‘You’re an artist?’ I ask, the lights inside my head blinking like they’re from an episode of Stranger Things.
‘Yeah, I can do some cool logos and stuff,’ the Artist replies.
‘Have you ever done a book cover before?’
I was really lucky with finding a cover artist. Well, I think so. No doubt there are ridiculously talented people that can write amazing novels AND do the cover art. But I am not one of them. As a matter of fact, my stick figure drawings border on Pre-Primary levels of skill. Sure, I probably would have still sold a few copies, but I think it would have been more out of pity than anything else.
Before I found the destined artist for my cover, I had to put together some ideas for what I wanted. So I did a bit of market research. There are tonnes of websites that will do the cover art. But more than 90% of these will use stock photos layered on top of other stock photos. During my research, I found a heap of self-published authors that had gone this route. Now I’m not saying its the wrong route to take, but let’s face it, the cover is the sweet suit you wear to that formal event everyone remembers. It has to catch the eye, start a conversation and sell your book against a million others. These stock covers just weren’t doin’ it for me.
Much like everything else involved with self-publishing, there’s going to be a hefty cost. The stock photo option is probably your cheapest, or if you have some flair with Photoshop then you could do it for free. But if you have an idea or grand vision for how you want your book to look, then you better keep researching.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt on this journey, its that you always have a friend who can do what you’re looking for. The wonders of networking never cease to amaze. I’m often pleasantly surprised when I find out that a friend of a friend has some crazy skill that I’ve spent months searching for. In the case of my cover, the final artist turned out to be my girlfriend’s cousin. Don’t get the wrong idea here, I didn’t just walk up, slap some cash in his hand and walk away with a cover. It is much more complicated than that.
Step 1 – Come up with a rough sketch of what you want your cover to look like. Regardless of your artistic prowess, the chosen artist will have such gratitude for this rough sketch that you might think they’re insane. For the first few weeks, this draft, this scrap of a used napkin with crayon on it will become their holy grail. You’re probably wondering why you’d ever have to show anyone your art. I did, so don’t worry. The thing is, like writing a book, you need some inspiration to get the creative process going. So when you do find your artist, they need some kind of reference to pick up what you’re putting down.
Step 2 – Sell it, sell it like an infomercial about that vacuum no one bought, but better! This is a hard part. You see, selling something only you know about and rarely talk about is hard. Where do you start? Do you tell them the plot? Do you tell them the ending? They’re an artist making a cover for you, do they need to know all the details? Ok, slow down there Road Runner. First things first, you don’t have to go crazy here. There’s really only three things you need to ask, the rest are details which will come later. These questions are as follows, Are you interested in making money? Would you like to create a book cover? How much will it cost? If the answer to the first 2 questions is yes, then the cost will probably make you cry a little. After you dry the tears, its time to share your grand vision. This is a really fun part. Think about it like this. You’re a writer, you’ve built this world and story through words. Now when you tell the artist they start visualising your world, and if you’re lucky they’ll bring it to life in a whole other dimension. Arron Leishman gave Catalyst atmosphere and suspense with just one image and you know the best part? He enjoyed doing it, and when it was all done, made sure I knew it. It’s the first of many amazing feelings you get when sharing your work for the first time.
Step 3 – Be patient and be honest. No one will get it right the first time, and if they do then its safe to assume the artist is a mutant able to read your mind. The colours will be off, the font will be too large or too small or there’ll be some small detail that irks you everytime you look at the cover. You need to let them know, then once you do, you need to sit quietly and wait for them to change it. It won’t be overnight, it might not even be that week. Like any creative profession, these things can take time. I engaged my cover artist roughly 6 months before selecting a publisher, even well before I found my editor. Mostly because the cover isn’t just that. It’s also an amazing marketing tool. It’s literally the face of your novel and if its good enough, it will get everyone’s attention. The bottom line here is humans are superficial creatures with short attention spans. Therefore your cover should be able to grip someone’s curiosity in a split second.
Step 4 – Formatting. This might not be too big a deal if you know what size you want right off the bat. If you don’t, like me, then the best bet would be to get the cover in a format that can be adjusted. Some publishers will actually contact your artist directly to get this on your behalf, but if your cover is done and you don’t have a publisher yet, then just ask for the original files from the artist. Most Photoshop files can be adjusted to whatever size you want quite easily. Unless you don’t have photoshop because like me you’re a poor author who doesn’t need image editing software.
Step 5 – Ownership, is it yours because you paid for it? Not always, some artists own their art and will take your money then charge you more to give you ownership. From my understanding, this is a very small group. The best way to sort this is by asking about it up front. My recent artwork from Daniel Kamarudin is owned completely by me and was agreed on it as a part of our initial transaction. Some print companies and publishers might ask for a ‘letter of approval’ (it might also go by other names) from the artist. This cheeky little certificate is more or less proof of purchase. Giving you the power to print, distribute and make money from someone else’s art. It should also be free. If you’re feeling generous, you can let your artist also print, distribute and make money from the art you purchased. I don’t mind doing this as they may have a large online following (Instagram, artstation etc) which they share it to turning into free advertising for you.
Step 6 – Blurb time! This can be tough. How do you summarise your novel in the space of a few short sentences? Or create intrigue and suspense to persuade a reader into making the purchase. I struggled with this. Compression is difficult, being vague is also hard. So I stepped back from the whole thing asked and someone else to do it. The best people to ask are your beta readers. They didn’t give me the final product but they did help. I asked for a short rundown of the narrative via email. Using their breakdowns I put together a catchy, suspenseful and semi-vague blurb. SUCCESS! This probably won’t work every time, but reading blurbs from professional authors who have marketing and publicity teams gave me anxiety. So I figured if they can get someone else to do it, why can’t I?
Step 7 – Celebrate the hell out of it! You now have a cover for your book! It’s not just a cover though. Remember that. Its a powerful tool for marketing and advertising. It’s also an easy way to show people what you’re doing. Especially your family or people who might not understand authors (I’m looking at you, Dad!). You’ve got an awesome blurb put together by your ‘Marketing and PR team’ and a sweet cover image, with your name on it. Now go show everyone! Do a cover reveal on social media, tease the heck out of your friends and fans and make sure you give the artist some love!
Next week I think I’ll touch on writing. Its an important subject, and I feel bad for talking about all this ‘after writing’ crap first. In the meantime, check out my Facebook and Instagram (I actually posted on Insta this week, WOO go me!).