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Cover design Q&A with Jes Richardson

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message 1: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Richardson | 10 comments [image error]
Hi everybody! My name is Jes Richardson and I’m a book cover designer invited here today to offer some insight, tips and tricks to help you find or make a cover that fits your budget and helps sell your book. Thank you for having me!
A bit about me:
I’m a freelance cover artist. I’ve been focusing on book cover design for the last 8 years after 2 years of vocational training in Graphic Arts followed by a 4 year BA in Graphic Design. I found my way into book cover design as a niche when my author sister asked me to create an ebook cover for one of her novels. I really enjoyed the storytelling aspect to the artwork and the creative liberties I can take over other design work I’ve done and haven’t looked back since!
To date I’ve covered somewhere around 500 books, many of whom have found their way to Amazon and USA Today best sellers lists.
My website is http://coverbistro.com


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When Erin invited me to come talk to you all, I knew right away I wanted to focus on a couple of really common missteps I see self pubbed authors make with their artwork. One of the most frequent mistakes I see, especially with new authors, are book covers that aren’t genre appropriate. Yes, it makes sense to want to stand from the crowd and do differently than what’s been done - but if you’re name isn’t recognizable enough to stand out and sell books on its own, people need to know what they’re getting before they commit to buying.
One of my most important tips is to study the top selling books on amazon in your genre and subgenres and then emulate what works. Your book cover should scream to readers right from thumbnail size “Hey! I’m a steamy paranormal romance! If you read paranormal romance and you like them hot - you’ll like me!” In order to make a sale, you have to market to the people who are going to enjoy *your* book.
If you’re selling a paranormal romance but you’ve depicted a short, bloody murder scene from chapter five on the cover, you’re going to attract horror readers looking for gore in that first initial click through. They’ll read the blurb, see it’s not what they’re looking for, and then move on.

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Once in awhile I have an author come to me so excited about sending their first book off to an editor and they’ve been thinking of the perfect cover for months. Usually it’s a grand scene directly from the text with specific elements floating in the background - the blue flowered lamp on the 1974 yellow dresser with cracked paint, MC standing in the foreground wearing a specific leather vest with the right tear in right spot, etc etc etc.
Don’t over complicate things. The people who are going to recognize that specific scene and all the details and symbolism you’ve added to the cover are people who have already read the book. We want to attract new readers to pick it up, so while little nods are nice to work in if they fit, they’re not necessary.
Furthermore, a specific scene like that is going to be verrrrry difficult to accomplish well with stock art and would instead require original photography from a photoshoot (including set design and models!) or original illustration. Not only can get expensive for those of you writing part time or just starting your journey, you have to consider whether or not illustrative works are appropriate for the genre.


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You do not have to invest hundreds in your cover art if you can’t afford it. My advice is to set a reasonable budget in advance as you go through your planning process.
Personally, my cost varies a little by project complexity, but generally hovers around $80 for an ebook and print cover, and there are much more renowned cover artists out there in the $200 - $1000 range, and a sea of artists even less expensive. Set your budget range, get comfortable with what well selling covers look like in your genre, and look to places like kboards and goodreads forums for artist recommendations or even front cover acknowledgements of fellow indies whose cover artwork you admire.
Premades are a fantastic option for budget tight writers and generally range from about $30 - $60. A premade cover that is genre appropriate is going to do wonders more for your book than a DIY job from someone who is not design experienced, and there are hundreds of sources out there. You just have to do some digging.


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For those of you who are DIY and have some experience in design or the gumption to practice and learn, I encourage you to seek criticism. I love the cover critiques in kboards and they’re full of great information from people who will give you the honest to goodness cold hard truth and help you navigate the tweaks your work needs to make sure you’re not only grabbing attention, but attracting the right readers. You can learn so much from just searching the archives for previous cover critiques, reading through others experiences and watching the art evolve to something more suitable and sellable.
Source your stock properly from legitimate sites like Adobe Stock, Shuterstock, Dreamstime and BigStockPhoto. Getting images from free stock sites can get you into strange gray areas legally and there are serious quality issues. Anyone can upload an image, claim they took it, and mark it as free for anyone else to use, but stock photos on the big pay sites are vetted thoroughly for quality, metadata, and model release forms - and with introductory offers and discount codes, you should be able to get a great image for under $20.
I always welcome DIYers to email me if you want specific tips and tweaks on your artwork! Feel free to post in the comments to and I’ll let you know my thoughts.



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http://fontsquirrel.com - free fonts that are vetted commercial use
http://www.creativindie.com/300-fool-... - This is a great list of fonts by genre. Fonts can make or break your genre look!
https://www.canva.com/ - browser based design program that is more user friendly than photoshop for design beginners. And 100% more free than photoshop!
http://lousybookcovers.tumblr.com/ - What not to do! This one is just a fun way to procrastinate. Also…. Make sure you’re not here.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask away! I’m here to help in anyway I can!


message 2: by Erica (new)

Erica Graham (erica_graham) | 1490 comments Mod
Some great resources and tips! Thank you!


message 3: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Richardson | 10 comments Thank you Erica!


message 4: by R.L. (new)

R.L. Jackson (authorrljackson) | 856 comments Mod
Some really great advice here.


message 5: by Bernard (new)

Bernard Boley (bernard_boley) | 27 comments Jessica wrote: "
Hi everybody! My name is Jes Richardson and I’m a book cover designer invited here today to offer some insight, tips and tricks to help you find or make a cover that fits your budget and helps sel..."


I wouldn't trust lousey book covers comments. Comments made were these: bulletin board layout, cut and paste, filteriffic, readability, blood doesn't do this, modern knife.

The knife is an original 19th century knife the kind experts agree could hve been used by Jack the Ripper. The blood dripping is actual scanned blood drippings on a knife. The backgound images come from 1. an old Whitechapel map, hence readability was secondary for those who have a minimal knowledge of the Whitechapel murders, 2, A late-victorian era Whitechapel street again well known by most of those intrrested in JTR.

The book cover was tested with over 50 potential readers and only 1 rather negative comment which had nothing to do with those of lousywhatyoumaycallit.com comments.

Now when you have a look at the best sellers, the first question one has to ask himself is if it from one of those well known authors in which case the cover of any phone book would not have prevented them from selling their book.

The second question is how one can make a difference with his book cover. Now if you want to sell a can of tomato soup, don't go for the Cambell soup kind of label. If you need to show a potential buyer that your soup has a sort of tomato color, then you're selling your books to idiots. Just have look in the Young adult romance category and you'll find 8 out of 10 covers with this six-pack set of pecks guy on the cover. If a six pack is your idea of romance, your story better be good.
Respectfully yours,
Bernard
Oh! by the way, I've been in the communication/marketing business for some 15 years before retiring. I think I know what I'm talking about.


message 6: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Richardson | 10 comments I definitely agree on some of your points Bernard! If your name alone can sell your book than you can take risks with your cover and step out from the genre norms without much repercussion, but someone without much name recognition is going to have a more difficult time selling something with a cover that doesn't read their genre because they won't have readers seeking them out from the get-go.

As for the hunky men on romance - the cover should reflect the heat level of the story inside. Steamy books should look hot! Clean romance, not so much.


message 7: by Julie (new)

Julie Gerber | 189 comments Mod
Jessica, great information! I tell all my clients if they go with a bad cover, they can't expect to do well unless they are well known. With so many books out there, I'm going to judge a book based on the cover. Then I read the blurb. If the cover isnt good, I'm going to believe the author didnt put enough effort into editing and formatting.These books are important. Dress it up and make a good first impression.


message 8: by Erin (new)

Erin Daniels | 286 comments Great post, Jes! Is there a way to be original while making sure readers in your genre don't have to do any guesswork about what your book is about? This is what I'm struggling with at the moment.


message 9: by Amy (new)

Amy Hamilton | 2560 comments I've said many times I don't like the bare male torso cover for
erotica books because they all look the same and when I was commuting I wouldn't have got on the train with one to read.

I had a Sci Fi cover, but I'm an unknown so pretty invisible. Then I had one made with bodies on the front, but yep I'm an unknown so pretty invisible. I don't think I have a point here other than I tried. Changing from one cover to the next didn't make a difference. It merely ticked a box that I had done what I was supposed to. Nobody "sees" my book. I have to keep checking Amazon to see if it's even still listed.

I'm about to publish a second book and no doubt I'll tick the box again and get a Sci Fi background with bodies in the foreground. I won't like it. But it's the done thing and I feel I should conform.


message 10: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Richardson | 10 comments Erin- yes! You can totally be original! Designing to your genre does NOT mean "use a tie for erotica because thats what EL James did" or just the same stock male chest in front of some mountain backdrop. That's what makes it art. Each genre has a collection of different trends and you follow just enough of them (font type, style, placement, coloring, poses, etc) to make sure there's no mistaking where your book falls, but there are an infinite number of ways to do that.

Here are 3 new adult book covers that are completely different but still doing the job in addressing the genre and tone -
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06ZY6XDM9/...
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1505321247/...
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ETJPFF2/...

You can tell all 3 are NA despite them all following different bits and pieces of the genre "rules" and trends (red and pink fonts, cool toning in images, naked male torso, sans serif font or handwritten, one lone piece of clothing/accessory on it's own, etc)


message 11: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Richardson | 10 comments Amy - I took a look at your cover and though it does look like scifi, the design itself falls a little flat. Here are some ways I would focus on improving it:
Get rid of that planet on the left side, it may be relevant to the story, but i'm a glancer who doesn't know that and it's making the cover unbalanced. Make your couple larger and center them. For the font, I'd do a scripty handwritten font for "modified" and then for the all of the rest, something like ombivusova or nova round. The two you have now are a bit conflicting.

Play around a bit, I'm confident you can make that cover into something that sells with some tweaking.


message 12: by Amy (new)

Amy Hamilton | 2560 comments Jessica wrote: "Amy - I took a look at your cover and though it does look like scifi, the design itself falls a little flat. Here are some ways I would focus on improving it:
Get rid of that planet on the left sid..."


Thanks for the advice, I'll take that on board for book 2. I'm won't change the first book again, that's it's third cover and one I paid a small amount for. There is no money in the household budget for a paid cover for two books at the moment. So for now I'll focus on trying to get a better cover for the second book.


message 13: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Richardson | 10 comments That's a smart way of doing things! Put your energy and budget into book 2 where you'll have the new release push and fresh eyes. Your first book can always be revisited later if you wish 😊


message 14: by Erin (new)

Erin Daniels | 286 comments My situation is somewhat different because I write interracial romance novellas and romance covers with women of color on the cover consistently sell less than other books. I'm not terribly concerned with that because I won't cater to a market that doesn't want to read what I write. Life is too short lol. The reason I don't put people (of any color) on my covers is that it feels too cookie cutter. Should I rethink this? Is there middle ground?


message 15: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Richardson | 10 comments Romance doesn't *have* to have couples on it, you can still make it apparent with the subjects you choose (sweet/clean romance frequently just has scenery, erotica frequently has a clean look with an article of clothing, a billfold, e.l. James esq tie), as long as your hitting some major indicator with font and imagery you can sway within the lines.

Interracial romance can get a lot more difficult because unfortunately there is a serious problem with white washing in the stock photography industry. Most of the images that feature POC are cheesy/smiley and there's less high impact serious/sexy model action. I hope that is something that continues to change, and changes quickly because it's extremely limiting.

I'm working right now with some friends in the modeling and special fx industry to put together a series of premade horror book covers with original high impact photography that features more diversity in style and in our models. If it goes well this time we hope to do the same with a round of romance and erotica covers too!


message 16: by Erin (new)

Erin Daniels | 286 comments Jessica wrote: "Romance doesn't *have* to have couples on it, you can still make it apparent with the subjects you choose (sweet/clean romance frequently just has scenery, erotica frequently has a clean look with ..."

This is exciting news and I'm impressed/proud that you are in on the ground floor! I'm also really relieved by your answer because there are no people on my covers and I am so in love with the covers I've got lined up for my series. I feel like I don't have to change them now...although I am open to your honest opinion either way. I feel a lot better now lol.


message 17: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Richardson | 10 comments Erin - one thing you can always count on from me is that I *will* tell you if I think your cover idea is going to hinder you in anyway, so don't you worry there 😂

That's another good point to touch on - any professional you're hiring to help you polish up your work for publishing - go in with a tough skin! When your editor or cover artist or whoever else is telling you something's not working, they're doing it to help, and you should 100% be able to voice the same back. I expect changes and shut down ideas in my line of work and they don't hurt my feelings. I will also get ideas from an author and follow with "this is why I don't think that'll work, it might be better to try..."


message 18: by Erin (new)

Erin Daniels | 286 comments Jessica wrote: "Erin - one thing you can always count on from me is that I *will* tell you if I think your cover idea is going to hinder you in anyway, so don't you worry there 😂

That's another good point to touc..."


*fistbump*


message 19: by Erin (new)

Erin Daniels | 286 comments Can you go into what makes a great boxed set cover? I hope to do my first boxed set for Christmas :)


message 20: by R.L. (new)

R.L. Jackson (authorrljackson) | 856 comments Mod
I feel you on the interracial romance lack of diversity when it comes to stock photography. Some are horrid and others very cheesy that's why I went with a jacket for mine. Simple and it has direct correlation to the story.


message 21: by Erin (new)

Erin Daniels | 286 comments R.L. wrote: "I feel you on the interracial romance lack of diversity when it comes to stock photography. Some are horrid and others very cheesy that's why I went with a jacket for mine. Simple and it has direct..."

OOh! *goes to check out cover*


message 22: by R.L. (new)

R.L. Jackson (authorrljackson) | 856 comments Mod
Lol it ain't all that. Just super simple. I had like 10 covers for this book then I was like screw it and changed it altogether


message 23: by Erin (new)

Erin Daniels | 286 comments R.L. wrote: "Lol it ain't all that. Just super simple. I had like 10 covers for this book then I was like screw it and changed it altogether"

I had ten versions of one awesomely bad cover before I struck gold with the current one lol. I like your cover though!


message 24: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 285 comments Great information Jessica :)

Thanks for sharing the links too!!


message 25: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Richardson | 10 comments RL - just checked out the jacket cover and that definitely reads romance!

Erin - boxed sets are simple and great once you've done the leg work with the existing covers. They should show consistent branding and make it obvious you're offering a collection, not just one book. If you're doing a 3D boxed set for one series, the main image you used on book 1 works well, or a continuation of your series covers.
If it's not a series but a collection, pick something simple that represents what ties the books together. I did one for a big anthology of authors that had no general theme, tone or genre and that one was a challenge!


message 26: by Erin (new)

Erin Daniels | 286 comments Are there any cool trends you're seeing in cover design? Is there any way indies can stay up to date or even ahead of the curve when it comes to this, instead of always waiting to see what the trads do? How are the trads influenced?


message 27: by Carole (new)

Carole P. Roman | 4580 comments Mod
That's a great question Erin-


message 28: by Wolfen (new)

Wolfen (wolfenm) | 39 comments Just wanna say, thanks for the tips and links, Jes! :)


message 29: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Richardson | 10 comments Indie cover art is a different ballgame to trads, and I'd say that the popular indie authors and run away successes have a lot more influence on cover trends for self pubs than the traditionally published books and successes. Book cover artwork follows closely to design trends in other media and most closely follows the trends of current movie posters.

The best way to stay on the cusp of success is to constantly research what works. Keep your eyes on the top 50 of best sellers lists and when you see a new face pop up, take a closer look and see what they're doing differently.

For me, this year has been the year of sci fi and my favorite trend is the 3d illustrated mech-mod robots! I love how lifelike they look and I'm obsessed with using them. I like that I can find a 3d character I love and then go directly to the artist and request a specific pose for a cover, and buy that image at a reasonable price for my client.


message 30: by Erin (new)

Erin Daniels | 286 comments Jes, movie posters = brilliant!!


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