Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Sorry, I couldn’t even type that with a straight face.
Everybody judges a book by its cover and even more so in the realm of indie authors. Why? Because we’re shallow? No, it’s because a professional cover hints at professional quality content underneath. And that’s what we’re looking for right? I’m speaking as a reader here. A poor book cover is a warning sign and I heed those warnings well. You might have the greatest book in the world but if the cover sucks I’ll never get to find out.
A lot of stuff changes in the indie landscape – marketing trends come and go but a good cover will always matter. It’s arguably the most important tool in your marketing toolbox. With that in mind, this post is designed to give authors a little food for thought when it comes to working with your cover designer. You might find something new or you might get a much needed refresher on the fundamentals. The wisdom below does not come from me – it comes from Vincent Sammy, a most talented illustrator and cover designer that I started working with last year.
The questions, they come from me.
Who is Vincent Sammy?
Vincent Sammy is a South African freelance illustrator working in the fields of Horror, Sci-fi, Fantasy and the Macabre.
His work has been featured in publications such as Interzone, Black Static, Beware the Dark, Something Wicked, and Pandemonium Books.
In 2016 he was the cover artist for Interzone.
He was the runner-up in the 2012 This is Horror – Artist of the year awards and was nominated again in 2013. He has also been nominated for a BSFA award in 2016.
MARK: What should an indie author consider when approaching a designer?
VINCENT: Unlike mainstream authors who have publishers who usually deal with this sort of thing, indie authors need to source their own artwork. Publishers who have years of experience with books tend to know what the current trends are, what works and what doesn’t. Indie authors dedicate a huge amount of time to their written manuscripts, so to have to deal with cover art can be quite daunting in a sphere that they are not used to.
To make matters worse, they usually don’t have the finances to pay for a qualified book-cover illustrator and designer, both who are usually two separate entities. This is where the problem arises in that the indie author tries to find the least expensive quote to get their cover done, or do it themselves. Here’s where it gets tricky. Authors (indie and traditionally published) tend to think in terms of their whole story and would like the cover to have as much of everything on it. From the main protagonist and antagonist, to certain scenes, to the geographical setting. This makes for a rather cluttered cover.
My advice would be to leave it to the artist to decide what the most striking and evocative visual reference would be to convey the feel of the book. The best way to do this is to let the artist read the book. A synopsis is helpful if no completed manuscript is available, but it doesn’t convey the feel of the characters, so first prize is still a completed manuscript to read. The author is more than welcome to give input and ideas, but try not to force too many visual ideas onto a front cover. Leave that to bad movie posters. Have a look at the artist’s portfolio and be sure that their style is suitable for your work so that you don’t try and force them into trying to recreate the style of the artist that you couldn’t afford. Also remember that this is a collaboration and that both parties need to be happy with the end product. And please, do not grab some bad low-res stock images and get your niece to put it together in Photoshop just because they know how to work it. The results will be a poor visual representation of your written words.
MARK: The money thing, it can be a problem. But good designers/covers don’t have to cost the earth, right?
VINCENT: They don’t have to cost the earth but professional designers should also be respected as qualified practitioners of their craft. They’ve either studied art and design or put years of learning into mastering this discipline. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. There are plenty of artists out there who promote pre-designed covers to sell cheaply to indie authors, but this just leads to your book blending in with the rest of the crowd and not standing out as a unique product. Wouldn’t you rather pay a decent, agreed upon price for your cover than risk having all your hard work disappear amongst so many others?
MARK: Should indies strive for originality or should they be looking to stick within the boundaries of genre? Can the two be intertwined?
VINCENT: It depends on what the book is trying to convey and who wrote it. Originality is always something that I look for as it makes a book stand out. You don’t need that much originality if you’re a big name best selling author – your name on the cover will do the trick. But if you’re a new author and you’d like to be noticed, then the cover is your first port of call. So I would suggest a blend of originality within the framework of well received visual genre touchstones. Your audience should get a feel for what kind of book they are picking up by the look of the cover. Put a spin on what has gone before and let the illustrator’s style shine through.
MARK: What are the three most important elements of any book cover?
1 – The emotional impact. It needs to resonate with potential readers within the first two seconds of seeing it. So it needs to have a simplicity that easily reaches out to the potential reader
2 – The title and author typeface. It’s as much a visual reference for what lies inside. It should either be plain and stand out against the visuals, or striking in its appearance against a plain background. The visuals and the text should never compete for attention.
3 – Consistency across a series of books. The visual style needs to remain the same for a book series so that a reader can easily identify it as belonging to a specific set or series
MARK: I read somewhere that thumbnail sized book covers are the size most commonly viewed by online book shoppers. How important is the thumbnail in your opinion?
VINCENT: This is where simplicity plays a big part. At a small scale the artwork, title and author name needs to be as discernible as possible. The reality of the indie market is that it’s mostly an online market, so in a sea of thousands of tiny covers, your work needs to stand out. You’ll see this trend translate to other media as well such as music. In the past you had a whole record cover to play with at a large scale. That got shrunk to CD size and then to a visual representation for online purchases of music. The visual world is getting smaller with tired, strained eyes trying to pick something out from a forest of other tiny works. Make yours stand out.
Keep up with Vincent and his work at the links down below: