22 September 2018

How A Book Cover Does Its Job

I’ve just re-covered Scent of the Böggel-Mann – yes, me – and I’m told it’s not half bad. But why did I take time out from writing to produce my own cover? Cost.

Scent of the Böggel-Mann is a story of 10,000 words – about a tenth the length of each of my Torc of Moonlight novels. It retails at 99p / 99c and I gain in royalty 29p / 33c per sale. Bespoke ebook covers can cost $300 upwards. You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out how many sales are needed to recoup the outlay and, unless you are a bestselling ‘name’, the time it will take to gain those sales. Two or three days spent watching YouTube how-to videos and experimenting with image manipulation software begins to look cost effective – IF thought is given to the design.

The primary goal of a book cover is to entice its target readership to click for more information. The target readership in this case are those people who read Horror, so my first stop was the Amazon bestseller list for that genre to understand the ‘look’ of the genre. At first glance, which is how long a trawling buyer may focus on a cover, there’s a lot of monochrome and most of it is dark in tone using plenty of contrast. Armed with that information I started to seek similar images.

I have an account with Depositphotos, picked up during a sale, but I also keep my eye on Pixabay, a site of free-to-use images, and Creative Commons images. Be certain about the licensing conditions offered; not all will include commercial use.

The story centres on a locked shipping trunk gained at an auction by a young-woman-next-door female. I discounted having an image of a woman on the cover. If she was neither a terrified victim nor somehow possessed of evil her ordinariness alone would run counter to the look of the genre. Give readers no reasons to reject investigating further. I found an image of the sort of trunk described in the story, but I couldn’t find a suitable background. Besides, let’s face facts here, the skills needed to competently mesh the two are beyond me at the moment. Then I read an article about the folly of ‘telling the story’ on a cover. What I needed was to indicate the tone of the story, not the story itself. Back to hunting images.

First I came up with the smokey skull, but felt it was a bit bare. I searched for more smoke effects and found a couple using the same colours.

I particularly liked the red eyes of the smoke-skull. It’s not a frightening image, as in portraying oodles of gore, but a quietly sinister image which fits with the tone of the story – my writing is more Stephen King than Richard Laymon. And there’s a skull in the story, and smoke, so despite not wanting the cover to ‘tell the story’, it does tick a couple of story boxes. As I couldn’t find anything better, I made my choice. Note: the images have a watermark enabling test downloads so mock-ups can be produced before purchasing, which is most useful when you are paying by the image. I decided to stick with the black background – it’s both easier and gives the required contrast – but moved both images about the cover-space in search of a placing to catch the eye.

Typefaces and fonts are a world unto themselves and the choice is ridiculously wide. For instance, a thin curly font is beloved by Chicklit, part of its genre look along with pastel colours and hand-drawn imagery, but what did I need for Horror? Again I went back to studying the Amazon bestseller lists and trawling YouTube.

On YouTube I came across Derek Murphy’s collection of how-to videos. The one I’ve linked to I found particularly useful because he explains what he’s doing and why he’s doing it, and the video and narration show there’s a great amount of trial and error involved – a learning curve that resonates with me. He may be using an updated version of Photoshop, but the concepts can be transferred to whichever software is available.

Checking back with the Amazon Horror list, I began to understand the virtuous circle of Title, Authorname and Logline or Review Quote, as well as serif/sans serif choices, and selecting colours from the image’s palate.

The red of the smoke-skull’s eye which had drawn me originally would be my colour of choice for the Title; the blue of the smoke my choice for my Authorname and a Logline. I wouldn’t have thought of using a Logline at all, despite these being carried by many book covers in the Bestseller list, yet it is an instant way of giving an indication of the story. I also chose a calm sans serif font for Authorname and Logline, and a busier font for the title.

Whether my choice of font for the Title is the best, or even reasonable, remains to be seen. It is readable, even as red-on-black at the thumbnail size used by Amazon. The fact that the Authorname and Logline can’t be read at thumbnail is neither here nor there; at thumbnail it is the look that counts the most. Get a reader to click on the image link and they can be read on its page. After that it’s up to the blurb – the product description – to make the sale. Sometimes, it’s the cover alone that does that.

With the cover complete, I created a complementary visual for use on social media sites using the images already purchased in a slightly different way.

  • Expensive image manipulation software is not necessary to produce reasonable book covers. For free try Canva, which has an ebook template. Or try out Derek Murphy’s own semi-completed online cover creator on his DIYBookCovers website. If you do wish to purchase software, take a look at Serif’s Affinity retailing at less than £50. There are lots of tutorials on its site, and user videos on YouTube.
  • Keep a note of all settings used in creating a cover, from the source and identity code of the images, to the font and HEX number of colours used in the text. It’s surprising how often I need to refer to the information.

If you found this post useful, please take time to say so in the Comments, below. Or do me a favour and RT my currently Pinned Tweet. Or heck, buy the title. It's only 99p. 😄

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