Monday, February 6, 2012

What I Have Learned as an Indie Author – Part 2: The Cover

All books need a cover, as that is how they are judged. Even e-books. But this is a very difficult business, and as contentious with critics of indie authors as is the often piss-poor nature of the writing and editing.

I fancy myself the artistic type. I even sell paintings online. But I am not a graphic designer, and I am certainly not a book cover designer. I struggled for hours and days working on a cover. Looking for fonts, images, looking at professional covers, trying to figure the whole thing out. What color? What font? What color font? What image? How do I put it together? After two days of doing that, instead of writing, I realized how hard it is. I concluded that just as in the editing, you need a professional. I threw my hands up. But I could not bring myself to hire anyone, at least yet.

In looking at professionally done covers, I looked for patterns. What kind of font did they use? Was there a secret color for the font. How about the cover? I found no consistency or pattern, with two exceptions. I noticed that about a third of all books use a white type face on a dark background. About 20% of the rest had white or very light backgrounds with dark letters. So, the answer is contrast. 

A large fraction of the fonts were sans serif, but there were also a huge percentage of serif fonts. Depends on what you’re doing. What I did notice, though, is that very few used any gimmicky fonts. No bleeding letters, or fancy script. 

There are certain other consistencies, such as the nature of the cover of romance novels (big strapping guy, usually without a shirt and rippled with muscles, with a beautiful woman, hair blowing in the wind). Books selling to women tend to have softer colors, more pastel. But otherwise, there was little in common, except that they were simple, and had only one image relating to the content of the book. They seemed to try to convey the nature of the book, but not give a representation of the story. At most, they would provide a scene.

One problem I found was trying to study books in this genre, which is horror, or maybe YA horror. Most of the famous writers of horror, such as Stephen King or Dean Koonz, have their names in huge letters at the top, with the title at the bottom. That doesn’t work for indie authors, as the important information on those books is the name of the author. Not all that important for me, yet.

First Version
So, I tried my hand at it. I think I did pretty well (but don’t we indies always think we did pretty well?) I came up with a strong image with red letters that conveyed, to some extent, the fact that this was a horror novel. You could probably describe it as being very masculine. 

Then I thought about it. I realized that many of my readers, if not most of them, would be female. So, I thought a more feminine cover would be in order. So, I chose a picture of a house on a river (actually, a castle on the Danube I took this past November), soft and misty, with a nice reflection. Part of the story takes place at a river. Then I added, faintly, an image of a skull, superimposed over the river scene. This also conveys an idea of the nature of the book. Evil in contrast to good, and not always able to tell which is which.

Another Variation.
See the difference the font makes?
I like this one better than the other two.

The Current Version
Note that it's more square than the others. This cover
works well on Kindle, but it won't fly on
CreateSpace. But it give you a little more room
on Kindle than the size they recommend.

That is where I am now. The more feminine cover is the one in use as of the writing of this blog. 

Lessons Learned 

Keep it simple. You don’t need a bunch of images. I also noticed that few books have a photograph of a person on the cover. If there is a person, it is a painting. They have either purely graphic designs, or scenery of some kind.

Use a strong font, but not a gimmicky one. A good sans serif, such as League Gothic, or a good serif, such as Trajan. It has to do with the type of book. You would not use the same font on a book about football as you would on one about a girl coming of age.

The font has to look good (i.e., be readable) in a small image online. When you have the font in place, shrink the image to see what it looks like.

Make sure there is a lot of contrast, such as white letters on a dark background. But make sure the colors don’t vibrate when next to each other.


  1. I love the current version, looks really haunting.

  2. Interesting reading, especially as I am currently designing a book cover.

    Lucky you to be based in Venice!

    Magda Allani