Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cover consideration, evolution and solutions

Although I got A's in art in grade school and junior high, I am definitely not an artist.

My parents recognized my talent and sent me to an art school on Saturday mornings when I was around ten years old. I took a community college course in "advertising art production" because I had the hots for a girl who was taking the course and I wanted to sit next to her.

Most of my book covers are produced by Carina Ruotolo. Carina is a real artist (and art teacher) with much more talent than I have. She is also a whiz with Photoshop. I often come up with the concept for a cover, and it's Carina's job to turn my idea into reality. I am a nitpicker and our covers frequently go through a dozen stages of evolution before we are both satisfied.

Despite my amateur standing, I can't resist the urge to design. I format the interiors of all of my books, and lately I've done some covers for books that I consider to be "less important" or for which I anticipate limited sales that can't produce the revenue needed to hire a pro.

Below are some of the evolutionary variations in the cover of my newest book. STINKERS! America's Worst Self-Published Books is a $9.99 "quickie," composed mostly of reviews that were previously published in Bad Book Week on this blog.

You can order the book now, but I am making some revisions inside and out, so it would be best to wait about a week. I'll make an announcement here when I consider the book to be "ready for prime time."

I am not presenting this blog post to display beauty, but just to show what may happen as a cover concept evolves, and to bring up a few of the design options that should be considered.

  • A beautiful illustration that would be a powerful eye-grabber under the spotlight in a Barnes & Noble store may become a tiny incomprehensible blob when displayed on a website. Subtle color combinations that win awards in art school may not have adequate contrast to allow potential customers to separate the text from the background on computer monitors.
  • Make sure your book looks good in the size in which Amazon and other online booksellers will show it. It’s possible for people to click on the “thumbnail” image and see almost a full-size cover, but try for a design that works well in postage-stamp size. Excellent artists have designed very attractive stamps.
  • Also consider how your book will look when converted to grayscale (black and white). It may show up in a book, catalog or newspaper that doesn’t have color pages.
  • If you have a photo or illustration on the cover, make sure it does not overpower or conflict with the title. It should reinforce the title. Don’t use a photo so big that it necessitates a small title which will be hard to read.
  • If the photo or illustration is important, make sure the title or subtitle doesn’t mask it.
  • Make sure you have adequate contrast between your type and the background. Red-on-orange may work for a day-glow concert poster, but it makes a book cover hard to read.
  • Make sure the mood of the artwork complements the title and the purpose of the book. A pastoral scene with cows grazing near a brook is probably not right for a “get up and take charge” business book -- even if those cows are really bulls.
  • A simple design is better than a complex design. You have only a second or two to capture a shopper’s attention.
(above) This is one of the first versions of "STINKERS!" The white cover blends into a white web page. This is not a good idea for online selling. I also don't like the "Learn what..." and "Volume I" text placement or style. Like most of the books in my "Silver Sands Publishing Series," this book has the characteristic purple band at the bottom.

(above) The next version got a purple border to keep the cover image from getting lost on a white web page, but I still did not like the text to the left of the model. Also, borders often don't get positioned properly with print on demand technology, so they probably should not be used.

(above) Next, I switched to a blue background to eliminate the lost-white problem and the potential misaligned border problem. I reduced the size of the subtitle and also centered the model. She is more prominent than when her side was cropped in the previous two covers, but I was still not happy with her appearance. I also was not happy with the text flanking her.

(above) In stage four I cropped and enlarged the model and put her up above all of the text. This way the word "stinkers" is closer to the hand holding her nose to reinforce the message. I think this cover is much better than the earlier versions. I know it won't win any awards, but I am satisfied with it -- at least for now.


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