3 S.R. Johannes: What's in a Cover? Everything!

Monday, October 03, 2011

What's in a Cover? Everything!

Disclaimer: First, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who signed up for the tour! I only have a handful of slots, so you can still sign up to read an ebook for the tour and the book is up on Goodreads :)

Spent $650. My budget is about $1,000-$1500
As a financial disclaimer - I have no money to do this. I recently took on a job that is crap pay and hard work, but I took to get me the money I need to put this book out right. So don't think I'm rich and throwing a bunch of cash in. Because I'm just as broke and hit by the economy as you.

I added in 50$ for Amazon Pro because I've decide to do a paperback through CreateSpace as well. So my book will be available in ebook or paperback. Why? Because a lot of people have asked for the paperback because they don't have ereaders. The Pro status gives benefits (higher royalty) and more flexibility with the cover format than the free account. The work is not much more for an ebook than it is for a paperback on createspace. So it was a win-win for me.

So - what's in a cover?

My answer: everything! Your book rides on the coat-tails of your cover. Some may disagree and I'm not saying the writing is not important. But when it is an ebook, self pubbed, or debut/no-named author, if you don't grab the reader with a cover, it's over my friend. Because if readers don't like the cover, they probably won't take it off the shelf or read the jacket copy/description. And if they don't read the description, no matter how cheap it is or how good it might be - they won't buy it. That's a just a marketing fact. Think about why you pick up books.

Outside of great writing and concept, in this self pub/ebook process, in my opinion - there are two things you DON'T want to scrimp on - if you want to do it right. Cover and edits/copyedits. They are two things I budgeted for. The rest is above and beyond.

Two feasible options for a great cover

1) Buy stock photos
Istock.com has awesome photos. Real professional photos and are a solid option for those who have no/very little budget. (Though I do say if you have NO budget - how do you expect your book to do well whether you are self pub or traditional?) If you use istock  - the standard agreement is usually less than $10 a photo. Or, you can also buy it exclusively from the artist - usually for under 100$. Though I'm not sure this takes it off the market unless you purchase the rights.

Cons to using istock:
  • They are not as high resolution as you might want/need. Nothing worse than a fuzzy picture. Esp. if you decide to go paperback.
  • It's not exclusive so anyone can use it. Hopefully a STD commercial for TV doesn't use the same photo (Stop laughing, I've seen it happen).
  • You don't have to find the right model.
  • You might not find the right photo - then what?
  • If you don't know how to photoshop - how will you put a name and title on it without it looking fake and homemade? This is a big issue. Now, if you know how to photoshop, you might be able to do it yourself.
Keep in mind - stock photos can be used! I'm not saying it can't be done well. I know many people who have done it that way and have a great cover. It is a feasible option. But - if  you don't get the right picture, the right resolution, or the right book design - your book may look self designed and may not appear as professional as the ones publishers put out.

For example - I mocked up a temporary cover using a stock photo. It's funny because I've gotten so many compliments on my temporary cover and have been totally surprised. Don't get me wrong - my HUBBY and I did it - so I love the concept of it. I think it totally captures my book. But, with my "design" eye - the color is one dimensional and the leaves look too fuzzy - maybe I'm too picky. But no matter how much I worked on it - it wasn't good enough - FOR ME. 

The problem? I want the reader to feel like they are in the woods with Grace. That the woods are beautiful and alive, yet dangerous and unpredictable. The setting is a HUGE character in my book. But as much as I do love this photograph (and I do) - it wasn't doing it for me as a final cover. It felt a little flat. Plus it will not look good on a paperback b/c of the fuzziness. But the picture only cost me about 10$ and about an hour photoshopping time.

Pros to using istock:
  • You can download the pictures immediately.
  • There are tons of them to choose from.
  • They are cheaper than using a photographer.
2) You can hire a professional graphic designer, illustrator, or photographer to do your cover.


  • An original cover is all yours. It captures your book. 
  • You get exactly what you want - you get to find the model and be sure everything captures your what you want to portray.
  • Usually, they can design the cover too.

  • You will spend some money. No doubt about it.
  • You could get someone bad or who has a different idea than you.
3) How do you find someone to do your cover without it costing your third born child?

You have to think creatively. Can you think of anyone you know that shoots great photography or is a photographer? Are their any photography schools or design schools or art schools close by? Do you know any students you can pay to help them with their portfolio? Do you know any web designers and game designers because they know the design tools too? Do you know anyone you can barter with? Anyone that you can pay later from your book proceeds?

When you are looking - make sure you are thinking "book design" and not just photo b/c you want someone to shoot AND design a cover. Or else you are left with a great shot and no cover. 

So, which option do you think I chose?

Yes, I chose to shoot my own cover. Well not me personally...someone special.

Part of it is the marketing demon in me. I just can't go out with anything marketing related that I don't feel is top quality. It is a strength but can also be my greatest weakness b/c I don't know where to stop. Something I am learning as I go through this process. Something HUBBY is reminding me of - I can't do everything. I have to really ask myself: is a must have/need have vs. a nice to have?

Cover? Need to have!

So - guess who's doing it?

My great friend Vania at VLC photos

She is breaking into shooting covers and I am so excited!!!! For those who don't know Vania - she is the guru who does all of the author photos and amazing trailers for Kelley Armstrong, Melissa Marr, Kimberly Derting books (etc etc etc.) She's a great photographer with a beautiful portfolio and a great name. She's my friend and I trust her with this cover.

Addressing the Naysayers

Here are all the thoughts out there about me self pubbing or ebooking - I've heard them and even gotten a couple on email so I will address them because I told you guys I would not hold anything back.

1) "Shelli knows photoshop. No wonder she can do her own marketing."?? 

My response - YOU CAN LEARN IT - I had to and I'm not great at it, but you can learn it if you want to. There are tons of online courses plus if you have a MAC they have some complimentary classes. If you learn photoshop - you will be able to do amazing marketing. I also have a design HUBBY and friends so don't think I don't turn to them when things get tough. Trust me - you know someone - you just haven't thought about it yet.

 2) "Shelli must have money I don't have. Her hubby is her big sugardaddy."

I wish!! Nope. I live on a budget like everyone else. I can't tell you when I bought myself something last, and my date nights with HUBBY consist of PUBLIX sushi, Trader Joes 4.99$ wine, and a $4 movie on Netflix. Maybe we splurge for fondue sometimes (homemade) but that usually cuts out our movie. 

So I know all about budget. As I said, I'm doing a tough, lowpaying job that is not even half of my normal pay so I have a little extra to make this book special. I don't just want a book out there, I want MY BOOK out there. I think part of the bad stigma with self pubbing is that because of some of the lower quality stuff out there - people assume all self pubbing is bad quality and crap. There are tons of great books that are judged b/c of all the bad stuff. 

So - if I'm putting myself out there - blogging my greatest fears of rejection and failure - I definitely want my lovely book to have the best shot possible and the best chance to be somewhat successful (AKA Not a total bust). And I want to be proud my name is on it.

Now, am I paying Vania?  The answer is yes, but not nearly what she is worth - I'll tell you that. We are also bartering - cross promoting each other and helping each other break into a market we both want to be in. You see - we both got lucky. She wants to get her name out in the industry for shooting great covers (as well as trailers); I want a great cover and she does them. See?

3) "Shelli has a platform and access to people I don't so she can barter. She knows Vania and I don't."  

So, am I lucky to have Vania? Yes! (and actually that is because of her friendship first and foremost - much more so than my lucky access to her amazing talent). But I will say, I did not know Vania before I started social networking two years ago. I met her online and happened to run into her at a book signing. Found out she lives in Atlanta and over time we became friends. 

At the time, I had a platform with only 2 followers. Maybe 3. All I wanted to do at the time was help writing people by giving free marketing advice and meet people in the industry. 

It's taken me 2 years of hard work to build a platform - but most importantly - I've built lovely, long lasting relationships. And the reason I even built those to begin with because my goal was to give first. I worked hard at making friends and building relationships and I had NO end result or ulterior motive in mind with anyone. 

So my access to Vania's talent (and her wonderfully heart and sense of humor and support) as well as any support and well wishes I am getting from others is because (I hope) I have made solid relationships and have done my best to help other people before ever pushing myself. 

So did Vania and I get lucky? Hell yeah!!! And I am totally stoked. 

I could use a little luck on my side in this business - for once.

So, what's next for my cover? 

We have gotten a model who is perfect. I mean - I can't stop smiling. The model is Grace as I always pictured her. Pretty, but not unrelatably gorgeous, tough looking, green eyes, dark hair and with a slight Native American undertone. I can't wait for you to see her! We are shooting next week and I'm nervous because I kinda feel like I'm meeting my character in person for the first time. Dumb I know.

So stay tuned for our big cover release towards the end of October. You can follow her on twitter too. 

Knowing Vania - it will be amazing. :)

What do you think? is a cover important? can you tell if it is stock or original? let me know your thoughts. Again, this is all just my professional opinion from what I know.


Kate said...

Ohhh, I can't wait to see how it turns out!

I ended up having a graphic designer do it for me, but to be honest it's not in the style I would have liked... and it doesn't really stand out. I wish I could have afforded the artist that I'm pretty much in love with but even working my crappy job doesn't stretch that far... Maybe sometime in the future I can re-release with a new cover when the next book in the story comes out.

Jessie Harrell said...

wishing you the best on your cover design! I lucked into getting my designer and the photo (it wasn't stock, but I found it on deviantart and the artist sold me the rights to use it for stock prices -- can't beat that!)
But I agree with what you said -- cover and edits should not be scrimped on. This is our labor of love and I don't want someone judging me harshly b/c I didn't put my absolute all into it. If they don't like it once it's out, then at least I know I did my best. No regrets.

Anna Staniszewski said...

I completely agree with you on not skimping on certain things, especially copyediting! I just finished reading an e-pubbed book which had a great story but was filled so many little errors that it became really distracting. Sounds like you're doing things the right way!

Eliza said...

I was just at a signing with several self-published authors. Only one of them had a book that looked worth picking up. One in particular had the worst title and cover ever!

Self-publishing is no easier than traditional publishing, I think. Hard in a different way. Best of luck. I'm sure your Vania cover will be a smart investment.

Laura Pauling said...

Covers are incredibly important. And there are lots of people out there starting out with designing covers and not charging outrageous prices. Self publishing is like starting a small business. And that rarely happens without some initial investment.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

So exciting! I am dying to see your cover reveal. And it sounds like you found the perfect person to help you with it! :-)

Jemi Fraser said...

I totally agree - covers and copy edits are super important! I think you're going in the right direction ... or at least the direction I'll go in when/if I get to this stage!

Can't wait to see the cover & hear how it all goes. It should be lots of fun.

storyqueen said...

I think it is awesome you are shooting your own! The only time I notice if something is stock is when it is used more than once on different things. That won't happen to you!

Good luck on your shoot. and thanks for sharing your journey.


Jessie Oliveros said...

Shelli-I'm looking forward to your book. I love all these informative posts you've put up. Can't wait to see your cover.

Kelly H-Y said...

Oh my goodness ... I've been away from the blog for a few weeks and feel like I have SO much to catch up on! You have a book coming out and you're working on a cover (so exciting)!!! Great post / great info! Now ... onto some of your older posts so I can get all caught up! :-)