I’ve been working toward getting new covers for my books, with the idea that they would essentially be branded, that is, they’d have a recognizable look and feel.
I uploaded the ones that are final to my Pinterest Board. You can see, I hope, the developing look and feel. I haven’t finished updating everything on my website yet. Soon. Very soon.
There were two major challenges. Good artwork and the fact that I write historical and paranormal under the same name. Cost was another. Setting up a custom shoot with professional models is more or less far outside my budget. Otherwise, I’d be taking to John Marron and guys like that.
That cost issue : with sufficient budget, I could get the models I want and the clothing required, and the models would know how sell the poses. ::dreaming:: I’ll circle back to that.
Regarding covers and design, first, I recognize my lack of design talent. I do understand the principles of typography and design, since in my web development days I worked closely with the graphic designers. It was in their interest to educate me since I was more or less in charge of the website. Having been schooled, I am very very aware of my shortcomings. That is why I don’t do my own covers.
Why our Gender Problem Makes The image Challenge Worse
At the moment, we live in a culture that uses women’s bodies to sell products. The female body is sexual (as if a man’s isn’t, too.) The cliche is “Sex Sells” But what they really mean is “Women Imaged as Sexually Available Sell.”
And that is a problem because, contrary to popular notions about Romance, A romance novel cover image (excluding erotica) isn’t about sex. It’s about the promise of love. If you go look at stock images and search for Romantic Couple you see pages and pages and pages of women who look like they’re auditioning for a porno movie. Virtually none of them look like they’re falling in love or about to fall in love.
It’s a disgrace. It’s offensive. Probably those Royalty Free sites have the dregs of a photoshoot where the excellent shots went elsewhere.
The clinch cover is not, as that idiot from Vox implied, all about ::giggle:: she wrote a word that has a naughty meaning so let’s read EVERYTHING as if it has that meaning!!! It’s damn near impossible to find a couple who look like there’s love somewhere in there.
And, 99% of the time, someone’s idea of a “historical” gown comes from a $4.99 Halloween costume.
Fortunately, there are now some additional sites dedicated to Romance Novel cover images that have good to great models. There are fashion experts who will loan their historically accurate clothing to the cause of a photoshoot. So, it’s easier than it used to be. As in, instead of impossible, it’s almost impossible.
The image Challenge
My first covers were severely hampered by two main things: the image problems, my talent problem. For some time I could get away with mediocre to good covers because there were others that were so bad … The bar was low and lots of authors benefited from that, whether they knew it or not. The fact that so many NY Romance covers were also just as terrible or worse also contributed to that low bar. I quickly realized that NY was using the same stock image sites as the rest of us. Some of my early covers were pre-made but with some custom typography work.
So, my goal then was to get my reverted titles on sale with the best cover I could manage given all the handicaps around that, and then to bring out front-list, too.
In early 2013, the cover bar got higher, or I got less tolerant of the shortcomings of my covers. I had good cover artists, but I wasn’t letting them do their job. I did have to learn to get out of the way. Early on, I wasn’t able to also get print covers made …. see lack of talent from me. The person I was working with at the time didn’t do print covers and I was not able to do them myself and be happy with the result and the time spent.
This was a problem for me. I ended up having almost no print presence, and that got to be a worse and worse situation, to the point where I had to find another artist. Ultimately, to get all the covers done, I ended up using two different people.
The 100% Improvement Dilemma
Here is a true fact. For ease of discussion, let’s pretend there’s the following spectrum of ability:
- Worst ever in history
- Never should see the light of day
- Not bad
- Almost good, if you squint
- I like it
- OMG that’s amazing
- Off the charts genius
Suppose you start out at horrible in the “Cover Ability” area. You get Photoshop or Gimp and learn a few things and voila! You have a cover that never should see the light of day. You have improved a lot. You work some more and now your cover merely sucks. You have improved 100% in ability, you can see that because look at the difference between where you started and where you are now! You can use the tools! Eyedropper! Oh, hey, fonts. That I did not buy.
But your covers are still terrible.
If you’re in the business of selling books, your covers need at minimum to be at least Nice. At least there. If you’re not an actual artist, chances are very very slim that the cover you think is Nice actually is.
It’s a skill. And it’s a separate skill from design. Courtney Milan wrote a post about this. Go read it. FYI, I Googled “Courtney Milan and the Duke’s Cock” to find and link to that post. It was more fun than it should have been. But I’m not even ashamed.
What I did, several several several months ago, was find someone good at typography and commission a custom name font. Anthony Piraino as it happens. It was a chunk of change but a more than acceptable business expense. I wanted a font that would work across genres, so it couldn’t look too historical or too paranormal. It’s not just a font with letters that spell my name. (grin) He made pixel level customizations to the shapes of some letters for me.
The first time I used it on a cover, I could see it looked — as it did. The effectiveness of the name font isn’t apparent until you see it on several covers. Then you can see the branding and how it pulls the books together.
Color and Contrast
What I know from my work on websites and from studying the hell out of my cover situation while I pondered solutions, was that in the digital space, thumbnails matter a lot. You need colors that contrast. There are a lot of things wrong with the current trend in historical covers, not the least of which is how bad they look at thumbnail size.
On a purely personal level, I don’t care for the pastel trend, in historicals particularly. I wanted vivid, vibrant jewel tones over a year ago and I wish I’d been in a position to get all my covers done then. I wasn’t able to make it happen, alas. I would have been WAY ahead of the curve. I’m sure that will change at some point and I’ll be looking for another composition and color effect.
A Key Difference
Here’s the thing. Across all the books I ever published traditionally, my covers were always branded to the publisher and/or imprint. Not to me. I got one cover and that was it. There were no do-overs, or huh. It’s not working, let’s try something else.
What I have done is replace covers that stopped working or were too divergent from the look I was trying to hit. What I’ve done or am in the middle of developing, is a look that says, this is a book by Carolyn Jewel. And that never happened when I was traditionally publishing. I got some fantastic covers. Several of them were distinctive enough to build off of … There was nothing cohesive across my name even at the same publisher.
I am shallow. Very shallow
I have spent a lot of time looking at images of men, women, and couples. Here’s a list of the things I began ruthlessly saying:
- She’s not pretty enough.
- He’s not handsome enough.
- Great body. Meh face.
- They look like they hate each other.
- That guy is SUPER DUPER cute but he isn’t ripped enough.
- Please, dude. You are not that good looking. Just stop it.
- Lady, could you at least TRY to look happy?
- Holy shit, he’s hot.