Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Covers: Is a Picture Really Worth (Several) Thousand Words?

(Note: I eventually revamped all of my short story covers and went for a different look.  You can read the follow up: My New Short Story Covers.)

I just spent, over the past few weeks, more time on the cover on a 99 cent novelette than I probably spent on the story itself -- thereby tripling my production "costs" on the darn thing. Since 99 cent ebooks get half the percentage of higher priced book, I will not likely recoup my wages from it for a very long time, if ever.

Frankly, I think it needs a lot more work, but I am nonetheless pleased.

For one thing, I am going to use this cover as a model for future Mick and Casey novellas and novelettes -- to build a brand, as they say. Three quarters of the work I did on this (finding and selecting fonts, playing with the design, etc) will be already done for future books in the series. And anything new I do to the design will be easy to go back and change on this one.

I don't have the money to invest in building a brand right now, but I can do the sweat equity. Especially when it's fun. I really do enjoy browsing for reference photos (see my Images and Inspiration post) or doodling, while listening to podcasts of Garrison Keillor's News from Lake Woebegone, or to Keith Olbermann read stories by James Thurber.

I modeled this one classic pulp covers. The pulp publishers were masters of creating a quickly recognizable brand for the readers, via layout and fonts, and colors. The audience knows at a glance they're getting a fast fun read, and also can spot their favorites quickly just from the layout and colors.

But aside from branding, and having fun, there is another important business reason to spend so much extra time and effort on this cover:

99 cent ebooks are a "gateway drug." You could even call them an advertisement for your other works. A novelette may be short and cheap, but it's also a quick, enticing read. When people buy a book, they're making a commitment in time, attention, energy, and yes, affection. Samples may help, but they aren't a complete work -- more of a tease. A shorter work is less of a risk, and it also pays off fully with an ending and everything.

So why not make an e-booklet the most enticing thing you publish? Why not make it a real appetizer, and do it right, both in contents AND presentation? Like great sushi.

Besides, I want to do covers on into the future, and maybe even some illustration. My illustration skills are not strong, but the more you work on something, the better you get at it.

You know, just like writing.

(And, btw, The Curse of Scattershale Gulch should be available soon. I have a little work on the last edit of the file which I hope to get done by tomorrow.)


ModWitch said...

I'm a fan of branded covers for novellas :). I particularly like the top bar where you've tied it into the "series" look for your longer novels. Very cool.

The Daring Novelist said...

That's taken straight from the pulps. I'll probably do a couple of posts in future with classic covers and talk about them.

One of the things I want to do yet is to unify that top part. Maybe lower the title a skosh, so I can make the overall blue border up there a little bigger. And then choose a color from the logo for the text box instead of white.

Ann Summerville said...

This is a great post. How many pages is a novelette supposed to have?

The Daring Novelist said...

Ha ha! I was JUST going to talk about that tonight, as a matter of fact.

As a quick answer - SFWA puts the length at 7,500 words to 17,499 words. Which is about 30-70 manuscript pages, or slightly less in printed book pages.