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When I was indie publishing The Novel Life Of Coral Ambrose, I kept stumbling on admonitions about making the cover. A great cover is more important than anything else you can do to attract readers, the experts claim.

In order to have a professionally designed cover I needed to spend a minimum of $500. I was already in the hole more than two grand on the book and thought, I have two sons who went to art school, I bet we can do this ourselves. They know what things like kerning are.

I ended up using one of the many CreateSpace basic templates and importing the art and text files, so kerning was not as big a deal as I thought.

You can be the judge of whether we were successful or not. My frank appraisal is that it’s pretty good but could certainly be better. I like the symbolic photo. It shows Coral’s running shoe and bookcase, both important to the story, melting into darkness. The orange (dark coral?) is meant to be eye-catching like a box of detergent.

I have a couple of artist friends who could have produced really beautiful cover art for me. Maybe I’ll be able to throw them some business for the next book if I ever get out of the red.

Most of the research I did while we were developing that cover was simply spending time on Amazon. What caught my eye? What did I expect books to be about, based on their covers? What did the big kids put on their covers? By big kids I mean the authors who have bestseller after bestseller.

That last question is easily answered. Their covers go like this: GIGANTIC NAME OF AUTHOR, MUCH SMALLER TITLE, with some marketing words like “compelling!” and “#1 best selling author!” The covers vary mostly by color scheme, but sometimes there will be a bold, simple graphic like a tower or some teeth.

Book covers like that remind me of my Nancy Drew days when it really didn’t matter which Nancy Drew I read next. If it was a Nancy Drew I hadn’t read yet that was all I needed to know. Those even had numbers on the spines.

There are many beautiful book covers out there. The fantasy genre alone is gorgeous to skim through. And children’s books are not what they were when I was a kid – they’re much more beautiful.

However, I’d like to hand out a couple of special (and by special I mean snarky) awards.

The "No One Will Notice" award goes to HarperCollins, the publishers of a compilation of the writings of Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, who used the same cover as Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, which had been published two years before. I suspect an assumption was made that people who read Christian apologetics are completely different from people who read about teenage girls in love with vampires.

The "Stick With What Works" award goes to all the publishers of romance novels. They have a couple of cover formats they use over and over. A lot of them look like the movie poster for Gone With The Wind. A format that gets used a lot for the racier ones is a shirtless torso of a guy who has clearly been working out. Sometimes the picture cuts the guy off at the neck, and sometimes he has a head, in which case he’s looking down at his crotch as though to make sure it’s still there.

At least the romance genre publishers understand that the image on the cover is visual shorthand for what’s inside.

You can tell a lot about a book by it’s cover (I really tried to avoid this cliché - sorry), but there are some things you can’t tell. Is it well written? Will you like it? More than once I’ve bought a book because its cover reminded me of another book I enjoyed.

Doing that is risky business.


Thoughts on a half century of omnivorous reading


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