Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by self-published novelist Lorraine Jenkin.
The Rules for Your Self-Published Book-Cover
To me, the most daunting thing about self-publishing a novel was the cover. I am happy that I can write, I felt I could cobble my way through the technology, but for someone who’s still at the stick-man stage of artwork, sorting a cover that grabs someone by the throat and screams, “Read Me! You Know You Need To!” felt impossible. Added to that was the knowledge that it so often seemed to go badly wrong.
I was haunted by the cover of a self-published sci-fi book that appeared month after month in the classifieds of a writing magazine, (note:not a readers’ magazine for sci-fi addicts). It was clearly homemade, maybe by someone who’d had a B in Art many years ago. There was something wrong with the guy’s face, not in an alien monster kind of way, but in a “I started over here and I was meant to finish about there, but it sorted stretched to that bit” way. I can’t imagine that anyone willingly bought that book, and it sat there month after month to remind me that my own cover could seal my own fate.
My book is called Jam Tomorrow, aimed at the contemporary women’s market. I decided that my cover should be different, not be the clichéd whirl of twiddly fonts, shopping bags, high heels and cup-cakes. Mine would be strong, simple and stand out from the bookshelf. I considered a white or silver background with a simple quirky drawing with a navy marker pen. I doodled for a few evenings until I was sure I had it right. Then I got carried away and thought I DID have it right… It was quirky, amusing, the woman’s face wasn’t noticeably lop-sided and it gave the sort of image I felt I wanted. Then, mainly to reassure myself I had got it right, I did a bit of research…
The first thing that came abundantly clear was a cover NEEDS to look like the others in the genre. The genres are pretty standard and we are honed to assume what a book is like by the style of its cover, whether we like to feel we are up for being manipulated or not. Standing out from the crowd might well mean your book doesn’t appeal to the mass market of that crowd. The second thing to concede to was that the bigger publishers have spent a great deal more time and money on expertise to work out what particular people like and are prepared to buy. Rather than me thinking I know best, perhaps I should accept their wisdom and piggy-back their design concepts (see, I’m talking in design concepts now, rather than drawings…)
So, I took an evening to look at every book in my genre in the top 100 bestsellers and made some notes: twirly, twiddly, pastel colours, cup-cakes, shoes, women pulling at men’s ties. At NO point in the top 100 (or likely the top 10,000) was there a marker pen and a quirky face.
Then I looked at books on a self-publishing website and tried to assess them in the same way as I researched the books in the top 100. Some were fantastic, many weren’t. Many screamed DRAWN BY A WELL-MEANING FRIEND! The other thing that stood out was that so many of the self-published covers reflected the title whereas in my bestsellers list, the covers reflected the feel of the book: I thought of my first drafts when I had a woman being hit by a splat of jam and felt dirty. I made a decision to act like a professional and dumped the marker pen.
I began to think of the themes of my book and wrote a list: humour, struggle, love, hard-work, the outdoors, heart-warming chaos. I added this to my list of colours and styles and felt had the start of a sensible plan.
Now that I’d discounted myself, I needed a proper artist. I took a gulp and leap-frogged some artistic friends and headed for a university art course, believing it would be easier to keep it on a business level, whilst not breaking the tight budget. I wrote a professional brief, included my blue marker pen drawings as a start point and held my breath. A couple of students came back with links to their websites, and although their work was fantastic I held my nerve and said the styles weren’t for me.
Finally a perfect already-mocked-up cover arrived by email and I knew I had my lady! It was quirky as I wanted, included the things I wanted, was suitably women’s contemporary fiction and was fun. I asked a friend who worked in branding to choose between the background colours and accepted his decision of pale pink.
The artist and I had many back and forths to change the goat’s expression / the tilt of the pound sign / the length of the spliff and there it was: lovely, perfect – and the epitome of what I had first not wanted!
So my advice in a nutshell:
- Unless you are an artist who works in marketing, DON’T be tempted to do it yourself; it will cheapen your written work.
- Research where you will sit on the bookshelf and copy their style.
- Draw the feel, not the title.
- If budget is a consideration to you, make sure your artist is computer literate: mine was able to alter one element to accommodate me without having to redraw the whole design.
- Include in your brief the back cover and the spine. A book is more than its front cover.
- Take your time: you wouldn’t say, Ah, It’ll Do… about your written work.
- Oh, and don’t advertise a sci-fi book in a writers’ magazine: it upsets me too much…
Thank you, Lorraine. That was really interesting. I especially like no.3: the feel, not the title.
Lorraine Jenkin started her literary career by making a decision one Sunday morning that if she wanted to be a writer, then she had to start taking it seriously. She packed in her job, rented out her house and set off to the wilds of South America with little more than a tent and a toothbrush. In between getting savaged by bugs, bitten by dogs and having fights with men with knives, she wrote her first novel, Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons (Honno).
On her return, after a long shower, Lorraine dived in to the next phase of life: three babies followed and her first three novels were published (Honno). Lorraine’s writing is a quirky style of humour, said to be a cross between Tom Sharpe and The Vicar of Dibley. She sets her novels amongst the hills of Mid Wales where she lives with her partner, Huw and their three children. She delights in spotting the small details of the characters around her and then embellishing them HUGELY in her novels.
Although Lorraine’s novels are set in the countryside, they aren’t at the “chasing a piglet around a muddy paddock in flowery wellies” end of the rural spectrum. They’re more the “being cold and wet all day and then having to lance a rotting abscess” slant on country life. Her fourth novelwas inspired by the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001 in which many farms local to her were changed forever. She researched stories of farmers who were quarantined on their farms whilst herds that had taken generations of careful rearing were slaughtered in just days. She coupled this with memories of group walking holidays that she used to go on, added her own splash of chaos and Jam Tomorrow was born…
“I like to think I can guess as to why people do the things they do,” said Lorraine. “I probably can’t, but I like to think that’s why people enjoy my characters so much. I tire of reading about similar lives in so many modern novels, so I make sure that if I feel that I’ve read about one of my characters before, I stop, go back and give them a past life that ensures they are just that little bit different to everyone else. Then that means they can do different things and have different reactions when the adventures start to hot up…”
Lorraine has enjoyed successes with her novels from being a runner-up in the People’s Book Prize to twice being Welsh Book of the Month, and a Kindle Number One Bestseller. However, with three young children, possibly the biggest success is that she’s managed to do anything at all apart from pair socks and shout, “Oy, stop that” for the last few years.
Catch up with Lorraine on her blog: http://lorrainejenkin.blogspot.co.uk or see her Amazon page http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lorraine-Jenkin/e/B0034PL5LG
- and from this blog, my guests who have written on this topic are… Nina Munteanu and Vonnie Winslow Crist.
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