Monday, April 1, 2013

Cover Me: Why I Finally Paid for a Work of Art

I may have been wrong about some stuff. Hey, it happens.
The Romanov Legacy by Jenni Wiltz
The Romanov Legacy: Kindle Edition

If you're self-publishing and seek out any advice at all on the subject, you'll run into two ironclad recommendations in a hurry: pay for a professional cover and pay for professional editing.  

I never took either of these seriously, for several reasons:

1.  I have no money.  For three years, I lived on $800/month.  BEFORE TAX.  I went back to work full-time six months ago, largely because now I have $30K of student loans to pay back.  Money is tighter than the space between my back molar and my wisdom tooth.  (Another thing that might be able to be fixed, had I some money.)

2.  I disdained the idea of paying for something I could theoretically do myself. After all, I have a brain and two college degrees.  I've read books and judged them by their covers all my life.  How hard could it be to design one, right?  Software is the great democratizer, putting tools into the hands of people with time and a willingness to learn.  I could be the living, breathing representation of this principle.  

So that's what I did for four books.  Then something changed.   

I just paid for my first-ever professionally designed cover, and I'm over the moon about it.  It's an updated cover for my spy thriller, the one that sells best out of my four. What on earth led to this epiphany?  

The credit is entirely due to the blog The Book Designer. Well, let's be honest...one post on the blog The Book Designer.  

When I found this post, where he evaluates covers uploaded by self-pubbed authors, I had my Eureka! moment.  It was actually a Eureka! moment combined with the mental equivalent of a walk of shame.

Okay, so I suck at covers. But the
lower left photo is my great-grandma!
That's cool, right?
Reading through the brutally honest comments ("unmistakably amateur," "confused and indecipherable," "visually weak"), all I could imagine was what he'd say about mine:

  • Beginner's font.  
  • Terrible colors.  
  • Poor spatial arrangement.  
  • Can't see a frickin' thing...it's all too dense.
All this time, I'd been thinking I could be Superwoman and do it all.  Politely worded suggestions (nay, commandments) weren't strong enough to reach me; I could still brush them off.  But specific examples of constructive criticism aimed at efforts clearly on my level were things I couldn't ignore. 

So I scanned my Google+ writers' communities, looking for recommendations and availability. I worked with a writer/artist whose covers I'd seen and liked. One weekend later, the top image is the result. One weekend. 

Now, this huge chore is now lifted off my shoulders. I'd been wondering...do I fork out for a month of Adobe Cloud service to get access to Photoshop and Illustrator and try to learn that shit in one month during the free trial? But that would mean one month of constant trial and error, with no time for writing. What if I couldn't get something usable in that month? I'd have to pay for another month ($50-$75) or abandon everything I'd already done. Argh.  

Now it's all solved. I love this cover. It's simple, beautiful, and effective in conveying to the reader the main points of the book:

  • The angel image symbolizes Belial, the heroine's schizophrenic hallucination.  
  • St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square symbolizes Russia, which is not only a setting, but a cultural flashpoint.  Ivan the Terrible, Bolsheviks, Communists, New Russia...these are all facets of the book, and the simple cathedral image conveys all this at a glance.  
  • The fonts are also legible at a glance, with words big enough to read when browsing Kindle listings.  The fonts convey a sense of urgency, with the scrawl of "legacy" beneath the majestic presence of "Romanov."  
Some people just get how to do cover art.  Now that I've realized I'm not one of them, I feel free.  Yes, I have to cough up money to have this done.  But when I thought of it as a cost per hour, I would have been working for about $1 an hour if I tried to do it myself.  Is that the best use of my time?  Hell, no.  I need to write.  

So in terms of a time investment, paying for a cover is a huge savings.  Plus, now I have something I can be proud of to display in my marketing materials.  I'm building a Facebook fan page and a Google+ page for this book, all featuring this cover.  It's inspired me to do more and do it better.  Talk about money well spent.  

But I'm still not paying for editing.  The reasons for that are for another post entirely.