After two decades in the publishing industry I wasn't at all surprised to see print-on-demand (POD) machines come along and create the stir they have. Self-publishers now have an affordable way to take their manuscripts to market. There is a danger in doing this though, and it's one that can hurt the self-publishing industry in the long run. In an effort to save money many authors believe they really don't need anyone's expertise. It's a rare person indeed who not only can write, but can also edit his or her own work, format it properly for the press (smart punctuation) and create a book cover that not only looks professional in print, but serves as a useful advertising tool online.
It's the latter subject I'm going to address here. Since the larger, franchised book stores do not stock self-published books, authors are forced to market online, independently or through independent book stores. I had one client write me recently that she'd approached a book store in her area and was immediately rebuffed when she announced she self-published. "I had the galley proof with me, and the store owner noticed it and asked to look at it. She fell so in love with the cover that she decided to stock my book right then and there."
Never, never underestimate the value of a book's cover. This is a real-life scenario in a bricks and mortar book store. Self-published books meet most of their customers online, though, and it's equally important to have a book cover that can handle the transition and do its job in both places.
There's no doubt the book cover is what pulls the reader in. Words alone can't do it and as the saying goes: "a picture is worth a thousand words". While it's true you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't sell a book without one. A few things to remember when you're deciding on a good cover design for your POD book:
1. Make sure your book survives the thumbnail test. If you go to large sites like Amazon, you'll see how really small the book covers are. If your book has weak colors, small text or a scene that doesn't reduce well, your cover is not doing its job.
2. Avoid white backgrounds on a book. Many book sites are on white backgrounds and either your cover will just be floating there or the web master will put a border around it that may not suit the book. Choose effective colors to keep control of your advertising tool.
3. Make sure you or your cover designer know what's professional. Common mistakes on book covers are square punctuation, such as square-headed quotation marks or square periods and ellipses. Round is what professionals strive for.
4. Drop shadows and 3D effects are rarely used on real print books with the exception of romance novels and sci-fi books and even then the 3D graphics are usually coupled with raised lettering. This is changing though, with the introduction of new software that will allow artists to create vector based text within graphics' programs. The 3D look is also a great online effect and can be implemented there. Be warned though, all POD machines do not handle the subtle shading well and you could end up with a less than professional looking cover when it's printed. Stick with simplicity.
[Editor's note: Having scanned book tables at conferences, I've noted that the presence of drop shadows, bevels, and other obviously computer-generated effects on titles is invariably an indication of a self-published or POD-published title -- so if you want your book to look professional, I'd recommend avoiding such effects or using them sparingly.]
5. Understand that color is not the same online as it is in print. Ink has issues of its own and most printers use something called a CMYK color code, while computer browsers can only display RGB colors. Two colors that do not handle the cross over well are hot pink and that bright, cobalt blue you often see in hyperlinks. For a more detailed description of this visit the FAQ section of my web site at: http://www.bookcoverexpress.com.
[Editor's Note: If designing your own cover, always print out a copy on a high-quality photo printer. You will indeed be surprised by the difference between what you see on screen and on paper.]
6. Make sure your graphics face the right directly on the cover and that the cover itself is facing the right direction on the web site. It's absolutely vital. If you don't follow the simple rules of layout and design you'll definitely sell the book next to yours. It also a dead giveaway that the artwork or website was done by an amateur.
You'll only have one chance to grab your customer's attention, make sure the message you send isn't "I'm an amateur."