I think it’s one of the most used metaphors in existence, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover.’ And while I agree with the sentiment, in general it’s not wise to judge people or things on appearances, the truth is — at least as far as the world of book publishing — this rule just does not apply anymore.
I think the saying comes from the not too distant past, when all books had hardcovers, and the most decorative thing you could manage was splurging for the good leather.
These days the cover seems like a vitally important part of the book, I would say they are as important as cover art for albums back in the day when albums mattered.
I have seen many authors lately sharing some of their cover ideas. Some are better than others. Many authors still just do not recognize the importance of this step.
We spend countless hours writing and rewriting and then editing and re-editing, I think it is important to give the book cover the same degree of time and devotion. These are the containers we use to package our product, and they are so much a part of the product themselves. A good cover can persuade sales, and likewise a bad cover can keep a great book from being read.
I learned a lot putting together Meowing on the Answering Machine. I am glad Kat Mellon jumped in when she did, otherwise I would be on the other side of this article and probably simmering.
There was a time when book reviews in newspapers or magazines were not accompanied by a picture of the cover, because at the time it wasn’t considered important or relevant. These days are gone. It’s probably the internet to blame once again, the market is cluttered with publishers and independents fighting for a sliver of attention for their work and will use any means they have to hook a potential reader. And these days so much of our retail world and social lives are online, the chances are good that a majority of people will first encounter your book as a thumbnail.
This is important to keep in mind when you design your cover. Besides looking at how it will look when printed at say 6 by 9 in paperback format, you want to also make sure it looks good, the title and your name are legible when the image is reduced to 110 x 75 pixels.
I believe it’s important to recognize what the cover is and what its purpose is. It is meant as a representation of your product, if you are writing horror your cover should convey this. If the image and feel doesn’t complement the story, you run a risk of frustrating your readers.
When we get down to basics, your cover is the packaging of your product. Every detail should be aimed toward describing the product, as well as attracting attention and persuading people to take a chance. Your blurb should be short, direct and intriguing. Give them some mystery, a struggle or a contradiction, something to make them want to investigate further.
‘It was a dark and stormy night,‘ and almost any talk about the weather or the atmosphere or the ‘tension in the air’ probably should be snipped out of your sixty thousand word manuscript, descriptions such as these have absolutely no place in your two-hundred-words-or-less blurb, where they will stick out like a sore, but boring, thumb. Show us conflict and intrigue, make us want to crack the book open.
Get professional help if you can. I generally believe in the ‘you get what you pay for’ adage. But there are a ton of cover artists on the internet with a variety of different skills and a wide range of prices. Some of them are authors themselves and may be willing to help out a fellow writer, especially if they believe in your work.
But even if you do it yourself, take the time and do it right. If possible, don’t do it with the cover creator programs that createspace and lulu offer. These are functional and ‘okay,’ but do not give you many options and make it difficult to get a really professional look. I believe even using free software like GIMP, or even Paint, will let you make a more professional looking product.
But recognize what your cover is, it will be the first impression many people have of your work, and in some cases it will be the factor between tossing it in the cart or putting it back on the shelf. Make sure you honestly represent your work, and take this opportunity to hook a new reader, make it impossible for them to put that book back down.