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Cover Art: Doing it Right

More authors are experimenting with electronic self-publishing these days. I want to point out two recent releases by friends of mine. Aerophilia, a short story by Tobias Buckell, and Fright Court, a serialized novel by Mindy Klasky.  Specifically, I want to point to the cover art.


I love these covers. Aerophilia’s was put together by Jenn Reese, Fright Court’s by Reece Notley. (I’m noting these names for my own use, since I’m toying with the idea of publishing a few more mini-collections of my own.)

ETA: Mindy was kind enough to share her own first draft of a cover. You can see that, along with Mindy’s comments, here.

Remember my post last week about making it look easy? I look at these covers and think, Hey, I could probably do that! Maybe not the artwork itself, but if I found a good stock image, I could slap it all together. Because it looks easy.

Then I remember doing it with Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu]. Big shock: it ain’t easy, and skill as a writer means squat when it comes to visual art or graphic design. I did get professional artwork for mine, and I’m proud of what I came up with, but I think both Klasky and Buckell ended up with better-looking covers.

I’ve heard people talk about covers that “look self-published.” I’ve used that phrasing myself, but I think it’s inaccurate. It’s not that so many covers look self-published; it’s that they look amateur. Amateur isn’t a dirty word, and it’s not an insult. It means the work was done by someone who’s not a professional.

My friend Stephen Leigh gave me permission to pick on him. He’s an author with DAW, and has been doing this far longer than me. He recently released his dark urban fantasy novel The Woods [Amazon | B&N] as an e-book, and did the cover art himself. He used the cover on the left first. After receiving some feedback, he reworked the cover and came up with the one on the right.

I think number two is a better cover — easier to read, clearer visuals — but it doesn’t have the professional vibe I get from Mindy’s or Toby’s.

All of which leads back to the myth that it’s quick and easy to self-publish. Well, it is … but it’s not quick or easy to do it well. Slow down. Either hire people to do the jobs you’re not skilled at, or take your time and do the work Cover art and design are just two steps in the overall process, and there’s a reason publishers hire professionals for most of those steps.

Discussion time — how much attention do you pay to “professional vs. amateur” cover art when browsing e-books? What sort of things make a cover look amateur to you? (For me, I’ll admit to having a bias against most digital art.) And does it really make sense to invest in professional cover art for a small self-published project, given that most such projects probably aren’t going to see huge sales?

PS, All three of the writers mentioned here are wonderful people, and you could do much worse than to check out their books!

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


May. 12th, 2011 03:15 pm (UTC)
Just adding my voice, to confirm that it was *beyond* worthwhile hiring a professional to do what I could not begin to do myself. (I cobbled together a truly amateurish cover for FRIGHT COURT, which was roundly criticized by everyone I showed it to.) In one week of serialization, I have earned more than I paid the cover artist.

Before finding Reece, I first worked with an extremely unprofessional artist (strung me along for two months, then stopped responding to all emails.) The best cover artists out there both create wonderful, appropriate art *and* run a business effectively.
May. 12th, 2011 03:22 pm (UTC)
"I cobbled together a truly amateurish cover for FRIGHT COURT..."

I think I speak for everyone here when I say we'd love to see it, if you're up for sharing :-)

ETA: And thanks to Mindy's generosity, here it is!

Edited at 2011-05-12 11:44 pm (UTC)
May. 13th, 2011 04:44 am (UTC)
Hee! It's not horrible, but it's not right for this book (thank you, Mindy, for confirming my interpretation of the contents from the real cover is correct).

There's a whole "No white covers!" thing that one of the buyers at Large Chain Store central purchasing his up his nose. I don't think white covers are bad--they're more eye-catching than black ones--but they are hard to do well.
May. 15th, 2011 01:16 am (UTC)
Thanks for the kind words, love. I think the key to producing artwork is to remember that it's for the writer. To sell their product. Funnily enough, I'm known for "horror" and "urban fantasy" covers, not for the chick-tick lit so this was a fun and different piece to do.
May. 18th, 2011 01:15 pm (UTC)
Do you happen to have a gallery of your work online, by chance?
May. 18th, 2011 01:57 pm (UTC)
I have a deviant art place I dump things :D I mostly do covers every once in a while. Usually for special projects. Most of the time, I'm working at graphics designer day job and writing at night. :::grins:::

Hold on, let me hunt down link.


Here you go.


Jim C. Hines


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