A great cover design May 26, 2015Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 6. Castle Tips.
Tags: advice, book covers, cover design, publishing, publishing process, self-publishing
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It turns out that despite years of concerted advice and insistence by the cliché, people mostly do judge a book by its cover. Cover design matters!
Over the next few months, I want to post a few articles on some of the different elements of book production and publishing. In the overall timeline of book production, cover design usually comes after such things as writing and editing the book, but I want to start with design because it is probably the most glamourous of all the steps in creating a great book. So let’s start with the icing!
If it really is true that people judge a book by its cover and that first impressions make a difference, then having a great cover is crucial to your book project. You spend months, maybe years, working on the content of the book, only to have people scroll on by because the presentation caused them to dismiss your book. How do you want your book to be perceived?
I think there are two main ways the right cover will help your book:
– It will represent your book accurately, convey an idea of the content effectively, spark a positive emotion in the reader, and package the product appropriate to the target market and genre.
– It will speak volumes (excuse the pun) about the quality of your book.
Even if you are self-publishing, there is absolutely no reason why the finished product shouldn’t look just as good as something that comes out of a commercial publishing house.
Getting it right
Not everyone has an instinctively good eye when it comes to design, but everyone can up-skill and do research. That’s why I recommend that the first step in getting a good cover design is to go to a bookshop or library (assuming that such things still exist in your neighbourhood!) and look at book covers. Look at the cover designs of recent and new releases. Get a feel for what is happening in the world of book design. Having looked at the designs of all kinds of books, narrow your research down to the particular genre and target market that you are working with. Collect designs that you like. I’m not recommending that you copy these designs, but you need to know what products in your market look like – even if it means that you go on to create something more effective!
Now go hire a designer. Unless you have an established talent for design yourself, and the technical know-how to execute the design, you are best to have a professional on the job. Maybe this will be your niece or nephew – but be careful. Putting aside the feel-good factor of having a relative or friend work on your project, professionalism and expertise are the main considerations. In choosing a designer, look at their previous work and see if their skills match what you are trying to achieve. Some designers are very versatile, but having said that, most designers have a particular visual style, so be conscious of their style and how it might impact your cover design.
A good relationship
Cost will be a factor in hiring a designer, but it’s worth spending some money. It may not be as expensive as you think. Negotiate a price, but don’t insult the designer by being a cheapo – they work hard and have the talents that you need – so pay them their dues. You can reach a happy outcome for both parties in terms of budget.
In briefing the designer, show them your research and tell them what you are hoping to achieve. Also be open to other fresh ideas that the designer might bring to the table. The unexpected, so long as it is still fit to purpose, might be exactly the right thing. The ideal working relationship will be one where you trust the designer to be the expert and be prepared to entertain their ideas, but also retain focus on where you are heading. If you don’t like something they’ve done, say so, but be open. See the process as a collaboration. The relationship will be difficult if there isn’t an element of trust and mutual respect – and that’s something to think about when choosing the designer initially.
Bonus insider info
Here’s a bit of bonus ‘inside’ info. I haven’t gone into the nuts and bolts of cover design in this article (perhaps another time), but I want to pass on a few important technical considerations. In today’s online book market, your book cover is often seen at ‘thumbnail’ size, ie the miniaturised product image that book and ebook retailers show on their websites. So your design needs to look good at that small size.
No matter what size the cover displays at, make sure the title stands out. Don’t overwhelm the typography with imagery. Your eye needs to land on the title first, before it tracks around the rest of the cover. When you look at the design, if it feels like your eye doesn’t know where to look or it is jumping around the cover too much without a clear focus, your cover is probably too cluttered or not well laid out. The various elements (type and image) shouldn’t be fighting each other.
Enjoy the process of designing your book cover and get excited about it – your book is getting dressed up for its big debut!
Feel free to post any questions (or requests for future articles) in the comments section below. And don’t forget, you can come to Castle for any or all of the services you need to make your book the best it can be – including beautiful cover design! Contact us.
How to take advice July 11, 2013Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 6. Castle Tips.
Tags: advice, critique, self-publishing, tips, writing, writing advice
We’ve all seen it on TV programs like American Idol – the would-be star turns up for their audition utterly convinced that he or she is the next big thing… only to have their dream crushed within a few moments of their performance… whatever they had been told about the merits of their performance prior to the audition turned out not to be entirely true. Their performance shrinks under objective critique. But if they are wise, they will take that critique and get better. And that’s what it should be like for authors.
The process of writing tends to be deeply personal. It’s not uncommon to hear authors referring to their manuscript as their ‘baby’. You tend to pour yourself into your writing – you try to make it true – true of yourself and your experience of the world. When that goes public, you are not only putting a piece of yourself on display, you are putting your abilities as a writer up for critique. It’s a big call! A lot of the books that Castle works on are autobiographical and by first-time authors… so the feelings of risk can be even higher for the author.
All going well, as an author (whether you are a first-timer or more experienced) you will have people in your life who really believe in what you are doing and are a source of encouragement. These are your supporters – the people that want to see you do well. They boost your confidence with praise and other types of support. This is a good and wonderful thing. But you also need people to critique your work – not to pull it down for the sake of pulling it down – but to help you make your work the best it can be.
The American Idol illustration is probably an extreme example and it’s not directly applicable to writing. But you can’t help wondering whether, if the performers had sought genuine critique prior to standing before the judges, they could have been much better prepared.
I’m not a believer in ‘either you got it or you ain’t’. I believe that some people have a natural gift for writing but I also believe that with some hard work and help, anyone can tell their story in a meaningful way. And it needs to be said that even those with a ‘natural gift’ need to work hard and have their work critiqued to achieve the best from their gift.
So here’s the thing: benefit from the unconditional support of the people close to you, but also seek out genuine critique. Sometimes your unconditional supporters might be the people who are able to give you the critique – that would be an amazing relationship to have. Other times you might find it easier to seek the critique of someone separate from your circle of friends. The important thing in either case is to be wise about who you seek for critique – make sure they know what they’re talking about! Make sure you seek the critique of people with wisdom.
When you approach someone for feedback, take a deep breath, be brave, and then give them permission to be objective. Tell them that you want their honest opinion – that frees them up to give you their best advice without worrying that you might take offence. Sometimes what they say will be hard to hear but, again, be brave. Discuss their critique with them. Remember, it is your work under examination, not you personally.
You’re the artist
Then it’s back to you as the author – the artist. Sometimes as a creative person seeking the opinion of others, you find yourself pulled in different directions. But, having taken advice and critique, the ultimate decision and direction is yours alone to make. Shelve some advice, and take some on board. Do it with humility, but you are the author. Sometimes the big decision is in fact to make a compromise (you may encounter this when dealing with a commercial publisher who has strong ideas about ‘what the market wants’), but nonetheless, take ownership of the decision.
The ability to seek critique and then to know what to do with it is an important skill to have.