This weekend I attended a convention in Atlanta, Georgia where I met a bunch of really great authors. One book that I saw from across the room caught my attention because I remembered seeing its cover months ago in an independent publishing group on Facebook, and I knew I liked it. Imagine my surprise when I told the author that I had seen it, only to find out that the book was not yet out and the cover had only just been revealed. Awkward.
And I’m not going to share that cover with you because I think it would be rude, but I definitely want to warn aspiring authors to beware the dangers of using stock on their covers. You see, when two covers have the same base photo, it can be very confusing for readers. Some companies capitalize on confusion. The world of animated features is full of these: Disney is used to vultures pushing low-quality, rushed rip-offs to the Redbox to confuse parents children and get rentals for their terrible, cheap movie.
Why Indie Authors Should Scrape and Save for Cover Art (Instead of Publishing with a Lousy Book Cover)
I’ve been interacting with a lot of indie authors on social networks lately, people whose book releases are imminent—folks who want critiques on their covers. Some authors have the skill set to write a book and create their own cover. Blake Northcott, for example, did an excellent job with the Vs. Reality cover. Most authors, however, do not. They really need to hire someone.
“But I’m broke.”
I understand that most indie authors are not sitting on a pile of money. We can’t all invest $5k in our first book launch, especially at the risk that it might not sell. Here’s the thing: if you publish a book with a terrible cover, you’re creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We do judge books by their covers.
In a book store where there are hundreds, nay thousands, of books on the shelf, our brains simply must create shortcuts to deciding what to investigate. It’s the same with pages of Amazon best sellers and tables at conventions. Our minds are programmed to respond in certain ways to various triggers because there is just too much stimulus to function without these shortcuts. When we see expensive jewelry, we assume it’s good. When a book cover is bad, we assume the book is bad. Is it wrong? Probably. But there is a very solid reason why we believe this.
If you don’t even think your book is worth investing in, why should a stranger buy it?
The fact is, how cheap you are when publishing your book reflects poorly on your confidence in the work. It’s okay to be thrifty, but there comes a point where frugality is a testament to the quality of the work. If you don’t believe in it, if you don’t care, why should your audience?
“So I have to spend a zillion dollars?”
If you do your research, you can figure out how to format your own Kindle book (it’s actually quite easy if you know what to do and what not to do.) If you decide to do a digital-only release, you can save up money from sales to pay for an interior layout later. If you make friends with a bunch of really language-savvy people, you can get your editing done for free or cheap or pizza. And maybe you have a friend who is an artist and designer who is good enough to do your cover art. Maybe. Just don’t get sucked into accepting bad art because “but my friend did it.”
If there is any part of the process that you are uncertain of, scrape and save and pay for it. You can stumble your way through formatting, but you’re not going to learn the principles and skills required to be a professional designer just by reading a blog post or two, and our pride makes our work look better to us in the moment than it really is. Just look back at a drawing you did six months ago and you’ll know what I mean.
Indies are already underdogs.
We already have to fight the perception that we are unprofessional—that we only chose this path because we couldn’t do it the other way. You may know that this is not true, but many of your readers will firmly believe it. A sloppy cover tells readers that you are an amateur and you don’t know what you’re doing. It reinforces the myth that we all just type a draft at NaNoWriMo and upload what we have to Kindle without another look. Don’t play into this stereotype. Polish your work!
I confess, I am one of those cover snobs.
I am a firm believer that indies are the way of the future, but even I hesitate to buy a book with a sloppy cover. I went to art school, so it hurts my heart when I see a terrible cover on a book. You don’t need to spend a grand. $100-$200 will get you a nice cover if you approach people on Deviant Art or Google “indie cover designer.”
I’m not telling you to break the bank, but rather to invest in your project. If you believe in it, it’s worth waiting a few months until you can cobble together funds to buy professional art. It shows you care, and therefore your audience should care too.
“Who does your cover art?”
Carly Strickland. She loves indies. Check her out.
A couple years ago I considered doing a funny video about indie publishing and began making props for it. The idea ran out of steam and it never happened, but what has remained on my hard drive is a thing of horror. The book cover below was never meant to be a serious book cover, but it was based on real mistakes I have seen time and time again on independent covers. I hope that my terrible cover can serve as a warning to those producing books for public consumption.
Mistake 1: Font
Read the highlights from The Indie Guide to Indie Publishing live ePanel on January 11. Starring: Blake Northcott, Bobby Nash, Carly Strickland, Teal Haviland, Kyle Strickland, JL Bryan, and myself.
There are many ways and many programs that can help you build a site for a reasonable amount of money. There are hundreds of hosts, too. I can’t cover them all, but I can give you my advice based on my experience. Here are some tips to help people at any level of programming experience build their own site.
This article will cover a few red flags that you should avoid putting on your author sites. These are specifically red flags that announce to the world that you are an indie. Cut these things out if you want to be taken seriously as a professional author:
We’ve talked about what you should include in your professional site. Now, let’s talk about what to cut. In the next article, I will cover some red flags that mark you as an ameteur indie. For now, let’s talk about some general No Nos for professional sites.
There are two major types of author sites. The first is a clean, basic site with a little bio, a list of books, and some contact information. The second is an author blog, a site where you post blog entries and book updates frequently to encourage return visitors. Whichever you decide to go with, here are some ideas of things you should include.
Your author site is an advertisement for you. You are a brand, and your site should represent you in the best light possible. However you decide to build your site, the following tips are important. Later on we’ll get into ways for authors to create sites. For now, let’s just talk about the theory.