Never judge a book by its cover, that's what we're told, isn't it? Except where books are concerned, we do. In fact, we don't just judge them, we often buy because of them. They generate expectation.
As a self-published author, and without the money to invest in design features, I cut corners. Big mistake. And yet, when I promoted the new cover for The Bastard from Fairyland, sales jumped. Conclusion? Do the job properly and create a professional looking cover.
The process of working with an illustrator (Tom Parker - no relation! - @papagaeio) was a fascinating one. So I thought I'd outline some of our thinking in case it helps other writers in the same situation.
To begin with, the job of defining your novel(s) to an artist is as difficult as writing a synopsis! Which factors do you focus on? Warning! They are different to those in a synopsis because you're communicating through a visual medium, the impact is instant, The elements will dictate the visual style, the colours used, the font and its formatting. Aagghh!
We began, naturally enough with Book 1 and our discussion led us to define the theme, which turned out to be all about Rage. It provided the energy we wanted and the colour - red. I wanted a reference to Glastonbury Abbey, where the story is set, to feature as a background setting. But how do you define rage visually? The idea of the character in the picture dissolving, as though he's being incinerated by the rage, captured it for me perfectly.
I made Tom's job extra difficult by demanding there be some form of continuity to link the three covers. It's why we moved on to Book 3 next because I wanted to sustain that rage issue I mentioned, for it to be even more extreme.
Then we looked at backgrounds. I came to realise that my books
had grand buildings in each of them. The second and third take place primarily in a huge castle, a place of torture and battle. I also wanted my favourite character, Cochrann the wyvern, to be included. Tom had her shadow flying over the castle battlements!
The colours were consistent, so was the font which captured the fantasy genre so well. I cannot emphasize enough how vital this choice is - subliminal messages are carried in your font choice! The image itself needs to define the genre of course -
hence the choice of swords, castles and wyverns. But take heed of the format of the words in the title, avoid it looking like a word processor has done it. Finally, one other consideration, the cover needs to be clear enough to feature in thumbnails on book-selling sites, visible on mobile phones. So don't over complicate the image!
You can see how much thought needs to be given to the process. For writers who are used to communicating with words, I'd strongly suggest getting someone who is familiar with, and clever at, communicating via images. Don't attempt it otherwise because your sales will suffer. I learned the hard way that readers judge your book not just by deciding whether to buy it or not - but whether it's likely to be professional too. Don't start them off in the wrong frame of mind.