The Difficulty of Designing a Book Cover

the current cover for A Rapturous Occasion

 

the current cover for The Madness of Art Short Stories

Last year I self-published two books of fiction about six months apart. They’re very different books. The Madness of Art: Short Stories is a collection of eight tales exploring the theme of artistic development, each told in a different way, ranging from surrealism to sci-fi to psychological portraits. My second book A Rapturous Occasion was my attempt to do a traditional, readable, tightly plotted short novel. In terms of style, there about as different as two books by the same writer can be, but they share one thing in common: I don’t like the covers.

When I designed the cover for The Madness of Art: Short Stories way back in June of 2011, I had no knowledge of how to use photo-editing software, and to this day I don’t own Photoshop. Originally with that book, I made the cover entirely by hand. If you look at the image, you’ll see it features many different layers. This wasn’t achieved on a computer though. I literally copied and pasted the whole thing together (although I believe I used tape instead of glue). For the ebook cover, I even did the text in acrylic paint. It wasn’t until about  two months later that I found out how I could download a free, legal photo-editing program called Gimp. After that, I slightly remade the cover by taking out the painted words, which were barely legible, and replaced them with text on my computer. Still, I wasn’t satisfied with the cover. The big problem: when you’re holding it in your hands, it looks cool, but when the image is sized down, i.e. on the Amazon product listing, it doesn’t look that great. Now I realize it’s very possible that the peculiarities of my cover art might have hurt my sales.

Fast forward a few months. Shortly after Thanksgiving, I finished putting the final touches on my novel A Rapturous Occasion. The last thing I did was design the cover. By this time, I had learned how to use my photo-editing software to a certain extent, but still didn’t understand much of how illustrating properly worked. I tried to learn from my mistakes with my cover for The Madness of Art: Short Stories and this time around I made sure the images were bigger. Overall, I do like the drawing, but the end product wasn’t satisfactory. At the time, I was in a hurry to get the book in print for two reasons: 1) the book takes place around fall and winter, so I thought it’d be greater if the release coincided with the setting. 2) I was broke and hoped the publication would bring in some much needed royalties. Instead, the book brought in little cash, and not many people read it when it first came out, so my effort to get it out on time was all for naught.

Fast forward again to the present day. I’ve learned a lot more about how to properly make an illustration, and I’ve bought a lot of new and helpful art supplies. I’ve also learned that you can get a much better picture if you draw the original image on a huge sheet of paper then size it down. Earlier, I had made the mistake of making the covers a direct copy of my images. I’m still not as great at drawing as I’d like to be, but I believe I’m in a place where I can fix up my covers. The problem now is, how?

Here's an example of my more recent work, although I can do better than this now.

I’m in a greater hurry to fix up my cover for A Rapturous Occasion. I recently talked a few friends into reading it, and I actually had quick and positive responses from them. To this day, to my knowledge, no one except my grandmother has read all of The Madness of Art: Short Stories, whereas the people I gave A Rapturous Occasion to read it in under a week, which was especially impressive because most of them weren’t normally fast readers.

I’ve now hit a creative impasse. I’m in a place where I can draw up better images, but I can’t think of what to draw. By that, I mean, I’m bursting at the seams with ideas, but none of them have much in terms of commercial appeal. If you look at contemporary book covers, you’ll notice most, if not all, feature a single object on the cover, be it a chess piece, a glinting knife, or a hand holding lipstick. Internet marketing has severely diminished the art of the book cover. If you look at older covers, there were frequently tons of things crammed into a small amount of space, since people would be looking at them in the store. Now, book stores are dying out, and so many sales are online. Since I’m a selfpublished writer, all of my sales are online.

It’s such a shame too that the marketing of books has changed so much; I love vintage book covers, especially those published in America between 1940-1970. So many old book covers feature original art–sometimes oil paintings or watercolors or pen and ink drawings–and when I’m in a used book store I will gleefully buy a book just for its cover. With today’s book covers, they’re so frequently uninspired if you ask me. A photo of some common object is airbrushed and enhanced by digital shading…yawn. In the center of a blank white cover, there’s a cartoonish image of a person doing something cheeky…pass. One thing Harry Potter should be applauded for is for continuing to use old-school fantastic cover art. The vintage style of cover art though is fading away, as books from decades ago are being brought back with new covers devoid of the old charm.

My conflict now is, how do I make covers that live up to my standards but are also commercial? These are the types of problems that confront all artists. Is it even possible?

By the way, if you would like to own copies of my books featuring the original covers, you should act fast. I’ll be updating both in the near future, first A Rapturous Occasion and The Madness of Art: Short Stories later. This means the editions I have out now might very well become rare collector’s items. To see them on Amazon, please check out my author page or visit the store on this site.

Do you have any ideas for designing my new book covers?

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