As I’ve discussed in previous posts, book cover design is a challenging art form. It needs to convey a sense of what the volume is about, of course. Or, as one observer has said, it needs to make a promise to the reader. Or, as shaded by others, offer a mystery. But it also has to “read” accurately for a curious buyer, rather than leaving them scratching their head in bafflement.
Quite simply, it can’t be too subtle and must clearly state the title and author.
A memorable cover is a joy to have in your hands or even the screen in front of you, but I find that few meet up to that measure. I like clean, with a striking visual image and tasteful typography. I find most are cluttered and often fussy, trying to work some cliché genre clue into the background.
Frankly, I’m proud of many of the covers I’ve designed for my own books.
One of the problematic ones, though, has been for my novel What’s Left. The story spans nearly 20 years in Cassia’s life, from the time her father vanishes in a Himalayan avalanche into her thirties. She’s Greek-American in a Midwestern college town. And it’s about emotional recovery and growth. Beyond that, extended family is a major ongoing theme. How do you encapsulate all that in a two-dimensional object?
In the first cover, I went for a striking egg yolk being poured from a broken shell. I was reaching for the idea of being broken open to newness but despite its strong graphic impact wound up failing to convey the book’s contents. (Egg? Her family did run a restaurant. Too much of a reach, though.)
Turning instead for the sense of grief, I found hands covering tearful faces, but none of those wound up hitting the age right. Her real work comes about in her teen years, not the preteen who was openly tearful in the available images.
There’s the argument of whether to show a face at all. I generally side with the view that a face limits the reader’s imagination. Apart from an earlier cover of What’s Left, the only face on my novels is the blissful yogi on Nearly Canaan, and there the emphasis is on the aerial pose she’s manifesting. The face has to match any description in the text, of course. No curly blondes for a long-haired raven, for example.
Recently, while passing through one collection for another project, I chanced upon a portrait I feel captures much of what I’ve been seeking for What’s Left, so much so I’ve decided to run with it for the ebook at Smashwords.com and its affiliates like the Apple Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Scribd, and Sony’s Kobo.
For technical reasons, I’m leaving the more troubled goth-girl image on the print and ebook editions at Amazon. It will be interesting to compare reactions to the two versions.
Having a very low budget, naturally, means that I’m not commissioning artwork but instead selecting from affordable stock collections. While that can mean going through thousands of images, finding the right one remains a challenge. Although I generally lean toward photographs, I still love the paintings I found for The Secret Side of Jaya, Daffodil Uprising, Subway Visions, and Yoga Bootcamp.