I remember being told in kindergarten to “never judge a book by its cover.” I continued to believe this bold face lie for decades. Finally, after being turned down for coffee by the infinitieth girl, I decided that people do, in fact, judge us by our “covers.” Fine—I submitted to finally bathing and changing my clothes on occasion.
If my kindergarten teacher wanted to be accurate with her wisdom, she would have said something like “never END your judgement of a book by its cover.” This is true, and I have found myself heartbroken over the self-harm independent publishers are doing to themselves because of mistakes with their covers. Each of these covers has the author’s name on it, so clearly no one is ashamed of the covers they have produced for their written work. Shaming isn’t my goal. Helping authors avoid landmines for their independent covers IS.
So let’s dive in. BEWARE…
1.) Don’t try to do too much
All right, ignore the text for starters and let’s just focus on the image. This is a really ambitious cover design, and the Photoshopper/artist was simply not up to the difficult task. I imagine the author said, “I want a cute dog jumping through the air, catching an airplane by the tail!” and while it is a cute imagine within the mind’s eye it simply is demanding beyond reason to produce via photoshop on a budget. Maybe the cover should have just had the dog? Or perhaps the author could have hired an illustrator to draw it? Look here at the cover for The Art of Racing in the Rain. See how simple it is? That’s all you really need, sometimes. Dogs sell!
2.) Maintain your proportions
Again, ignore the text (I know, we’re getting to that). Observe how much work went into this. Someone took (hopefully public domain) photos of people and Photoshopped the hell out of them with fire and crazy clothes and—OH, LOOK—A DRAGON! I’m not highlighting this particular cover for its ADHD properties; I’m instead pointing out something more subtle: proportions. See how the bodies of the three characters are squished/elongated? In this case, it seems that the artwork was simply distorted to fit into whatever dimensions the seller/artist/author wanted. Whatever the intentions of the original cover might have been, the work is undermined by this distortion. Crop artwork—never distort it.
3.) Airbrush is for the side of vans, not book covers
I’m sorry, but this is just a terrible cover. Granted, I’m totally threatened by this dude’s rippling bod, but I still stand by my assertion. He is airbrushed to the point of a Penthouse foldout, and the laughable title and cover content are almost at direct odds. Most of Devonshire’s covers aren’t this airbrushed, so perhaps she learned from this.
4.) Text is amazingly difficult
This cover isn’t terrible. We’ve got a cave and a marsupial of the damned, so the author is presenting what they intended. The title runs me a bit for a loop, though. Should a military background/installation be the cover’s setting instead of a cave? Is “Level 14” the level of the possessed creature our heroes have to defeat to complete their quest? I don’t know. But what I do know is that the font doesn’t give me any hints. Much like the fonts you see in the covers above, you can see what happens when you take the letters on your cover for granted. As independent authors and erstwhile book marketers, we need to accept that any text on our cover isn’t merely relaying the title and our name, but also relaying the tone of the story as well as elements of the setting. The instant we use a default or pre-loaded font, we are telling the potential reader that we aren’t interested in being original. Draw an original font if you must. Illustrate your letters, even. If you are doing a series, using the same fonts for each book help key in your readership to your continuity.
5.) Mocking bad covers is profitable
This bastard outsells me.
We’re independent authors, we’re poor, and we don’t have many resources at our disposal. Whenever we try and beat large publishers at their game, we often embarrass ourselves because every reader will see our covers first, and that is not the time to reveal our mistakes. Once you factor in the cost of editing and formatting, it’s easy to let the cover fall by the wayside. Trust me, do NOT do this. Hold your cover to as high a standard as your writing. Every reader expects you to because every reader will judge your book by its cover. Hopefully enough of them won’t STOP their judgment there, but let’s make life easy on them just the same.