Did you know that the "alley" is the space between columns within a page? (Not to be confused with the "gutter," which is the combination of the inside margins of two facing pages.) And "PMS"(at least according to graphic artists) is Pantone Matching System: a standard color-matching system used by printers and designers, defined by percentage mixtures of different primary inks. The glossary includes over 150 commonly used terms and is part of College of Education at San Diego State University's website. The site also includes "graphics rules-of-thumb" that will assist learners in developing a good graphic design foundation.
The Cover Story
Tips & Quips on Designing a Cover that SellsIn the publishing industry the book cover is the handshake that greets the public. A reviewer will pick up a book with an eye-catching cover. An attractive jacket will find space on bookstore shelves and invite browsers to take a closer look. A good cover can do many things. But what does it look like? Is there one style or color that sells better than another? Is it a good idea for smaller publishers to look for design trends from the larger publishing houses and follow suit? Do such trends even exist?
Jeremy Butcher, Art Director for Simon and Schuster in the UK puts is well, when he says, "There isn't any strict formula as such, and as soon as you can spot one, then it is time to move on."
Simon and Schuster depends on experience and the market, genre, originality, trade reaction and author reaction to determine what cover design to go with. They're more likely to experiment with covers from new authors, than with those for well-known ones. "Big name authors have more riding on them, and publishing houses often will play safe with their established brands," he says.
The cover is an important element in selling a book, and although a good book will sell in spite of a so-so cover, a great cover can rescue a mediocre book, says Butcher. He advises small publishers to hire an experienced cover designer if they want to compete in a professional market place. "Otherwise, the book will probably look like something self-published." He adds that this doesn't mean every cover created by an inexperienced designer is destined to failure: "...you never know; (it) might work if it looks refreshing and original."
What many people don't realize is the extent to which even large publishing houses are dependent on the cover to make sales. While books by well-known authors are no problem to place, others must be sold to bookstores the same way any independent publisher sells them. "We try to print the covers six months before pub date. The reps will carry these with them or at least a full-sized visual, along with an information sheet."
This is exactly how self-published author Nancy Kline sold her book Through the Barren Trees (Booklocker.com). After arranging with a local bookstore to carry it on consignment she took in a print-out of the cover. "She (the store owner) immediately said, ‘I want that book.’ She felt that a good cover was important to generate interest in a book, and she apparently felt that, to a certain extent, you can judge a book by its cover," says Kline.
Sometimes a cover can take on a life of its own. Consider the controversy surrounding Kathleen Meyer's How To Shit in the Woods. Publisher Ten Speed Press initially released it with the full title printed out and a cover featuring a camper with a roll of toilet paper and his pants down around his ankles. "It sold amazingly well but not in the South, and the largest distributor, Ingram Books, wouldn't carry it despite huge demand,” says Phil Wood, President of Ten Speed Press. "We offered to change the cover for a ‘special’ edition for them. They accepted and sold thousands of copies, but we snuck a few copies of the regular edition into their orders each time and they didn't come back. After a year or two they broke down and carried both editions, then phased out the censored one. They stock the book currently and of course it has now sold over a million copies in five languages! The foreign covers are a real surprise. The Polish one, for example, shows toilets hanging from trees in a forest!"
Wood's experiences with book covers have been interesting, to say the least. "Covers are a special interest of mine and have been for the forty years I have been in the book business. I have dozens of stories about covers and a few favorites. One involves our cookbook White Trash Cooking (by Ernest Matthew Mickler) which also is a million-copy seller. The cover is simply wonderful: a fat girl with red frizzy hair in a tank top dress sitting on the back of an Alabama watermelon truck. The book was so, well, startling that it just took off, selling 40 thousand copies a month for at least half a year."
Although he was eventually sued over the White Trash Cooking cover, he doesn't let that deter his originality. White Trash Cooking II has a photo of a live pig on the front. Mark Hostetler's guide to identifying insects, aptly named That Gunk On Your Car, features a large black fly and what appears to be dead fly guts. These covers dare people to pass by without picking them up. Anyone who thinks a cover can't put a book into a buyer's hands obviously hasn't met Phil Wood.
At the end of the day, that's what we're all trying to do, isn't it? The cover designer, the author and the publisher all want to get that book into the buyer's hands...and home. While following the tried and true methods for designing covers is safe, there's always room for the trail blazers willing to try something new. The question is, are you enough of an adventurer to do it with your book?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cathi Stevenson has been working in the publishing industry for more than two decades. She is a journalist and former editor of special advertising features for Atlantic Canada's largest newspaper. She has published more than 2,000 articles worldwide. In 2000 Cathi opened Book Cover Express and has since created more than 400 book covers for small and independent publishers.
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Next Page: 10 Tips to a Cooler Cover 10 Tips to a Cooler Cover
1. Take the “less is more” approach. An often overlooked design tool is white space. White space doesn’t have to be white, it just has to have nothing in it, so the focus is on the images or text therein. If you print the word “RAGE” in white (called reverse text in the print industry), on a plain red background, it’s going to have more impact than the word “Rage” set in pastel colors with a background image of a couple looking at a sunset.
2. Use contrast for better visibility. A great tool to create an eye-catching cover is the use of bright colors and contrast. This works especially well if your book is being sold online, where it will be viewed at thumbnail. Yellow on black, orange on green, white on red, are all attention-stealers. These color combinations won’t work for every project, and they need a skilled hand to incorporate them properly, but they can be extremely effective.
3. Go for the unusual, if it suits the book. Try setting a title vertically (usually only works with single-word titles set in no less than 72 pt). This wouldn’t work for a romance novel, but might be interesting on a sports book. Try mixing the point sizes within a word. Again, this isn’t always a good idea, but if you have a flare for design, if could be very effective. It’s always safe to stick to the general rules of design, but that shouldn’t hamper creativity.
4. Look professional. Make sure your kerning is tight and/or even. Only mix fonts if you’re sure they work well together. Watch for little things that shout “amateur”, such as apostrophes that sit half-way down the adjoining letters. Never set text in uppercase using a decorative font -- it not only makes the word(s) difficult to read. No professional designer would ever do this.
5. Don’t use short cuts to save money. One of the most common things self-publishers are doing lately is trying to create realistic people using a 3-D rendering program. These programs are intended for animation and aren’t a valid substitute for true illustration. If you want people depicted on your cover, hire a professional illustrator, use photographs or rethink the project.
6. Study what the big companies are doing. If your book is being marketed primarily at thumbnail size, check out Doubleday’s Book Club flyers. Their images are all at thumbnail, and the cover design has taken this into consideration. If your book is meeting its public “in person” you have much more freedom to be creative. Make frequent visits to the Random House and Simon and Schuster sites. You’ll see many covers with subtle colors, and small fonts used on the title. You can do this if people are going to be viewing the cover in a size large enough to make these elements work.
7. Add pizzazz with funky fonts. Instead of a standard Garamond try giving it a “distressed look” by creating uneven, “worn” edges. Don’t automatically head to Arial and Helvetica. There are thousands of excellent fonts out there just waiting to give your book cover personality.
8. Leading. Leading. Leading. This ties in with the white space theory, but the more generous you are with leading (the space between lines of type), the easier it is for people to read the text. If you have to choose between leading or words on a back cover, choose leading, especially for text blocks that people will be spending several minutes reading. Don’t make the task too difficult. If you want to use the leading in non-traditional ways to create a more dynamic layout, that’s fine, but don’t do it at the expense of practicality on a book cover.
9. Wrap the cover over the spine and onto the back of the book. It’s not always possible to do, but it can really add life to a book cover.
10. Good design always has a reason. Make your colors, typography, illustration and photo choices simple – and necessary -- to the situation. Each small decision should reflect the main plan. Do you want a dark and gritty look? Then avoid sunsets and flowery script. Chic and sophisticated? Then don't use clip art or let your cousin be the cover subject. Say as much as you can with the fewest elements. Whichever way you decide to go, don't be shy and tentative. Good design makes decisions.
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Cathi Stevenson (designer of the cover at the top of this page) and Holly Smith (designer of the cover in the middle of the page), have more than 45 years combined experience in the publishing industry. Cathi has created more than 400 book covers for independent publishers. You can view her work at: http://www.bookcoverexpress.com. Holly Smith has become one of the most sought-after illustrators in the self-publishing industry. Holly’s site is at: http://www.bookskins.net.