Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book Covers

People say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I say a cover is part of a book. It’s true that its main job is to protect the juicy ideas that lie inside like a blurb covered bit of plate-armor, but it can be so much more.

A cover should make the reader a promise. Inside lies adventure or romance or lots of both. There’s a whole new world beneath this millimeter of glossy paper. You need only to open it (or give it a tap your kindle/iPad).

What it shouldn’t be is boring or forgettable. And, it should never be bad. Whether the book is digital or paper, it serves as a souvenir for the person who reads the book. While the story may be fictitious, peoples’ experience of the book, their memories of the world and characters you created are as real as any other memory. 

This is how people are affected so greatly by books. As George R. R. Martin says, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

Are there brilliant books that have horrible covers? Sure, but I don’t like this. For a great story to be wrapped in a boring cover is akin to touching up the final browns on a Rembrandt with a bit of dog shit. It just isn’t right. 

My personal goal as a professional liar is not to serve up an adequately professional book, but rather to create something that will burn off peoples’ faces with its sheer awesomeness. This includes the cover. Your faces have been duly warned.

How to create a face-melting cover.

I have no idea. I could no sooner tell you how to write a great novel. These are things you have to do yourself. If someone is telling you they can teach you these things, they’re probably trying to pinch you for a couple bucks.

Wait, let’s be clear about something. I didn’t draw the cover for Black Redneck vs. Space Zombies. I draw horribly. So, when I say I did it myself, I mean I found someone who could draw and told them exactly what to draw. 

There seems to be some confusion about how covers come into being. Does the artist read the book then draw the cover? Do they read the book and then give you a few sketches to choose from? Does the writer just tell them what to draw?

I guess it could happen in any of these ways, but I’m going to give you my personal opinion on the best way to get the most out of an artist without having them want to jab a fancy pencil into your brain. 
First, don’t ask them to read the book. That’s hours of their time which they should get paid for and, even if they take the time to read the book, do they know it better than the writer? No. They don’t.
Don’t let this be something you push off on someone else because you haven’t done it before. You know everything that happens in the book. You wrote it, so the cover should make your promise as to what follows in the hundred thousand words to come.

You can do this in very detailed descriptions, but this still leaves room for interpretation which can lead to you getting something you didn’t want or the artist having to do unnecessary adjustments. How is this avoided? Through crappy sketches, that’s how.

Ah, here it is. It’s a bit embarrassing (okay, it’s really embarrassing), but this is the original sketch I sent to Brian (that’s the artist).

I didn’t stop there. Since my drawings on the cover of the space zombies looked a bit like people with fish bowls on their heads. I felt the need to provide even more references for Brian to work with. I even sent him pictures of guns that were acceptable and provided a picture of the breed of horse I wanted.

Doing this makes life easy on your artist. He knew exactly what I wanted. He didn’t have to read. He got to do what he did best. Draw the hell out of some monsters.

These references all led to the final product.

As you can see, the difference between my cover and Brian’s is quite a large one, but, by giving him the references, I was able to make it easy on him and he was able to complete my cover quickly because we didn’t have to go back and forth.

It might feel like you’re being bossy, but I think most artist would prefer this to someone who needs a cover but has no idea what they want.

Some Side Notes:

Unless you’re a really good artist, let someone else draw it. This means you’ll probably have to pay someone to do it, and you’re probably going to get what you pay for. is a good place to look for up and coming artist and you can see if their style of art matches what you’re looking for.

That’s it: Now you know sometimes cool covers start with a super-crappy sketch.