So You Want to Write a Book
by Tony Stubbs
In this six-part series, well cover the major points that aspiring authors and self-publishers should consider. This fourth time, we look at your most important marketing tool: the books cover.
Part 4: Books Are Judged by Their Covers
Whats the big deal?
One rainy afternoon (never in Seattle, right?), watch people in a bookstore. If a books cover is displayed facing out, people are immediately attracted or repelled sales opportunity #1. If theyre attracted, they flip the book over and read the back cover sales opportunity #2. Then they flick through the book to see how its laid out sales opportunity #3 (see previous article). This little dance takes only a few seconds, and unless your book has hooked a sale, the customer, like a butterfly, is already on to another book.
If only the book spine is displayed, the sale depends on a legible, catchy title that pulls the potential buyer into the dance. It also helps if your name is Redfield or Chopra, but if not, read on.
Who designs the cover?
As an author, if your book is picked up by a publisher, the publisher will usually handle the cover design for you, with your input. But what if the publishers efforts result in something truly horrendous, such as making your angels look like vampires just to sell more books? Make sure your contract says that you have final veto on the design; otherwise you may be in strange company not necessarily a bad thing: Stephen King and Anne Rice do sell a lot of books.
On the other hand, dont rush out and commission artwork without first consulting your publisher. An author I knew spent a fortune on a commissioned piece of art that looked like Barbie with wings a waste of perfectly good canvas and paint, not to mention heartbreak for the poor author.
If youre self-publishing, hire an experienced cover designer. And show an early prototype design to a lot of people for their reactions not just to your friends; remember, they want to stay your friends.
Hardcover vs. paperback
Publishers exist to earn money for themselves or their shareholders, and casebound books (hardcovers) simply earn more. A trade paperback (6 x 9) may cost $1.50 to produce and sell for $12.95, whereas the same book in hardcover may cost $4.00 and list for $23.95 a much greater margin. Not to mention the prestige that is bestowed on the author.
But will the market bear the higher price? Will someone pay twice as much to read your message? And do you even want them to? As a messenger of the Light, what do you want people to have to pay for your message?
Given that you have a limited printing budget (and who doesnt?), which option is more attractive: 10,000 paperback or 2,000 hardcover? And remember that your potential market also has a limited budget and may have to decide between buying one hardcover or two paperback books.
The front cover
This is your attention grabber at the gut-level, emotional body, so make sure it grabs the lower chakras without offending the upper chakras. Here are your alternatives, in order of increasing cost.
Simple text treatment
Using any one of the thousands of typefaces out there, you can design an appealing cover. The Worlds Worst Salesman by Joel Saltzman is a good example of how different typestyles, sizes, and reverses can catch the eye, given a good graphics program and a flair for design.
Avoid the tendency, however, to emulate an explosion in a type foundry. You can often spot the first-time designer: half a dozen horribly clashing typefaces.
As a rule of thumb, the title should be visible from about 12 feet away, which means letters no smaller than 24 point (2 inch) and preferably 36 point (1 inch). Also, avoid choosing a color for your title that merges into the background.
Use of color
Color contrasts can also send the readers retinas reeling yellow and black stand out. But so do green and red, which may induce an odd nauseous sensation. Drop shadows behind the title, in a complementary color, work well. If you can spring for a few hundred dollars more, consider a reflective metallic foil, a sure eye-catcher.
If you have a graphic that works, go for it. My own book, An Ascension Handbook, and Tashira Tachi-rens What Is Lightbody? both have cover graphics that mysteriously seem to draw customers across the bookstore. I dont know why they work, but then, I dont know why crop circles are so haunting, either.
Good, clear photographs can be real grabbers. Just make sure you scan them in at a high enough resolution (detail) to look good. There are four sources for photos. First, you or a friend may be lucky enough to have taken a suitable photo yourself, as did Deborah and Jack Bartello for the cover of their new book, We the People Are the Messiah a great shot of Mt. Shasta created by Quicksilver Productions.
Photos often come bundled with graphics programs, as did the sunrise shot I used for Art Martins 2011. These are copyright-free so long as you dont directly resell them.
Next come stock images professional photos for which you buy the rights for single-purpose use. Expect to pay from $250 to $1000. The Internet is packed with Web sites such as <www.tssphoto.com>, full of gorgeous images you can buy.
And finally, graphic designers can nowadays create composite images using computer programs to achieve startling effects. The best example Ive worked with is the cover of The Divine Blueprint by Robert Perala, created by Glen Wexler Studios a truly "kick-ass" cover (it has to be seen in color for full effect) made of three images: a UFO, the pyramids, and a desert sunset.
If you plan to commission artwork or use existing artwork, be prepared to pay from $500 up, depending on how famous and/or how hungry the artist is. Fortunately, we are blessed with many visionary artists, such as Cheryl Rose of Mt. Shasta, whose Arthurian paintings are breathtaking.
The back cover
Once youve grabbed attention with your front cover, the back cover should make the sale. It usually displays the author photo, a brief description, any celebrity endorsements the book has attracted, and most importantly, how reading your book will change the readers life: healthier, wealthier, sexier, or even more enlightened! Its amazing how many books omit this vital piece of sales information.
Also, of course, the back cover should also contain the ISBN and bar code (essential if you want your book handled by distributors), the price in U.S. dollars (not Canadian the exchange rate varies too much), and the subject category (to guide bookstores in where to place your book).
Most books have about a half inch of marketing space on the shelf: the spine. Make your name and book title as prominent and legible as you can. Your books spine has to shout out "Read me!" above the cacophony of all the others not an easy task.
A final thought
Many self-publishers view the cover of their book as an extension of themselves. While being an ego boost, the result may miss the mark. The goal isnt an ego parade; its to sell books, so the cover has to appeal to the buyer. Youre already in love with your book, but (hopefully), youre not the one thinking about buying it.
Next time, well go to where the rubber meets the road, or the ink meets the paper: the book manufacturing process.
Tony Stubbs is a freelance writer, editor, publishing consultant, and desktop publisher living in Southern California. He is also the author of An Ascension Handbook. He can be reached at (909) 672-6115 or <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
This is the fourth in a six-part series on getting your book published, written by Tony Stubbs exclusively for The New Times. Please send SASE for any reprints desired.