the ever lovely Twilight designers also knew this, and I have enough idiots comparing me to that series without similar colored covers.
Again, the best design theory I can give you is to look at other covers. Imagine that the cover you’re planning was already made and on a book in a store. Would you pick it up? If you saw the thumbnail online would you click it? Does it even look good as a thumbnail? Because it really should if you’re planning to sell it online.
Here’s some links to get your ideas started:
The Book Cover Archive: http://bookcoverarchive.com/ (I don’t like most of these, but that’s MY taste)
60 “best bookcovers” – http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/04/14/excellent-book-covers-and-paperbacks/
Tips and Tricks for designing book covers: http://www.graphic-design.com/DTG/Design/book_covers/index.html (some good stuff here!)
Tips for book cover design: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/311823/tips_for_book_cover_design.html?cat=35
Dedicated to the appreciation of book covers: http://covers.fwis.com/
Bad Sci-Fi book covers – http://io9.com/photogallery/awesomelybad/1009397549 (ie don’t do this, LOL!)
(Of note – if you check all these links you will notice that most of the “best” book covers completely IGNORE the tips and “rules” for making book covers found on the other pages. It’s that daring to be different phenomenon. A lot of the time it ends in disaster, but sometimes – well, it lands you on the 60 top book covers list. )