Sunday, March 10, 2024

A Critical Creative Decision

By Terry Whalin

Within the publishing process, there are a number of critical decisions such as which story to write, what market or audience to reach, and many other details. Today I want to write about an aspect that Ive not seen discussed very often: cover selection. 

In Ecclesiastes 12:12, King Solomon had it right when he said, “Of making many books, there is no end.” Recently in the publishing community, Ive read that over 8,000 new books enter the market every day. This large number includes the self-published books but it shows that many authors are going through the critical decision of selecting the cover for their book.

Important to Sell Books

The cover for your book--the image and the title are important if you want to sell books. Does your cover include a few words of endorsement from someone with instant name recognition? It takes additional work to get these endorsements or a foreword but it will produce increased book sales. I encourage you to pour lots of creative energy into this process. Its not just for your readers or potential readers. Your publisher, your marketing team, the bookstore people, librarians and many others will look at your cover. Are they drawn to open the book or order the book? Many of these important decisions are made at a glance and in seconds.

As an editor, Ive been in numerous cover design meetings where we talk about what images will go on the front cover of a book. In a traditional publishing situation, the author isnt on the call but can give their input in writing to the publisher. The editor meets with the designer to talk about possible images, the type or words on the cover, the size of the book and other details. Depending on the publisher, this creative meeting can also happen on a conference phone call and ideally includes the author who know the content of the book better than anyone else. 

Often it will take a week or two before the designer will send some sample covers for feedback. Years ago I worked with this remarkable designer. During the call, she would be listening to our ideas about images for the cover but as we spoke she was seaching through her image database. Several hours after the call, we would receive three or four remarkable cover designs and it was difficult to select the best one. This designer had an unusual gift and talent to listen carefully then create imcredible designs.

How to Look at Sample Covers

However you publish, it is normal to send the cover to the author. The level and degree you can offer feedback on the cover will depend on your method of publishing and level of experience (read book sales). Typically you will get this cover as an email attachment. If you are working with a traditional house, the publisher will often only send one cover and they will not be too concerned about your opinion or feedback because “they” are in charge of such things.

One of my worst experiences in this area came with a major publisher. I was writing the book for my co-author with a large five-figure advance in our contract. The publisher changed the name of the book between what appeared in their catalog as an announcement and what was on the printed book. Although I was working in detail on the inside of the book, this publisher never showed me the cover before the book was published. I dont know if they sent it to the subject (my co-author) or not. He never told me but a large photo of this author was on the cover of the published book. My co-author was embarrassed with this photo and did zero promotion for the book. The publisher took the book out of print after six months. The returns are destroyed. I have a few copies of this book but I expect Im one of the few who have these copies. In my view, the roots of this cover design experience are poor communication from the publisher to the author and co-author.

When you work with a hybrid or self-publisher you are much more involved with the look and feel of your book. Often with these publishers, you will be three different options for cover. Look carefully at them. What do you like and what elements don't you like? What is often not said but possible is that you can mix and match the elements of one cover with another one. Maybe you like the typeface on one cover and the image of another one. You can suggest a change to the color of the typeface or you can suggest an enhancement such as a thin black outline for the type. To manage expectations often you will get one or two rounds of cover design before they begin to charge you for these changes. I encourage you to make thoughtful and yet detailed suggestions to get the cover and image that will represent your book and be something as an author you will be excited about promoting into the market.

This creative decision about your cover is a process and yet an important one for every author. What am I missing in this process of creating an excellent cover for your book? Tell me about your experiences in the comments.

Labels: , , , , ,

2 Comment:

At 3:01 PM, Blogger Mike White Left a note...

The only publishing I have any experience with to date is independent publishing, so I can’t speak to how things work at the “traditional” publishing houses. I agree that endorsements are very helpful to place on the book’s back cover, but I don’t think they necessarily need to be from recognizable names. As long as they represent someone with an authoritative background, such as a professional in his or her field of expertise or even a fellow author of a book of the same or a similar genre, they will usually be respected by the reader nonetheless. Am I mistaken?

At 12:39 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


The credential is an important part of an endorsement but the greater the name recognition for the reader the better in my view. Thanks for your comment.



Post a Comment

That's the writing life...

Back to the home page...