Hello and happy Wednesday!
If you’ve been around my website before, you’ve probably seen the info sprinkled around about my novel, Cabin Girl 1 (it’s pretty hard to miss). Most likely, you’ve seen its cover as well.
I haven’t shied away from sharing that cover for Cabin Girl, both here on my website and any time I’m asked about the book. And for being the product of someone with zero design experience and limited resources, I’ve figured that cover is actually pretty good. Good enough, anyway.
But about a month ago, I was convicted to really stop and think about my reasons behind indie publishing. 2 I knew it would be a lot of work when I dove in, but recently it’s reached the point where I need to pause and reevaluate.
Just how committed am I? What are my goals? Which areas do I prioritize? I just don’t have the time or energy to try mastering them all, so how much should I do myself and how much should I find others to handle for me?
I’ve needed to clarify my priorities and what those priorities mean for me going forward – and it’s been an eye-opening process! I’m glad I’m taking the time to figure those things out now, rather than find myself stuck in a path I resent because I rushed ahead.
One big reason I’ve chosen to pursue the indie publishing path as opposed to traditional is because of the creative freedom. Nothing is added to, taken from, or changed about my book without me making that decision. I am 100% responsible for how my book turns out, and how I present it to readers. And that’s both a huge blessing and a lot of overwhelming responsibility.
I’ve absorbed a lot of information about indie publishing in the past year. Countless books, articles and blog posts, virtual learning courses, etc…Mostly, I’ve tried to figure out: what are the most important things to focus on? Especially when starting out. There are so many aspects to publishing, and while I’d love to do them all perfectly, that’s not realistic. I need to start somewhere.
And mostly, whatever I do choose to focus on, I need to make sure I do those well.
Everyone has different opinions about the most important parts about publishing, but in general I’ve found most people agree that the following things are absolutely crucial to have done well before you get published (whether indie or traditionally):
- A Good Story
- A Good Description/Blurb
- A Good Cover
The first one is pretty self-explanatory. Before I publish my book, I need to make sure it’s well-written and edited thoroughly. Otherwise, what’s the point in making a story available to read if it’s not a story anyone will want to read? There’s no way to make a story liked by everyone of course, but I need to ensure it’s the best that it can be.
The second one is the one I dread most, haha. I’m so long-winded most of the time, and my stories feel so expansive, that I always struggle to summarize them. Especially in a way that conveys them accurately and still manages to make them sound interesting. But nevertheless, having a good description, blurb, or sales pitch is crucial for publishing – and still very useful even if you’re not.
And the third one is the reason for this post. Over and over again, I’ve seen it emphasized that a good, fitting, and professional-looking cover is needed for publishing a book. People really do judge a book by its cover, and if the cover looks unprofessional and thrown together, they’ll assume the content inside is similar.
There are many rules for good book covers. For fiction, the cover must clearly communicate the story’s genre and give a good idea of the main story conflict and tone. Every design decision contributes to that communication. The colors, the fonts, the images, the layout, any subtitles…all the elements work together. Or at least they should.
Because of all the work and skill that goes into making good covers, hiring someone to design it for you can be very expensive. There are cheaper options too, but typically, what you pay for is what you get. If you manage to find a cheaper option, usually the quality of the cover will convey that.
I do not spend money lightly. Especially if it’s on something for myself, I need to know that the purchase will be worth it. So for that reason, and also because I didn’t like the idea of giving up that complete creative control for the cover, I made my own. You saw above how that turned out (after hours and hours of nitpicking and trying to make it perfect).
No, it didn’t look professional. Yes, it could have been better. But I felt it communicated enough of my genre and the story to work, and it really was the best I could come up with.
Then, a couple of months ago, I started seeing the stock photo that I used for that cover all over the place. Any time someone needed a good quality stock photo for an Irish girl, that photo is the one that was used. And I started to feel a bit uneasy about using a picture that many would recognize as a free image.
I kept receiving small comments about the cover, and how it was difficult for people to read the subtitle. And even if they could read it, they still didn’t get a ‘pirate’ vibe from the cover, which is something I really wanted.
And in addition, I realized that because I’d zoomed in so much on that photo, there was a high chance it would end up blurry on a paperback – and I also had no way of cleanly adding the spine and back with the same image.
There were a bunch of little details popping up and making me more uneasy, and I caught myself ‘conveniently’ glossing over the parts in articles and books that advised having a really strong book cover before I published. And yet, could I justify hiring a designer? What if I was just being vain? Was it actually worth it to spend the money and let someone else have creative say with my story?
I did a lot of praying, and shortly after I started seriously contemplating the matter, a 50% off sale started at one of the cover design companies I’d been looking into. 3 For the usual price of an ebook cover, I could get an ebook cover and a paperback, fully formatted for Amazon, with unlimited revisions. And for the typical quality of their covers, the price was very good.
Still more than I’d envisioned spending on a book, much less the first book I publish, but still… It was probably best to try working with a cover designer now, before I had lots of books published with handmade covers, and also more life expenses to consider. If I didn’t like having someone else design it, then at least I would know for the future, and could stop wondering.
As I’m sure you can guess, I took the plunge. And I am so glad I did.
After only very small amounts of time spent filling out the initial form and suggesting experimental tweaks, here is the finished ebook cover:
Absolutely worth it, in my opinion. The designer took my scatterbrained and vague ideas for the cover, and within two weeks, sent me several mock-ups. One of which was only several slight tweaks away from the way it is now. I ended up asking her to experiment with a couple of other things that we then disregarded, but if I hadn’t, I could have had a finished ebook cover within several weeks. As it is, it’s only been a month from start to finish.
And I am thrilled to say that I feel very good about this cover. Is it perfect? Will everyone like it? I’m sure not. But I love it, and I think it will go over far better with others than my handmade one. It clearly communicates genre and the fact that it is a ‘seafaring story’ – even without any kind of subtitle. And from receiving feedback from others, I’ve learned that it does communicate the right tone too: adventure with some suspense.
Next is taking that cover and adding the back/spine to create the paperback version. I’m looking forward to seeing it finished!
Overall, I don’t regret any part of my decision to hire someone to create it. I’ve been very impressed by the company’s professional work and willingness to experiment and revise. And they’ve gone much faster than I expected, even with all my requests for them to try different things. Now that I know how the process works, I expect future projects would go much quicker on my end.
And I also really appreciate the time and stress they’ve saved me. Technically, since I spent so much time on the previous cover, I guess it hasn’t really saved me time. But if I had done this from the very beginning, it would have made a huge difference.
Will I ever design more of my own covers? Absolutely, yes. Especially for smaller projects – like my short stories – that don’t require as much extravagance to communicate the story well. I truly do believe it’s possible to create covers on your own that are plenty good enough to publish with. If you have the time, resources, and either design experience or a willingness to research design thoroughly, then go for it! There are many programs and tutorials to help – and plenty that are free.
Designing covers can be a lot of fun, and is still something I greatly enjoy doing and learning more about. However, now I’ve also learned that hiring someone else to do it can be worthwhile too. Only time will tell if the new cover helps sales once Cabin Girl is published, but I have a strong hunch it will. And at this point, I’m very grateful for the time and work I didn’t have to contribute to get a cover of high quality.
So with that, now you know why all the images of the other cover on my site have vanished and been replaced by the new cover, haha. This one is around to stay!
I still have much to learn about indie publishing, but when it comes to cover design, there isn’t one right choice for every situation. Some people can beautifully design their own book covers, and others are best suited for receiving professionally-designed covers. Often the best path can change by story. I’m glad I’ve gotten to experience – and learn from – both methods.
What are YOUR thoughts on cover design? Have you ever designed a book cover of your own, or worked with a professional cover designer? I’d love to learn about your experiences, so let me know in the comments!
1. You can learn more about Cabin Girl here, or check out the post where I introduced its protagonist here.
2. I talked about my reasons for indie publishing in this post.
3. You can check out 100 Covers (the cover design company I’m working with) here.