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Free covers for Willamette writers

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This is an old post! The makeovers were fun but the opportunity is over.

I’m presenting on book covers again at this year’s 46th Annual Willamette Writer’s Conference, but this year I’d like to focus on more case studies. So if you’re attending and aren’t confident about your book cover, send it to me and I can give you feedback and design strategy – I’ll also be picking out a handful of covers to redo (free makeovers!) and workshop during the event, which means you may get a $629 book cover for free.

 

Why I’m so expensive (how much should you pay for book cover design revisited)

When I started designing book covers a couple years ago, I remember looking at designers who were charging over $700 for a print cover and thinking they were charging way too much money. How could they possibly justify such high prices when there were cheaper options? I can make a full print cover in a few hours; why does anyone deserve to earn that much money?

Now I’m in a very different position.

I’ve kept raising my prices to keep up with the demand. Every time I raise my prices I’m surprised when I get my first few orders – surprised people are willing to spend so much on book cover design. And sometimes I think I’m not worth it – that authors could (and maybe should) buy a cheaper cover elsewhere.

But when I look around at other book cover designers charging less money… I can see why people keep coming back to me.

Though they have glossy and stylish websites, they only have a few dozen samples and most are boring, average or are heavy on stock photography (I also use stock, but I try not to use those photos I know other people are going to use… or I try to photoshop enough that it won’t be so obvious… still, stock happens).

The difference between a mediocre, not bad, pretty good book cover and an amazing piece of art that makes your soul dance, is potentially huge. It’s hard to measure two covers side by side and say why one is better than the other. It’s something you feel. The design just works. The art is moving. The text layout feels clean and well spaced. You can’t see it, but you feel it instinctively.

Here’s something I worked on recently – after reading “WormWood” I wanted to help the author by redesigning the cover. A lot of the story takes place in high places, and I had this painting by Friedrich (1818, “Traveler above a Sea of Clouds”) in mind as I worked on the art.

(Mine is the one with the crossbow).

book cover art

I love the art for this cover. I want to print a poster just to put it on my wall. But I made a few options, including this close up.

The close up (in the middle) is more powerful and immediate. It does a great job of enticing the right readers who like the genre (paranormal/angel romance), and is simple enough to let them know what the story is about. It would probably sell a ton of books. But the scene with the mountains is more distinctive, more memorable, more touching somehow – there’s so much emotion in that space, so much tension and conflict and longing.

 

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Compared to the original (simple black cover, using William Blake’s renders of Paradise Lost) I expect either of the new covers to easily double or triple the author’s sales – we’ll have sales data in a few months.

High prices improve the quality

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the last few years.

1. When I charge lower prices, I have a ton of work. I’m stressed and busy. I can’t finish everything. I don’t remember things. I don’t enjoy it so much.

As of June 2014, I’m still getting enough work but maybe half of what I got a year ago. I feel more relaxed. I still have a lot to do, and I still have trouble getting everything done and staying organized, but all my clients are happy and the quality of my covers are improving. I have more time to reflect and improvise. If we don’t get things right the first time, I’ll come up with new ideas.

2. The second thing I’ve learned, is that entering a relationship with a client is personal, and long-lasting. I have some clients that took a full year to decide what they wanted. Sometimes, after rejecting all of my samples, they want me to try a lot of other stuff, and sometimes we end up with something better. Other times, in the end I convince them that my earlier samples were the best and will perform the best for their book, and we use what I had made originally.

Then they need help with their marketing plan, uploading files, preparing their ebooks and POD formatting, navigating distribution services, editing their sales copy. After the interior is finished we’ll rework the print cover – then there are problems, or the page count changes, or they want to start over and use a different picture. I’m not just describing a few needy clients – this is a pretty typical client/designer relationship for me.

Some people tell me I need to say no more often, or charge for revisions, or stop giving away so much free help and advice… but I’m not going to do that. I like helping and I love designing books. My high prices are kind of like a retainer; I become an always available publishing consultant.

(And damn, really when you compare my covers to Createspace or Selfpublishing.com or the other “big” author services offering cover design, I’m still charging less! Maybe next year I’ll be charging double.)

When not to pay for a cover

A cover is really important, and can make a huge difference, but it won’t make a mediocre book successful. If you’ve written a book with no audience, in an unpopular genre, and the book isn’t amazing but just ho-hum, or the writing isn’t great… investing in a cover isn’t a good idea. Fix the writing. Hire and editor. Write another book. The story matters more than the cover, ultimately.

If you’re unsure, get a cheap cover, publish the ebook, and advertise enough that you get 100 buys or downloads… then watch the reviews. If you start getting glowing reviews from genuine readers, it’s time to double down and invest more.

If you need a cheap, DIY book cover solution, check out www.diybookcovers.com.

Right now, there are MS Word templates, but I’m building the WORLD’S BEST online book cover designing software, it’s going to blow you away.

Another long (but satisfying) book cover design process

I’ve been working on Brian Smith’s thriller “Purified” for a couple of months. Like most challenging projects, we reached a few dead-ends before pushing through and finding something that really works.

There’s a sci-fi element – a new being of humans is being created, and they have wings and four arms and legs (kind of). I thought I could pull it off, but these are two literal and the author didn’t like them.

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So we focused more on the subtitle (and changed the title name to fit)… “Imagine waking up Purified.”

We focused on a top secret bloody hospital bed….

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Brian wanted to mix a couple covers and add this guy:

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For awhile it was our final choice, but I thought it lacked action (he’s just sitting there) and was a little boring.

I tried a few more and really like the strong contrast in the first one below.

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I told him if he wasn’t going to use it, I would – because I’m confident it would outsell the others. I probably still like my version, with the lighter text (stands out more) and the syringe replacing the “I”, but with compromise we ended with this – a little darker, a little more subtle:

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More about the book:

I would call Purify a thriller.  There’s some sci-fi, crime, fantasy, love; but above all of that, it’s a thriller.  As far as target audience goes, it’s adult fiction, but I think it would mostly appeal to non-skilled, non-professional earners who aspire for something better.  Mason was a factory worker who only wants his old life back, but he arches into someone who is ready to deal with being better physically than anyone else.

Purify is the name of the drug–the protocol that is being developed in an unauthorized, underground experiment.  It takes a living body into a sub-coma state, then repairs it, totally purifying the immune system to create a body that will never become infected with any disease again.  That’s the theory behind the drug, but the story is really about a man’s struggle to deal with the effects of the drug after being forced into the program when he thought he died.  Purify also relates to the theme which is “forget the past; live for the future.”  All Mason really wants from being alive again is to get his old life back, but Purify is not about that.  It’s about a new start with a new, purified body that will change mankind.

A mistake I’ve been making in all my book cover designs

I was browsing a bookstore today (a recreational hobby + business training) and noticed, not for the first time, that almost all the books have “COVER DESIGN BY …” with the designers name. Although I’ve been designing covers for a few years, and although I know it’s standard, expected, and for that reason essentially mandatory for indie authors who want to look as mainstream as possible, I rarely add my name on my covers.

Probably due to humility, insecurity, politeness or something like that.

But then later today a client emailed me back, once the cover was finished, to request that I add my name on the cover: and he’s right.

There’s no reason not to list the book cover designer’s name on the cover (unless you made your own cover, in which case it can be a little strange – something for which I’m prepared to solve for authors using my DIY cover templates by allowing them to use my name and brand).

So from now on I’ll add my name onto all my covers and force myself to get into the habit. It’s good for me, it’s good for the authors, it’s good for everyone.

Oh the difficulties in choosing a final book cover design!

A problem I often face with authors is paralysis of having too many options. 3 options to choose from is good. But I usually make at least 10 samples, in each round. So we are always selecting and dismissing different versions of the cover. And sometimes, what we end up with is unexpected.

Here’s an example from a rather challenging cover I did for Isabel Burt’s Toxics.

The book itself is a YA fantasy/adventure, with sapient plants and talking animals (sort of, I’m really not doing it justice). Mystical, fantasy, and romance. Based on a beautiful world – very raw and natural. Female teenage heroine. Lots mystical energy and light.

This was my first batch. Some are not great.

toxics4   toxics20  toxics15   toxics8      toxics13 toxics10

My favorite are the last two: in fact I’ll save one and write the book for it later, because I’m sure the cover would sell like crazy.

But Isabel didn’t like them, so I made some more:

toxicsnew9  toxicsnew11 toxicsnew12 toxicsnew2 toxicsnew3  toxicsnew5 toxicsnew6 toxicsnew7 toxicsnew8

It was hard to choose between these too. The solid yellow with the bold title is appealing. So is the pink forest. Isabel really loved the green forest path (with yellow text), but after checking with the artist, it wasn’t available to use, so we hired him to make something custom for us. First he made this one, with a dark river valley and sunrise; he hadn’t finished all the lighting yet, it would have been pretty cool, but Isabel didn’t like it (too manga/cartoon). He made another one that I quite like (still my wife’s favorite):

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But neither were right for the author, who wanted to go back to an earlier version which had tested well in a group of children.

And so now we’re just playing with font and text choices for the title.

In the end it’ll be really hard to choose – the title text and color matters and will attract different kinds of readers, but it’s hard to guess which will sell better or which matches the book the best.

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I love these final covers. I think we made good choices and the evolution was continuously towards improvement (often authors will go the other way, and direct changes that lead away from good design and towards something less than ideal).

But some readers will have preferred the earlier illustrated version, or different layouts. Side by side, everybody will have different opinions about what’s the “best” cover. But between several very different but equally well-designed covers, choosing is very difficult. Get a ton of feedback. Run one for a couple weeks and then try another one to see if sales pick up. Little differences can impact sales, and cover art matters, so choosing can be difficult.

What you don’t want to do is obsess over little details and keep changing and changing based on your own preferences. Don’t trust your gut or mood. Get the best designer, let them do their best, then get a lot of feedback (from hundreds of people, not just your friends and family).

 

SYNOPSIS OF TOXICS

Felicity Penfold, a girl of 14, finds herself mysteriously deposited into an alternative world. In the misty opening scene she links up with Reuben, an ‘Orion’ embarking upon a quest in which it seems Felicity is prophetically implicated.

This ‘Old World’ is in a state of impending crisis. Its entire ethos was one of balance; this has been irrevocably altered by the illegal birth of a new species, called ‘Toxics’. Each plant or beast has an ‘enharmonic’ which is its counter-species balance. The Toxics had none. Their exclusion over the years has led to them becoming bitter and by the time of Felicity’s arrival, very dangerous. Their leader, Arrass, seeks the destruction of the traditions of the Old World which he feels has betrayed them. His final destination: the Sacred Caves.

These caves contain the roots of all knowledge, and they are guarded by the ‘Taureau’.

The story follows Reuben and Felicity as they are joined by other key troupe members who seek to save their precious world by joining Reuben’s quest to protect the Roots, and shift the Old Ways to include the Toxics; thereby restoring its balance. The salvation of the Old World and ultimately of the Toxics becomes a race between the gathering of the quest troupe and the gathering of the Toxics.

What I’m giving everybody for Christmas (book cover design makeovers for indie authors)

I’ve had an exciting year. I keep raising my prices, and people keep ordering, and my book cover designs keep getting better… which means it’s a constant upwards spiral. I started out a couple years ago as a cover design amateur with better-than-average skills.

Right now my skills are well above average and improving all the time. My most recent 20 covers are pretty amazing. But they also take more time and attention to detail, which is why I can price higher than other designers. But I also keep up my policy of trying to do free cover makeovers for indie authors, if they ask and if I have time.

These are authors with ugly covers who know they need something better but can’t afford it right now. It’s fun for me to try and do a quick makeover – on the condition that they can’t be picky and I basically get to do what I want (a freedom I don’t also have with my regular clients, which allows me to really have fun and be more creative).

Unfortunately I haven’t had time for awhile to do any makeovers, and I probably have 25 requests right now.

So my Christmas goal, even though I’m working on a bunch of new orders, and the DIY book covers package, will be to finish all those requests. Ideally I’ll just take a holiday week off and focus on makeover projects only. I’ll add them to my ‘makeover’ section when I’m done.

If you have an ugly cover and want to send it to me to redo, you’re welcome to – although I probably can’t add many more requests to my plate.