Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How to choose an e-book cover

One of the very best parts of the self-publishing process is that you get to choose your own cover. Revolutionary, I know!

In the traditional publishing process authors almost never have approval over their cover, and it's even somewhat rare to have meaningful consultation. For some authors it can feel like "consultation" is limited to telling the editor how much you love your cover. I was fortunate enough to really love my covers for the Jacob Wonderbar series, but just about every other author I know has gone through cover hell with a publisher.

Here's how I went about choosing my cover:

1. Choosing a designer

This one was pretty easy - over drinks my friend Mari Sheibley mentioned she was working on a cover for a university press, and I asked her if she'd do mine. She is a fabulously talented graphic designer, the brains behind early Foursquare badges and other influential Internet design.

She said yes, and a few weeks later I had concepts.

2. It had to look good as a thumbnail

This is kind of a no-brainer in this day and age. I knew I wanted my title and my name to be readable even if the cover was just a thumbnail so it would pop as people are browsing on Amazon and B&N.

I also knew for branding purposes and general favorite color reasons I wanted to go with an orange color palette. Those were my only two requirements. I left the rest up to Mari.

3. Envisioning how it would look in an e-bookstore

Mari naturally came up with several different awesome cover concepts, which made it really difficult to choose. I polled my friends and there were two main contenders, but people were pretty evenly split on which one they preferred. I kept waffling back and forth.

But then my friend Sharon Vaknin sent me an e-mail that blew my mind. It included these two attachments:

See what she did there? By simply pasting the cover concepts in competitive search results it was totally apparent which one popped more. I went with the one that featured more orange.

Do. This. If you're deciding between two or more covers make sure you know how it will look among other similar books on Amazon and and Goodreads and everywhere else books appear online. It's wonderfully clarifying.

And there you have it! Fellow self-publishers, how did you go about choosing your cover? Any tricks of the trade?


writerrobynlarue said...

I would absolutely know that book was yours from the color and mood. :) I love the images. What a great way to make a final choice!

AM Schinske said...

Thank you so much for your timely post, Nathan! I'm working with an illustrator for my YA book series now and neither one of us even thought of the thumbnail! I knew I followed you for a reason.

Maya Prasad said...

Awesome! Pasting in your cover into the search results is brilliant.

Shawn said...

Great post and great idea.

Julie Musil said...

Your cover really is eye-catching, and the color theme screams "Nathan Bransford."

I hired a cover designer, and that process was just about the funnest part of the whole process. I adore my cover. It shows well in thumbprint. So many people have wanted to read the book based on the cover alone!

bridgetwhelan said...

I chose a designer recommended by a bestseller ebook author. She is convinced that his design drove many readers to click on the thumbnail and find out more. He produced a number of slick, professional covers and it was so hard to choose. Finally went for the stylish notebook but wasn't sure about the pink lettering. Asked him to do the same cover with several colour lettering options. Thought hard for a weekend and showed family & friends. Eventually realised that there's a reason why Simon Avery designs and I write.Pink won hands down!

Linda Godfrey said...

Boy, did I have an ebook learning curve regarding covers! Even though my debut fantasy novel is co-published as an ebook with my literary agency, the responsibility for choosing (and paying for) a cover was still mine. The agency retained consultation rights on the design. Since I've also worked for years as an art-agented commercial artist and have done some book covers for others, I thought I'd just do my own and save a bundle. My illustrative style is playful cut paper collage, and my book, God Johnson; the Unforgiven Diary, has definite humorous elements, so I thought it would work. So wrong. It was an okay cover but it didn't say paranormal fantasy. I finally hired a pro designer and ended up with a beautiful cover that SCREAMS fantasy. I also worked with my agent and the artist to achieve the best effect in thumbnails. Lessons: Don't skimp on cover art and make sure the art is right for your genre!

wendy said...

Orange is so you, Nathan. And the design is certainly spot on for the the product.

I'm lucky to be able to illustrate my own covers but not lucky enough to complete the illustration without much time and effort. I wouldn't do it for anyone else - not at any price. I like to infer subtext and not just story as well as having the MC looking as engaging and interesting as possible.

Bruce Bonafede said...

For my new humor book, I worked with a friend who is a veteran Madison Ave graphic designer and has also done many books since she went freelance. I gave her the parameters I wanted met (I used to be an ad agency creative director) and she executed it. My title is a bit complicated so I wanted a very simple design with some but limited graphic elements. I also wanted the title in red on white background since research shows red text on white is the color combo that pops the most for the human eye. It might be too simple for some writers but it works for me.

Anonymous said...

If you are ambitious enough you can get good programs to design your own covers, which saves money and you get exactly what you want. If you're not, look for cover artists that don't charge too much. This idea of spend more money I sometimes see, though not on this blog, doesn't sell more books.

Self-published authors should be thinking like business people at all times and cover cost vs return on investment is AS important as any other part of the process.

And I'm stating this for a reason. It's reality. Self-published authors are up against a great deal of competition now more than ever. And a good deal of that competition, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, is coming from other authors who are working the system and paying for everything from facebook likes to amazon reviews. Sorry to take a nice post about covers and slam it this way, with this reality. I really am. But self-published authors really do need to think money with everything...unless they have unlimited means and can absorb the loss if the book doesn't sell more than a few copies.

harryipants said...

Best trick of the trade I learned was to stick to what I'm best at.
My first novel was recently published by a small press, and has different covers for the ebook and the paperback.
The paperback being something you'd more like to see in your home, and the ebook cover being more commercial.
I was allowed input, and originally planned on having my own way — until I saw the first cover mockup, which was so much better than anything I'd imagined I decided to keep out of everything not writing-related and let the people at Silky Oak Press do their job.

It's early days yet, but my little book hit Top 10 in the Australian Kindle Store, and #1 there in Romance.
Maybe it'll never achieve such heights in the U.S store, but at least I know it'll get its chance to do so — which it wouldn't have if the cover was left to me.

Anonymous said...

This is really valuable, as so many get attached to what they want a cover to look like without checking it reduced as a thumbnail.

Nobody will click on your book to admire your fancy fonts if it doesn't stand out. Changing the cover is how many have increased sales.

Anonymous said...

Another valuable insight. Thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Excellent cover. You made a wise choice. Love how it pops on the ebook page list. I never would have thought of that!

Marilynn Byerly said...

An important point to remember is that book covers are iconic for the type of book they are. You can't put a cover suitable for a suspense novel on a cozy mystery.

With one small publisher I worked with, I went round and round with the graphic artist chosen for my romantic suspense novel. He wanted to put an action/adventure type cover on it.

A/A fans would have been pissed by a book that wasn't a/a, and the romantic suspense fans would never have picked it up.

It took a while to explain iconography and covers to him, but he finally got it right.

Peter Dudley said...

With some very basic photoshop skills, I did my own cover for my first release. Later I realized my mistake and hired an online friend who had done a few other covers.

I've hired graphic designers in the past for branding and marketing in the corporate world. One thing I found is that it's incredibly important to do two things:

1. Work with a designer whose work you like. This is such a subjective experience that you are most likely to succeed with someone whose portfolio feels good to you.

2. Trust the designer. In all three cases I used Wendy for book covers, I had a concept in mind. I explained the concept, focusing on the reasons the concept worked for me. In all three cases. Wendy returned great covers that hit all my reasons but which did not match my initial preconception. But I trusted her, and the feedback I got from my audience was overwhelmingly positive.

Those are the only two things I can think of that are absolutely critical to success in hiring someone to do artwork for your project. Everything else is negotiable. But you have to like their profile, and you have to be willing to trust them.

Inkling said...

If your budget is tight, check out:

Both have great photos at reasonable prices and their standard license works for book covers. Instead of buying expertise, pay in the time it takes to look through hundreds of photos to find the one that's a perfect fit.

For instance, I wrote a book called Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments. Could I find a better cover than this for any amount of money:

Probably not. And I got it for about $12. A model and a professional photographer would have cost at least 20-30 times that.

Cassandra Carr said...

I'll add a few things. Hire a book cover designer, not necessarily a graphic designer. Some graphic designers won't understand the particular nuances with book covers.

Also, in regards to the "make sure it looks good in thumbnail" point, I recently changed a few of my covers so my name was in a block font rather than a scripty font. Instant difference. I also like to make one word in the title a different color and font. I write romance, and the title might stick out more in the millions of books that are my competition if I do little things like that.

Wide Lawns said...

I thought that designing the cover was as much fun as writing the book. As I wrote, I kind of had a vision in mind for what I wanted the cover to look like, so I drew it out for a graphic designer friend of mine, who added a teeny bit of his own flair because he knows my taste. He did my blog design too based on my vision. Very quickly, we came up with exactly what I had imagined and I am absolutely in love with my cover. I've gotten a lot of compliments. Right now I'm working on the sequel and I have an image in my head of what I want that cover to look like too. The one lesson I learned from my first book though, is to start working on the cover a couple months before the book is ready to be published. That way, once the book is edited and formatted, it's already ready. If anyone wants to see the cover I designed let me know. I didn't want to link to it and be a tacky self-promoter.

Chloe said...

Great article - I definitely want to emphasize the fact that self-published authors need to fully embrace the entrepreneurial aspect of selling their novel. Arguably the most important thing is how your cover looks in a thumbnail image - you need people to click on it! If no one clicks the thumbnail, no one buys. It's your most important form of advertising. I've seen too many self-pubbers attempt to make their own cover, only for their book to flop (even though the quality of the writing was great). In the same vein, I've seen far too many authors overpay for their cover and never break even.

I got my cover done at BTW. Really fast, and much less expensive than any other site I looked at - her custom covers are cheaper than premades from other sites. The girl who runs it is a pleasure to work with - highly recommended! I did no other promotion, and cracked the amazon's Romance top 100 in my first week - I have to credit the cover for helping to launch my career.

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