Doing the Cover Shuffle

From now until Peace in an Age of Metal and Men comes out on June 7, I am writing a series of posts on writing, science fiction, and the creative process. 

Being Judged by a Cover

I’m not going to start this post by saying anything about judging a book by its cover. Goddamnit I just did. I’m not sorry.

Author-published books live in a world without filters. Flaming trash heaps get lumped next to spun gold, next to racist atrocities, next to, um, books. These are dangerous waters in which to wade. Readers who dare enter, I believe, tend to fall into two categories:

  1. Readers who are able to put down an unsatisfying book for whatever reason. Whether that is crappy cover art, poor editing, or unengaging characters. These readers avoid crippling insanity by allowing themselves to be judgmental and decisive. They say, “Nope,” the minute a book displeases them for any reason.
  2. The author’s Mom. (and maybe close friends and relatives)

The trick to a strong showing for author-pubbed books is understanding that the second category is really not all that big. Look, your mom might buy a copy, but it’s unlikely she’ll buy two. And really, if you’re any decent sort of human being you ought to be giving her a copy for free. I mean, c’mon.

That means it’s best to spend your time and money catering to the first category.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the cover is a valid reason to toss out a book. It’s the first thing a reader sees when he looks at dozens of books on the shelf. Do you expect them to pick up and read the first chapter of every single book they lay their grubby little hands on? Doing so might be a strong symptom of some kind of neurosis.

“Barnes and Noble closed three hours ago and you’re still only halfway through the vampire romance shelf.”

“I have to read the first chapter!”

“You have a problem, sir.”

*Throws fit*

It’s much better to just admit that there’s no reason to read a book that doesn’t have a gun, a sword, or a horse on the cover. There just isn’t.

Commissioning A Cover

I had the cover to Justice in an Age of Metal and Men redone. Now, it matches the cover for Peace in an Age of Metal and Men and it’ll one day match the cover for Honor in an Age of Metal and Men. I love the new cover and it wasn’t hard to get.

Commissioning art can be a tricky thing, though. I used Deranged Doctor Design for my covers and it went very smoothly, but there are other ways to go. The deranged doctor (PHD?) has a gigantic form that the author fills out, including any ideas, themes, or requirements. They want to know what the book is about and what genre it fits in. It’s important to think:

  1. Who is my audience?
  2. What genre or genre mashup am I going for?
  3. What icons or symbols should be present?

For my book, I wanted to be absolutely sure that the potential reader knew they were pinging up science fiction. On top of that, the idea that it was western-themed was critical. Flying cars were optional, but I hoped it would be included.

The first image they sent me was great, but I asked for some changes. It mostly amounted to, “More sci-fi, please.” They were able to accommodate that very quickly. For the covers that the deranged doctor came back with, we decided that the top half would would use imagery unique to the book. In Justice, we visit a futuristic Austin. In Peace, we visit a small town. So, those were easy.

Overall, it’s a pretty painless process, and wasn’t terribly expensive. Will it sell me a lot more books? Maybe. Either way, it makes me feel pretty cool carrying around a book with fancy cover art. And that’s what’s really important, right?


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