October 20, 2014

Compelling Covers

Before entering publishing full time, it was my pleasure to work for many years in advertising and marketing. A delightful career, the ad biz was frenetic and madcap, joyful and rewarding, highly creative and incredibly educational. Writing, designing, and producing a broad variety of printed items exposed me to new concepts, new technologies, new products, new thinking—and gave me the opportunity to consult and work with entrepreneurs and craftsmen, educators and students, business professionals, mom ’n’ pop cottage industries, huge factories, and all sorts of endeavors in-between.

When I entered book publishing, I actually expanded the first career to include the second. I’m a publisher whose thinking comes from within the disciplines of marketing and advertising. This keeps me strategy- and detail-oriented. When I specify typography for the text of a book, I want it set in an open, easy to read typestyle, with comfortable page margins and plenty of white space between the lines. And when I design a book cover, I want it to become a sales tool that entices the reader to open the book and look inside.

A good cover prequalifies book buyers. It makes them want to pick up your book because it is designed to appeal directly and specifically to their personal interests. You really can tell a book by its cover—if the cover accurately expresses what the book is about.

One of the projects we’re presently working on is the republication of Mistress of Monterey. Written by Virginia Stivers Bartlett, this historical novel was originally published in 1933. It’s a great read about the haughty young wife of the first governor of California. Fortunately, the author took the trouble to extend her original copyright, and ownership has passed to her granddaughter, with whom we’ve contracted for the right to publish this work.

Some designers seem to work at arm’s length. What I mean by this is that they design covers to be viewed from close up. My philosophy is to design covers that attract viewers from a table or shelf across the room, draw them in, and compel them to pick up and look at the book.

Notice how simple this cover is: one image, a bit of decoration that suggests an earlier day, the title, the author’s name, and only six words of text naming the publisher and indicating what the book is about.

You’ve no doubt heard the old saw, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” If the picture you choose for your cover is right for your book, you might find yourself saying it is also worth a thousand sales, or more. Indeed, the Mistress of Monterey cover image looks like a million bucks and does everything it should to attract the reader.

There is nothing complex about this cover.  Nothing difficult.  Nothing expensive.  The image of the haughty woman has been enhanced in Photoshop to resemble a cameo painting.  (You may not be able to see the painting effect in this low-resolution online image.)  The background color, oval frame and rectangular border were scanned from the paper mask inside an old picture frame. The title and author’s name are set in fonts from my computer.  I spent a while tricking out the photo, selectively sizing and fitting it to the oval, so it cropped to show the model’s beautiful long hair and décolletage.

The oval frame I found in a thrift store for less than two dollars. The stock photo I bought online at BigStock.com for about $10. (Their selection of images and subjects is enormous; I’ve never failed to find plenty of pictures to work with.) Total cash out-of-pocket: twelve bucks. I’ve used basically this same process to produce several dozen covers in the last few months.

My point is that you do not need to spend a lot of money to create an effective book cover. Even if you have someone else doing the computer work, as the author you should still be involved in book cover design. No one knows better than you what information your cover should convey. And you have only a second or two to capture the attention of your audience, so make the most of it . . . inexpensively!

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Joseph Cowles

Joseph Cowles

Joseph Robert Cowles brings to his book publishing activities the inspiration and skills gained from more than three decades as a creative director and advertising copywriter, prior to establishing Event Horizon Press in 1990.

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