When Indy Cover Design Goes Right

The Cover for Ernie Vecchionie's Devil's Catch

If you've been hanging out with me for a while, or you're one of our clients, you know that one of my pet peeves is the inattention, by many self-publishing authors, to the realities of the importance of COVER DESIGN. I started nagging you all about this not less than 5 years ago (see my early-on article, Cover Design Calypso which I originally published in 2010), and my various and sundry kibbitzes since then, if you don't remember.

Many of you have had emails from me, or phone discussions, in which I've strongly urged you to read Derek Murphy's positively AWESOME article about cover design, called "8 cover design secrets publishers use to manipulate readers into buying books," at his site, Creativindie.com. That's because, bar none, Derek's blog post is simply the best thing I've ever read on the topic. I've struggled for years to put into words what Derek has quite nicely managed to explain (in nice small words that anyone can understand), so you're only hurting yourself if you don't take the time to read it. It's seriously a "do not miss."

 

Now, today, we're going to discuss what one of our clients, author Ernie Vecchione, did right, on his cover remake for his book, Devil's Catch, so if you haven't read Derek's blog post, please hop on over there right now and do that before we discuss the AWESOMENESS of Ernie's cover. I've put the link for that article right here in a modal (pop-up window). You can click this, it will pop up in a mobile-optimized window, and you can just close it when done to complete reading this article. Go on....we'll wait. Derek's Article on Fabulous Cover Design

 

(If you want a link that you can open in a new browser tab, rather than a modal window, so that you can have both articles open at the same time, just click HERE instead; it will automatically open in a new browser window.)

Back? Great. (See? I told you it was the best article on eBook Cover Design--or Book Cover Design--you would ever read, didn't I? That will teach you to listen to what I tell you.)

What Makes Great Cover Design?

To summarize, Derek says that these 8 items/concepts are the design qualities that make a cover sing an irresistible siren song to readers/buyers:

  1. Make it Pop
  2. Lots of Space
  3. Make it clever (non-fiction) or emotional (fiction)
  4. Use a subtitle, teaser or tagline (and a review!)
  5. Pick the right font (and effects)
  6. Make it personal (but not cheesy)
  7. If it’s too hard, go simple
  8. A little more on text placement

Now, if you'll take a look at Ernie Vecchione's cover for Devil's Catch on Amazon, you can easily see how incredible Ernie's design really is. You'd buy that book, wouldn't you?

Let's analyze how well Ernie's cover does, in Derek's categories of best book cover designs.

How Does Devil's Catch Stack Up?

1. Make it Pop: Well, there's no argument; Ernie's cover doesn't just POP, it explodes off the screen/page. Ernie's book cover designer knew what book covers should do, and how to design a book cover. The orange-red of the teenager's hair contrasts strongly against the cerulean blue of the night above, and the shining moon creates a subtle background glow for the title lettering.

2. Lots of Space: While the teen's/doll's face takes up the lower half of the cover--or even a bit more--there's still plenty of room for the title and author's name. It's not cramped. It's not ridiculously busy, which seems to be a contagious condition in the Indy-publishing field.

3. Make it clever (non-fiction) or emotional (fiction): In this case, despite this being fiction, it's both. Focusing on the emotional, however: the emotional aspect is easily satisfied, by the enormously creepy image of the girl's wide-eyed, white-showing eyes; the bugs crawling all over her face. When you see this cover, you have NO doubt that it's horror.

4. Use a subtitle, teaser, or tagline (and a review!): Well, in this, Ernie fails our "best book covers" review panel. I'm not sure why Ernie didn't use one of the above; I positively adore his tagline:

"1 CABIN. 6 TEENAGERS. 10 PLAGUES. THE PLAGUES DIDN'T HAVE A CHANCE."

Of course--that would have taken up quite a bit of space on that cover, and I suspect that Ernie and his book cover designers decided that they simply didn't want to cramp that GAWJUS cover. I'm not sure that the cover suffers irrecoverably from the omission. (Derek may well disagree with me, and as I've told him about this article, I'm sure I'll hear about it!)

5. Pick the right font (and effects): Yup! Sure, you could kibitz that Ernie's team could have chosen an "eerier" font for the title; but overall, I like what they've done here. When in doubt, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and Ernie's team went for a simple serif for the title and a nicely spaced sans-serif for his name. (See "Deeply Odd" in Derek's article, for another example of how this easy combination works so well.) I like that they spaced out the letters of his name, giving it "air" across the top. (See both Twilight and Deeply Odd, for a discussion about this--spacing out the lettering of the smaller font--in Derek's article.)

6. Make It Personal (but not cheesy!): Well, I think that we have to say that Devil's Catch knocks it out of the park on this one. When we see the Ginger Teen on Ernie's cover, we know she's in the deep doo-doo. You'd have to be the pre-ghosts Ebeneezer Scrooge not to feel some fright, empathy and tension, viewing that girl.

(While we're going through Derek's article and list, let me just say that despite the fact that they break several of the "rules," I too adore the Cassandra Clare covers. For whatever reason: they just WORK. I think it's because, as Derek mentions, both use "...exciting light-stream overlays to give them that magical bursting effect," more than anything else.

7. If it’s too hard, go simple: Well, that's clearly one concept that Ernie and his designers held dear to their hearts. When you are first setting out to learn how to make a book cover, the most common error is that they are simply too damn busy. You can see horrible examples of this fault everywhere, but it's particularly prevalent on Smashwords. For some reason, Smashwords seems to magically attract an even lower tier of cover design than Amazon. No, I don't know why that is; it's simply...an inexplicable phenomenon. Just remember, when you start saying to your cover designer, "I want a tiger and a sword with my hero holding it and a crown and a magic chalice and an eagle and, oh, yeah, OH, a DRAGON!," don't say you weren't warned. In my humble opinion, the very best covers have one single strong visual element--like Ernie's, like Game of Thrones, like Twilight (no matter what--the covers for Twilight are great, particularly the one with the chess piece).

8. A Little More on Text Placement: The cover for Devil's Catch doesn't really give us an opportunity to discuss clever text placement (unlike, say, The Help, as shown in Derek's article), but by and large, the lettering stands out fairly naturally, without a lot of graphic-design trickery. Both the word "Catch" and Ernie's name have just the tiniest hint of a drop-shadow, to make them stand out, whilst "Devil's," to my eye, stands on its own against the blue background. The slight drop-shadow does enough, without being blatant, to make the words clearly visible for the reader.

To Sum Up:

In closing, on the topic of Indy Cover Design and Ernie Vecchione's book, Devil's Catch, I'd say that you can't go wrong if you follow Ernie's example, and spend the time and effort necessary to create a great cover design.  Ernie discovered the artist, Cintia Gonzalvez (Barcelona, Spain), on Deviant Art.  Cintia did the terrorized teenager artwork that you see on the cover.  Cintia's website is:  http://www.quirky-me.com/ and her Deviant Art profile is http://cintiagonzalvez.deviantart.com/ .  The cover designer who incorporated Cintia's artwork and did the layout is actually the same designer who did Ernie's web series, ("Sex Ed"), Phillip Anderson.  Phillip is a design veteran with work for Disney and Warner Brothers under his belt. He welcomes all inquiries at his website, http://www.philipandersoncreative.com/ .  Ernie's website (The ERNIEBLOG!) is here:  http://ernieblog.com/wp/ .  


This is a Don't Miss for DIY Cover Design:

While we're discussing cover design, not all of us can afford to hire a custom illustrator, or a designer that's worked for Disney. I mean, heck, I couldn't.  Bearing that in mind, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Derek's online web tool, DIY Book Covers, which is a book cover maker, works pretty darn great. I've tried it myself, because even though I'm not an author, I don't like to recommend software, people, consultants, designers, etc., unless I've used it, worked with them, etc., myself.  So I threw myself on my pike, and made a few covers, just to be certain it was easy to use.  It is.  You might have to give it a try or two, or actually (gasp!) read the instructions, but when all's said and done, it's pretty idiot-proof, and I'm just the idiot to prove it to you.  

Some of you know me well enough (ahem) to know that my idea of interior design for my house is ensuring that my kitchen drying towels match my dust bunnies, and I can barely spell "Photoshop," much less claim mastery thereof.  I wince my way through all the graphics for our website.  So if I can use this successfully, so can you.  Derek's program is either a) free, b) $87USD or c) $347USD (depending upon whether you want to also acquire some additional pre-made templates, or want Derek's own assistance in finishing up your cover--see his site for the details).  You buy or join once, for the free/$87 program, and can make all the covers your heart desires.  Honestly--I think it's a screaming deal.  I've joined, and if I ever get around to finishing that novel I've been working on since they found Moses in the rushes, that's what I'm probably going to use.  While I'd love to be able to hire Damonza or Bookfly Design, if my budget lends more to the "under-$100 category" (which is most likely), that $87.00 price tag for this book cover maker simply can't be beat.  I have several clients that I've steered to DIYBC, and each one has come back with a cover that was far, far better than what I expected to see. Covers that are gorgeous.  Covers that do the job.  

Remember:  covers aren't there just to look pretty. They're not there to tell your whole story on the front. They're there for one single dedicated purpose:  to sell books. To call readers to you. To make them open the page, and start reading.  After that, the heavy lifting is up to your writing. But before anyone will ever see that brilliant opening line that you sweated over, love those characters you crafted, you gotta get 'em in first. That's your cover's job. Don't handicap your book by dropping the ball on your cover design.

Until next time!

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