Monday, 12 November 2012

Backtracking: Lessons in Indie Publishing Part 2 – Cover Designs

Before I launched my titles on kindle, I kept reading how crucial it was to have good professional cover designs for the book.  Amazon is my shop window and the first thing people see is the cover design.  If they like it, hopefully they click on the thumbnail to find out more about the book.  If they see it has some good reviews then they might scroll down to look at the book description.  Then, hopefully, they will click to look inside, or download the free sample.  The overall aim is to get the reader to buy – not easy when they have so much choice!  I studied best selling books, and also the popular titles in my category (horse and pony stories for teens) to see what other writers did.

I played about with some stock images myself before contacting the designer I now work with.  I’d recently had some A6 cards printed to promote my author talks and was introduced to stock photo image sites, where you pay to use an image you like.  What a revelation!  So I chose a few images I liked and then played with some typefaces.  I soon realised that I was not the right person to create the cover – and it was a lot harder than I imagined! 
The designer I chose to collaborate with was someone I had previously worked with, on other design and marketing projects, so I knew we could work together.  However, he had not designed either print or digital book covers before, so this was a first for both of us. We had a meeting where I spread out many of my existing backlist paperback books on the floor and outlined what I wanted my new covers to do, and what they should evoke.  I also stressed that I wanted the trilogy to work as a unit, and to have a recognisable “branding” which I believed could be achieved from the typography.  We looked at the stock images I had chosen, then Klaus went off and started work.

I have to say that when he emailed me the first pic, which I was first saw on my blackberry phone, I nearly cried with emotion.  I loved it! 

With the whole set of 3 titles, I especially like the way the font choice links them, and also the  silhouettes, which I had specified,  and the white constant of the orb moon and sun which also connects them.  My favourite is the 3rd title, Matty and the Racehorse Rescue. I think the dark blue background combined with the lightning by the jumping horse, and the subtle rain beating down,  really creates the perfect atmosphere for the story.

Despite my long history of being traditionally published, I had never, for any of my many titles, been consulted about the book covers, which is standard practice unless you are a big name author.    In some cases this resulted in a cover photograph which made it clear that no-one involved in the process had read the book or been given an accurate brief, since both the horse and the girl looked completely unlike the descriptions in the book, ie your character is blonde but there is a dark haired girl on the cover, with a chestnut horse when the heroine’s horse is grey.  Some covers I had liked, but many I didn’t, and since they are the first thing people see when thinking about buying a book, you feel helpless and frustrated if you feel the cover doesn’t do it justice. I have also worked in the Sales team of a major publishing house and the sales reps, when they visited the book stores, usually sold the titles on the basis of the proof copy of the cover design before the book even existed.

So for me the most satisfying aspect of the indie publishing experience has been the element of choice and control over every aspect of the book’s production.  

What about lessons learned from the process?  We had a few issues around the resolution of the images but the beauty of publishing to kindle is that you can go back and change things as many times as you like until you are happy with the result. I have realised that there are downfalls to using stock photos.  The one I chose for the first title, Matty and the Moonlight Horse, was a horse silhouetted by moonlight.  I loved it – and so do other authors!  Only 24 hours after I had launched the book, I came across another writer who had also used the design for a book with a similar title!  I felt my stomach lurch.  Bad luck or what?  When I had calmed down and compared the two, I could see that Klaus had sufficiently tailored his design (adding and subtracting elements) to differentiate the two, but the similarities were still apparent.  Next time, I won’t be using stock photos.  I have found an amazing artist and think I will make a bigger financial investment and have original illustrations in the designs.  This, luckily, wasn’t such an issue for the next 2 titles in the series.  I had seen a photo I liked for the cover concept for Matty and the Problem Ponies, but the girl in the photo was too old, with long hair, and the horse too big.  So Klaus worked to change that.  

He says, I think the hardest bit is finding suitable images to start with. The Problem Ponies was tricky. I think I’ve got about 40 layers in Photoshop where I've merged water and ripples and shadows and highlights and girl and hair and so on! For The Racehorse Rescue, in the end I had to find an actual image of someone and trace round freehand in Photoshop and fill with colour to make silhouette.

Because of my strong belief in the importance of the cover design, I have given the designer a credit both in the kindle edition of the book, as expected, but also on my book description on Amazon. And everywhere else I publicise the books. I have not noticed any other writers who have done this.
(In fact, with a series of mini short story collections for adults I currently have on kindle, the business model I am using to work with the designer is a 50/50 royalty split.)

Everything we have both learned from the process should inform us when we work on the next few titles and hopefully it will result in some even more stunning cover designs, especially if we incorporate original illustrations.  I love working with a professional designer and seeing the pictures you imagined  in your head finally made real is truly thrilling.  

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