February 20, 2017

Making a Book Cover: Are We Having Fun Yet?

The cover of a book is its number one marketing tool. When browsing through Amazon or my local bookstore, it's the cover that speaks to me and says, "You'll enjoy this book." On top of catching readers' attention, a cover needs to communicate something about the book. I want to attract readers who will enjoy my book and could potentially leave it a good review.

I took a few classes at the library on Photoshop and read up a bit on graphic design, so I felt like I could make my own cover. Good cover art can be expensive, and you certainly get what you paid for. I did enjoy Vivien Reis's video on working with a cover designer.

I thought I'd go through some of the working covers that The End of Refuge went through and why I ultimately went with the one I chose. The process certainly taught me a lot.

Missing the Genre

I put this cover together using a free stock photo from Pixabay

The working title for my novel was simply Refuge. When I did a search on Amazon for just the word 'refuge', I found a lot of books on Christianity and spirituality. That was definitely not my target audience, so I changed the title to something that demonstrates the tone of my novel. I thought this image conveyed living underground in a bomb shelter. But when I did a search for the image, I found that it's frequently used as a metaphor for "finding the light" on Christian and spiritual websites. This cover misses my target audience by a long shot.

Overused Stock

This image is great. It's spooky, could totally be set underground, and carries a serious air of mystery. It's so great, in fact, that it's everywhere. After running into this exact image multiple times on the web, I decided I needed to go with something a little less prolific. Following certain trends in cover design is great, but using the exact same image is not.

Oh, Photoshop

The way to ensure that my image was original was to splice a couple stock photos together. I just needed a young woman focal point to say "Young Adult", a background of a bunker. the fallout sign to show it's a shelter, a grungy texture to depict the dystopian feel, blue tones to set the mood, an outer glow around the model, and, and, and...

Once I was doing more than just a single image with text, the possibilities were endless! But by choosing images which weren't quite what I needed, I ended up having to do a lot more tweaks than my image editing skills could handle. If I wanted to follow through with this idea, I'd need to hire a professional. Still wanting a dystopian style image with a young woman focal point brings us to the next cover:

Are We Having Fun Yet?

She's perfect! Distressed shelter style background, she already looks grungy, and it's the only image from the photoshoot where she isn't brandishing steampunk goggles or a bow and arrow. This chick is kick ass, and I really wanted her on my cover. She also looks bored to death. It makes you think that the book must be really terrible if even the woman on the cover looks like she's totally disinterested. I already knew I didn't have the ability to simply remove the bow and arrow from one of the other pictures in the set, so I had to move on.

After that, I scrapped the idea of using a person on my cover. I just couldn't find one who fit the novel. I found a photo set by Sergey Kamshylin of the destruction of a since abandoned town near Cherinoble. The image I chose marks one of the bunkers. I loved that the colors were saturated to the max, the simplicity of the concrete, and the eye-popping yellow circle. The shelter in my novel was simply numbered just like this one, and I thought it was a pretty fitting image. All I really had to do was add the vignette, title, tagline, and my name.

So, my first novel has taught me how to put together an engaging cover which gives readers an idea of what they'll find in the book. Also, I asked for a lot of feedback which really helped me when I fell in love with a cover that was just not working.

Pinpointing why a cover isn't working is important. That's partially why I love browsing lousy book covers. Tons of effort goes into writing a book, so a lot of thought should go into the cover as well. It's important to study book covers which do their job well, but sometimes it's fun to look back and laugh while I ask myself, "What was I thinking?"

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