Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book Covers: Flops and Tops

Thriller Guy's alter ego, Allen Appel, has had a lot of books published, hence there have been a lot of book covers. Makes sense, no? His first cover, for Time After Time, the first in his award-winning, mildly successful series (soon to be available as Kindles one of these days) of time travel books, sucked. There's nothing like the feeling of opening that box of just printed books for the first time, and seeing a cover that you know is going to doom the book to oblivion because it's just plain bad. The book was published by Carroll and Graf, a small publisher who didn't do any of their art in house, so they threw a few bucks at some second rate designer who would cobble together some sort of cover illustration. To be fair, they published a number of these books and most of the rest were pretty good. But not the first one. We'll save the example for the end of this entry.

TG always has a good laugh at the Little Ones who write to him and talk about what their book covers are going to look like when their book is published, how they're going to be fully involved in the process, blah, blah blah. No way, Little Ones, publishers don't give a crap about what the author thinks the cover should look like. Sure, some of the really Big Guys may have some say in the cover art, but most of them know to keep their noses out of that end of the business. And TG has writer friends who tell him they have a clause in their contracts that allows them to consult on the cover, or even approve, but when TG asks to actually see these clauses, excuses get made. That's because publishers don't easily give such rights and agents don't like to fight for them because they're far more interested in money issues. So listen up, Little Ones, just write your damn book and forget about thinking you have anything else, artwise, to bring to the process.

Oh, what's that? You have written your book? And you're going to put it up as a Kindle so you're going to have to come up with a cover? Hmmm, TG spoke too quickly. Yes, the earth has shifted under the publishing industry and ebooks are gaining ground and for the first time in history writers actually have an opportunity to participate in the marketplace without prostrating themselves under the boot of a "legacy" publisher. The chances these authors will succeed are just as dim, if not dimmer, than their chances of being picked up by a regular publisher, but what the hell, the opportunity is there, so TG salutes all of those folks who are flinging themselves into this particular fray.

So where do you get a cover? You can make your own, it's not that hard with photoshop these days, or you can hire yourself a designer who, for money, will be happy to lend you a hand. If one is having a book printed by an on-demand publisher, they will put you in touch with a designer, or you can just hit the Interweb and find one yourself. These days you can get quality work even in the $250 to $350 range. Really top notch art is going to cost more, but really, how much difference is it really going to make?

What's the purpose of the cover anyway? To catch the eye of the reader. The book buyer approaches a shelf, (or browses through the Amazon Kindle book section) sees something that looks interesting, picks it up and reads the publishing info to learn what the book is about. If it sounds good, he/she may very well buy the book.  So the cover actually is important, because if you can't compel someone to pick up your book and take a closer look your not going to sell a copy to anyone who's just browsing. So what makes a great cover? TG is glad you asked, because he's got a couple of examples. The first is the cover of Time After Time, produced by a cheap publisher, and the second is the cover for the same book when it was republished by Dell, a far classier operation.
Cover number one.

Cover number two.

The second cover, the Dell edition, was made by the legendary Fred Marcellino, who, unfortunately, is now dead. You can read about him here on a Wiki page, where this book cover is used as an illustration of his work.

So which cover would you pick up off the shelf if you were browsing? See, it matters. Quality pays.

Next week, TG asks his faithful readers to help one of his pals pick a cover for a Kindle edition.