Creating a book cover

If you’re publishing a book with a publisher, you’ll only rarely have input on the cover. They’ll ask you for your bio information, some back cover copy about the book, and perhaps a headshot, but beyond that, the publisher’s designers will have the cover design in mind. But if you’re self-publishing, the book cover is just one of a couple dozen things you need to do that the publisher normally takes care of for you.

For the Independence series, the first series of books from Double Tall Press, I needed a strong picture that supported the company’s brand.

I started my search by looking at Getty Images, Corbis, and Shutterstock. All of these online libraries have lovely photos, but they’re very, very, VERY expensive. I found one image that looked like a possibility… until I checked the price and discovered that I’d pay thousands for licensing the image for the entire series of books. That seemed a trifle expensive, so I looked elsewhere.

Fortunately, there are a lot of photo libraries that are very inexpensive. I ended up paying about $15 for licensing of the cover photo that I’m using. If I go over 500,000 impressions, I’ll have to cough up another $20 or so. I’d bear up at that point, I’m sure of it. (If you’re interested in something even cheaper, there are dozens of websites that give you artwork for free. Check out this blog post for a list of great photo resources.)

After some exploration, I knew generally what I wanted for a them, but I didn’t know what would work. The cover needed to have the following general characteristics:

  • clear images
  • good color
  • large areas that text could be superimposed on
  • wide enough to stretch across front and back
  • not too busy or distracting

I selected a dozen possible images that I thought might work. I bounced them off of Phyllis Beaty, my brilliant page designer and desktop publisher, and we whittled the list down to about 7 possibilities. Phyllis then mocked up a cover out of the candidates. Much to my surprise, a lot of the ones that had looked like contenders didn’t pan out. Adding the text showed that some of them were too busy, too monochromatic, even too hard to read. Quelle surprise!

After experimentation, it finally boiled down to the cover picture currently appearing on the Author-it book:

Author-it cover thumbnail

(You can see a larger version here.)

I think I got lucky with this, honestly: not only is it a very attractive picture, but it’s got the company colors (blue and gold). My plan is to use this as the baseline cover art for the books in the Independence series, with changes to the title and back cover copy.

If you’re planning on going the full route of picking a cover picture, budget 12-20 hours over the course of a week or two the first time you do it. You should allow yourself the chance to sleep on your first impressions and revisit your likes and dislikes the following day. It’s also important to have a clear idea of how you want the book cover to fit into the book’s and the publisher’s brand so the cover supports these ideas appropriately.

Why I started a publishing company

I really hadn’t planned on starting a publishing company; at least, not nearly so soon. What I had had in mind was producing Author-it Success in 12 Easy Steps, selling it, making money, and then writing a nonfiction book that I’ve wanted to do for some years, one that also happens to have nothing to do with high-tech, software, computers, or accounting.

But as I was looking at this, I realized that it didn’t make sense to go through all the work of publishing the Author-it book as a one-off and then go through a lot of the effort again with the next book when I set up the publishing company. I’d have to choose cover art again, I’d have to redo the imprint, and (worst) I’d lose the value of pushing my brand that much sooner. And so, reluctantly, I figured that I’d have to set up the publishing company now. (Talking things over with a friend who runs a small press of his own, he said that he backed into setting his company up in much the same way.)

I’ve now got the Double Tall Press website mostly in place. I’m still doing some structural things, but it’s looking pretty close to what I want it to. In the course of things, I’ve chosen a name, gotten a logo, set up the first series of books, selected cover art for the series, and built a page design with icons. I’ve also got bank accounts, tax numbers, licenses, and all sorts of other things. (And lots and lots of bills getting started, but I knew that that was going to happen whenever I did this.) I don’t have custom business cards with the logo yet, but I will soon. (That’ll be another bill, but one that I expected as the cost of doing business, so wotthehell, wotthehell?)

So far, this has been fun. And at the end of the day, I get to publish books, mine and other peoples’. And that’s very cool indeed.