Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Getting the cover you want

Back when I was involved with a local chapter of Romance Writers of America, one of the NY-pubbed authors shared her horror stories about getting a decent cover--or at least one that reflected the nature of her characters and plots. Luckily most of us e-published writers are allowed some input into the process of creating a cover. As in most things, clear communication goes a long way in making this a successful dialogue. For my first post here, I'd like to share some things I've found helpful:

Don't assume anything. You've written at length about your character's hairless bronze chest, so make sure the artist knows your guy's torso needs to be as smooth as baby's bottom. Even descriptions like "long hair" need to be specific so everyone's on the same page. Pictures of actors and models are great to send along with you cover art proposal form.

Scope out the competition. It's always a good idea to hit all the e-pubs (print houses too) and study their covers for the same sub-genres you write in. You don't want your cover artist to be too derivative of what you find, but sharing these gives him or her the mood I'm hoping my new cover will convey.

Know what's in stock. Cheap stock photography has made life easier for many cover artists, and it's partly responsible for the break with Poser art that so many cover snarksters have reamed. Unfortunately, this also makes for a lot of repeat covers. The sexy, shirtless fire fighter seen on at least three covers so far... The young gay couple artists keep flipping and cropping to make the image seem original... You can find a lot of familiar faces at istockphoto.com, so if you're worried about repeats, take a peek there. Type in "sexy man" or "gay" or whatever your subject matter is and look for ideas of what you want and don't want. I often right-click and save the watermarked images I like and share them with the artist. This can be time-intensive, but you might end up with more control over the final product this way. You can also mention that you'd prefer they not use a certain over-used image (for example, that hunky fire fighter) if you know it's showing up on a lot of similarly themed e-books.

Less is more. Yes, she's wearing an elaborate gown and there's a bed. Oh, and don't forget the chalice and the shapeshifter panther... The more you want crammed into the scene, the less intimacy you end up with. Maybe it's just me, but these days the trend tends to be close-ups, with lots of touching. Heads are cropped off to give the characters anonymity. Let your story tell the story, not the cover.

Provide a sketch. If you're artistic, a rough idea of what you want can really nail down the iffy stuff. I've heard of a few e-pubs that even allow authors to design their covers.

Even if you give great details and lots of examples, you may still get a clunker. It happens. Most e-pubs send a draft of the cover and give you a shot at making changes. Unfortunately some don't, and you end up having to live with what you're given. The best advice here is to see where a break-down in communication occurred to hopefully prevent it from happening next time. If you like the publisher, consider it a learning process and move on.

If you have any tips to share, feel free to comment, and may your 2007 be filled with lots of sales and great covers!


Amanda Young said...

I would've never thought to sending the artists a picture to go by, but it's a great idea. That would be much easier. :)

Anonymous said...

Actually, I've got some very specific ideas, and could sketch them out fairly decently. It's good to know that there are epubs out there who won't roll their eyes if I send them some layouts of my own.

Laura Bacchi said...

Anything that fosters communication between the publisher and the author is a good thing :) It shows you're really invested in your 'baby' -- and the prouder you are of your covers, the easier it is (at least for me) to dive into the not-so-fun world of promo. The artist can still get creative and impose their own style on the cover, and you feel better knowing you've done everything you can to give specifics. I'm guessing that the artists want the process as smooth as possible, especially if they're cranking out the covers at high speed.