Hard Lessons | The Writing Site of R K Athey

Cover Art – Your First Impression


Your cover image is the first thing people notice when browsing for a book. It’s important that it be eye-catching, yet interesting. As a self-publisher you won’t have a company’s resources to help find an artist, so you’ll need to do it yourself.

For my last work, The New Moon Murders, I was lucky enough to have Matt Jackson volunteer cover art. Matt is an Iraq war veteran who has time, while deployed, to do these one offs for folks. Unless you have an artist friend or are a good graphics designer, you’ll either need to spend some money on an artist or learn enough about imaging tools, like Photoshop or GIMP, to put together a cover.

If you decide to go the do-it-yourself route, make sure to produce several versions with different styles. Post these to your friends to see which they like best. If you have a blog or social media outlet – like Facebook, Google+, or Twitter – you can also put the covers online for review. Also, do not overlook public domain and royalty free photo sites. Type ‘royalty free images’ into your favorite search engines for a list. These feature thousands of photos on every topic imaginable. You’ll need to do some digging, but this is a cheap way to get some nice cover art. Before you buy such a photo, be sure you understand the license. You don’t want to get sued for misuse.

Once you have your perfect cover image, use GIMP(free) or Photoshop(paid for) to edit your image adding the title, subtitle, and author to the cover. Both products have a learning curve, but there are lots of online tutorials to walk you through this process. Some publications sites, such as Amazon’s Create Space, have cover creation tools as well.

Hiring an artist has different challenges. The best way to hire an artist is to find someone who’s employed them before. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Use blogs and other online resources as part of your to help navigate the publishing maze. Most sites include a list of people they’ve used before. You can normally trust this list for recommendations. As always, buyer beware. Sometimes the site’s artist can just be friends the writer is trying to help. Do your research. Take a look at their portfolio.

From working with artists in the past, I know a little inspiration goes a long way. Artists are like everyone else; they probably won’t have time to read your work. Matt Jackson actually read New Moon and was able to produce a great cover based on the story. You will likely not be so lucky.

Be specific about the themes in your work. If possible, find images that describe these concepts. In the end you’ll get a product closer to your vision. Artists in the audience may scream at this point but I doubt it. If you can give them a little help they stand a better chance of giving you, the buyer, something you want. Remember, you don’t break any copyright laws by sending an example image to an artist with a note saying ‘something like this.’ Barring that, describe the cover in some detail but don’t be surprised when you get back something different. They are artists, after all.

Remember, they’re in business and a quick turnaround works best for everyone.

One word of warning. There are lots of folks out there that prey on people’s dreams. Be careful whom you use and who you give your credit card number to. Try to work through PayPal or other clearing houses as much as possible. DO NOT give your credit card number to anyone. ’nuff said.

So now you have your image but your work’s not done. If you’re self publishing, you’ll still need to have the image formatted to each outlet’s needs. Some sites require an exact size. Others let you upload anything but have a maximum file size. All of them make you check a box stating you own the image.

For print copies, you need an image to serve as the front, back, and spine cover. The size is variable based on number of pages, page size, and paper type. The publishing site will give you a number to which you image must precisely match. So if you plan to print, calculate the size for the artist when you commission the cover. This means knowing all the above information before submitting your request to the artist so you’ll need to know need your page count and the self-publishing outlet before you send a request to graphics designer.

Another thing to worry about when printing is the back cover. Will it be a book description? Will it be your picture? Will it be reviews? You’ll need all of this together before commissioning or creating a cover.

If you’re getting the idea that producing a physical book is much more difficult than ePublishing, you’d be right. There are all sorts of things to consider when producing a physical object vs. just placing a bunch of bits on a web site. The cover is only one of them. This is why ePublishing has gained such strength recently.

Hopefully this article has helped you consider some factors regarding your cover.

Until next time,
R K Athey

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