Many guides have been written about designing book covers. Ebooks in particular, as with every other aspect of the indie publishing industry, have rewritten the rules. Because they need to be visible on small screens, many books now are designed for the ebook version from the beginning. These digital-friendly covers are just as eye-catching on the shelf, as a look at the bestseller lists show.
As a writer who intends to indie publish her upcoming book, I don’t have a marketing team behind me (neither do most traditionally published authors, but that’s another story). In preparation for the launch of my book, I’ve been studying ebooks to see what works and what effect it has, getting ideas all through the process of what the book cover should look like.
Now, I could give you a top ten list with my favorite book covers and tell you why I like them, but it’s very likely that what works will change in the near future due to developments I cannot forsee. Instead, here is the way to find out for yourself what elements your book cover should contain with just an afternoon of research.
Book covers are an art form in themselves, not unlike what advertising was in the past. There are so many books out there now, however, that trying to just dive in is a foolhardy exercise at best. You’ll be overwhelmed.
So we start with the genre of the book. What is it? Nonfiction business? Fiction Thriller? Children’s book for girls, ages 6-9? Get as specific as you can.
If figuring out the genre is a problem, you probably have a sub-genre. This is good because you can get even more specific, and there are promotional advantages too (more on that in another post). You should write down the categories that are close to yours, even if you don’t want to be associated with them. You will be in the consumer’s mind anyway.
Do a search for your genre and “ebook cover awards”. Many will appear. Select the most put-together looking contests and bookmark them – you’ll want to consult them again before you publish the next one. Now examine their winners and contenders. If you sign up for their email list, some will even include the judge’s critique, like The Book Designer’s monthly ebook awards.
Study their feedback. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but it will educate you about how book covers are perceived.
Now go to Amazon and search for the top books in each genre associated with yours. Just the top ten will do. Make a note of the title and author’s name, and the publisher if there is one. Save copies of the book cover pictures along with the information of the books, and make a folder so that you can play a slideshow. Make different folders for each genre.
Watch one of the book cover slideshows and do a general search for your genre in Amazon. Critique them as if you were having your own book cover contest, and real money was on the line for one of the lucky contenders. In this equation, of course, it’s you, but try to get some objectivity.
For print book study, you need a little hoofwork. Any time you go into a book store, take a picture of the bestseller shelf near the register and also of the shelf in your genre. See what makes it to the endcap over time, what ends up in the discount bin and when. After a few trips you’ll have a good idea of what sellers know are “eye catching”, and you can incorporate successful elements into your design.
The object of this exercise is to learn to discriminate good from bad book covers and decipher why they work. This will carry you into the future with the skills you need to select a good artist for your book cover and know what (and how) to communicate to them, without needing to depend on advice.
My husband homebrews. My dish drainer is currently full of sterilized beer bottles, waiting for his next batch to ferment. Soon he’ll have my kitchen covered with barrels of beer, and both my kids will be standing by to help him bottle it.
It occurred to me that the stages of producing a new story (or other creative project) is a lot like the process of brewing.
Stage One: Malting & Milling
Malting is a process through which you alter the barley so that the finished beer has a particular color and flavor, then you open the grain so that it can absorb the water in the mashing stage. This is when you settle on a mood that will remain consistent throughout the narrative. You have snippets of ideas loosely connected with a mood and you talk to people you trust to help you solidify the idea. Then you closely examine those ideas, organize them, and prepare them to grow much larger with your next stage.
Stage Two: Mashing & Brewing
This is when the starches in the malt convert to sugar, the end product of which is called wort. More ingredients (such as hops) are added, which is then boiled and filtered. I think this stage is like researching, when you gather all of your facts together to help your ideas take on full flavor, then you cut out the problematic ideas and correct any issues that have arisen during the research process.
Stage Three: Cooling & Fermenting
This is self-explanatory; both our soon-to-be-beer and our project need to be set aside for a while. Walk away and let things come to fruition. A book might complete a first draft during this period, but it might still need to lie untouched for a little while for best results.
Stage Four: Maturation & Finishing
The beer is moved to a new vessel, within which it will go through whatever steps the brewer chooses to impart a particular flavor. Likewise, our project or book goes through the beta rings, or our new business is looked at by our accountant or lawyer. You’ll taste the beer for the first time, and release your first announcements of what’s to come with your project.
Stage Five: Drink, and be merry!
It’s time to pop the cap, to let that book out into the world. Time to “ship”, as Steve Jobs famously said.
Feeling a little thirsty now…
Photo Credit sashimomura on Flickr Commons
I’ve been working in and around web development since 2001. I opened my first Paypal account not too long after they started to take payments online. It seemed like a great app, since most brick-and-mortar banks dragged their feet for years to get on board with online banking.
Fast-forward to ten years later, and every client I worked with that had to connect with Paypal did so with a groan. I advised people to look for other options whenever possible.
The reason? Their customer service sucked.
As recently as last year, I had an incident wherein I spent six hours on the phone with Paypal support. My call was dropped eight times and the majority of the people I spoke do did not speak English particularly well. Moreover, that incident was over what should have been a simple question, but a vital one. I was close to losing my temper over it, which is not an easy thing to accomplish.
I could go on and on with painful Paypal stories accumulated over a decade, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about an incident that occurred this past Saturday.
I woke up to an inbox flooded with messages about account changes, cards added to my account, and transfers of all of my money out of my account in $25 increments. Needless to say, I was horrified, and not because all of my hard-earned money was gone. It was because I’d now have to spend all day on the phone with Paypal trying to get it back.
I put my earpiece in and went to the store, figuring I didn’t have to sit at home while I sat on hold. When I called I was put in a queue with a recorded warning that there was a high volume of calls. No surprise so far.
Less than three minutes later, a polite, native English speaker took my call. Within thirty seconds, he confirmed who I was and told me the money was already back in my account, and did I want the hold lifted?
In a state of shock with my hand frozen in the act of picking up a bottle of laundry detergent off the shelf, I said, “Um… if they’re out of the account… yeah?”
“Yes, ma’am, they have been locked out of the account. All you have to do is log in and confirm your identity and your account will be fixed.”
And that was it… or so I thought. When I got home and logged in, I confirmed my identity in three ways, which didn’t take more than ten minutes, but it didn’t look like the hold had been lifted.
Here it comes, I thought, picking up me phone. Now I’ll see the Paypal we all know and don’t love.
After being on hold a bit longer this time – like five minutes – I was politely informed me that I just had to log out and back in, that it was already fixed. Again.
I questioned the gentleman about the change in customer service and he told me that Paypal has revamped it because (duh) it was a major pain point for customers.
Will it hold? I hope so. Paypal is a mainstay of working online, to the point that if you serve international customers – and we all do, that’s why we work online – you have no choice but to offer it. I’ve been emailed twice since then to confirm I was pleased with the interaction. And for the first time, I am.
So kudos to you, Paypal. Keep it up and you will eventually earn our trust back. It might take some time, though.
Stephen King did it. So did Salman Rushdie and F. Scott Fitzgerald and a host of other famous authors.
As hard as it is to believe, they started out writing advertising copy. When I first heard this I thought it merely an illustration of how writers once climbed the ladder toward being published themselves, or a way to make ends meet until they did. I have since learned that the truth is far more compelling.
It turns out that writers who are experienced in writing copy have had a crash course in engaging storytelling. These authors know that they have to grab you from the first sentence, because advertising often only gets a single sentence – and sometimes far less (e.g. “Just do it.”).
Powerful advertisements are designed to tell a clear story, to grab people in an emotional, primal way. They want a gasp of appreciation or a visceral reaction, anything to make the message unforgettable. And they’ve gotten very, very good at it.
When you have a strong beginning it makes the entire manuscript. I learned about this in-depth while reading the book Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence (Random House, 2012). Author Lisa Cron examined the neuroscience behind stories that grab you and just don’t let go.
From Chapter 2:
Here’s a disconcerting thought: marketers, politicians, and televangelists know more about story than most writers. This is because, by definition, they start with something writers often never even think about- the point their story will make. Armed with that knowledge, they then craft a tale in which every word, every image, every nuance leads directly to it.
As someone who is always crafting messages in both long and short form, this rings very true. I’ve studied countless manuals that describe the technique of messaging and creating believable stories, but beginning are vital. If they don’t grab you from the first sentence, the first image, and the first emotion the reader feels, they won’t read on.
I am still on a learning path (and I hope to always be there) so this is a lesson I will continue to work on. Having a premise or mission for the content I’m creating makes it simpler to keep your story going in the right direction.
Why not take a second to ask yourself, What is it I want my readers to walk away thinking about? What point does my story make? How do I want to change the way my readers see the world?
- Lisa Cron, Wired for Story
It works for blogs, ebooks, and greeting cards too. Think about it.
Photo credit: Karen Roe on Flickr Commons
Trouble writing a bio is an issue website and book clients run into fairly frequently. It seems like such a simple thing to write a summary of yourself. It’s so useful to people who want to get a quick idea of who you are and what you’re about. It should be no more than a quick overview, something punchy and relevant to whatever format you’re putting it on, whether it be a social profile, website, business card, resume, or portfolio.
But as much as it seems simple, putting a magnifying glass on yourself to decide what’s worthy of mention can bring raw feelings of low self-esteem rising to the surface, which is simply terrible for creativity and productivity. Be not fooled by this negative internal message!
Here is a good way to get started:
- Start with: “I hate reading bios because…” This will give you a list of things to avoid.
- Set a timer for five or ten minutes and write about how writing your bio makes you feel, and why.
- Now that you’re warmed up, write at least three sentences about each of these topics: work, background, and interests.
- Save this source material and reduce the bio to the length you require. Revisit once or twice a month.
If during any step you find yourself writing your bio instead of the writing prompt, just roll with it. That’s the point, right?
Make sure you leave in the stuff about your interests and background in the final cut. It might seem boring or trivial to you, but it’s like the pinch of salt in the cookies – without it, the whole thing tastes flat.
Still having trouble? Share your bio in the comments below and I’ll offer some critique!
Photo credit: Frustration by base2wave on Flickr
I may catch some heat from this but it’s a constant thorn in my side so I’m going to just come right out and say it: just because you go to church together doesn’t mean they know how to put up your website, edit your book, shingle your roof, or anything else.
With alarming regularity, I get panicked phone calls or emails saying, “Help me, Emily! I know you don’t do this stuff often anymore, but my (website has been in production/book has been waiting to get edited or formatted/content isn’t finished being written) for an ENTIRE YEAR by this guy I met in church and it still isn’t done to my satisfaction. Oh, and I paid them in full up front, so can you work for practically nothing?”
Headdesk, followed by infinite facepalms.
I’m not saying that terrific professionals don’t go to your church. I’m sure that a fantastic web designer/graphic designer/book formatter is sitting in a pew somewhere. But if they don’t have PROOF that they can do good work in a timely manner, don’t hand over your money. I mean, seriously – I can understand giving your teenaged nephew a chance to do something before you shell out the going rate for a service, but that random person you ranted to after Sunday service (or the friend of a friend who swears that yes, they can do that) have done absolutely nothing to earn your trust. Subscribing to the same belief system, however sincere, says nothing about their ability to deliver.
Perhaps you accepted out of compassion. They may just really need the money and are willing to do any piecemeal work to make ends meet, and you may be willing to give them a shot. The problem is that a desperate person is going to work for whoever is dangling the carrot in front of them, so when you pay them in advance, however well-intentioned, they are going to move on to the next project regardless of whether the work is complete. Plus, you are setting yourself up in advance to be taken advantage of because they know (however unconsciously) that you are the type of forgiving person who can take some delays while they watch YouTube tutorials. You may have blind faith in your deity of choice, but having it in random people is eventually going to get you burned.
There are exceptions, of course. If that person has a thriving business and a google-able presence in that field, and if they offer to do your work for a great rate, it could be worth a shot. But you need an agreement in writing like with any other business, and they need to take your project as seriously as they do full-paying clients. If they don’t know how to do that and don’t understand the language of business, find someone else.
Do it right the first time. Ask someone with experience who is willing to provide you with a formal quote, a tax ID, and a receipt that isn’t scribbled on a post-it note. That’s all I’m saying.
Photo Credit darkuncle on Flickr Commons and probably Paramount
A day has passed since my announcement of a new scifi story. I’ve had quite a few signups to the email list I’ll be using to let everyone know when the book is available for free on Amazon. Thanks to everyone that signed up!
I spent the rest of last night combing through my notes for ideas that grabbed me and collecting them in a new Scrivener file. I did some research on topics that generally fascinate me, mostly science-based, and jotted down a few more. I had toyed with the idea of making this fantasy or even horror, but since this is my first attempt at a 100% original story for public consumption I’ve decided to go with my strengths. This will definitely be scifi, possibly with a cyberpunk edge.
Then this morning I freewrote about 1500 words on the subject, just sort of ambling along. I parsed that out into a sketch of the plot from beginning to end using the Fiction Writer’s Cheat Sheet I made a few months back. By that time I had a rough idea for two main characters, so I threw together a potential first scene idea. From that, a few secondary characters popped out very naturally. I’m not quite ready to summarize it, but I will soon.
It’s still got a lot of kinks to work out. Like unformed dough, I’m just kneading it, getting it to combine and build lots of strong bonds so that it will rise properly. There is more to come!
Photo Credit Drew Coffman on Flickr Commons