WHAT A COVER DOES AND DOES NOT DO
When an author writes genre fiction, savvy readers can tell almost immediately, from the cover, whether the author knows the genre, and some basic details about the type of book it graces.
I write MAINSTREAM CONTEMPORARY LITERARY fiction – indie.
Not that many of us self-published authors (SPAs) do – because it is a category (‘a novel’) that big publishers have claimed as their own area of expertise. Many of the practitioners hope to land a traditional publishing contract, and advance, and what distribution their publisher may give them, depending on the publisher’s expectations that the book will sell enough copies to be a positive influence on the publisher’s bottom line.
There isn’t even a category labeled ‘mainstream’ on Amazon.
Covers in these categories are up to the publisher
with an occasional sop to the author.
Covers are created by cover designers selected by the publisher.
After all, if you have a publisher, your expectation is that you write, they do everything else (including sending you on tour with your book to TV stations and bookstores).
The reality is much more nuanced (ask any author who managed to land a traditional publishing contract, did NOT sell as expected, and after a book or two more, was ‘not renewed’ (i.e., dropped).
The royalties associated with these deals are such that most money is made by the author in the advance, because it never ‘earns out’ – sells enough copies to account for the advance – and then goes into the period in which royalties will be paid by the publisher twice a year.
It’s the dream of many.
It’s the meme of many a movie about writers.
And it must be very frustrating to an author who KNOWS (i.e., is convinced) that if the publisher had made more of an effort, the book might have sold more copies, and their career might have taken off.
Sort of the same mental gymnastics that happen when one buys a lottery ticket.
Genre covers for SPAs
The author can either spend time and effort learning how to do covers, or expend up-front money buying one.
Indie genre fiction is often priced at a few dollars, which means the calculus of the cover cost – and the possibility that a professional cover will help sell more books – can be very off-putting, and many authors do their own (not toting up the cost of the hours of their time spent learning and creating).
So the quandary of the indie mainstream author is creating a cover which will sell
Or, as some of the more stubborn of us aim for, will give the author the control over and input to what is on the outside of the novel they probably spent a lot of time creating.
It’s no bigger a challenge for the SPA than choosing everything else.
But it IS important.
PURGATORY’s cover was completely my creation
J.M. Ney-Grimm, who creates gorgeous covers for her fantasy novels, was my kind mentor, and I learned so much from her I have no idea where I’d begin to credit her input.
The year was 2015, and I spent most of the summer cover-creating and formatting the first volume in the trilogy, and had a blast (and, boy, was it hard work!).
NETHERWORLD’s cover was stuck in my brain
I had planned to do that this time, seven years later, and ran into a long stretch of months of brain fog which had me unable to focus, relearn Pixelmator and all the cover specifications from KDP, and get going on it.
I won’t call it writer’s block; with the ME/CFS, it is physical, has to do with the totality of stress and time and pain and insomnia of the disease; and you think it will last forever. In any case, I was stalled.
A few ideas were coming out – picking a scene representative of NETHERWORLD and then refining it into the second part of a trilogy concept (which has also left me with most of the ideas I need for the third cover). I was able to locate and then license a couple of necessary images from Dreamstime.
I tried finding formatters AND cover creators who would do things as close to MY way as possible – and ran into economics: those who do these tasks for hire, at least the ten or so I communicated with, have to do things quickly and generically with their own software. They were not interested even in finding out what MY way might be.
Until I had the idea of asking a friend, Bill Peschel of Peschel Press. He and his wife Teresa write, publish, and sell their own books over a wide range of fiction and non-fiction topics (I’m currently reading his annotated Dorothy L. Sayers mystery novel, Whose Body). I dared ask, he said he’d try tackling the task, and he’s been wonderful (i.e., able to put up with nitpicking me and MY way), and, among other miracles, essentially got me unstuck from my muddy mental rut – because giving him what he needed to work with gave me a series of small discreet tasks, a great way to tackle an overwhelming problem. My previous post about the cover was one of those small tasks (What did you have in mind?). Bill has been VERY patient and laid back.
Putting the pieces of NETHERWORLD together
Bill has just sent me the final proofed and formatted interior for the paperback version of the new book. Boy, is proofing – and fixing the quirks – NOT fun. But we did it.
I will produce the epub of the interior – I’ve already done it once with Scrivener, and the results were readable. Bill will send me the cover for NETHERWORLD’s ebook, and work on the cover for the hardcover version (which may take a bit more time, since I want to launch a hardcover version of PURGATORY at the same time, which also means relearning my graphics and doing some editing – now that my new Mac is on the way, it will be easier to handle the huge graphics files. I THINK I’ve located the input files – from the 2015 publication – I need.
Hoping to get something out this week; if not, in the latter part of next week.
I’ll try the uploading – cover and print – when the brain is on tomorrow. Hope there aren’t any bugs to fix!