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Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Cover

Although not judging a book by its cover may apply in some cases (the cover of The Help comes to mind), it is still the first thing we see--the wrapping paper and bow that promises something special when we open the package and look inside.

One of the benefits of self-publishing is having the final say when it comes to your book's cover design. This privilege should not be taken lightly, however, since writers do not necessarily know what it takes to produce a successful cover design.

I spent many restless nights debating what to put on the front cover of Brute Heart. Because the title has the word "heart" in it, I didn't want a man and woman on the cover because that might make people think my book was a romance novel. Since the main character is a veterinarian, I thought about putting an animal or animals on the front cover, but horses would brand the book a western, and dogs or cats would be an overly sweet misrepresentation.

After changing my mind many frustrating times, I finally decided to show the main character in a generic eastern Oregon setting walking toward an old barn. To add a touch of mystery, the barn doors were deliberately left open, and it was dark inside. Brute Heart begins in a barn, and some of the story's action takes place in or around barns, so I felt this was an accurate depiction.

The front cover of my book was heavily photoshopped. The distant horizon is an actual photo of the Ochoco Mountains. The barn was a separate photo as was the girl who was originally photographed carrying a briefcase. Another photo of my hand carrying a proper medical bag was later superimposed over the briefcase, so there is a wee bit of me on the cover.

I wanted the back cover to be informative yet interesting enough to sell the story. As part of my marketing research I spent several hours in two bookstores, watching customers in the fiction stacks. Every person glanced at the spine, picked up the book, looked at the cover for about six seconds, then turned the book over and read what was on the back. I had no testimonials or quotes from critics to print on the back cover, so I focused on writing a synopsis that accurately summarized the story while leaving ample room for the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps.

Without any quotes to promote my book, there was plenty of space on the back cover, so I decided to include something that would help the reader visualize the main character's lifelong affinity for animals. I was more than excited when, after searching numerous clip-art web sites, I found the picture of the little girl with the pig. I paid $30 for the right to use the royalty-free photo and had my cover designer place it under the synopsis. I also found a free graphic of a black cat which I asked him to put on the spine.

A cover design can be purchased for as low as $150, however this is for a very simple cover. Original illustrations are expensive, and photos can also be costly if you hire a professional photographer. Existing photos for sale on the internet range from free to $800 apiece, and can cost even more if you need something unusual. Cover designers usually charge by the hour. My designer charged $50 per hour and guaranteed my final bill would not exceed $500 (20 hours). He charged me for 20 hours, however this being his first attempt at designing a book cover, I think he actually spent more time than that.

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