My name is Belinda Pepper. I have over 11 years experience as a professional artist, with more than two spent as a freelance book cover designer, specialising in designs for indie authors (aka. self-published authors) and small publishing houses.
The last year brought an absolute boom to the self-publishing industry. Thanks to the success of ebooks and print on demand (POD), its easier to publish your work now than at any other time in HISTORY. Pretty neat, huh?
Whats not so great is that my workload became so massive that I simply couldnt do it all myself. Authors were waiting 3 months or more before I could even start work on their cover design.
For someone with a chronic need to please, thats torture.
I started to turn clients away, forcing them to look elsewhere for their cover art. As a result, many were vastly overcharged, and received sub-par work in return. I was gutted. Unwittingly hiring an inexperienced designer is WORSE than creating a cover yourself; not only to you get an amateurish cover that wont help sell your book, you paid for it!
How do I fix this problem?
I pull together a team of talented professionals and create RedSwallowDesign.
If you want to learn more about the (somewhat quirky) folk behind the bird logo, feel free to mosey on over to the About The Team section.
Most freelance book cover designers use stock images when creating a design.
What are stock images?
Stock images are photographs or illustrations that artists sell in return for a fee (one-off or ongoing, depending on the licensing). Not all designers are great photographers, and not all designers are great illustrators. So they instead purchase the licensing rights to use stock images. The most well known stock image agencies are Getty, Corbis, iStockPhoto, and Shutterstock.
The good thing about using a designer is because they produce such large volumes of work, they can usually purchase stock images at a discounted rate. But is stock imagery the best option?
It depends how the stock images are used.
Stock can be purchased by anyone who has the money. That means that the handsome cowboy on your romance novels book cover might also be on 5 other book cover designs. You should always get a guarantee from your designer that they will not reuse any stock images that have appeared in your design. This will reduce some of the problem. But this does not stop other freelance designers from using those exact same images.
Obviously, the best way to avoid this issue is to hire an artist who can create a 100% custom design (either by illustrating your cover from scratch, or taking their own photography). Understandably, not all authors can afford this option.But does this mean youre stuck with having an unoriginal cover design? Not necessarily. It depends on the skill of your designer.
Many stock images are very high quality. The photographers are skilled in use of lens filters, lighting and composition. The end result is an image that is of production quality without having to do anything. The problem? Many freelance designers are using these images as a short-cut in design. They do little more than add text. Admittedly, it takes some knowledge in design to make the text and image work together, but the result is a book cover that is essentially an unchanged stock image. A stock image that any other designer can also use in the same way.
Whats the result? Something like this:
Two different designers, one stock photo that hasnt been changed (beyond cropping it to standard book cover dimensions). Oh dear.
If you are buying a cheap book cover design, the chances of having the problem illustrated above is greater, because the designer simply cant afford to put in the extra effort required to make that stock truly unique.
A Useful Trick For Assessing The Uniqueness Of A Design
Theres a little-known function of Google Images that will help you determine the uniqueness of a designers book covers. You can test this technique on any image. Feel free to test it on the image above. Im using Google Chrome, so the steps may be slightly different if youre using a different browser.
1) Right-click on an image, and select copy image URL.
2) Go to Google Image Search.
3) Inside the search field (where youd normal type your search term), youll see a little icon of a camera. Click it. The Search By Image field will pop up.
4) With Paste In URL selected (its usually selected by default), click in the search field and hit Ctrl+V. This will paste the image URL you copied in step one. Hit Enter to search for that image.
Huzzah! What you just did was tell Google to find all other instances of that image online (that Google is aware of). What you should see is the exact image you searched for at the top of the list, followed by any other instances of that image.
If your designer used the stock images in a UNIQUE WAY, the only images that will show up is that designers cover (maybe they have that cover displayed in numerous portfolios online).
If your designer did very little to change the original stock images, you will see listings for stock image websites too. The image was so unoriginal that even GOOGLE could tell. Worst case scenario? Not only do you see listings for stock image websites, but you see other book cover designs or websites that have already used that exact same image.
This isnt a guaranteed method. Theres a chance the image has been used but Google cant find it. But Ive found that if you assess a number of different book covers from a designers portfolio, and virtually all of them are being pinged as unoriginal, theres a good chance that designer does little more than add text.
Here comes the question.
Are you okay with having a pretty- but unoriginal- design in return for a discounted price?
If youre really strapped for cash, getting a pretty but unoriginal design is much better than having an original but horrible design. But most authors would prefer to have their book covers look as original as possible, and for good reason. That means looking for designers who either use stock images in a unique way, or hiring artists whocreate your design from scratch.
Recently I was contacted by an author who had just won several awards for a book he had self-published. Ed Morler, a psychologist, is the author of a number of award-winning books, a real contribution to his field.
The author was getting ready to issue a revised third edition of one of these booksFinally Growing Upbut he was unsatisfied with the original cover. Since he had also decided to change the title of the book to more accurately reflect the direction of the new edition, he contacted me about re-designing the cover from scratch.
Although the author had contracted with a local artist to produce the original edition, the cover showed many of the flaws common in self-published books. Ive written often about these cover design mistakes and how to avoid them, and this cover gives a good way to look at a number of problems all at once.
Heres the original cover:
Click to enlarge
(By the way, the artist who produced this book may be just fine at all kinds of graphic design. Books are something of a specialty, although to the unaided eye they look dead simple.)
Heres what I saw:
The luckiest thing that happened when I began the re-design was that the author decided to change the title. This was a huge benefit, since the old title contained almost no useful information and did not seem very relevant to the potential audience of this book, a serious work of psychology.
The new title was much better at communicating the offer of the book. After spending some time looking through the book and thinking about the new title, Leading an Empowered Life, it seemed to me that the most powerful word in the new title was empowerment. I wanted to show the transformative power of the ideas in the book, and somehow imply the changes a person could experience by adapting them.
I wanted a clean and refined look for the book, which would also now have the imprimatur of three separate book awards on the back cover.
Using images from iStockphoto.com, I created a series of designs that attempted to express what the book offered, while also drawing the viewer in visually.
Here are the initial designs I came up with for the new edition:
As usual, during the design process there was a lot of going back and forth and trying different things. Eventually we narrowed the choices down and started to concentrate on what looked to me like the strongest cover of the four. The most powerful images are usually of the human face, and the direct eye contact of one of these images was striking. Eventually, all the elements fell into place. Heres the final version as it went to press:
Click to enlarge
Whats interesting to me is that the before and after versions of this book cover contain exactly the same elements: Title, subtitle, author name, blurb, photograph of a man.
Yet what a difference.
Investing in your book by getting a professional cover design is one of the best things you can do for your long-term success. This is especially true now that so many hundreds of new self-published books are coming out every day.
Its even harder to make your book stand out. Youll want to have an outstanding book, the best you can produce, of course, to start with. Youll make sure your book is properly edited.
The next thing, and maybe the most important in terms of marketing and sales, is to get a cover that will help sell the book.
You know, it doesnt cost any more to print your book with a great looking cover than it does to print an ordinary one. The design cost of your book cover is a one-time expense that can potentially be repaid quite quickly with increased sales.
Add to this the increased confidence you gain as you market and promote your book, and the advantages of a cover re-design can be quite real and very effective in helping you get your message out to the greatest number of people.
More on Book Covers
Book Cover Design, Fiction and Nonfiction: Whats the Offer?
15 e-Book Covers: Success and Failure in the Kindle Store
Top 8 Cover Design Tips for Self-Publishers
Complete list of all Cover Design Articles
Ed Morlers Sanai Publishing Website
Photo by iStockphoto
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