Three Seconds to Save a Career: Why Writers Need to Invest in Cover Design

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October 31, 2012
Three Seconds to Save a Career: Why Writers Need to Invest in Cover Design

Today’s blog post is kindly provided by ActuallyWeDo(TM), a British creative design studio.

Three Seconds to Save a Career: Why Writers Need to Invest in Cover Design

Photo by Olybrius

Photo released under CC-by-SA 3.0 Licence. Author: Olybrius

It’s taken you years of toil and sacrifice to complete your precious novel and months of painstaking editing and re-editing to make it worthy of a publisher’s attention. Now, as your pride and joy sits on the wooden back shelf of a bookshop, or on the infinite virtual shelves of cyberspace, you have a window of seconds, maybe as few as three of them, to guide a reader into your inner world.

After all of your creative endeavour, the harsh truth is that your success will be largely down to the part of the book that is most readily available to potential readers – the cover. And apart from the small bit of blurb that you have carefully crafted for the back, it is the overall cover design that will either prompt a browser to pick the book up and turn it over – or cause them to ignore it and walk (or click) away.

Yes, it’s unfair. Life is. But you may have more control over the cover design process than you think – particularly if you are self-publishing.

Research your Options

Some traditional publishers will insist they design the book cover – after all, they are paying for the rights to the manuscript and it’s their name as well as yours that will be on the finished product. However, publishing houses are businesses operating in an increasingly competitive market with slim profit margins. Medium and small houses may be delighted to relinquish control over costly cover design – you can only ask. Of course, if you decide to self-publish, you will have to take care of the cover design yourself.

There are good reasons for authors to retain as much creative control over their book covers as possible. Obviously, nobody knows your book as much as you do, so working with a competent graphic designer is your opportunity to ensure that the cover art reflects the inner essence of your book, whether it is a novel or a work of non-fiction.

Why Go Pro?

At this point you might be thinking that the only way to be sure that the cover truly represents what’s inside is for you to design the cover yourself. Unfortunately the truth is, even should you successfully interpret the inner meaning of your book to the cover, there is still a very high risk that the appearance will look cheap and amateurish. Communicating the values of the book and making sure it looks professional are two tasks that must be achieved to secure confidence in your book and convert the interest into a sale.

A professional graphic designer will have that valuable outsider perspective that you will be lacking, enabling you to bounce ideas of one another as you explore your options. There are many approaches to the art of book cover design: you want it to reflect the vision you have always had as an author, while at the same time making sure it is interesting to others and has commercial credibility, something that a publisher will be very keen to see. A bona fide graphic designer will work with you to develop your cover through a series of ideas, drafts and consultation to help deliver your dream design. Image selection and manipulation, colour choices, balance between text and image, ISBN Barcode inclusion and synopsis text are just some of the things to be considered.

Even if you are going down the eBook route, designing a good cover is not as straight-forward as you might think. Ensuring that your cover design will work cross-platform in a variety of sizes such as full-size, preview, thumbnail, and sizes suitable for download on multiple eReader devices is important for providing the reader with an enjoyable browsing experience, and for online success. As one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, competition between eBooks is growing by the day, and an outstanding cover is becoming an increasingly vital tool for the would-be online author.

Moving Beyond ‘The Book’

Many experienced graphic designers know how to create clear, effective brands for businesses, organisations and individuals. As a writer you should be looking at your book, and you, as a brand and using this brand to utilise the many promotional avenues available to you. Creating a unique look that sets your book and you apart from the crowd is important. A talented graphic designer can not only boost your book sales, they can also help launch your writing career.

Please comment to share your favourite book cover design and why you love it?