Good Cover Design, Part 2

In Part 1 of Good Cover Design, I discussed Genre, Keeping it Simple, and Instant Readability. Here’s the link to that post if you missed it: https://thevioletfemmes.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/good-cover-design-part-1-2/. Today’s topics are: Clear Branding, Basic Design Principles, Trusting your Gut, and Working with a Professional Cover Designer.

[Please remember that I am not distinguishing here between self-pubbed examples and traditionally published ones in this post. I use the author’s name for simplicity, and my focus is simply Good Design. In some cases, yes, the design decisions were made by the authors, in others, kudos go to the publisher’s design (and perhaps marketing) departments.]

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Courtney Milan’s The Brothers Sinister Series

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Kristan Higgins’s Blue Heron Series

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Debra Webb’s Faces of Evil Series

Clear branding: Not only do you have to hit the genre correctly, it’s smart to develop an AUTHOR brand—a consistent treatment that speaks to your voice, your style, your genre—in other words, what a reader expects to find in a book written by YOU. The examples that always come to mind for me are Courtney Milan’s The Brothers Sinister series of historicals (same type treatment, a lone heroine, a jewel-colored dress, and muted wallpaper background), Kristan Higgins’s Blue Heron contemporary romances (happy color, spring/summer scenes, simple type that speaks to contemporaries with humor), and Debra Webb’s Faces of Evil romantic suspense’s (clearly dark and dangerous, heavy hitting, and part of a series. How cool is that film strip with the number of the book in the series? And wow do those solid background colors leap out at you). You don’t have to write a series, however, to make your name/your brand, recognizable. Kristan Higgins’s other books have similar art, the same overall style, and always the size and treatment of her name. Do note, however, that in all cases, the author’s name is more prominent than the book title. The authors I mentioned in Part 1 are known for following this principle as well. Many argue that the author’s name is the single most important aspect of the cover. Another point that bears mentioning is to make it easy on yourself: don’t choose a design that’s going to be hard to implement as your series or brand marches on.

Basic design principles: you want a balanced, eye-catching design with a pleasing color scheme. Unless you are working around the art, your type shouldn’t hop around. Meaning sometimes the title is centered and the author name must be flush right where it’s readable. But if there’s room and a choice, keep it consistent for balance. As for color—go attractive but not obnoxious. Complimentary to the art you’ve chosen, contrasting enough to be easily visible. The reason those solid brights work for Debra Webb is because the film strip itself is understated and the type is all black. And certain colors denote holiday stories, others imply genre. Had we chosen red type for the grayscale Katharine Ashe cover (see last month’s post), we might have inadvertently leaned towards a typical treatment for erotica, so just be mindful of the choices you make.

Your gut: you have to like it, of course! If one design furthers your excitement over this book you slaved over and another leaves you cold? Well, there’s your answer.

Working with a Professional Cover Designer: There are loads of good cover designers out there, found by a quick web search, or via the databases of your writing groups. You can get quality, custom designs, for incredibly reasonable prices these days, and most every designer will do their best to please you. The biggest deciding factor, to my mind however, is to choose one whose design style you really love. That way, chances are good, you and your designer will be on the same page from the get go. After that, communication is key. It will help them to know exactly what you want (or don’t want), what you like, why something bothers you, etc. Most designers will welcome visual examples of books and treatments you love, as well. Much like getting general feedback on a manuscript with a rejection, a mushy “it’s missing something” or doesn’t further the process very well. So use the words and expression that are a writer’s gift, and respectfully explain.

Thanks for visiting The Violet Femmes today! Hope you found the Cover Design posts helpful!

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Good Cover Design—Part 1

example Katharine Ashe's My Lady, My Lord

example Katharine Ashe’s My Lady, My Lord

Given the surge of self-publishing in recent years, more and more authors are taking their covers into their own hands. Whether you purchase a graphics program and learn the skills to do it yourself, or hire a professional book designer like me, the fact is, the author has far more control than ever before. With that control, however, also comes the burden of getting it right. Never fear, by keeping in mind a few basic principles, you, or you in conjunction with your designer, will be able to create a cover that helps you sell. Today’s post will focus on Genre, Keeping it Simple, and Instant Readability.

[Before we get started, please note that I am not distinguishing here between self-pubbed examples and traditionally published ones in this post. I use the author’s name for simplicity, and my focus is simply Good Design. In some cases, yes, the design decisions were made by the authors, in others, kudos go to the publisher’s design (and perhaps marketing) departments.]

Genre: Reader’s don’t just need a HEA in a romance, first they’ve got to know it IS a romance, and better yet, what sub-genre of romance it is. Just like it’s okay to try something a little different to garner attention (see the cover I did with Katharine Ashe for My Lady, My Lord with it’s unusual grayscale image)—at the same time you must give readers what they expect. Typical in historicals, we used an embracing couple, added more hair, period clothing, and of course, some swashy type. Your setting is a big key to depicting genre. Think Marie Force’s The Fatal Series. She fades a nighttime cityscape and a couple together, with a dark feel: obviously a romantic suspense. Bella Andre uses a couple and setting in a similar way in The Sullivans series—yet through color and choice of art, the feel is completely different. Voila, a contemporary romance. Small town contemporaries, often show a couple posed on quaint main street or square, likewise, the backdrop for a western will use lush fields, a charming barn, or a dusty landscape. Likely, you know what the conventions and expectations of your genre are—but if you need a visual reminder go to an online book retailer and pull up a specific genre via keywords or the authors you are most similar to for comparison.
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Following the Trends

Boeken Kringloop Woerden 02

On a recent trip home, my uncle asked me, “There’s no chance your pen name is E.L. James, is there? Ha, ha, ha.” (Yes, I know. Comedy runs deep in my family.) “I wish,” I answered sincerely, thinking of my mortgage. “Well, why don’t you write a book like that?” someone else asked me.

Yeah, I thought. Why don’t I write an erotic romance? Thanks to authors like Anne Rice, Lora Leigh, Lauren Dane, and Maya Banks, I’m very familiar with the genre. And it’s hot, hot, hot! right now, due to Fifty Shades.

But do I want to write a story because the genre is trending…or write the story most suited to my voice?

Which is not to say it can’t be both. I don’t think there’s any harm in trying to write in a different genre as long as you are willing to abandon it if it doesn’t feel right. Like trying on a pair of skinny jeans, hoping they fit, but putting them back on the shelf because all they do is emphasize your muffin top. (Note: This has SO not happened to me.) You may discover a talent for an untried genre. Plus, learning to adapt your voice to different genres seems to be the best way expand your talent as a writer.

Agent Rachelle Gardner says the only way to make a living as a writer is through volume and variety. To think you’re going to write one book that’s going to sell millions of copies is unrealistic. Yes, it happens to a lucky few. But for the rest of us, we’ve got to learn how to write many sellable, marketable books over different genres. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?

That said, I don’t want to jump into every publishing fad that comes along, either. I would be hard pressed to ever write a paranormal, for example. Or an Amish romance (which I was told at RWA ’11 are very popular). My brain isn’t wired that way and that would be some Herculean flexing of my writing muscle.

It’s tricky. As newbies, we’re told, “Write a unique story that is riveting and polished, and it will find an audience,” but is that really true? Sure, self-publishing makes this idea slightly more plausible. But there are gatekeepers in publishing, whether it’s an agent or an editor, and they know what is selling and what’s still sitting on the shelves. You may have an outstanding vampire story on your hands, but no one’s buying it because the genre has been labeled as dead by industry insiders. (Pun intended.) Then what?

So in your writing journeys, how have you grappled with the trends? Let us know! Anyone who leaves a comment in the next four weeks will be entered to win a $10 Amazon gift certificate, courtesy of the Femmes.

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