Almost two years ago to the day, I wrote a backstory about my book cover adventures. Then back in May of this, I wrote about the beginning of my newest book cover adventure starting with the news from my editor at that, as he said in an email, “Time and budgetary restraints being what they are, we’re unable to ask our designers to come up with a cover completely from scratch. Rather, it falls to you (and to me)…” And that’s what got me thinking about the differences (or lack thereof) between traditional and independent publishing. At that time I lamented that if I have to design my own cover, what in the world are publishers paying those designers to do exactly?
So, I went on to the web site where this publisher buys stock photos and drawings to search through thousands of images using a variety of relevant search terms. I narrowed it down to a few, modified them in Photoshop, added the appropriate cover text, ran the design by my in-house consultant (my husband) and sent the mock-up along to my editor. A month or so later (he apologized for taking so long to get back to me – evidently during conference season it’s hard to find their marketers. It occurs to me that if you’re at conferences selling books, then you are a sales person. If you are a marketer, I thought that you worked on marketing strategy including cover design – but I digress), he emailed me telling me that my cover mock-up was clever, but they didn’t think it really represented the book very well. Never mind that I don’t think a single member of the ‘marketing team’ has actually read the book.
Then he sent me a stock photo that they thought was appropriate. It. Was. Not. And it wasn’t clever. And it wasn’t interesting. And it wasn’t an image that a single one of my intended readers (this is targeted non-fiction this time) could identify with or would even click on to get further information – and make no mistake, that’s how books are bought these days, particular this kind since they are not designed to go to book stores.
As any writer of book-length work realizes, the old maxim “You can’t tell a book by its cover” is becoming more and more irrelevant. You might not be able to tell a lot about what’s behind that cover just by seeing the image and text, but in my view (a) you ought to be able to, and (b) that cover really does need to be dynamite these days.
I recently read a marketing study where eBook covers had been changed and sales tracked before and after the change. Just as you might expect, improving the cover increased sales. Although this is not an eBook (but there will be an electronic version naturally), sales will accrue through online channels. This means that the potential buyers will be moved to either explore further or not by what they see on that cover. The truth is, though, that no one has the definitive answer to the question of what makes a truly good book cover design. That’s because each book is unique. So where does that leave us?
Just by coincidence, or perhaps serendipity, The New Yorker online published a piece today titled The Decline and Fall of the Book Cover. The writer Tim Kreider says,”… publishing houses hire professional designers for books’ covers and allow their authors very little say over them…” Clearly he doesn’t know about smaller publishers who seem to have less than no money these days for design. He did however describe his own recent experience in which he seemed to have embarked on a similar back and forth between him and his publisher on the design of his book cover. When he suggested that the cover he liked the least was always the one they seem to like the best, I was on his side again. However, he seems to think that well-designed book covers are on their way out, blaming the electronic book trend for this phenomenon. Book covers, he believes, are dull and getting duller. I happen to think that book cover design is going to be even more important as we move ever deeper into electronic purchasing and electronic reading.
I will say that I was completely in agreement with him at the end of the piece when he and his publisher finally agreed on the cover design for the new book. He describes it this way: “…a result nobody would voluntarily have chosen but which everyone could acquiesce to, if only out of exhaustion.”
I am sorely afraid that this is what will eventually become the cover my new book. And it had better happen fast because it’s on the publisher’s fall list.
Again the question: What makes a good cover design? No one really knows these days. While I await my editor’s next move (back to the drawing board he said yesterday after he finally, a month later, responded to my email detailing why I thought his suggestion was lame) I’d be interested to know what draws you into a book that no one has actually recommended to you. Is it that cover?