Self-publishing in print, part 2: People do judge a book by its cover

So, you’re ready to self-publish. You have the inside of the book, but how do you get a cover?

The good news and the bad news are the same: You’re in charge of your cover.

Unless you are a professional artist, preferably with some graphic design training, don’t try to do it all by yourself.  Your cover is a critical part of selling your book. Even for e-books, the cover is what customers see when they go shopping. It can either turn them off or draw them in. You want them to love it so much they just have to see what’s inside the book.

If you are an artist or know someone who is, that’s an advantage. However, not all artists know how to do book covers, and you don’t want to ruin your friendship if it doesn’t work out. Still, a wonderful image, such as an original painting or photo, can make your cover sing.

Having control over your own cover is one of the advantages of self-publishing. I have had publishers provide covers that I loved and covers that I hated. If you look closely at my Freelancing for Newspapers cover, the print on the third newspaper down talks about “genital warts.” I was horrified when I saw it, but there was nothing I could do.

Likewise, on the first edition of Stories Grandma Never Told, the publisher used a picture of one of the women I interviewed. I hated it. I wanted a picture of my great-grandmother, but here was this other lady, and I didn’t want her on the cover. Too bad.

When I published Azorean Dreams through iUniverse, I sent them a picture of a harbor from one of the Azores Islands. They sent me a gorgeous cover featuring a couple kissing on a rock, with the harbor behind them. The background was a luscious blue. Just one problem. My hero had a mustache and this guy didn’t. They drew on a mustache. Fine. A couple years later, I discovered the same picture on the back covers of six months worth of Oregon Coast Magazine as part of an advertisement. The same picture. The same couple, minus the mustache.  By then, I was pretty sure that was Italy, not the Azores. They had used clip art, available to anybody willing to pay for it. I was appalled, but that’s still the cover on the book.

When the original publisher let  Stories Grandma Never Told go and I republished it myself, I got the cover of my dreams. The designer, Andrew Cier, from Newport Lazerquick, used photos I had provided to design a gorgeous cover that still makes people stop and comment.

For my latest book, Childless by Marriage, I didn’t know what to do. I was hoping the artist suggested by my printer would catch the essence of the book and come up with something wonderful, but she didn’t. She e-mailed me several completely inappropriate covers and insisted I choose one. Refusing, I wound up with a plain brown cover with a pair of wedding rings on the front because I needed something to get the e-book out by Mother’s Day. Ultimately, I went back to Lazerquick. My “artist” had used “clip art,” nothing I couldn’t have gotten myself . I went online. I found some great images, but then I thought: wait, I think I have something in my photo albums. Sure enough, I found the wedding picture that Jeffery Shirley turned into a cover I truly love. I wasted a bit of money with the earlier unusable versions, but it was worth the expense to get the right cover.

What I’m saying is that if you’re publishing your own book, you have to get the best cover you possibly can.  Don’t try to do it without expert help, but also don’t expect them to be mind-readers. Look in your photos, your art, even at clip art for images that might work. One precaution: You can’t use somebody else’s copyrighted image without obtaining permission. It’s easy to grab something off the Internet or scan a picture you find in a magazine, but it’s illegal to use it for your book without taking the proper steps.

Study other covers to see what you like and don’t like. Remember that the cover has to allow space for the title and your name.  Think about what colors you would like for the background, the spine and the back cover, all of which will include print that you want people to be able to read.

If you Google “clip art,” you will find sites such as “clipart.com” where you can purchase images for a surprisingly reasonable fee.  A search for “book cover design” will bring you lots of companies willing to design your cover or offer you templates. These may work. Check them out carefully before you spend money. Just make sure you get the cover you like, preferably one that won’t turn up someday in a magazine ad.

Coming up: formatting your book and finding a printer

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One Comment on “Self-publishing in print, part 2: People do judge a book by its cover”

  1. […] previous posts have covered editing your books, designing a cover, and formatting your books. It is possible, although not always wise, to do all of these things […]


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