Sunday, 11 May 2014

Finding Inspiration For a Book Cover

In this blog, I have often talked about my desire to maintain a personal connection between my cover art and my stories. For my first 2 novels, The Outback and Stealing Asia, it was not difficult to find suitable pictures from my travels to use in the cover art as both novels were inspired by events from my backpacking days. For my third novel, Diamond Sky, finding a suitable image was a little more challenging.

In Diamond Sky, the setting and events are entirely fictional. The plot, which centres on astral projection and an exploration as to the existence of life beyond death, is purely abstract. When dealing with metaphysics, it is almost impossible to find a suitable image from the physical world that accurately depicts the story, least of all finding an image from my own collection. Whilst writing the novel, I thought I would have no choice other than to commission an illustrator or search through stock images linked to the sci-fi genre for my cover.

Then I came across the following picture. The image was captured when I travelled through the Kimberley region of North Western Australia, in a National Park known as the Bungle Bungles. It is one of the most unique, beautiful and isolated places in this incredibly diverse country.

It was not, however, the terrain that inspired me with this picture. It was the sun. If you look closely at the centre of the image, you can see a column of light that intersects diagonally with the bright spot in the middle. It does not so much look like the sun is setting as that it is being launched. Fired into the sky. This was the other-worldly image I had been looking for.

When designing my covers, I try to keep things as simple as possible. Diamond Sky is no different. The only manipulation I applied to the image was a colour tint and a slight darkening of the edges. I then overlayed the text onto this simple base, making sure to retain consistency with my previous novels in the way I presented my name. I then added a short tag line, "letting go is never easy..." that captures the motivation, which drives the actions of the main characters in the plot. What I like about this line is that, depending on the character, it can be taken either literally or figuratively. To say anymore would risk a spoiler.

Above is the final cover, complete with other-worldly source of light illuminating the night sky. With 2 sequels on the way and an increasingly fantastic plot, it is becoming unlikely that I will be able to continue using my own photographs on the covers, but I will certainly try. Selling books may be a business, but the product is still a form of art. In a world where corporate influence is de-personalising and lowering quality in all areas of commerce, rather than emulate that model, I will continue to fight it. To retain what makes me unique as an artist, because without that, I cannot rightfully call myself an artist anyway.

Finally, here are my 3 self made covers side by side as they would appear on a digital bookshelf. With each one incorporating the same amount and style of manipulation in design, they are clearly part of the same brand though not related in story. Most importantly to me, they are all uniquely mine.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Judging a Book By Its Cover

Artists can be stubborn and I am no different. When I decided to self publish my 3 fiction novels a year ago, I wanted to do so with my own covers. I wanted them to be personal. To have a genuine connection to the story. My first 2 novels were inspired by my days backpacking and as such, I was determined to use photographs from those travels as the basis for the covers.

Below are the images that I chose and I have stuck with them through all of my redesigns.

When I began,I had no experience of photo manipulation and no real vision for how the covers should look. Suffice to say, the results were not pretty. The first attempts were nothing short of hideous.

Would you see these on the shelves of the local Waterstone's or Barnes & Noble? Of course not. They would look just as out of place on the virtual shelves at Amazon. Pretty soon, I realised that a lot more work was necessary. So I got back to the drawing board.

An improvement. Particularly with Stealing Asia, but I was far from satisfied. Neither successfully conveys any sort of tone for the book. Again, they just do not look like the sort of covers that you get on published books. They look amateurish.

For my latest (and hopefully, final, designs) I tried to figure out exactly what a book cover should be. My conclusion surprised me, as I realsied that I had been approaching the task in completely the wrong way. When I started the designs, I had begun with photographs. I had mistakenly assumed that the cover art was the most important aspect. It is not (unless your target audience is children). The most important feature on a book cover is the text.

Many publishers dispense with the cover picture altogether when it comes to their big name authors. They simply state the author and title in as big and bold writing as possible and that is enough for readers. Obviously, I am not yet a big name author so I cannot rely on my name alone to sell the books. I need an image, but one that is firmly in the background. It is the text that overlays the image that makes a book cover. Without this, all you have is a pretty picture.

The cover text has 3 components: Title, author and subtext. The fonts you use depend on the genre. For thrillers/action/horror (I am a member of the trans-genre community - don't judge me) bold capitals are the way forward. Believe me, this is important. I have tried my name in lower case and it looks like I am selling chick-lit.

The title should be the biggest and boldest (remember, it has to be instantly legible as a thumbnail, which is how the readers will first see it on Amazon). For the author name, I think that consistency is the key. If you have multiple books, then always use the same font, size, colour and placing for your name. It is all about establishing a recognisable brand.

Lastly is the subtext. The subtext can come in many forms. An author can simply state their credentials (if the book/writer has won any awards or topped a bestseller list, this is where to put it). If you have had a prestigious review - quote it here. Alternatively, a teaser line can be used. This is where you need to hook the reader. A title alone does not reveal much about plot so this is your last chance to let the reader know what kind of story they will be reading. The teaser should contain keywords, which capture the tone of the book. As you will see in my final designs, for The Outback, the keywords are backpacking and murder. For Stealing Asia, it is paradise and not what it seems.

Below are my new designs. For the first time, I feel that they are actually book covers.

One year into my publishing journey and I have finally nailed all of the elements I discussed above. Sure, it would have been a lot easier to have simply hired a professional designer from the start, but where is the fun in that? There is also a great deal of confusion in the indie world over what constitutes professional. A real pro costs money. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are a lot of sharks out there who think that just because they own a pirated copy of Photoshop and know the basics that they have the right to call themselves professional designers and charge money. They do not. If you are going to pay somebody to add a bit of text to a stock image, you would do better to invest the cash into learning how to do so yourself.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.