This is the first of a series.
Design vs creation. Very few of us word pounders are artists. But our books need attractive covers, so we’re faced with decisions about a subject very few of us know anything about. We can create our own covers and hope for the best, or we can pay someone to do that for us — and hope for the best. Quite often, the “best” is pretty bad, no matter which route you choose. There’s a very good reason for complaints by professional designers that so many of the book covers they see are just plain awful.
One commented recently about covers displayed on Kindleboards, and I had to agree. A lot of writers will post a possible cover, sometimes their own design, sometimes one that they’re paying for, and ask for critiques. Pay attention here, please. A writer is asking other writers to judge a cover design. If that doesn’t strike a wrong note with you, you’re in danger. Unless an actual designer jumps in, the majority of comments (from other writers, remember) will divvy up between “I like it,” and “I don’t like it.” The actual quality of the cover has very little to do with how many people like it.
Lesson: most writers have no way to judge a cover. If you design your own, a poor cover will just kill your chance to catch potential buyers’ eyes. If you pay for a cover, you stand a good chance you’ll be ripped off and never know it. If you’re attracted to someone’s art, you need to ask if they know anything about cover design. Most artists don’t. That means their design ideas may not be any better than yours. Do they know how to manipulate images digitally? Someone who uses paints, pencils, or even a painting program may not know anything about manipulating images and text. There are plenty of books out there with pretty pictures badly transformed into covers.
How to protect yourself and increase your chances of publishing a book with an attractive and appropriate cover? Learn the basics of good design. Specifically, book design. If you do your own covers, your work will gradually improve. If you pay for covers, you’ll be able to judge the quality of what’s being offered. It doesn’t require you to learn Photoshop. It doesn’t require you to learn to paint or draw. Those are separate issues. It does add one more learning curve to your life, but if you’ve mastered editing, formatting, and the various problems associated with digital publishing, you should be capable of absorbing the basics of design.