New authors frequently have a very good idea of what they would like their cover to look like. More often than not, however, they have very little say in it and even if they are invited to make suggestions much of what they suggest is impractical.
Many images have prohibitive copyright on them. This includes images of well-known people, company logos and iconic goods. The most we can get away with here is an artist’s impression and even then we have to be careful that it’s not too realistic.
A custom cover by even a mid-list artist is quite expensive. Factored into that cost will be an estimate of how many books will be sold i.e. how much the artist’s talent has added to the saleability of the book. It almost becomes an upfront royalty.
It is for this reason that small publishers often use royalty-free stock photos. A small fee is charged for the download and then the purchaser may use the picture, as long as they acknowledge the artist or the photographer, for 250,000 (we wish!) print copies and unlimited on the web.
Authors’ ideas often make for a crowded picture
Often the author will want a complex picture illustrating one scene in the novel. This is typically not the most appropriate scene. It may often be irrelevant if it is taken out of context.
We must guard against spoilers
So often authors want to illustrate the climax of the novel. This is an absolute spoiler. Much better to have an incident nearer the beginning or something to do with the setting.
A good cover designer knows a thing or two about marketing. Sepia-tinted implies nostalgia. Colour is important. A short time ago books were categorised for a while by the predominant colour on their covers. Are you a red reader or a yellow reader? Some children’s books have alternative covers to market them to adults. Jane Austen’s books have been covered in pink hearts and flowers to market them as chick-lit. Authors are not always aware of all these considerations.
The cover must symbolise the book
Possibly it must symbolise the reader also. Who is the target reader and what will appeal to her? It must represent the essence of the book. Remember, particularly if the bookshop browser does not know the author, the cover is the first thing that attracts. Then she reads the blurb and possibly the first page. The cover does most of the leg-work.
A marketing tip
Book covers convert into postcards very easily. Have a set made for each book you have published. One on side have the cover, on the other a short blurb and two or three ways of purchasing the book. If you’re keeping a set of author copies to sign, offer a discount with the card.
Postcards are very handy for school visits - something for you to sign if the students should want your autograph.