Self-Publishing in a World of Books: Cover Art



 This article is the first in an 11-part series on self-publishing.


The unprecedented access to self-publishing has done more to distance the typical start-up writer from his or her dream of being a successful author than any barriers erected by traditional publishing house resources.

If you have a dream of writing a single book, or launching your career as a prolific author, you will have decisions to make. Make no mistake, the publishing part of your writing career will overshadow the creation of artistic prose. I learned this the hard way.

“There was no interest in my book at all”

In 2018 I published Massacre at Agua Caliente - A Western Tragedy. I designed the cover in Photoshop and Draw Perfect. I built the novel’s content in Word, creating my own format. Using CreateSpace, Amazon's old book creator process, my book was easy to bring to market. Like many of you, I thought the market would take care of the rest.  I was wrong.

There was no interest in my book at all. Even my friends and family had trouble reading the poorly edited content. They were critical of the amateur cover artwork. When I visited Barnes and Noble to conduct some comparison research, my novel was strikingly different than any others on the shelves. I realized I would need help. I also recognized that I had a lot to learn.

I hope the next 11 articles will help you avoid the pitfalls I overcame and guide you towards the knowledge and resources you will need to be a success. Assuming you are a good writer and have penned a good book, these are the basic components you will need as an author in the self-publishing world. The next series of articles will share how I handled each component:  

  • Cover Art
  • Interior design or template
  • Editing
  • ISBN
  • Book Landing Page with SEO
  • Author Web Page with SEO
  • Reviews
  • Distribution
  • Advertising
  • Acceptance by Barnes and Noble
  • Readers

#1 - Cover Art

Knowing I could not keep my do-it-yourself artwork, I searched online for ready-made cover art. I purchased a few covers, but I was dissatisfied. I wanted the cover art to be exclusive and more specific to the story within the book.

Finally, I found a great inexpensive cover artist with a large portfolio. Inside of two weeks I had approved the cover for my first novel, Massacre at Agua Caliente – A Western Tragedy. I sold a few copies on Amazon, but not enough to make me feel like I was succeeding. My novel was ranked at 1,241,012 with my first cover. It improved nearly 400,000 places with the cover remake (and other changes – I’ll cover those in future articles.)

It took me about a year with that cover to realize that maybe it was too sexy for the market. After all, what if someone took the novel on a plane where other passengers saw a book cover with a sexy woman on it? Would the reader appear to be reading a book that marginalized women? I am not Woke, but it made sense to me. My advice with fiction works is to avoid controversial cover art. If you are a non-fiction writer, committing to a provocative image or theme is sometimes helpful in attracting target readers. Part of branding your product is a consistent message throughout.

I went back to my artist and created a more traditional cover. By this time, I had finished my second novel, StolenValor – A Carson Brand Novel. I began creating a cover before the novel was completed, so I was still in my hot-chick-on-the-cover phase. It too had risqué cover art. I kept the general idea of the cover but deep sixed the chicks. I am almost finished writing Dark Motive – A Carson Brand Novel. You guessed it, that cover also had an image of a sexy woman on it. I had her removed while I was at it.

Was the design change effective? It is hard to know the answer to that question. I believe the rule of thumb is avoid red flags. If a restaurant owner is a smoker and runs his place as a smoking establishment he risks limiting his success by excluding the majority of the population who does not smoke. Book covers are the same. Unless the image on the cover is critical to selling the story don't place it as a selling point - or, as in my case, a deterrent to the sale.

Size Does Matter

 The artwork wasn’t my only issue with the novel cover. Sizing is critical whether you publish on KDP or a stand-alone distributor like Ingram Spark.

A 6" x 9" cover is not 6x9. It must be sized for the number of pages, type of paper, and type of book. I used Amazon's process to tweak my cover size until it was finally accepted. My cover artist delivered to me several versions of the same cover. Amazon Kindle has a preferred cover size; Smashwords requires different dimensions as does Barnes and Noble; Amazon's Paperback cover requirements are different than Ingram's; Whether you provide your own ISBN or you allow Amazon to provide one for you, your cover has to have room for it at the correct spot.
 
Do you choose glossy finish or matte? I started with glossy but switched to matte after another day in Barnes and Noble comparing what the pros do.

Cover content is critical. The synopsis and promo blurbs will have a great impact upon whether your book is replaced in the rack or kept for purchase when it is picked up off the shelf. Key words come into play here also. Your content on the cover will be reproduced in your on-line content. Part of branding your product is a consistent message throughout.

How much does it cost to have a pro create your cover?


I purchased pre-made covers for as little as $35 to $150. Much of the customization and content you will want added is willingly done by the artist for between $25 and $100. 

Custom cover art can cost between $500 and $750.

Speaking of Branding

Everything you create and place online will appear after a time. My albatross is that many of the retail outlets who carry my books, and there are scores of them, have the outdated cover art. Some sites pull the cover art from your existing URL's, but some pull their art as an image and it never changes until you hound the retailer, if you can contact them at all.

Notice in my cover art, the author font is the same no matter the genre. Let me know if I can be of help. We are all in this thing together.


 
About the Author: Craig Rainey is a published author, award-winning screenwriter and award nominated film actor. His awards include Best Breakout Writer – Screenplay, Massacre at Agua Caliente; Nominated Best Male Lead in a Feature Film, International Filmmakers Festival, Kent England; Best Period Screenplay, Massacre at Agua Caliente; Most Likely to be Produced as a Movie, Massacre at Agua Caliente

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