I have been told that the two things you have no control over with a traditional publisher are the title of your book and the cover. It’s one of the many reasons that I knew before I began to write x0 that it would be a self-published book. In fact, I doubt that I’d ever have written a novel if the world of self-publishing didn’t exist. The whole 46. Ascending collection was kind of an art and philosophy project for me as well as a story I was compelled to tell, and I cared more about doing it my way than I cared about striving for that traditional debut as an author.
But wanting to do something and knowing how to do it well are two different things, as you can tell by looking at my first version of the cover to the right. I knew my book needed to be red, and because much of the story takes place in Nigeria, I wanted Africa to figure prominently in the final result. I had been directed to Shutterstock, an affordable online service for leasing the right to use images, and I was delighted with the world map I found.
But I didn’t have clue of where to go from there. I wanted to use the rest of the space to convey something about empathy and telepathy, and to me shoes were a symbol for this. You know “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” and all that. Red shoe images turned out to mostly be women’s heels, which seemed fine. But when I sent my proud new cover off to family and friends, I didn’t get the expected response. The most typical was “What’s with the ‘have sex with me’ shoes on the cover?” Oh. Back to the drawing board.
My next idea was to find an image of Lola, my main character, and put her on the cover. I wasn’t pleased with the choices I found, but finally settled on this one. She sort of looked to me like she was having a telepathic experience. That’s when my son called.
“You cover has only one purpose, mom. It is to make people want to read your book.” I hadn’t viewed it quite that way, but I had to admit he had a point and the lady on the cover didn’t particularly make me want to read the book either.
Then I found the lotus lady and she was perfect. She was so perfect that I tried using her twice, to symbolize the strong psychic connection between two different women who were highly alike on the inside. Not only did I feel good about this improvement, but my informal focus group gave it a big thumbs up.
I decided that I needed a better font for my unusual title. After experimenting with every font that came with Microsoft’s PowerPoint, and after playing around with the positioning, I ended up with the cover below and was quite pleased. It was a huge improvement over where I had started. I released x0 for kindle with this cover in February of 2012.
Over the next couple of months I began to lurk in chat rooms and on websites frequented by other self-published authors and I learned quite a bit. One thing was that I could make my electronic novel available on sites other than Amazon by submitting it to Smashwords.com. That sounded good. Another was that I could actually produce a paperback version at no extra cost using Amazon’s Create Space. Even better.
If I was going to take this self-publishing thing all the way to making a real book, it seemed worth revisiting whether I had the best cover I could have. I had assumed from the beginning that any professional touch was well out of my budget, but I was learning otherwise. Graphic artists out there were willing to take an author’s best attempt and make it more professional, for a relatively modest fee. I contacted a few that came well recommended by others.
One was called Mother Spider, and the first thing they came back to me with was perfect. It was exactly the cover I had wanted all along. The title jumped off the page, the map blended, the lotus ladies glowed and new little bulbs of telepathic thoughts shone. I tried putting my glitzy new cover on one of those websites that critiques book covers and got high praise for it. My informal focus group of cover critics was equally pleased.
I’m now working on the cover for book six. In every case I’ve started the process myself, struggling to gather together my own vision for the face I want my book to present to the world. Time and experience have taught me a lot. I’m back at Shutterstock sorting through images for a book that I know will be purple and sparkly and once again about telepathy. I’ve decided that the basic background will likely be forged from the Shutterstock image below. Other than that, I’m open to most anything, although I’m pretty sure there won’t be any shoes on this cover either.
(For more on this topic see Designing your own book cover, part 2 and Designing your own book cover, part three)