Saturday, 4 February 2012

Judging a book by its cover

One of the fun things about self-publishing is you get to design your own covers.

Most authors, even the really big guns, are never let near the design and packaging of their books. There's probably a good reason for that, in a lot of cases.

The old adage is 'you can't judge a book by its cover'. As an absolute statement, that's bullshit.

In terms of judging quality, it's probably true, but that leaves a whole lot of things you can judge a book on, based on its cover. To wit:
  • If the cover is bright pink with stars and a sparkly embossed cursive font, chances are it's chick-lit.
  • If the cover is a black and white or sepia picture of a wistful-looking child, with a title like Daddy Never Bought Me A Nintendo DS, you're looking at one of those inexplicably-popular misery-lit books.
  • If the cover shows a foreboding and barren landscape (forests and deserts are good), with a guy with his back to us striding purposefully into the scenery, it's a thriller. Extra points for railway tracks.
The last one is the market I'm going for with Halfway to Hell. (The misery-lit one will be my follow-up, when nobody buys my first book.)

Scrupulously, I did some market research, consisting of visiting Asda and the local library and having a look at the contemporary thriller jackets I liked and didn't like.

Good or bad, no-name author or big gun, I was interested to see that pretty much all of them are done the same way: somebody takes a stock landscape photograph from Alamy or Getty or Shutterstock or iStock, takes another element or two (e.g. the purposeful striding man) and puts together a composite image. A lot of them don't even bother with the composite and just use the landscape. Not being a graphic designer, I thought it might be better to try the easy route.

These are the covers I came up with all by myself:

None of them are great, but it gives an idea of the direction I want to go in. Of the three, I think I like the second one best.

The images are royalty-free from Microsoft Clipart, which is a pretty good place to get images to play about with. It doesn't have the range or quality of somewhere like iStock, but then again it's completely free.

My low-tech approach to composing the covers was to use MS Publisher to add the text and try out some different fonts. I then did a screen-grab, pasted that into Paint, saved it as a JPEG and cropped the JPEG in Picture Manager for the final cover. I'm sure any arty or techy people reading this are pissing themselves right now, but hey - I do whatever works.

I showed these (and a few others, all embarassingly bad) to a friend at work who's a graphic designer, and they gave him enough of an idea of what I'm looking for to go away and work up a finished product.

So to cut a long story short, watch this space for an actually-good version of the above.

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