Becky Wicks and Sarah Alderson talk self-publishing versus mainstream. Today’s topic: How to design a good book cover

Before He Was FamousIn this instalment from the world of self-publishing versus mainstream, Becky Wicks and Sarah Alderson talk how to get a good book cover.

Cover design is one of the most important elements of a book’s success. A good cover can make a book. A bad cover can send it spiraling into the abyss. Sarah, you’ve been through the book cover design process about fifteen times now both on your own and with publishers. Anything to tell us?

Well, publishing houses don’t tend to involve the author very much in the design of the cover and I think that’s for a good reason. Authors write, they aren’t necessarily design experts. They also test the cover with target audiences and have much more knowledge of which covers work for which genres. I am always asked for my opinion and any ideas, but I don’t have veto on the final design. The publisher has final say. For Come Back To Me, my new adult book, Pan Macmillan are being really great and involving me in choosing the cover image. They sent six images over for me to choose from and my agent and I both agreed on the one we wanted so now they’ll take it from there.

In self-publishing you have a lot more control and can get the cover you really want but it will cost you.

Publishers have access to stock images at cheap prices and also to talented book designers. Of course, you could pay for a great book designer to design your cover but it’s going to cost you. A lot. The covers for my self-published books are much weaker because I had to weigh up the costs of a cover against likely return and make a call on whether it was worth it.

16080353It’s tricky because nothing yells ‘self-published’ more than a shoddy cover (I know, I’ve self-published four books) so you need to make it as professional-looking as possible. Remember you are probably only making around $1 royalty on an ebook so that’s a lot of sales just to pay for the cover (the average self-published book sells less than 100 copies I believe). Having said that with a great cover you vastly increase your chances of selling more than the average. It’s a tough call!  Reviews I think are ultimately more important that the cover.

I’m lucky in that I’m married to a designer so I have coerced him into designing a couple of my book covers. I also did one myself (for an erotica I wrote under a pen name) and I paid about $30 for the image on stock vault.

When looking at designing your cover I think the best thing to do is search out the top selling books in the genre and study their covers. Bookmark all the ones that appeal to you and if you use a designer be sure to brief them really well on what you like and don’t like because unfortunately most people DO judge a book by its cover.

What about you, Becky? How do you feel about cover design for your books? 

When HarperCollins sent my first cover back to me for Burqalicious, I remember thinking WOW.

It was so shiny, it almost looked like it was made from solid gold, but there was a cartoon version of myself on it that I thought was strange. But like you, I felt so totally awestruck and grateful that a major publisher was doing such amazing things for me that I never even thought to question anything. Mind you though, the name Burqalicious was not my initial title. I called that book ‘The Dubai Diaries’ as I’d written it over the course of two years in Dubai. The publishers decided that Burqalicious would be a better name. I was actually quite mortified by that. I did question that… but I was told I couldn’t change it.

COV_Latinalicious_smallAnyway, by the time ‘Balilicious’ (my second book) came around I had grown to quite like the ‘licious thing, as the cartoony characters really stood out, and I guess the titles were catchy. I was shown a couple of design options which I thought were all brilliant as my designer was really great, but when I requested minor changes I never got to see these changes for weeks because I guess she had a list of books to work on. By the time Latinalicious came around I was pretty much resigned to the fact that it was a third book in the ‘licious trilogy and it would again feature a cartoon version of myself. I didn’t question anything. I was shown some designs and again didn’t see or hear anything back for quite a long time after I selected one.

With my books now, as I go through the self-publishing process, I found a highly recommended cover designer via a Twitter link, or all places!

My designer now is Jeanine Henning and she’s worked with me for the entire process of designing the cover for Before He Was Famous, offering daily communication. I’m sure there are a lot of very talented designers out there, and there are some who do a great job for specific genres, but I knew straight away that I wanted to work with Jeanine. She actually had me answer a set of very detailed questions outlining my characters, story line, plot twists etc, so as to determine a very clear picture of what the book stood for before she started.

15740944She used this to throw suggestions my way and within days we had a rough design. She’s super experienced in designing covers that stand out online as thumbnails when you’re scrolling through Amazon. At first I wasn’t so sure about the font, but it really stands out in a list of smaller-mages, and that’s something I wouldn’t have contemplated without her help. I was so impressed by the detailing and her dedication to her job, and felt hugely gratefl to finally be fully involved in the design process of a story I worked so hard to write.

After spending so long writing a book, you do become attached to the people in it, and bringing them to life on the cover is kind of something you need to feel a part of.

I’m sure HarperCollins worked just as hard and were just as dedicated, it’s just that they were busy with a hundred covers and I was never informed along the way what was going on, so I felt a bit shut out. Sometimes I’d wait weeks, or even months between communications. There are pros and cons I guess, but I have to say, it’s way more exciting doing it myself. I get such an adrenaline rush when I open an email from Jeanine on a newly improved design and we have great Twitter and email banter too, which makes it even more fun. Jeanine also took the design and made me Facebook and Twitter banners, and an email signature, which looks awesome.

What should you look out for when designing a book cover?

  • make sure that the image and title are clearly readable in a thumbnail
  • make sure that the font you use is readable
  • use the highest resolution image you can obtain (although the new Twitter banner will pixelate this anyway!)
  • check createspace and Kindle to ensure you size the covers correctly

We’ll be back soon with more chat on our journey into mainstream publishing versus self-publishing. Stay tuned! Check out our first article on why you should choose self-publishing over mainstream here.

Becky’s book ‘Before He Was Famous’ will be launching May 29th on Amazon. Add it to read on Goodreads now.

Sarah’s book ‘Come Back To Me’ will be released June 26th on Amazon. Add it to Goodreads now.