Monday, February 6, 2017

Self-Publishing: The Cover Art

The first draft of my next (and first full length) novel sits on my hard drive, waiting for the revision process to begin. The self-imposed break between writing and revising - the better to approach the words with a fresh perspective - makes the perfect time to secure cover art.  As a self-publisher steadily growing the brand and reinvesting the profits of this little adventure back into it, this marks my first foray into finding an artist.

As mentioned previously, I've used* for my proof-reading in the past, and so using it for my art needs made sense.  There are a host of designers offering their services to design your book cover, but a quick review of that category reveals that most of the offerings are for clip-art combined with font selection and placement.  Those are important considerations, and your typical books would do well to take advantage of them.  They are perfect for non-fiction or for impressionistic lit-fic or for think pieces.  For my work?  They are uniformly terrible.

My work is not static, monochrome, or typical.  I will admit to them being cut-and-paste, but I'm cutting from the best and pasting things in a way that requires a much more creative touch.  That means going to the "Illustrators" section and finding actual artists rather than typesetters and designers.

Here things get a little more complicated.  It turns out portraits are easy.  Hundreds of quality artists will prepare a portrait for you on the fast and on the cheap.  Every additional figure you add to the artwork adds to the complexity and therefore the cost.  When you're working on a tight budget, and telling the story of a single character, the temptation is to go with what's cheap and just throw a character portrait up on the cover of your book.  Unfortunately, this leads to what Jeffro Johnson calls, "cool people standing around".  To whit:

GIS Results for "urban magic book cover"
Look at all those cool kids standing around.  I used to think that was a conscious decision made by publishers to appeal to those for whom the important thing is being seen to be looking good.  The old theory characterized this as entirely the result of an assumption that fiction for women involves people "being", in contrast to fiction for men which involves people "doing".   Even when a cover for men's fiction shows a portrait, he's usually engaged in a verb other than "standing".
GIS results for "pulp adventure cover"
The latter are far more intriguing and therefore far more likely to separate this fool from his money.  Unfortunately, the rules of the game state that the latter are also far more complex and therefore more costly.  So now my theory about "magic girl book covers" also includes the cheapness of the artwork as an additional factor. 

Which brings us to the conundrum facing self-publishers who want to evoke the latter covers, but who cant' justify the cost.  There may be a solution!

It turns out a number of graphic artists of the sequential art variety populate as well.  These fine folks offer to draft a full page of your comic book, and if you ask nicely and explain what you want of them, would be more than happy to prepare a single panel page of a comic book at a significant cost savings.  As these are artists, many of them offer a range of styles from watercolors to digital art to line drawing or whatever, and the best part is that these guys are used to creating art that tells a story in a single panel.  They can do portraits of people standing around, but they don't balk at multiple characters, action shots, or even odd angles and composition.  It's what they do.

And if you have a hook like, "space trucker saving a princess from a robot that looks like a knight," then you are operating right inside their bailiwick.  That's how I found Rapha Pinhiero (on Facebook and Instagram.)  He even included a thumbnail sketch before starting on the final piece.

Now there's a cover that shows some action, some stakes, and the all important pretty girl in peril!

* Full disclosure: If you click that link and wind up using one of their services, I get a five dollar credit.  Thanks for the help!

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