Cover Designs: Is input really a good thing?

If you are a regular reader you know that I exude equal love for traditional, small press and indie publishing. As long as you treat it professionally, I could care less how your book is published. However, one of the arguments I've been seeing lots is that authors would never go traditional because they don't get the final say in their cover design.

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I enjoyed a recent online conversation about this topic after Polly Courtney announced she would not take another traditional publishing deal. She expressed dissatisfaction about her covers and went so far as to call them "frivolous". I don't know what that means in regards to her covers, but I can only assume she didn't like them.

I completely understand a desire to be a part of the process, but I don't understand a desire to be the decision maker when it comes to something like a cover.

Here's why. I studied marketing in school. Part of my curriculum was visual communication (understanding what the human eye is attracted to and why). And even with this education, I don't know what makes a great book cover. I have ideas and I've certainly seen enough covers to get an idea of what I like and what I don't like. But I don't have the experience, training, or market research to know if a cover should have a blue font or a green font.

That's a dummed down example, but work with me here.

The designers hired by publishers are basing their designs off years of experience designing books AND finding out what works and what doesn't. Is this something you are doing? Are you comparing the purchase data for different types of covers across different genres and age groups? Because, your publisher (if they are doing their job) is. They go to great lengths to market test covers, get feedback and analyze the impact of a cover on reader purchase decisions. While they may not do this for your particular book, they probably have done it with books similar to yours.

The result is that their cover is based, not on just what someone thinks looks nice, but what they believe will get you more readers. After all, that's the point of a cover. If they didn't impact buying decisions, all books would be printed with a plain brown cover.

I'm not saying this to scare anyone off from self-publishing. However, if you are going the indie route I recommend two things when it comes to your cover.

Spend the extra money and make sure you are working with someone who knows what they are doing with books. Any graphic artist can make you a cover. Find someone who specializes in book covers. Make sure they understand the different cover needs for an ebook and paperbook. Ask them if they chart the bestsellers and track current trends in book covers (yes, covers have trends, just like genres). There are some amazing designers out there who know what they are doing. Hire these guys and not just someone who'll slap a CC licensed image on a cloud background and call it a day.

And then, once you've hired this professional, trust them to do their job. Unless you have a degree in visual marketing and/or gathered extensive market research on book covers, you probably aren't the best person to decide on the cover of your book. Provide them with what you visualize, the central themes of your book and anything you definitely want to avoid and then step back.

If you've done your research and hired a professional, you should end up with a cover that does it's job, attracting readers. It may not be exactly what you had in mind, but unless you hate it, trust that you hired a designer that knows what they are doing.

The same reasoning extends to working with a publisher. They aren't going to intentionally tank your book. Remember, they want you book to succeed just as much as you AND they've put their money on the line betting that it will succeed. Part of that means giving your book a cover they think will attract readers. It might not be what you would have picked, but that doesn't mean it isn't the right cover for your book.

As writers, it can be hard to give up control when it comes to any aspect of our babies. But sometimes, that's exactly what we need to do to give our work the chance it needs to be amazing.