Book covers are incredibly important for the modern author. The cover must stand out, not only on the shelves, but in the online world of Amazon, Smashwords, etc, where there are hundreds of thousands of tiny thumbnail sized covers all vying for a reader's attention. Without a good cover, that browsing shopper won't ever click to see what the book is about, let alone buy it.
And the indie author is in the unique position of having total and never-before-seen control over their cover... along with, in most cases, absolutely no skill or knowledge about what makes a cover work. Many create their own with freebie graphics programmes, leaving what could be an excellent work of literature languishing behind an amateur-hour image. A professionally designed cover is one of the expenses of indie publishing that make many authors baulk, but can mean the difference between getting sales or disappearing into cyberspace without a ripple.
"I believe the single most important thing when it comes to cover design is QUALITY," says Ida from Amygdala Design. "A high quality cover usually speaks of a high quality book, and will make the potential reader more interested in reading the story. A professional designer can help you with a great composition, color- balance, typography as well as the technical aspects."
So what makes a good cover stand out? And how should writer go about choosing the right designer for the job? I asked the two cover designers I know best what they thought. Ida, from Amygdala Design, created the cover for my book, Currents of Change, and Kura Carpenter is a New Zealand cover designer whose work I've admired for some time.
A good cover design, according to Kura from Kura Carpenter Design, appeals to the target audience, conveys the tone of the writing, and, above all, should emotionally engage in a way that gives a potential reader an "I have to have that" feeling.
Ida also suggests simplicity. "The cover should focus on one person or object and not be crowded with too many details. Remember that it needs to look good even in thumbnail size." Simple fonts are more readable and a series should have a recognisable and consistent theme and layout so that they seem like they belong together.
Both designers say that the cover should make the genre clear so that the reader knows what to expect from the book.
So how can you be sure the designer you select will deliver the kind of cover that matches all these requirements?
"Look at his or her portfolio and feedback from previous customers," says Ida. "Try to find out about the designers experience. Does he or she have a formal education as a designer? Do they design covers full time or is it just a hobby?"
Kura also suggests looking at past designs to make sure you like the designer's style. "But look deeper," she says. "Do they have certain traits they use repeatedly? Are they primarily an illustrator or do they mostly use photo manipulation? How well do they handle balancing the graphics with the text?"
"Secondly," she says, "good design is about communication, so open a dialogue with your potential designer. Don't rush into anything. Try and establish if they 'get' your project, and that your cover is going to be treated how you want to be treated: as an individual. That's my advice."
As a first timer in the indie publishing realm, one of my concerns was the practical issue of cost. Talk to the designer up front about what the expectations are. Some charge an hourly rate, others a flat fee. Find out if alterations to the design are included in the fee or cost extra. Is there a limit? When is payment expected and how?
Reliability and professionalism are key. Trust your instincts. If you're not feeling heard or looked after, perhaps this is not the designer for you.
You can see examples of the work of both these cover designers on their websites below.