The Perfect Cover
Updated: May 25
You’ve worked on your novel for two years: elation, depression, writing, rewriting – it seems never-ending. Your spouse is sick of it; the room where you write, the computer, are like rivals for your heart and mind, black holes siphoning time and emotional energy. Even when you put the story fully aside and actually do something else, it’s still hanging around in your mind, like a vagrant leaning against a signpost, waiting. Still, eventually you do reach the end, and everyone breathes a collective sigh, until you remember that you need to get a cover made.
Covers: the front, the back, the spine; paperback, hardback, kindle – oh what a lot of decisions! It can be almost as filled with travail as the writing (well, not quite, but…you get the idea). A good cover is tricky and its effectiveness is totally subjective. We all have different tastes, so how do you evaluate a cover? Tough question. We all know what we like, but pleasing ourselves is not the point. Still, there are many cover design companies out there, so somebody apparently knows the way.
The covers on books today present issues that never existed before. In the past, you could always depend on potential readers viewing your cover on a shelf, in a bookstore or a library. There were certain sizes you were guaranteed – hardbacks were big and lush with dust covers, paperbacks were smaller but even the mass paperbacks were big enough to hold in your hand. Covers of the past had a certain reliable canvas size with which to catch your eye. Not so anymore. Designs today serve multiple functions. More books are bought online than any other way, and the prospective reader is making choices based on a thumbnail of the cover. Internet analysts report that book buyers only glance at thumbnails for a handful of seconds, so whatever is going to hook the interest, better do so in a flash. How easy is it to fashion a cover that works equally well as a postage stamp or a dustcover on a full sized book? Not easy at all.
On my first book, NOW & AGAIN, I made my own cover. I blithely assumed that with my photography background and Photoshop skills I ought to be able to handle my own book cover.
Okay, that naiveté led to a long and very bumpy ride. After conflicting input from a host of solicited and unsolicited critics, I finally settled on a design and published on Amazon. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the final version.
Believe me, do whatever you can to avoid publishing multiple editions of your book just to change the clunky cover. By the end of the road, I was so artistically beaten-up I couldn’t have distinguished a good cover from a coaxial cable.
So recently, when the good people at Acorn Publishing reminded me that I needed to get a cover design for my new novel, STILL BREATHING, I could feel my get-up-and-go slide right out my heels. Not again!
Fortunately, they offered recommendations for cover design companies. They patted my head and assured me that the experience would be different this time.
I am thrilled to report that they were right; the experience was different. I admit that I had worries throughout, but everything has turned out great.
I went with a company called Damonza (http://www.damonza.com). They serve a wide variety of writers, both traditionally published and independent, and their fine samples gave me hope. Damonza guaranteed to have two fresh eBook cover design drafts from which to choose within 14 days of my order. They offered virtually unlimited changes and if they couldn’t get it right, I could walk away without paying a penny.
I had often wondered how design companies come up with excellent covers for books that they have never read, but I got to experience it first-hand. I sent Damonza descriptions of my main character, the feel and theme of the book, my genre and target audience. I supplied key descriptive excerpts, and tried my best to communicate the shadowy book cover I saw in my mind. I was amazed at how well they listened, and how quickly they sent me a cover that was so close to my hopes that it brought tears to my eyes.
No, it wasn’t perfect. The road was wrong, the foliage needed to be lush and green not dry. The lady was too sad and wore a shawl that looked, somehow, from Latin America instead of Africa. The path was too wide and straight. The color of the mud was brown instead of orange.
On the other hand, I loved the title font and the way the sun burned through the letters. The boy was exactly right. Also, I loved the swarms of bugs in the air, the birds and the immersive nature of the sky and the mist. The hint of mountains in the distance was a pleasant surprise but opened up more ideas. Overall, I have to say, it was spooky how close Damonza's graphic designers came to what I was hoping for, right off the bat.
Working through e-mails at odd times of the day, (they were in New Zealand, I was in Minnesota) we navigated three more significant drafts, followed by countless minor adjustments and a swarm of tweaks. Their artists never lost patience with me and I'm immensely proud of how the final design for STILL BREATHING turned out.
In fact, shortly after the book was published, it won a cover design award, so I guess I'm not the only one who was happy with the result.
Here is the final version of the eBook cover. The hardback and paperback extends the elephant grass to the left and it forms the backdrop for book reviewer's quotes, blurbs, author pic, etc.
My hope is that the cover attracts the right readers and makes them sigh with a desire to get a copy and check out what's inside. In the end, that's the ultimate test of the wrapping. The rest still depends upon my story and my writing.
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By the way, in the process of writing this blog, I came across a wonderfully helpful guide for freelance writers. One of my kind readers sent it to me. Check it out.