Make your book look good!
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
The other day I was scrolling past my newsfeed on Facebook when I came across a book cover that had a title was impossible to read. The author was a friend of a friend I respected, so I had the courtesy to click on the link. As I read the title on Amazon and thought “Ohhhh… that’s what it says”, I realized I would never buy this book. I couldn’t be bothered with it, because it couldn’t even deliver on clarity.
Time for me to get on my soapbox. Sorry about this, I don’t like doing it, but I have something to say.
Every day I see dozens of covers for new books come by, and there are always a few that make me cringe.
Covers that look like they are drawn by amateurs (sometimes even worse, they look like someone’s child drew them). They often have illegible titles and look unprofessional. A bad cover is like having an unwashed salesman with urine stains on his trousers trying to sell washing powder. It's not a pleasant experience, and I doubt he gets many buyers.
I decided to take a test and ask some of my reader friends what they thought of some of these covers. I mean… maybe I was just being far too critical about this, and maybe I was wrong.
The responses were all similar. Everyone agreed the cover was horrible, and all of them said they wouldn’t buy it. The common consensus were: if it looks that bad on the outside, it will be bad on the inside too. One of my reader friends is also a publisher. His first remark was: “Can you imagine what the editing is like?”
That’s what a bad cover implies… you didn’t spend enough time and energy on a book to make it good. Now, anyone who knows me knows my stance on the ‘importance of editing’. Don’t put your book out there before it’s finished. No matter how good a writer you are, you NEED an editor to go over your work. You have a blind spot, we all do, and an editor can point out certain things to you.
But enough about that, I simply made this point to show you there is more to writing than just putting a story on paper. All of it is important if you want to make a finished project, and your work it's supposed to be a pleasant reading experience. If you are going to be a professional writer (and as soon as you start asking money for your work, that's what you are) you need to have a professional attitude. That's what your readers deserve.
It’s like making a curry. It’s great if you are really good at cooking the meat, but if you don’t know how to use the spices and other ingredients… you don’t have a curry. You have nice meat, but that's it. A cover is important, just like editing, formatting and writing your blurb.
There are millions of books out there, and you want yours to stand out, to lure people into reading them. Having a cover that looks like a 5 year old drew it (unless the book is about the drawing of a 5 year old... and even then it still needs to look good) is not going to entice people to buy it. A reader won’t know how good your story is unless you sell it to them. The only opportunities you have is through your cover and your blurb.
It’s true… there are a few people out there that won’t judge a book by its cover. Most of those people will be your friends and family. They will read your book no matter what. Some might even be strangers…. But it won’t be many people. TRUST ME. Even most people who say they don’t judge a book by its cover, aren't aware that they actually do. We need to judge books by their covers, that what the damn covers are for. As a reader I have bought plenty of books just because their covers spoke to me.
The point is, if you want to sell your book, so make it look good.
I know there will be people out there who say: “I don’t have the money to spend on a cover.” I’m sorry, I am going to be harsh now… I really don’t like to be. But if you can’t even afford a 50 dollar stock photo cover… why are you self-publishing a book? Because self publishing implies that you are a PUBLISHER, not just a writer anymore. This means you need to get an editor (always get an editor, even if you are the best damn editor the world has ever seen, you will still be blind to your own mistakes), formatter (unless you can do this yourself on a professional level) and a cover artist (again… unless you are really good and can do this yourself). You will need to do the marketing and all the other things that come with being a publisher. If you can’t do this… find a publisher that will do this for you.
Besides, you don't even need luxurious pictures to grace your cover. I have seen plenty of books with just the title and a neutral colored background that looked enticing.
If you have made a cover, for the love of something, run it by some other people. Not friends who will tell you the sun shines out of your backside… find those people that have an eye for design and an opinion about covers. Ask them what they think and don’t get sad or offended if they don’t like it. If you ask five people and three are critical about it… fix it.
Look at professionally published books. See the covers that appeal to you, and let those inspire you. You don’t even have to like the books, it’s not about that. It’s about what will sell.
Having said that… make sure your cover fits your book. Because otherwise you lose the trust of your reader. This happened to me. I picked up a book with two ghost girls on the cover… who ended up not being in the book at all. The whole book I was waiting for those girls to make at the very least a cameo, but it wasn't about ghosts at all. I was confused and disappointed and really didn’t like the book because it didn't live up to my expectations. The blurb had been misleading a bit too, and I never picked up anything by that author again.
Which leads me to the next point: make sure your book is placed in the right genre. Nothing more frustrating than when you think you are going to read a fantasy novel and you end up reading a romance… it won’t matter how good the book is, you’ll be disappointed. It’s like wanting to drink milk, but finding you are drinking buttermilk instead… the drink will taste spoiled.
It’s not always easy to categorize your novel. I suffer from this myself. The Coyote series is a slipstream series and I still struggle to find a proper home for it. It’s a Steampunk-Western-Science Fiction novel with elements of Fantasy. Try finding a home for that. I can practically hear agents sighing when they read my query letters.
This all sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t have to be. No one is asking for utter perfection, but there is a big gap between your work looking professional and looking like amateur hour. You don’t want to be seen as a joke (and trust me, there are plenty of people out there laughing at bad quality covers). Don't forget that there is always room for growth and improvement. Even with big time traditionally published professional writers, none of us are perfect. But it’s good to strive towards it. To give your book some love.
Why spend months, maybe years, writing a book and then putting it out there looking like something that’s unloved? Think about what you are doing and make the right choices.
I shall step from my soap box now, and wish you all a great day.