Sunday, 22 April 2012

Covers and Blurbs...

Anyone who’s ever chosen a book will be aware of the importance of the cover design and the sales text – otherwise known as blurb. In the indie-book-world where the author takes responsibility for the entire publishing process, the blurb is unlikely to raise the stress level. After all, it’s just words, innit?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought that they could do a better job of the blurb on the back of their traditionally published books... well, now I get to try.

But the covers? That’s a whole other ball game.

The cover of a book is its first and most important sales tool – it doesn’t matter whether it’s in a shop or on an Amazon webpage, a book has to have an eye-catching cover to draw people to ALL the rest of the sales tools – blurb, reviews, chart position... And while I don’t want to state the blindingly obvious, covers don’t have much to do with words, they are visual beasts, with graphics, pictures and logos – and many writers are not comfortable in that environment.

So what to do when it comes time to create a cover for your first indie-publication?

The original cover...
In time-honoured (and game-show) fashion I called a friend, figuring that at least I would benefit from ‘mate’s rates’ ... and I did. Unfortunately, although my mate was a great designer, he didn’t know much about books. Initially, I loved the two covers he designed, as they did at least reflect my idea of the books. I had a sense that they weren’t quite right, but as I was only paying mate’s rates I felt uncomfortable about asking for too many changes.

Those covers lasted about a year and it was only a bad review (for the cover, I should add, not the book) that finally tipped me over into doing something about it... but what? I’d seen many recommendations for cover designers while reading other writer’s blogs, but I was conscious that the choice of designer was crucial. It was all very well agreeing a fixed fee for a cover design, but what if I didn’t like any of those offered?

The new cover...
The answer came from in the shape of 99designs.com, where it’s possible to get almost anything designed. The process is simple; write a brief, a description of what you want designed and then post it on the website (book covers now have their own section). Part of this process is choosing a ‘prize’ amount in dollars, and this is effectively the fee that you will pay the winning designer for the right to use the entry that you eventually choose. 

After you have done that, nothing much will happen for a day, or maybe two. And then you’ll get your first design. This is a crucial moment – I think that a lot of the designers working on the contests on 99designs are young, and looking to learn how to deal with clients and work to a brief. The money is secondary; if you provide them with good feedback on their work, they will keep at it for you. So when you get that first design, love it or hate it, try and find something intelligent to say about it. A lot of other designers will be watching the contest and if they see good quality feedback they will be a lot more inclined to jump in and have a go. 

This is a link to the contest that I held for the design of my most recent book, The Fulcrum Files. There were 136 designs submitted by 25 different designers – the quality of the work and the ideas was fabulous, and it was a nightmare trying to pick a winner... even now, I’m not sure I got the right one! 

There are a few more things you need to know – the contest runs in two stages, at the end of the first stage you pick a maximum of six ‘finalists’ and work with them towards a finished design. It’s also possible to create a poll so you can invite friends and readers to participate in the process – this is the one that I ran on my final set of choices. It may or may not help you pick a winner!

The contest runs for a week under the standard rules, and you have plenty of time once it’s ended to choose a winner. The support and documentation on the website is great, so you should have no trouble with any of this, or the handover process - where you pay the cash and get the full rights to use the design. If you need further variations (for a print edition perhaps), the designers will probably do it for free, but the website also allows you to commission and pay for extra work for a pre-arranged fee.

I’ve now run two contests and subsequently bought the covers for all three of my indie-fiction books. Not only does it produce great designs at a very fair price, it can also be a lot of fun as you work with the designers to try and get exactly what you’re looking for... And then just when you think it's perfect... another designer will enter the fray with an idea out of left-field that you’d never considered – and quite likely blow your socks off with the possibilities!

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5 comments:

dirtywhitecandy said...

What a terrific resource, Mark - and I love the results!

julia jones said...

Me too - love the covers and am utterly looking forward to reading the books. Also like the whole process that gives aspirant designers and writers a chance to get together without personalities and the fear of hurt feelings getting in the way. Thanks for explaining it.

Julie Day said...

The cover certainly suits your genre. That is one of the things that I have recently read you have to do, esp with ebooks. And blurbs really have to stand out, too.

Debbie said...

I had a similar experience with my first thriller cover - told by crime writer Al Guthrie that it "sucked"! But he did introduce me to his designer and held my hand through the process. I learned a lot from him about what works and what doesn't.

Mark Chisnell said...

Thanks everyone, glad you like the covers :-)

I hope you have as much fun and success with 99designs as I did!