Cover Art Theory

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Many of you heard about the current scandal in Romanceland of a publisher suing a blogger. And while the logistics and finer points of the law suit are already discussed on blogs and twitter feeds, there’s one thing implied that I think is incredibly relevant to anyone in a “freelancer” position: multiple sources of revenue. Or put simply: eggs in multiple baskets.

A bit of background about me: before I became a full time cover artist, I was a hot shot web developer working the typical grind of unpaid overtime (otherwise referred to as salary). Two weeks after I came back from maternity leave, the company where I worked for six years, laid me off. (And yes, it was perfectly legal the way they did it.) This is where I decided  not to fall for the fantasy of depending on a single company or entity for my income  because  sh*t always happens.

In terms of publishing, we live primarily in an online world. We don’t personally know a lot of people we do business with, and it can be fairly hard to enforce an audit clause or sue someone for non-payment if their business is in another state, much less a another country. (Or someone could have an accident or a family tragedy and not be able to be online for a while. Short of stalking their personal friends, how would anyone really know what happened?)

Sh*t happens – and it’s best to think ahead. Yes, read your contracts, do your research, talk to happy and unhappy people who have dealt with a company. But in this world of many MANY different means of publishing, you have the means to diversify your portfolio.

If you are an author you can write for multiple publishing houses and self publish as well. No reason why you can’t have two different series at two houses – some houses specialize in a specific trope or subgenre, and it would be smart to tap into audience wanting what you got. Word of warning: some houses may try to prevent you from diversifying with first look clauses or other shinaniguns. First look clauses may be reasonable for a series, but in either case, READ your contract, and have that contract reviewed by people knowledgeable in the industry.  Shameless self promotion: I just interviewed the lovely LaVerne Thompason about contracts (and this self described recovering lawyer knows a thing or five!) in the November issue of InD’Tale mag, so do check it contracts are a topic of interest.

Same diversifying scenario applies to artists and editors: there’s no reason to work for a publisher and have your own clients. Some houses may preclude that by non-compete clauses in their contracts, but there’s always room to negotiate.

Make a decision if the steady work offered by the publisher will be worth turning down other possibilities in the future. Sometimes you don’t have a choice to wait for a future “if” when you have an opportunity to have something “now” –  I’ve been in that situation. See if you can negotiate the length of the non-compete, or the category of professionals with whom you are supposed to not to engage.  In case of editors, you could theoretically agree only to not to work on a genre the house specializes in. And maybe you can negotiate to keep your current clients so not to lose that income in the future.

Finally, think outside of the book publishing world. Cover artists are also awesome graphic designers who could work for local businesses. I know some AMAZING editors who honestly would waste their time chasing down  commas and instead would be extremely beneficial  “book doctoring” manuscripts with suggestions of where to strengthen conflict, where to add character development, etc. Authors could write articles for various websites and online magazines. Yes, I’m completely generalizing, but the point is, there are opportunities, even if vetting and exploring them takes time. This is why advanced planning is crucial.

Those of you who are in a predicament now are no doubt rolling your eyes at me, thinking it’s easier to say then do. Yes, this is true – all this requires set up, planning and time, and those things are hard to come by when one is scrambling for their next monthly bills. Nevertheless, I do hope this will give freelancers some ideas how to protect themselves in an uncertain future and never find themselves scrambling because of a single entity or client who control one’s entire livelihood.

CritiqueNothing douses an artist, designer or any sort of creative person in a cold shiver of dread then the phrase “Let me run this by my friends and family”.

“But wait,” you say! “I need opinions from other people to see what I’m missing!”

Yes, you do absolutely! But allow me to explain from a couple of different perspectives.

When an author (or anybody hiring a creative) completes an art brief – be it a simple email outlining what they want for a logo, a web design or in my case, a cover art request, they do so with a certain vision. This vision may not be a good idea, and the designer will try to recommend other approaches, be it to make the book more marketable, or a website more useful.  Sometimes the ideas will be agreed upon, and sometimes the author will insist on what they want. In all those cases, the communication is one on one – designer to client.

Imagine a designer’s surprise when a concept comes back with critiques from five different people who weren’t involved in the initial conversation and now want to add things that may counteract each other? Suddenly, the designer needs to cull through different suggestions, pick out those that may not work for the existing design (sometimes things we visualize just don’t work in practice), and try to communicate to the author who is equally confused by the barrage of “helpful advice”.

Now lets take it a step further: how are those friends and family and the advice they give related to your product?

Well, you say, they are all readers! Wouldn’t they be my audience?

Sure – if they normally read/watch/enjoy similar genres without a push from you. If  your sis is a romance reader and you show her your mystery cover, her suggestions may not be the most helpful because she isn’t your target audience. She isn’t the one who will be trolling Amazon’s new mystery categories looking for something to jump out at her.

Similarly, author friends (or worse – authors in a critique group),  will throw suggestions to you based on their personal feelings and experiences. “Isn’t there a dog in the story? Why isn’t the dog on the cover?” Or “Author names should always be huge” or “You should have the title in this really pretty script font”. Some of these these may be very valid suggestions. But how many of you – especially those of you who are just wading into the publishing waters (small press or indie) –  know how to cull out gems from hay?

Allow me to be of help. Yes, you should absolutely seek out help if you aren’t sure about your cover (or any design). But choose wisely.

If you have an editor – an experienced editor who has many published clients in YOUR genre – they are a great person to get advice from. They know your book as well as you do, and they have the advantage of having some distance from the book and potentially seeing avenues you haven’t explored marketing wise. (This is the ideal person to consult with while in discussion with your artist about what you need them to create)

If you have author friends who are pretty successful in your genre, those are great people to seek advice from, because they’ve walked your walk and talked your talk. And paid the same dues you’re paying now.

If you know readers – readers who enjoy your genre – those are diamonds and should be treated as such.

And finally, when you send them your new shiny cover, don’t ask them “what do you think” or “should anything be changed?” Ask five people if anything should be changed and you’ll get 5 different answers. Instead, ask “would you click on this book?”. “Would you pick up this book from a shelf?” And if they say “No,” to any of these questions, ask the whys. Don’t try to find a solution before you know the problem.  Once you know the “whys”, you can go back to your designer armed with specific things to change, and rock solid reasons to change them.

 

 

DivineWarriorx3dPublished at InD’Tale magazine in Fall 2013

There’s nothing like holding your blood sweat and tears in your hands in the form of a printed book. There it is, a physical manifestation of countless hours of work, rejection, fears, praises and doubts. Some authors don’t think it is worth it. Some authors won’t write a book without putting it into print. And while every author must decide that question for him or herself, allow me to present the actual logistics of what is involved in creating a print book.

Before we go further, let’s make sure everyone is one the same page if you’ll forgive the pun. When you write a book, you probably do so in a word processing software – unless you tap out a novel on your phone during lunch breaks. Once your book is finished and hopefully edited, someone (you, if you are flying solo, or a formatter who is hired by you or your publishing company) will transform your masterpiece into several digital files formatted specifically for Kindles/Nooks/Ipads/Kobos of this world. You will get a (hopefully!) awesome book cover for your book; then you, or another mysterious someone, will upload your digitally formatted book onto Amazon/Barnes/Itunes/Smashwords and you will be published in the virtual/digital/ones-and-zeros world. Matrix anyone?

Now let’s get physical, because you’ll need a whole different set of assets. To publish a book in physical form you will need a print-formatted manuscript and book cover. (Obviously I deal with the later, but I’ve roped in one of my friends and print-formatting junkies Tamara Cribley from the Deliberate Page to help with the former). You will also need a different ISBN number for a print book. (Actually you need a different ISBN for each different medium of your book. An audio book also needs a different ISBN).

Why do you need a “print ready” file format for your manuscript? Well, so your print book doesn’t look like crap 🙂 We’ve all seen books with margins too wide, double line spacing, huge fonts, or two returns to signify a new paragraph. And not to mention having a single line on a page before a break for a new chapter – classic what not to do.

To compete with the pros (New York or smaller publishing houses), you need to spend time and/or money. Time if you’re doing this yourself, or money to hire someone who can do this for you. Keep in mind, there’s “converting for print” and “formatting for print “ – and if you hire someone, know the difference to get exactly what you’re looking for. According to Tamara of The Deliberate Page,

“Some POD houses will allow you to upload your manuscript in a .doc or .rtf format and they will convert it into a printable format for you. The danger here is that unless your manuscript has been pre-formatted to very specific standards, set by your printer of choice, the final result will look nothing like the document you spent so much time on. Very likely, pages will flow differently, forced line breaks will fall in bizarre locations, and chapters will not start where you expect them to.

Your best option is to upload a formatted print-ready PDF. So what makes a print-ready PDF? Well to start with, you’ll want to make sure that the page size of your manuscript matches that of your final printed book. If your book is going to be printed as a 6″ x 9″ trade paperback, your manuscript should also be using a page size of 6″ x 9.” Next you’ll want to make sure that your margins are appropriate, both for the requirements of the printer, as well as your reader. Once you have those two parameters set, go through and re-format your copy. There are a lot of tricks of the trade, but we’ll leave those for a later time. Now, your manuscript is ready to be exported as a formatted PDF. What makes a PDF a much better option than a .doc or .rtf, is that what you see, is actually how your book will be printed, (assuming two parameters we spoke about are set properly). No crossing your fingers, hoping that the conversion looks “okay.”

There are some great resources available online that deal with formatting, but if you’re looking for a quick turn around, or just aren’t ready to learn all the minutia involved, a pro will give you print-ready files, formatted specifically for you POD printer of choice, without any of the hassle.

Once you have your formatted manuscript, you will need to create a print cover. This is where your cover artist plays an important role. Most of the time, when you hire an artist to do a cover, they will send you a high resolution “front” cover – a rectangular piece of art that when printed will measure at around 6×9 or 5×8 at print resolution. (This is something you may want to ask your cover artist about before they start on your project).

Print resolution means just that – an image suitable for printing. Ever print something crappy from google images? Aside from a debate on quality of printers, most web images show up crappy on paper because they are sized for screen viewing. Spitting something into print entails a much larger file size and quality to an image.

A print –ready image will be at a “high” resolution – 300 Pixels Per Inch or PPI (Sometimes referred to as Dots Per Inch or DPI) to be exact. You may be able to plug that image into your print vendor (CreateSpace or Lightning Source are the two big players of Print On Demand books), and use their software to hack together a back cover or spine. (Warning – time suck!)

Or, you may want to hire your cover artist to design a full printed book cover – what I refer to as a “print wrap” and what some call a “dust jacket” containing the front cover, the spine, and the back cover.

The front cover generally remains the same as that of your ebook – you want to keep continuity! If someone finds your ebook and decides they want to buy a print version, you don’t want to confuse them by showing them a completely different cover.

The spine may contain your name, the book title and sometimes a thumbnail of the cover. If your book is too thin, the spine may not have enough room to contain anything readable so it may end up being blank. (And if your book is that thin, you may want to think twice about investing into print. Will your readers shell out their money for a very short print book? Would it make more sense to bundle two novellas together into a collection?)

The spine of the book is directly related to the amount of pages in the book. To avoid the wrath and potential revision charges from your cover artist, make sure you have the print –formatted manuscript finalized to give your artist the final page count. (And it can’t hurt to pad in a few pages with an excerpt from your next book, especially next in a series. Always think of ways to include subtle promo!)

The back cover may contain a blurb about the book. You’ve labored hard on those flimsy three or four paragraphs so make them do double duty. You may also want to include any review quotes, maybe an author bio and picture, etc.

Once you have both these pieces in place (the print wrap and the print-formatted manuscript) you can mozy on to Lightining Source or Create Space to unleash your masterpiece onto the unsuspecting public. I won’t go into details as to how to do that, but start here: https://www1.lightningsource.com/tutorials/tutorials_title_set_up.aspx 
https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/

You will have to offset the cost (in minutes or dollars) of book cover creation/print formatted manuscript creation against the price of your print book. Is it worth it? It depends on what you hope to accomplish. There’s nothing like a feeling of signing your own book for an excited reader. But if all your books are sold digitally, there may not be a point in investing in print – at least for now.

Previously Published in InD’Tale Magazine, Oct 2013
“OMG, that *&$%#ing BLEEP has my book cover!”

Welcome to the world of electronic and print on demand publishing. The above cry can be heard from authors around the globe – often times legitimately, and most of the time due to misconceptions regarding royalty free stock photography and reusable cover art.

How it is possible that two different authors have an identical book cover with only their names and book titles changed to protect the innocent? This can be a way for a publisher to release similar themed stories without investing into unique covers for each one. Alternatively, it can be artists selling something called a Pre-Made cover . While uniqueness is a virtue, so are savings when you’re on a budget. A pre made cover is a beautiful, professionally made alternative to custom covers, and in cases of “non-exclusivity” can be sold again and again.

Con? Someone else will have this cover.
Pro? Very affordable while adhering to professional standards.

You can find reusable PreMade covers at http://romancenovelcovers.com/ – run by the prolific book cover model Jimmy Thomas. For $45 bucks a pop you can’t go wrong. Just make sure you understand that your beautiful cover may appear with someone else’s name and title.

(There are other premade covers – such as those on my website, which are unique and are sold only once. So if purchasing a premade cover, know what you are getting!)

Another possible way for someone to “have” your book cover is because they’ve reused the same stock photography. Just to make sure we understand the term – stock photography means an existing photograph an artist can purchase license to use. Royalty Free Stock Photography means that one can purchase a license to use that image without paying royalties to the model/photographer every time their picture is reprinted on book covers, magazine pages, etc . This keeps the prices low but can also mean other people can buy the same picture for the same low price.

Quick side note for those of you who are thinking: I’ll just take pictures myself and avoid this whole hoopla. To those of you, (with the exception of professional photographers), I say: please don’t. Pictures you take with your cell phone belong in your family albums, not your book covers. Your handsome boyfriend may be the sexiest thing since Edward, but you need to photograph him in the right way to make sure he doesn’t end up with man boobs on the cover. (And trust someone who has done plenty of digital male breast lifts in her day, saggy man boobs aren’t sexy.)

And by the way, if your handsome boyfriend turns out to be a cad and you the next E.L. James, your boy toy may sue you for a fortune if you’re using his bod on your best selling cover.

Speaking of law suits, don’t even think about taking a picture of a celebrity and using it on your book cover. Not unless you’ve got mega time and even more mega money. Celebrities spend fortunes cultivating their image – and they get paid millions to endorse products. Just because their photos are easily available does not mean they are free for you to use to sell your book cover.

That leaves us with stock photography websites selling images – and while I encourage most of you to read the terms of service, most of these images come with a license to use and digitally manipulate, and a “release” by the model and photographer (basically releasing the image for your use).

There are tons of stock photography images out there, but finding models who fit a book’s genre, style and character description shrinks the pool of available imagery. I once had a client ask me to change a stock model on her cover because she saw him on the cover of another author – a completely different genre – and couldn’t think of this guy as anything but this (new) character. A blessing and a curse, to be sure.

There are a number of reasons why artists turn to the same photographs and most of them have to do with quality of images: while anyone can snap a picture, photography worthy of a book cover must be cultivated. Commercial stock photography website such as Shutterstock.com sell good quality images for $5-$10 bucks – and they wouldn’t be in business if such images could only be purchased once.

In addition to Shutterstock, a number of excellent photographers have heard the call for quality book cover worthy images. Taria Reed from TheReedFiles.com, the awesome folks of www.PeriodImages.com, Jenn LeBlank (who is also a writer!!) at www.studiosmexy.com and many others now provide affordable quality images.

These photographers provide harder to find images for popular (and sometimes risque!) genres such as interracial romance, gay romance, ménages, BDSM and more, as well as stocking up on “classic” clinch poses, and of course, suspense, physique, my personal favorite – swords, weapons and many others.

These images are a bit pricier then the big stock sites like Shutterstock, but they are well worth the money for authors looking for fresh faces and models. For a pretty penny, you can even buy exclusive rights to an image – guaranteeing a particular pose and its variations will not be seen on another cover.

In addition to scouting new models and putting up with unsolicited two cents from artists like me always asking for more, these folks also offer Custom Photo shoots. This is a service where an artist and author get to direct a shoot, guaranteeing the clothes, hair and outfits of their subjects will match their characters. And while for some this is a matter of making sure no one will have a similar look, others find this service invaluable when writing outside of trendy genres.

TheBrotherhoodHere is an image created for a custom photography shoot for author R.V. Myers. (The only character Taria didn’t photograph was the Dragon!)

So what can you take away from all this?

When are deciding on your cover art (whether creating it yourself or hiring a designer), decide if you will use a popular stock photography website (links below!), a specialized cover art stock photography site, of your budget allows an exclusive or custom “never to be used again” image.

Communicate your needs to your cover artist if hiring one, as that may impact their estimate: if an artist charges you $75 for a cover, I guarantee a $300 custom shoot isn’t part in their estimate. Similarly, if a cover artist charges $750 per cover, you can expect a cover to be completely unique in terms of characters, models and stock.

I leave you with a promised list of resources:

Big Stock Photography Companies:

Shutterstock.com
Fotolia.com
Dreamstime.com
GettyImages.com
Istock.com

Privately Owned Stock Photography sites specializing in Romance photography as well as other photography geared toward book covers:

TheReedFiles.com
StudioSmexy.com
RomanceNovelCovers.com
PeriodImages.com

I’ve noticed lately there’s a bit of a divide in terms of provided details from my cover art forms. There are some authors who are very specific in their descriptions and requirements – in some cases even specifying the jewelry of the character, while others give me less then a bare minimum to work with.

Both approaches have pluses and minuses, and depending on our needs and your ability to let go, either approach can lead to confusion when you see the cover art comp and say “this isn’t what my characters look like”. (P.s. a comp is an example cover design we put together to show you the direction we are thinking of. Also referred to as the mockup or mock.)

Less information equals more freedom to pick photography stock art – tall, short dark hair, muscular lends to a lot more choices for models. Now if the author adds details – square chin, leather boots, piercing blue eyes that MUST be shown on the cover – that narrows our choices and may exclude a potentially incredible image, or may give us EXACTLY what you’re looking for. It’s a fine line:)

This applies to dress style, jewelry, curly or straight hair, any other other nuances that make human beings beautiful and unique. More details equals less chances we’ll find a person adhering to those descriptions at stock sites.

There are also some instances where authors take the time to search through images and provide exact pictures of their characters. In some aspects, this saves the artist a ton of time which can be used in perfecting the image. The downside however are details you may not notice when picking a character – often times, their hair or their sides are cropped off and are completely unusable in a design. And as much fun it is to add “hair scalp” on top of someone who has been cropped off, it looks much more natural when they have their own scalp to begin with 🙂

One of the huge and subtle details are visual clues about the story. A lot artists like to have sweeping backgrounds or symbols integrated into the cover to enhance design and to provide more clues as to what the book is about. The less details I’m given – the less pieces I can include. By detail we’re talking about visual subjects – the pyramid of Giza, a leather flogger, etc.

Depending on your needs and preferences for covers, your trust in your cover artist and the position of the moon, it’s up to you to decide how much or how little detail you should include in your Cover Art Request form.

How to get Started?

All our book cover packages include a consultation to find the best direction for your project, combining your vision with a visual marketing strategy.

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"Fiona Jayde took the image I always had for my novel and made it come alive. It was perfect, along with the promotional items she created for me. I highly recommend this cover designer for your book needs. She was wonderful to work with, fast and efficient, and made sure I was a satisfied customer. I look forward to working with her again so he can design my next cover masterpiece!" Best Selling Author Sherry Ewing