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Let’s Talk Art: How to Create Affordable Covers for Your Indie Book

A supplement to "Selling Your Writing In 13 Weeks": Covers, part 2

Sarah Hoyt


February 5, 2014 - 10:00 am
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There is nothing wrong with this cover, if — read the description — what you’re writing is somewhat “literary” (what the academics consider literary) a little highbrow, and appeals to a limited audience. It would, however, be a terrible cover for your bodice ripper, your sword and sorcery fantasy, your commercial urban fantasy, or anything else not “literary and little.” This is also how most cover designers you can get (i.e. not the ones working for major houses) design covers. And this is why it might be best to learn to do it yourself with resources at hand.

No, don’t run away (yet.)  While my family has a tendency to go through the art museum making fun of things and pretending we think the trash can is an installation (it might have been, now that I think about it) and making all the arty people mad (well, guys, we pay our membership.  We enjoy at as we want to.  We’re not shouting.  Stop getting close enough to us so you can seethe at what we say) that is not the sort of talk I want to have (though a stroll through the art museum with a camera followed by a “the Hoyts desecrate art post might be fun.)

I’m talking of art in its right and proper place and not exactly high art, either. (Yes, I know high art.  During one of the worst depressions of my life, a book with reproductions of Leonardo DaVinci’s paintings and sketches pulled me through.)

The art we want to talk about here, is the sort of art that is needed in a certain place and needs to be good enough to pass muster in that place.

It’s sort of like the wallpaper patterns painted on canvas and mounted on cubes that are used on hotel walls.  As “high art” they fall short of the mark, neither elevating nor communicating any other emotion.  As art for your own home, they’d probably get incredibly tiring (unless you’re one of those people who uses his/her apartment as a crash pad.) But as “hotel art” it does break the monotony of what would otherwise be institutionally bland walls, and doesn’t have anything particularly memorable to offend or confuse a fussy guest.

The type of art we’re going to talk about is sort of the same: book cover art.

You must have something on the cover of your books.  I’ve already talked about signaling and how to make sure your book fits with its genre.  Most designers – and for that matter most artists – you can hire will in fact give you “art” and “cover design” that fits only with the “literary and little” set.  This is because until very recently that was who the artists and cover designers who hadn’t quite made it worked.

The other problem with “hiring the professionals” is monetary.  I’m now making around $500 a month from my indie (mostly backlog of reverted novels and short stories) publishing.  But that is after two years and with my having a lot of backlog.  Yes, it’s also on the low side due to these being reverted novels and my only having about a third of them out. I have friends who are making the same from one or two indie-published-from-the-get-go novels.

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All Comments   (5)
All Comments   (5)
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To reinforce Sarah's point, never use stock photos or art taken from the internet without paying for or verifying that it can be used w/o charge. Read the license terms very very carefully for what form of license you must pay for, to use for the kind of cover you are making - ebooks or POD printed may have different rates.

The stock photo companies do search for unlicensed uses. And then they send out letters demanding very large sums of money.

I get people calling me regularly who have gotten those letters for using a photo w/o permission on their website.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I play it very, very safe - I use my own photos for book covers, and on my website and Facebook page. Sometimes I'll use an old photo in public domain to illustrate an essay on some historical matter, although - nothing newer than the 20th century.
But I will check out Sarah's link to the art website with an eye to exploring other options.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Sarah, thanks for this.

I liked your painting, btw, and don't think it would have looked bad on a book.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Rule--If using illustrated humans on the cover, they should be anatomically correct.

PS I don't care if your BFF or daughter drew the humans and colored inside the lines with special crayons.
1 year ago
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1 year ago
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