In the first part of this blog I discussed the planning, writing, and editing process for my recently released novel, The Watchers of Ur: Cradle. In this installment I will focus on the process of preparing to self-publish, and the importance of the cover design.

When I embarked on this journey to write my first novel all of my fear and trepidation was focused on the task of sitting down and writing. Could I actually write something that other people would want to read? It was a stroke of inadvertent genius on my part to select the writing software called Scrivener. You can read all about my love affair with that magical program here. For the purpose of this blog entry, suffice it to say that it made the whole writing, editing, and publishing process far easier than it would otherwise have been.

Once I conquered my fear of the writing process — somewhere in the midst of Chapter 4 of CRADLE — I started thinking about very practical things like marketing, distribution, and of course packaging. By packaging I mean the face of the book, the first impression, the calling card for your scribblings and the billboard for all those hours of labor — the cover design.

For me, it made sense to work on the cover very early in the writing process. Having the cover design completed gave me a visual encouragement and reminder that I was writing a book. A book! I printed it out at full size at high-resolution and taped it to the wall above my monitor. It was there staring me in the face all the time, encouraging me to keep going.

Now, if there is one broad generalization that can be aimed at the current state of the independent publishing market it is this: the majority of the cover art sucks goat ass. Sorry. Perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic.

No…I meant that. It sucks the asses of goats. Really and truly.

As someone, in my opinion, with a relatively healthy artistic sensibility, I feel I am qualified to judge the state of the cover art I see littering the pages of Amazon.com. It is appallingly bad. Now, there are some, and thankfully increasingly more, independent writers who have very good and sometimes truly excellent cover art. But frankly, there is no reason to wrap your work in an unattractive cover with some weird font you would find on a children’s birthday party napkin, and clipart (freaking clipart!) as your major graphical element. You’d be better off just writing in 72 point Arial bold, “I’m a moron, and this isn’t worth your time” on the cover and leave it at that. Seriously.

For those of you who have any artistic ability at all, you have no excuse. Sorry, but it’s true. Learn how to use a program like Adobe Photoshop or one of the dozens of much cheaper knockoffs, then visit DeviantArt.com, and get some decent artwork. If you take a couple of hours and mess around with a graphics program and some decent typefaces, you should be able to create something that doesn’t suck. Will it be excellent? Well, that depends on you. But you should at least try if for no other reason than it will help you figure out what you are aiming for.

If you simply can’t deal with the DIY approach, well…spend a few bucks and engage a professional to make a good cover for you. There are a bunch of very inexpensive options for this. Just use the Google machine and you’ll have more options than you know what to do with. This is money that will come back to you in the way of higher book sales. I promise.

The old adage “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” is fine for Thomas the Tank Engine, but it bears no relationship to reality when it comes to book marketing. Think about the last time you went to the bookstore. You are browsing the aisles and you are enticed into picking up a book by what? The typeface on the spine? The sexy positioning of the book on the shelf? NO! You look at the cover and think, “Gosh, that looks ______.” Fill in your favorite adjective. Cool. Lovely. Interesting. Scary. Whatever it is, it makes you pick up the book and look inside.

Same rules apply on Amazon. The difference is that your potential buyer is looking at an image the size of a large postage stamp instead of a 6×9 or larger book cover. You have less than one second to engage them and cause them to click on your image. That’s it. So if you think your cover art doesn’t matter, then stop reading this, put a picture of your cat on the cover and call it a day.

The reaction to the cover I created for CRADLE has been 100% positive. I got the image from DeviantArt.com, contacted the artist in Poland via email, and negotiated a price for unlimited use for $50 dollars and a signed copy of the book upon publication. The artist was thrilled and I got a sweet deal and a gorgeous cover. I did the type treatments and overall cover layout and setup myself. Now, I have over 15 years of experience with Photoshop as a serious amateur photographer, but I am by no means a professional. You can do it to, just try.

Your book sales will definitely be influenced by the quality of your cover design. That may be tough to swallow, but there it is. Of course there are other factors to consider as well, and those will be the subject of our next installment. Until then…go play with Photoshop.

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