Book cover, brochure or ebook for that matter
Before the book cover comes writing the book. It’s a punt – writing a book. To begin with, it’s as if you’ve hit up your Lizard brain with truckloads of mind-altering substances, so frenzied the ‘whatever-do-you-think-you’re-doing’ diatribe.
Interestingly, the antidote –an equivalent of intense counselling and doses of valium – is continuing to write, despite the howls of protest.
It’s in writing that you persuade it you know what you’re talking about. That this is a good expenditure of time, and will work toward keeping you safe and secure.
Good advice I was given prior to starting my book, was to think of 200 reasons why to do it. I wrote 200 reasons to get up at 6am for a month –a time of day completely foreign to me since the birth of my daughters.
Validation for this came from a surprising source – John Cleese in a keynote about creativity. He explained Dutch researchers had discovered that creativity is most evident when you are in a state of play – and that a state of play is defined by being in a specific place, for a specific time.
I got up at 6am to play for two hours, every day, for 30 days. At the end, I had the manuscript.
Now to self publish. There is a disclaimer here – my husband is an editor and I’m a very ex-but experienced graphic designer. That pretty much took care of everything. I also had a good relationship with Excite Print.
In my previous professional life, I’d produced dozens of publications, so I understand the process well. It’s drawing from this experience that might help you, if you’re writing a book and intend to self publish.
Designing your book cover on a budget
The book cover is an agonising process for any author. How do you depict the value in the book in just one image on the front? Even more vexing, how do you compel your potential reader to choose your book from the blurb on the back?
It’s only as good as your brief
The more accurate, clear and helpful the brief for the designer, the more likely you will get a book cover design that meets your expectations. I knew from years of working from ‘handwaving in the air, not sure what I want, that’s your job’, briefs.
It’s less likely too that you’ll end up lolly shopping with your designer, which is not only wasteful of everyone’s time, it’s destructive.
The moment you find yourself saying,’What if the type was blue, purple, red? What if you just moved it to the left, right upwards, backwards? Could the image be smaller, bigger, over there?’, you’re in deep trouble. Nothing from that point will ever entirely satisfy you.
The designer will move from being obliging, to resigned, and finally uninterested, because once you mess with the balances, they’re no longer designing, they’re just servicing the job to get paid. Bad position for everyone.
Professional versus outsourcing
Your brief needs to start with a synopsis of the book and answer these questions for your designer: What is the central theme of your book? Who is your reader? (A story of your ideal reader and what is happening in their world that your book addresses would be helpful here). What outcomes is the book trying to achieve for that reader?
A professional designer should ask you these questions anyway. They should also read more than just the ‘blurb’ as a prerequisite before starting the design. If you’re outsourcing overseas, then it’s up to you to provide a resume of your book.
Outsourcing is another post. What I would suggest though, if you are outsourcing is to post your brief requesting answers to questions. If the questions are not referred to or answered, then filter those designers out. At least you’ll know that those that do answer them have read your brief thoroughly.
If you have an idea for the book cover, write about it. Furnish your designer with images and covers you love and equally images and covers you dislike.
Design is subjective and your designer is a artist not a mind reader. Sorry, old and vexed emotions coming to the fore here 🙂 Still, it’s helpful for you to walk in their shoes a little if you want a good relationship and a great outcome.
Imagery is tricky
While a designer can achieve a lot using Photoshop, the initial image needs to be appropriate, of good quality, visually appealing and of good composition.
If your book is about business, please no smiling, happy, ‘diverse’, but oh-so-posed groups of business people having the time of their life on the front cover. It’s just not real! As bad, weary men and women with their hands in their heads at their ridiculously cluttered desks.
Stock imagery is easier if your book is about beekeeping for example, as there are thousands of stock photos available.
You can spend hours scouring all the portals for images (Adobe Stockphotos and Fotalia are two) from which a designer could create magic. That’s if you are on a budget, and therefore saving your designer’s time.
A professional designer would usually want to choose the image based on your brief. An outsourced designer will work from what you give them.
With most stock photo libraries, you can download previews of your selected images to send to your designer as part of the brief and as examples of what appeals to you.
When they’ve made a selection, then you’ll have the stock number on hand from which to purchase it. I’ve often found the perfect image and then not been able to find it again to purchase it. Super frustrating.
A selfie cover
Some authors, who are positioning themselves as the expert, use photography of themselves on the front of the book cover as well as with their bio.
Then it’s critical as to how you’re photographed. Everything and especially the nuances of your expression become vital to conveying the tone of the book – serious, light-hearted, thoughtful? Get that wrong by just a glint in your eye and you’ll have mislead your reader before they get to page one. (See bio pic further down).
Become a magpie
Being curious about what images work on other book covers will help you. You’re in the zone, so become a bit of a magpie while you’re writing your book. It’s a great time to start collecting images on your smartphone, from other book covers, magazines, and online.
When you find a cover, image or type you like, ask yourself why. Answering that will better inform the designer’s brief.
Even with great imagery, typography remains critical. There are plenty of resources online that explain how type works to evoke an emotional response.
Tuning into how type works and to books of a similar nature to yours that use type well will help you in your brief to the designer.
There are three below. I’d once have written a tutorial on it, but the passion for design stuff has moved on, except when I see it being used incorrectly. Especially on a book cover, that’s sacrilege. All that work to share your value with the world spoilt by making your reader feel something entirely different to what is written within.
http://www.creativebloq.com/typography/what-is-typography-123652 (This one is especially useful if you are keen to know the technological aspects of typography.)
The more you know and are aware of how type works well, the better able you’ll be to brief your designer and the less chance of disappointment and additional costs.
The blurb/backcover design
Too many books don’t integrate the front cover with the back cover design. The back cover design is as essential as the front. A good designer will design them together so the brand, the positioning promise and the expectation of your book is carried over from front to back, and into the inside.
Get your blurb and bio written before hand
Nothing is more frustrating for a designer then to do the design using placeholder text, getting the type size, weight and spacing right and then having to change it all when they get the real text and it doesn’t fit, even by a sentence or two.
A block of text is a shape in a space
Designers design balancing shape, colour and space. They’ll often compensate by reducing the type size. Bad move. A good size for reading type is somewhere between 9 and 11pt depending on the typeface itself. Designers, especially young ones, are notoriously fond of using type as small as 4pt. Wait until they reach 40!
Writing the blurb
You may have written the book. That doesn’t make you a copywriter. Short, compelling copy is the domain of a copywriter.
If you can’t afford one, then write it, sit on it, review it, edit it.
If a sentence can’t convey meaning without an adverb or overuse of adjectives, you need to rewrite it. Every word needs to earn its place. Words like: in fact, obviously, really, very, basically, and of course add little to the meaning of the sentence. Mostly they diffuse the truth. Delete them (in your book too.)
Test the sentence without them. I guarantee it’ll sound sharper, more authoritative or less like you are trying to say something else without saying it. This is what comes from living with an editor for 40 years!
If you write your own blurb, find a copywriter to tweak it when you’ve written your best and shortest version. It’s amazing how a sentence rewritten can pop without altering its meaning.
Ask people in your target market who don’t know what your book is about to read it. Then ask them to tell you in a few sentences what they think the book is about and how it might help them.
If they don’t nail it, then you need to rewrite it. If they get it right, ask them what about the blurb would excite them to read it.
Your bio and pic
If you can afford it, I plead with you to get a real, and therefore evocative, portrait done. Reject the some stunned-mullet studio shot, looking imperiously upwards out of the corner of your eye, made or suited up to your eyeballs, as if you were about to be received by the queen or walk down a red carpet.
We don’t live in a ‘professional versus human’ world anymore, especially if we’re self publishing. If you want people to trust that what you’ve written is valuable and authentic, then show up on the back cover as who you are. A human in business. Visit Beth Jennings for more info on this vital part of your book cover.
A great image, will make people look at it, look at you with interest, and intrigue. The value to your book cover? Immeasurable.
Too often this comes across as a resume, which puts a distance between you and your reader. You want to appeal to them to like you, trust you, and want to get to know you. Do the same test with your bio as you did with the blurb. Ask people if they’d read your book on the strength of your bio.
The ISBN bit
You can get this from ISBN Services. It used to be Bowkers, that seems to have disappeared.
Please do this before you submit everything to be designed. Once again, if your designer has made all the spaces work on your cover – negative, positive, images and type, and then they have to find room to put in the ISBN number and barcode in, that’s a redesign and more time and cost. I bet you a good bottle of pinot, you won’t like it as much as you did the first time around.
I once embarrassed myself badly teaching book cover design – it was 38 years ago – by insisting that the type ran bottom upwards on the spine. It runs top down. Designers do occasionally get these details wrong. A lesson I appear not yet to have learned. If you can spot it. Blushing.
The spine should be clearly readable from at least two metres away. If your book does hit the shelves, it needs to stand out for its spine alone.
That also means your title needs to sing. That’s another story, for another time.
Next in this series. Your inner pages.
If you want a bit more hand holding to gain clarity on any of your communication opportunities, please book in a Let’s Talk 20 minute chat.
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