If you follow my blog, the last time I touched on the subject of creating your own book cover, I advised to use a professional graphic artist. For yours truly, I’ll stick to that advice.
If you are anything like me, at some point, we’ll say “that’s good enough”, when it is not. It’s easy for us to fall short of the vision in our head when to reach it means buying new software or learning and mastering techniques that could take weeks. In that case, I have no qualms paying someone else who has invested the time and money to perfect their book cover-wu.
But maybe you already have book cover-wu? Maybe you are…
Andrew impressed me with his e-book cover skills when he started to self-publish his short stories earlier this year. He created a striking style that both lent itself to his subject and “branded” his look. He kept the design simple, but he married memorable images with unique fonts to create something that works well.
As this year’s editor of the SFFWorld.com’s anthology, Andrew decided to use his own skills to develop an e-book cover for Ecotones. He did all the accompany web graphics as well. And, frankly, I started to get envious! Surely, I could do that.
Well, maybe not.
But first, I thought it best to extract some book cover-wu from Andrew…
Recently (or not so recently), what book cover made you do a double take? Why did it catch your attention?
The cover of Keith Ridgway’s strange police procedural novel Hawthorne and Child is very unusual, which is fitting given the book itself. The artist, Tom Darracott, obviously has a mode because his cover for Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (which I’ve not read) manages to be even stranger – both of them are full of engrossing, vaguely unsettling detail. But, seeing as my focus is scifi right now, I’d have to say that the cover star of The Other – by Matthew Hughes, one of our anthology’s participants – has a sort of beguiling meatiness to him… I bought the book mostly because of the look in his eye, and had absolutely no regrets.
What made you think you could try your hand at your own covers?
It was more a case of having little choice to begin with. My first, rather ill-fated novel was published by a small press who (they claimed) provided covers in-house to the authors’ specifications; but after a month of to-ing and fro-ing it started to dawn on me that what I was being sent were not the roughest of rough drafts but the closest they could come to what I had described (graffiti on a brick wall, basically). So I dusted off my Photoshop CD, reinstalled it and started tinkering. In the end I shared the credit on the cover art, but the publisher closed down less than a year later and the book entered limbo. Still, I learned enough then to try something simpler when I started self-publishing later that year.
Do you create all your book covers in Photoshop? Or do you use InDesign? (or whatever it is called now)
I use a creaking old copy of Photoshop on a creaking old computer barely capable of running even that. I dream of having the idle cash to buy a sleek and shining media-crunching device and the joys of an annual subscription to whatever magic the latest new Photoshop can work.
I’ve only created one wholly original cover to date, meaning “with my own art”; most of the time I turn to Flickr and similar sites, where there are artists and photographers embracing Creative Commons licensing. This allows me to find non-standard material away from commercial image banks (which I can’t really afford to use at the moment anyway), and in return I can point readers back towards the people whose generosity with their work allows me to dress up mine. And in this case, not just my work but that of thirteen other writers too.
What do you like most about your Ecotones cover?
This is my most ambitious cover to date, and I’m tearfully proud of how it’s come out. I’m not sure if there’s a specific thing I like above all others. I had in mind a sort of pseudo-movie poster look, and I think that is more or less how it ended up. It was going to be black-and-white right up to the last minute, but pro-colour feedback from the anthology’s contributors made me go back and play around some more. I’m glad I did, it’s much stronger for it.
What do you like least?
…thanks for asking. I’m a bit sad that the trees lost their fine detail. I wanted a very high contrast, but the branches sort of clumped together a bit under my image manipulating. However, it’s only been a year (almost exactly) since I started designing covers in earnest, so hopefully I’ll continue to improve. I certainly feel like I can do more each time I come to it.
What advice would you give to indie writers considering doing their own covers?
The Creative Commons thing, definitely. I’m yet to find anyone who uses CC licenses who isn’t pleased to hear that their work is being reused creatively – that’s the point, after all – so it’s second tier rewarding just to be able to send someone that email. And because there’s so much stuff out there, the chances of you seeing another book wearing the same dress is microscopic.
Erm, what else… “learn to use layers”. Actually, YouTube has some awesome tutorials, very much worth hunting for experts to learn from (Phlearn Photoshop is one of my go-to channels). Most of all, I guess I’d say the same thing I’d say about writing: save everything, and save redundantly. You never know when your next edit is going to screw the whole thing up, so it’s always nice to have a VersionB document waiting for you…
There you have it. Some book cover-wu to mull over while you write your next best seller.
Until later, learn some Photoshop and make sure to subscribe to Ecotones so you’ll know when its Kickstarter campaign starts!