October 11, 2011

Running for Cover

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

You may have heard something in the past week about a new research study that made this stunning discovery:
Women who wear makeup appear more professional.
Really? Who would have guessed such a thing? That study seems about as necessary as one that determines whether men who wear ties look more authoritative. I’m seriously considering applying for a grant to see if being given a million dollars enhances your bank account.
Some things are just so obvious it’s hardly worth the thought.  And yet going back to the makeup thing it’s surprising how many authors overlook the importance of putting on a good face; that is, giving their book an attractive cover.
In a previous post, we talked about making a successful first impression with an intriguing title. The other essential key to wooing a potential reader is using the look of the book to hook.
Granted, if you’ve been lucky enough for a major publishing company to accept your manuscript, they’re going to commission the artwork and layout themselves. In this scenario, the publisher takes care of the creative post-production. A writer need only conjure up a great book and, after publication, look presentable at book signings (lipstick optional, although apparently highly recommended). 
Meanwhile, in this modern era of self-publishing, more and more writers assume complete control over the entire process, including designing the cover, with varying results. To their credit, some self-published books look breathtakingly professional, easily on a par with the bestsellers they share shelves with. Regrettably, others don’t do justice to the excellent words inside. Sometimes you can’t even read the title because of poor font or color choice.
A blurry photograph, even if the subject matter is appropriate, screams “amateur” and one will automatically assume that the book itself is equally out of focus. Likewise, a friend who does some painting on the side may not be the best choice to help you put your best foot forward. The price will be right, but you’ll pay a higher price when book sales disappoint. 
Those who’ve been there recommend searching out an artist or photography pro, ideally one near you, whose style resonates with you (they can easily be found online, where you’ll see examples of their work). Stock photo sites are also ideal for scouting out images. In conjunction with the artwork, an experienced graphic designer should be enlisted to put it all together in an attractive format.
Then, just as you’ve gotten trusted, literary-minded acquaintances to read your manuscript and give you practical feedback, don’t skimp on seeking qualified judgment on your proposed cover graphics. Artistic opinion is especially subjective, so get as many critiques as it takes to be sure you’ve got yourself a winner.
What if your book is already on the market and you realize your cover is not what it could be? Don’t kick yourself. Some of our favorite self-published authors have changed their covers in recent months, using their second-edition printing to upgrade. They report that the investment is paying off.
You’ve poured your heart into your book.  Why not get it in the hands of your audience by making it one they’ll be proud to be seen reading in public, and inspires others to ask, “What are you reading?”

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