As self-publishing becomes more common and accepted in the book world, all of the responsibilities of producing an excellent product fall on the author's shoulders. Beyond hiring an independent editor and handling marketing, the job of creating the book cover as well as book design within falls on our shoulders. Alas, most of us are ill-equipped to tackle these crucial elements ourselves. Today we welcome Sherry Wachter of Magic Dog Press, a professional artist and book designer and herself a published author. She'll cover many aspects of this important issue in future posts - because a good book cover and interior layout can help ensure the success of your book, whether self-published or not.
~~~~~A good book cover is more than just a matter of prettying up the outside of your book. It is your first--and quite possibly your last--opportunity to turn browsers into buyers. If you're considering designing your own cover you might want to check out some of the posts at Magic Dog Press, where book design is often the subject of conversation.
Do-it-yourselfing has become something of a national pastime, but before you decide to take a crack at book cover design consider the following:
1. Usage rights. Are you familiar with how these work? While many sites offer lovely photos for very reasonable prices, some have conditions on usage (for instance, that they can only be used for non-profit purposes, may not be used or sold as art, etc.) Before you download and use anything, please check this out very carefully. It can get you into a boatload of legal trouble.
2. Outlining an object. Do you know how to do this for printing? If not, I'd suggest that you not try this approach; things that have been badly outlined will kill what might otherwise be a pretty cover.
3. Designing for print. Is this an area you're confident in? There are a number of requirements for print design that don't apply to web design. For instance, image resolutions must be much higher than they need to be for online viewing. Colors must sometimes be adjusted and balanced (by number, mind you--the first terrible lesson probably every designer learns is that You Cannot Trust Your Monitor). Images intended to go to the edge of the page must be extended beyond the edge of the page by no less than one-eighth of an inch--and you must output your file in certain ways to preserve that setting. Many printers require cropmarks and registration marks; do you know how and where to apply them?
4. Do you understand enough about color theory to be able to produce an eye-catching, inviting cover without becoming a self-parody?
5. Do you know what you need to do to make your cover distinctive from a distance of about six feet--the standard browsing distance?
6. Do you have a fairly good idea of how printing works? And if not, are you willing to take a field trip to your local press?
The point of all this? Book cover design isn't brain surgery, but neither is it as easy as falling off a log, as my father used to say. Designing book covers is a lot of fun; I do it myself. But it is a process that can be fraught with difficulty for the inexperienced. If you'd like to design your own cover, you might want to invest a little time in talking to print designers, press operators, and book binders. Find out what works. Ask, "Why do you do it that way?" And when they answer, take notes.
Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.