Cover Art, Tommy Johns, and Pig Farts

December 16, 2013

“I call my mother every day and walk little old ladies across the street.”

“Never judge a book by its cover.”

That’s been the standby moms around the world stuffed into our disbelieving ears when they were trying to make a point about looking past the surface to see the good. In my case, Mom was trying to impress upon me that Tommy Johns was probably a really nice kid and that I needed to look past the fact that he spit on us girls at recess and called us pig farts. Right, Mom, I’m sure deep down he was a real prince.

The truth is we abso-freaking-lutely do judge books by their covers, whether they’re on two feet and spitting on girls at recess, or surrounding a bunch of type-written pages.

And it doesn’t just affect us mortals. Years ago our publicity director took a meeting with one of the premiere reviewers in New York. They ooo’d and ahh’d over our books as they passed them around, commenting on the lovely cover art. They sheepishly admitted to being influenced by cover art…just like the rest of us. I’m shocked. Shocked.

I wrote about cover art here, so I won’t rehash those particulars. Instead, I’ll bring up these points:

You Ain’t a Pro

A number of you are self-pubbing your books and happen to be handy with digital artwork, so you feel competent in designing your own cover. My advice? Don’t.

Cover design has unique properties that attract unsuspecting readers. Colors can attract or repel. Fonts can make your eyes squint. Graphics can be muddy hot messes.

I feel pretty confident that I can toss together a fairly decent garage sale sign. But cover art? I’d rather spit on Tommy Johns at recess and call him a pig fart. You need to understand fonts, graphics, colors, and visual appeal. Unless you’re a professional book cover designer, then you ain’t a pro. This is why so many self-pubbed books are overlooked. They look homemade. It’s cute for Christmas decorations, but not for a book.

Heck, I don’t consider myself a pro. Okay, maybe I have a better idea than your average bear, but I leave the heavy lifting to our lovely cover designer. I’ve had great ideas any number of times, and she’ll write me back asking if I’ve been dipping into the cooking sherry again. What I can do is tell her the feel I’m looking to evoke with the artwork, and she produces the magic. Then my sales teams rip me to shreds and ask if I’ve been dipping into the cooking sherry. Tough life I lead.

Ten Foot Test

The lucky thing is that I have a team of many to keep me on the straight and narrow. It’s woefully easy for a self-pubbed author to go wrong. Case in point, an author I knew hired an artist to do the artwork for his fantasy. The graphic was amazing and intricately detailed. However, whenever I closed my eyes, all I saw was a blob of purple. I feared this would be the takeaway perspective readers would have when they entered a bookstore. Clearly, it didn’t meet the Ten-Foot Test – meaning that the cover needed to be memorable and clear from ten feet away.

Think book signings: People come into the bookstore and see you standing in front of a pile of books. If all they see are purple blobs, then there’s nothing to pull them over to your table, unless you’re offering free shots of Fireball.

Consult a BOOK COVER DESIGNER. Only they understand how to make your book cover sing. Stick to what you know; writing.

Shrinky Dinky

Something else to consider is that your cover art will be shown in the online stores like Amazon and, along with review sites. These are thumbnail size. If your cover art is intricate, the shrinky dinky thumbnail jpg of your cover will require readers to don microscopes, and I usually leave mine in my other purse.

This is the same case for your printed bookmarks, business cards, or other promo giveaways. Your cover needs to stand up to being miniaturized a la Fantastic Voyage so you can attract readers.

Publisher Cover Art – Yeech!

Okay, so even reputable publishers can screw the pooch. So what happens if you find yourself in that position? Well, you could spit on your editor and call her a pig fart, but you may as well toss yourself under a garbage truck if you pull that trick. My suggestion is to talk to your editor. I’m not saying she’ll necessarily change her mind, but you should definitely say something.

It’s helpful if you can present solid reasons as to why you don’t like the cover art. Saying, “I don’t like it!” isn’t helpful. Is it the font? The colors? The graphic? Do you feel it doesn’t represent the tone and emotion of your story? Be specific. The more professional you are, the more willing your editor may be to offer a few changes.

Conversely, the editor should be able to defend the cover art as to why it’s a smart, visually appealing walking billboard for your book. If she can’t or won’t, then maybe she is a pig fart.

Do Your Best

The truth is that no one’s perfect with the cover art because art is subjective. What I think is gawd-awful-stick-my-finger-down-my-throat may be squee-worthy to another. The important thing is to do your best by putting your cover in the hands of those who do this for a living. Make them explain to you why their design works. Learn from them. And most of all, put your emotions aside. Publishing is a business, and the cover art is the main packaging.

As for Tommy Johns, I often wonder if he went pro with the spitting thing…

%d bloggers like this: