Ten: The PackageA Lesson by Meredith Greene
It cannot be ignored.
Never judge a book by its cover? I must protest...
If books were indeed shod with the same, plain cover--with the title inscribed in embossed text--then one could indeed eschew such a wry statement with overall success. However, in this graphic design oriented culture one must bear in mind ‘the packaging’... that is, if you want your books to actually sell. The rather Utopian warning not to judge by appearances is all well and good, but in reality the majority of humans do this constantly. Such preferences are especially noticeable in the fiction aisles of the bookstore.
By way of an example, imagine two cars side by side; they are both the same price, both have the same, working motor, tires and are filled with gas... but one is dented and rusting in parts, while the other has a spotless surface and shiny new coat of paint. Which, do you think, will be sold first? Another lesson we can take from the automotive industry is the ever-changing annual styles. Book fonts, face designs and even flourishes go out of style quickly; these ‘date’ your book after awhile and make the cover less appealing to future buyers.
Some book cover designs are timelessly simple and one cannot scoff at them, as in the single muted color with the title in block-set capitals. The point of a modern paper book cover obviously depicts images having to do with its contents, BUT even more than this a cover’s main function is to grab a possible buyer’s attention, and keep it long enough for them to pick up the book, turn it over and read the excerpt on the back. As a book reviewer, I usually select a dozen newly-published books each month to peruse and write an opinion about; several of my selections thus far have been self-published books. A few of the these sported covers with eye-blindingly bad design, utilizing some--if not all--of the things a cover compiler should avoid: outdated fonts, pixelated images, ‘cartoony’ images and cluttered design. In two of these cases, the content inside proved to be excellent; the effect of the cover, however, was so cheap and shoddy that had I been a ‘browser’ in a bookstore, I may not have selected them.
Digital books also fall victim to the packaging rule; most eBooks sold online are denoted by a single JPEG or PNG formatted in the proportions of a book’s front cover. The quality of these images matter a great deal; using fuzzy, pixelated images translates a sloppiness to your writing (even though technically readers humans are supposed to judge your book by the prose itself.)
Stand around in a bookstore long enough and you’ll see just which books patrons gravitate towards, and which do and do not make their expressions change favorably. If designing your own cover, use your own images as often as possible; some of the background/base images of my covers are nothing more than a photograph of a tablecloth ironed out perfectly flat, or a flower from our garden. Our most popular book's cover utilized a color picture my husband took while he was living in New York City, of the city skyline; to suit my design I used my software program to make the image black and white.
Here I must say a few words about the importance of paying attention to detail in your covers, as the NYC picture mentioned above had to be painstakingly altered; my husband pointed out that the Twin Towers were visible in it, while the story takes place after 9/11.
In the case of another book cover--not finding a picture of a man and woman’s silhouetted profile in just the right arrangement--I found copyright and royalty-free photos of various figures, taken decades ago, and cut and pasted until the right attitudes were discovered; I simply colored in the profiles for the silhouetted look I wanted.
If using images gleaned from the internet to use in your cover, make certain they are royalty-free and copyright-free images. To avoid such legal problems--as may arise from using images or such a nature--one can merely use internet images as inspiration. In formatting one of our books recently I could not find a calligraphy flourish anywhere on the net which would allow me royalty-free use; since we have Fireworks, I simply dragged and bent curling lines around to match the one I liked, and added in my own touches until I hit upon that which I sought.
Research helps in the cover endeavor; my husband and I make a trek to bookstores once every other month or so, just to see how cover designs are evolving, to observe which titles customer ‘choose to peruse’, and most importantly, which books are actually carted off to the cash register. Some folks know what book they want to purchase and march deliberately over to the specific aisle; the majority of shoppers simply browse and these are the consumers which buy multiple books... these, are the cover-judgers.
As a result of these fact-gathering missions, we usually re-design our eBook covers once a year, to reflect not only advances in graphic imaging software but also as a nod to the ever-changing tastes and preferences of the human consumer. Full-blown paper covers, however, are difficult to update, unless you utilize an on-demand self publishing service. Lulu.com, for example will let you upload your own Do-It-Yourself cover, for free; Authorcrossing.com will charge $25 for a wrap-around paperback DIY cover upload instead of using one of the obviously-generic free covers… or paying out the nose to have one designed for you.
One final tip: the colors you choose matter; I was amazed at how much. Read this very thorough article on the top-selling cover colors: Top Selling Cover Colors
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I hope you have found these rather limited tips helpful in your writing endeavor. For more tips on writing, self-publishing platforms and eBook industry tidbits, catch my weekly column Greene Ink.
Added on October 7, 2011
Last Updated on November 12, 2011
AboutAuthor, columnist, freelance writer, book reviewer & poet. I review non-fiction books for The San Francisco Book Review & The Sacramento Book Review publications. Read my free course Top Ten Ti..