Tag Archives: covers

Call in the Professionals

The thing is, until someone who does know points it out to you, you often don’t know what it is you don’t know.

Using experts – and/or the perils of not doing so – is a common theme in self-publishing discussions. Most people agree that not paying for professional help in editing and cover design is a false economy and I had no hesitation in paying for professional support when I decided to self-publish – I knew I didn’t know enough to even begin to do a competent job.

That I’ve taken the right approach was confirmed this week. I love my cover (created by the incredibly talented JD Smith design – check out her Facebook page which is filled with objects of beauty), and I’ve had lots of compliments on it so other people seem to like it, too. So I entered it in The Book Designer’s monthly awards to get a professional view.

Cover image for The Last Gatekeeper

I’m delighted to say The Book Designer loved my cover and awarded it a gold star, but looking through all the entries (if you have some spare time, it really is an education to scroll through and check out the covers alongside the comments – from writers/designers and from Joel, the Book Designer) I was reminded of how little I know about cover design. I might nod, ‘that’s nice’ at a cover, or pull a face at one that looks amateur to my untrained eyes, but reading the comments gives an insight into why they are good or bad – and it’s usually not things I would have picked up on.

For example, my own cover got the comment, ‘especially nice type treatment for the title’. Hmm, yes, I like the font, too – but I know I’d never be able to pick it out from the million other fonts out there as right for my genre (YA fantasy) and right for my cover – and once the font’s chosen there’s also the arrangement of the words and the spacing: all JD Smith’s skill. That’s exactly why I hired a professional – I don’t know how to do this myself and I don’t have the desire to learn it; I’d much rather hire in expertise.

And that’s in no way a shameful admission. I’m a professional writer. That’s where my talent lies, and that’s where my energy is focussed – on becoming an ever-better writer. When I became a professional self-publisher I recognised that just as there’s more to writing than friends who casually confess their intention to write a book ‘some day’ realise, so there is also a lot more to publishing than simply writing the book.

Writing may be a solitary activity, but publishing is definitely a group effort. As writer I do my part to the best of my abilities … and then delegate everything else to people who know much more than I do. That approach works, and I intend to stick with it.

I’m curious – are there other writers out there who are glad they used a professional cover designer – or who didn’t and now wish they had?

What DO you look like?

Okay, I’ll ‘fess up – this post is largely an excuse to show off my new cover, but there is a point to it, too.

Cover image for The Last Gatekeeper

Isn’t it just GORGEOUS???

I used a silhouette on my cover because I didn’t want to decree what my heroine looked like (and I’m not entirely sure, to be honest) and my point of discussion today is the appearance of characters, and how much description they need.

When The Last Gatekeeper was being edited, I was told I needed to give more description in order for readers to be able to picture her (my heroine had brown eyes and long hair worn in a ponytail – nothing else was mentioned).  I’d been vague deliberately because one of my bugbears when reading is description of main characters for two reasons:

1. It’s generally woefully done and clunkily, brakes-on-the-action obvious – especially in first person (which The Last Gatekeeper is), because there’ll be some dreadful mirror or window-becomes-mirror scene where the heroine inspects herself as though she doesn’t know what she looks like, and the description itself is either vain (“I just loved my glossy, golden hair”), or insecure (“Oh, why couldn’t my hair be glossy gold like my gorgeous bff instead of looking like frizzy mud, poor me.”).

and 2. Because I’m a reader, not a viewer. I’m making up my own pictures in my head and if your visuals clash with mine, that’s going to pull me out of the story, too. When I read, I want to be so close to the character that I become them for the duration of the book, so my opinion is that a bit of vagueness is a good thing to allow the reader and the character to blur a little. So long as it’s not something vital to the plot you can trust your reader to fill in the blanks because that’s what readers do.

What do you think – do you like plenty of description, or do you skip physical details like me?

(P.S. I added hair colour to my heroine’s description, but I hope it’s hard to spot and not too clunky!)