Is Cover Art a Dying, er, Art?

I came across this article one day and it interested me enough that I decided to continue the discussion here.

In the E-Book World, Are Book Covers a Dying Art?

As a browser of Amazon and Barnes and Nobile.com I will often stop for a closer look at a title that has a cover that grabs my eye or in some way is interesting. Back in the day when I browsed along in brick and mortar stores I did not pay so much attention to the cover. First, many of the titles are shelved with only the spines visible, (at least the titles I am interested in), true the front end displays showed off the latest books but I rarely stopped for a look there. Plus, with the actual book in my hands I could read the back flap or more often the first chapter to know what I was getting in to. In the e-Book world cover art is even more important. A thumbnail of the cover is the firs thing your eyes will come upon. The cover is your introduction to the book and on another level a tiny micro-sized Cliff Notes. A successful design will reveal the mood, theme and action of the work as well as functioning as the first crack at attracting readers. You writing could have the heart of Shakespeare and the lyricism of Fitzgerald, but no one will know if you have a hideous or unprofessional cover that says, “nothing to see here.”

Xristos: Chosen of GodI designed and created the covers of my first two books. I was able to pull on some of my experience as a draftsman to come up with a simple but attractive layout. For my first book Xristos: Chosen of God, I used the cover generator provided by Create Space. The photo was one my wife had taken of a close up of some stones. Something in my eye told me that it would be a good fit for the book so I used it.

In the case of my second book, In the Presence of Gods, I wanted a cover to suggest a classical theme. To that end the photo is of a bust my wife and I purchased at T.J. Max and had in our library. For an interesting background my wife set it on one of our dinning room chairs. The rest is an elegant cover with a classical theme to match the work. I used Gimp, (an open source photo editor), to layout the cover and provide the fonts.

Cover art for Undead HeartFor my soon to be released third book, Undead Heart, I came up with the initial concept but my friend Chris Wilkie over at The League of the Iron Quill took the design to a whole new level. Here all the major themes of the book are contained in one image. As you can see the fonts play an important part of the design. This was something I overlooked on my first two covers. You can read more about this process from my post, Designing a Front Cover.

For my next book I plan on working with Chris again. This time I do not have a clear concept in my head for the cover so I am eager to see what he can come up with. I sent him a few sample chapters to set the tone.

I wanted to end this post with a few words from the man himself. I had asked a few basic questions on cover design and he graciously provided the answers.

What makes one font a better choice than another?

Your font, or typeface for old-schoolers, is pretty important. The style in which your title is displayed works in tandem with your art to convey what the story is about. Try to pick a font that gives the feel of the kind of story you have. If your story is about pirates, pick something with some flair and with a bit of dinginess or grunge to it… something piratey.

What to look for in selecting a photo?

There are a ton of pitfalls and dangers with putting a photo on your cover. Be sure you have the legal right to use the image… that’s probably number one. There are places to get Creative Commons images you can use for commercial purposes, like Creative Commons Search or Stock Exchange. You can even get very good professional stock photos at iStockPhoto.com. iStocks products are not free but are often very affordable.

Picking the right cover image is probably the most crucial thing to conveying your story. For indie and self-pub authors, it can also be deceptively difficult. Like the typeface, your art should tease the story for you. If you can’t put a person on your cover, which is very likely and often preferable  pick an item that represents your story. If you are doing Steampunk, something with gears or other machinery. If you’re doing romance, think of what items from the book are central to the story… is there a vase? A wedding band? Maybe even a little bit of rope or handcuffs… It all depends.

Can color influence mood?

Absolutely. Color has a huge impact on mood. Marketing studies on this go back to the early days of the 20th century. And, some of it is a little bit of common sense. Red is action, fire, anger and lust. But red is also food. Blue is calm, water, cool. Green is nature, peace and money. Thinking of your story in these simply terms may help you pick a primary color for your story. To use this in conjunction with your cover art… the color could by your typeface or it could even be a colorized version of your cover art. This means that your photo or whatever is black, white and red. Like putting a colored filter over the picture.

Is it better to use your own photos?

This is one of those pitfalls I mentioned earlier about photos. Before you ask if you should use your own picture, ask yourself a question… Are you a professional photographer? If not, then the answer is probably no. Unless you are an accomplished photographer, what may seem like a simple and quick picture may not work as well as you want. Professional images require a strong understanding of lighting and composition.

Now, there are a few exceptions. For example, The guitar image we used for your upcoming Undead Heart is your own that you took. In this case, your image was actually very cool. The shading on the edges of the original was very effective, even if they were unintentional. But this is an exception, and certainly not the rule.

There you have it. I hope that answers some questions you may have. If there are others ask awya in the comment section and I will see about getting them answered. Also please visit The League of the Iron Quill if to see their full range of Author’s Services. Thank you Chris for your time, any last words?

It was my pleasure. Cover design can be a tricky thing, especially for the budget-minded indie author. If you can hire a designer, please do. Doing so will help your book sales more than you probably realize. If you can’t, make sure you like your cover enough that it would make you buy the book if it wasn’t yours.

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About Vincent A. Alascia

Vincent is the author of, "In the Presence of Gods," "Xristos: Chosen of God," and coming soon, "Undead Heart," available on Kindle and paperback, as well as works that have appeared in anthologies and online. Originally an East Coast native, he makes his home in the Phoenix area of Arizona with his wife and three attention grabbing felines. Vincent is an active member of the West Valley Writers' Workshop and an Adult Services librarian at the Maricopa County Library District Northwest Regional Library in Surprise, Arizona.
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