I want to write a quick post about this because I just had that age-old argument with a colleague.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” as if it was supposed to be some great metaphore on how we put too much thought into appearances and not enough in the guts.
While it may sound like glitters and unicorns where everyone can feel good and embrace mediocrity…let’s face it : we need to judge a book by its cover.
We need to…
Because being a writer also makes us artists and therefore, we CANNOT neglect the aesthetic aspect of our work.
Some people only care about aesthetics (Art for art’s sake) and others will claim a work is purely sociological/political…both work with aesthetics, or at least they should.
As writers, it is imperative to dig into design and visual art. We need to know what we love visually, what we like aesthetically and how we can translate the stories we have in our heads, not only into words, but also visually.
It can be daunting : how do you synthesise 300 pages of work into one single image. It is an exercise in minimalism, that is for sure. But why not live up to the challenge. It can be a visual concept, an emotion, a character… why not take this chance to be creative just the same.
Of course, some will say that authors don’t always (or ever) have final word on cover designs. That can only mean two things : A) you had no guts to impose yourself (everything is negotiable) or you wouldn’t dare to try in the first place.
You don’t even need to be a designer. Simple photoshop skills (which most younger people have anyways) will suffice to AT LEAST do a proper maquette of a cover that you can then send to a designer (if need be).
With all the photographs available online in various databases (stock photos) you can do a mock-up in a half-hour, probably do a full (usable) cover in a matter of hours… at least to indicate to your designer what kind of direction you’d like to go.
Cover design it not THAT complicated. If you’ve been raised around computers, you already (probably) know how to do it. And the best thing is, it’s cheap too.
If you can’t afford photoshop, try a cheaper program. Don’t have a good camera : stock photos. Fonts aren’t interesting : buy a few good ones online.
The cover for “Northern Gothic” is basically a texture I bought online and photoshopped it to get the color I wanted plus, I added a very common font (that is cheezy, yes, but so what?) It cost me $4.34 (Canadian) to do… that’s it.
But you don’t have to go “cheap” all the time.
With A Teenage Suicide, I wanted to push my creativity and use everything I knew about the world of Punk rock. So I designed one cover for each of the characters, using “A Teenage Suicide” as a band name, while imitating logos from bands that the teenagers in my story would listen too… I had t-shirts printed and then asked people I know to act as models.
All of that cost me a few hundred dollars (printing one t-shirt at a time is REALLY expensive) but I found the experience worthwhile (sometimes an idea gets in your head and you can’t sleep till its done.)
On a simpler note, I’ve designed the mock-up for my next novel (Grand Trunk and Shearer) because I know what kind of visual I wanted. I wanted to use the Victoria Bridge because it crosses the neighbourhood my story is set it. It’s a Montreal landmark, plus it looks great. I could have gone there at night and taken a picture, but I was lucky to find one that was perfect in a stock photo database.
I also wanted big BOLD letters that took a lot of space (like the tattoo on my left arm) Because…well, that’s what I wanted.
Total price for the cover : maybe 40 bucks.
Try and fail and try again, untill you’re happy with what you got. It’s that simple and it’s that cheap.
There’s no reason not to do it.