Easy Bake Ovens and Cover Designs: What is a Cover Really Supposed to Do?

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I am a member of several online groups that helps authors. One of those groups purposes revolves around cover design. There are a lot of DIY people in there… most of those people know the value of hiring professionals or seeking advanced skills and learning the real elements of what makes book covers sell.

Sometimes people insist on doing themselves and don’t understand why covers are perhaps the most important marketing piece for your book. I taught a workshop at a regional library just yesterday afternoon and my sternest warning was against doing a DIY cover. Here is some of my advice that I recently gave in a cover design group where I used an Easy Bake Oven analogy to explain what a subpar design really tells potential readers. (Also, I talk about selling Bible’s in a porn shop… I’m not surprised that so many people dislike me, lol.)

OP posted a design with very blocky space ships he had used in her cover design. He explains why when he disagrees with my advice below.  For context, he’s posted in the group multiple times in the last many days, always ignoring people who encourage him to get a professional cover and he has dug in his heels on using a space ship that looks like a tiny, white X.

OP: what kind of space background could I add to this to help make the black ships look huge and far away? [graphic is just some faded out ships that look conspicuously like they were pulled from a star wars screenshot in order to mask their origins… but Lucasfilm always knows]

Me: you need different ships. Maybe ships that look like ships (at least as far as your readers will expect). Covers are about communicating genre and meeting quality expectations. So far, you’re only communicating that you’re book wasn’t worth investing in a quality cover. That tells readers you likely didn’t invest much in the writing process and that the content is poor (why hire an editor if you wouldn’t hire an artist?)

I’m not saying that’s true, just telling you what your cover design communicates to the reader (I’ve watched you ask the same questions and ignore everyone’s advice for a week now). everyone judges a book by its cover, and in the Indie world, because the quality of the cover typically does reflect the quality of the content.

OP: One, I’m still learning and two the white ship is non human origin

Me: origins don’t matter. Neither does your lack of experience. If someone takes you out for a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant and you order the chocolate cake but they bring you something from an easy bake oven, you’d feel cheated. Your book is a fancy diner. Your cover is NOT ABOUT YOU. it is about communicating quality and genre to the readers. this is all sales and marketing. a product that you have to consistently provide excuses for will result in bad reviews and frustration on your part.

Please understand that I am telling you this as someone who did exactly what you did: learned photoshop and did a few covers. One that I was proud of ended up on one of those “bad cover awards” websites. I started looking at it from a sale-ability/business standpoint and realized they were totally right. I changed my covers on a dime (about 90-150 per cover) and sales immediately tripled. I went from selling maybe 12-20 books at events to regularly selling out. I didn’t change sales pitches… what changed is that I communicated value by the cover. My sales pitch communicated value to readers, but the cover told them I was lying, which discouraged sales because their experience with the book so far (immediately consuming the cover art graphics) did not agree with what I was telling them about the book and instantly broke their trust. and you cannot sell without trust.

Learning is awesome–I hope you are taking a class or a workshop to learn more than the basics… but your first book is too important to leave to a self-professed amatuer. don’t try to pass an easy-bake oven cake for something high-end (which is what your readers will want to see… there is too much competition in the indie publishing world to release something with a substandard cover.)

I hope this helps; I really am rooting for you, but you’re making mistakes I once made and which are obvious to me. Do what you want with your cover, but remember that several folks in the last week or so tried to steer you on the best path, first (I’ve been watching you ignore advice and dig in on the idea of DIY for at least that long). The reason for that is, as I’ve experienced, it is far more difficult to course correct later, for a variety of reasons.

OP: My first series the covers cost me 75-100 each and the second series book one the cover cost 600 pounds. Now I’ve run out of money because that last has not sold much better than the cheap covers. I’m done publishing this year so I can take as long as I need to get the covers right. I do know what a good cover should look like.

Me:  I checked out your books online. The cheaper covers communicate your genre much better… and that really reinforces what I’m trying to say about covers. I paid a similar amount for art on one of my earlier SF books. Good art doesn’t always mean it’s the best cover for you. I rebranded and paid less for the entire series than for the first piece of art. It was an expensive lesson… and that sucks, but at least you can move forward from there.

(I’m looking at [book name], and it’s a good looking cover, but when you look at it, you think Military SF/Space Exploration. The book is SF comedy. That means you are trying to sell the wrong kind of content to the wrong audience: you’re trying to sell Bibles in a porno shop. It’s no wonder they aren’t moving.)

At the end of the day, if you want your cover to engage the audience, your cover should look as similar to the books on your genre’s top selling list as possible—AND a random person should be able to identify the genre at a glance. This means that they should not be books by huge name authors (whose name sells books) because that’s a different animal altogether. JK Rowling could simply put her name on the front in huge letters and a teeny tiny title like Case of the Jiggly Pudding Pops and it would sell a million copies on day 1. Her platform (name recognition) sold those, not the cover. If you’re not a millionaire from book sales already, don’t do that.

The best thing you could do is smartly invest in a good cover.

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