Friday, 11 June 2010

Linda Acaster: Covers R... not me?

After yesterday’s offering this is a light-hearted, but serious, tale of one novel, two continents and three book covers – and a need for advice.

When the Welsh mediaeval Hostage of the Heart first hit the British bookshops it was graced with the cover opposite. I was, to be honest, stunned.

What is that disused Victorian windmill doing in the background? And what sort of sack is that woman wearing for it to have a gold lining?

When the North American edition was launched, it came with a different cover. For having been trailed through wet Welsh mountains as a battle hostage, this heroine looks as if she’s just stepped out of a make-up trailer on a Hollywood set. But the point is, does it – or did it – entice North American readers to buy?

This is the dilemma now facing me as I indie author the same novel as an ebook and so have to produce my own cover. It’s not something I have done before, in fact I have never even titivated family photographs to get rid of red-eye, so getting to grips with the magical properties of Photoshop is a whole new time-consuming experience. For a first attempt I am reasonably happy with it, but is it liable to sell any copies to my main market - ebook readers in North America? I fear not.

Leaving aside the castle curtain wall, which just about fits the script, trying to find an image of mediaeval lovers has been problematic to say the least. I ended up on istockphotos, but it hardly proved ideal.

I’d prefer a man in chainmail who looks as if he has the muscle to at least open a vacuum sealed jar of preserve, though not someone who could body double for Conan the Barbarian. I don’t want to give readers the wrong impression; there’s nothing worse than getting a 2* Amazon review from a reader who was expecting an Erotic and got a Sweet. I’ve already been told by a reader that the cover needs some flesh, or at least some dark tumbling hair. If I could find some, I’d give it a whirl, honest.

Creating a cover for my up-and-coming Beneath The Shining Mountains is proving even worse. Set in the 1830s among the Apsaroke Crow people of what is now Montana and Wyoming, can I find suitable images?

Am I looking in the wrong place? Working to an ineffectual design? Am I simply being ineffectual? Advice needed; apply here.

My current contemporary paperback Torc of Moonlight is cross genre – dark romantic suspense, timeslip thriller, horror – depending on the reader’s interpretation. It being the first of a trilogy I didn’t want to confuse readers with the cover, hence using an iconic image to give this book, and its forthcoming siblings, a look distinctive from the historicals.

So that’s where I’m up to and where, hopefully, you step in with advice. For those already indie authoring, how do you decide on your cover elements? Where do you look for them? What software do you use to build them into a cover? Or is it something more sublime: like Rebecca, you’ve found an angel of a digital artist. Do tell!

Linda Acaster
Confused of Yorkshire


Lindsay Townsend said...

Hi Linda - I feel for you re your covers! I like your latest cover the best. The first looks muddy to me, the second rather garish.

I like your Torc cover very much.

Can you use photoshop for covers?

Bekki Lynn said...

I'm having the same issue finding photos for Annie and the Young Master set in 1896.

I've been in bigstock, istock, canstock, 123rf, dreamstime, shutterstock. There are more to go, but...

Where do they find the photos for historicals, because it's certainly not in these places?

Lindsay, Photoshop is the most commonly used program for covers. I used it's much cheaper counterpart which does exactly the same things. Corel Photo Pro Shop X2 - I think that's the title, it's not on my netbook for me to check.

Youtube has wonderful help videos for both programs as well as others. My next task to learn is blending photos.

As the cover artist of your books, I think you have to look at several aspects. First the story itself. It's so important for the cover to reflect the story. Then the saleability of the cover. I think you need to look at the genre in respect of how tame or how hot the cover is as well as the audience you're aiming at. Check rankings, and reviews of those near the top and see what they're saying, if anything about the covers. Check review sites. See what's grabbing their attention out of the stacks.

My problem is, is I find women on covers more appealing than some muscle bound man. That makes it hard for me. I have to set common sense aside and force myself to see things from the broad buyer perspective. Stories tend to center around the female, we relate to her, focus on her, so why shouldn't she get her due and be on the cover? No one thinks like me, I guess. Subtle rather blatant is more apt to sell to me.

I think Jewel would sell better if I had gone with a full length photo of the guy rather than the lens eyes effect even though he's a photographer who sees her through the lens. A lessoned learned maybe. In the last decake or so, skin sales out rank.

What's cool about self-publishing, is you're in control. We can change covers down the road if the book isn't selling. I plan to on Jewel as soon as the contract expires.

Linda Acaster said...

Thanks for your comments, Lindsay, and to Bekki for going into such detail about what you do. I must admit that I'm looking for an easier photo manipulation software.

Bekki Lynn said...

Linda, I've tried demos and unregistered versions of different ones that people have recommended to me and their all basically the same. It's best to learn the one you have. I talked to some geeks at Best Buy and they highly recommended the Corel Program I purchased. Why pay $500 for photoshop when Corel does the same thing for $100.

It's a matter of taking one aspect at a time and learning it so you don't become so overwhelmed you walk away.

Community colleges usually offer classes as well. A friend of mine took one and instead of teaching photoshop, the instructor ignored what he was supposed to teach and taught a program he liked better. My friend ended up loving it and he learned so much. He's my go-to-guy when I have graphic and website issues as well as youtube. I'll have to ask him what it was, I don't recall, but it's just as expensive as photoshop.

LK Hunsaker said...

Hey Linda, you might consider finding amateur artists in order to get the scenes you want. Professional artists can be horribly expensive, not that they don't have the right to be!, but there are some very good amateurs who could do a nice job on covers. I'm thinking I need to call in my amateur artist friends and make a list to add to my site since I've heard so many authors bemoaning their covers. I have one there so far: -- under affiliates.

Celia Yeary said...

LINDA--I'm only eavesdropping, since I don't Indie publish, and probably won't, for reasons stated in other posts.
But I do have many opinions about covers, which may or may not exicte you--I just hope I don't step on anybody's toes.
Covers are very important to me, whether on my books or those I choose to read. the genre makes a different, of course.
Women, I have read, like a man on the cover, even if the heroine is the main character. My first two Texas books do have men and I like those.
But the next two Texas books are about sisters, and they are definitely the stars, so I'm hoping to get something with a female.
Having said all that, I like three things on my cover--I read that somewhere, too. It's pleasing. A man, a sunset, and a horse. That's on my first cover.Second cover is good, but didn't quite meet my requirements.
So, good luck with your endeavor. I'll be watching! Celia

Linda Acaster said...

I'm back! Sorry for being silent but I've been reading at the launch of a local poetry festival (and glad handing & telling everyone I'm a novelist).

Bekki: it's the time to give to learning software I won't use that often, isn't it - and I forget so easily (doh!)but yes, you are right, I need to knuckle down.

Linda: hey, my son has a fine art degree!! He did my Torc of Moonlight cover on a digital tablet, but insists I get my act together so I am competent when he leaves home (he's going?? Let me find the bunting...)

Celia: I shall look at your cover. Man, horse, sunset... sounds good.

Thanks to everyone who got back with comments.

Savanna Kougar said...

Linda, there are some excellent cover artists that are not that expensive. Unless you want to learn how to do cover art... yeah, I'd love to, but truly I don't have the time, right now... I suggest you check them out.

Personally, your Torc cover is fabulous!

As far as your medieval lovers... the woman appeals to me personally and your concept, as well. However, Mr. Chain Mail isn't going to do it for most readers, I fear.

Check out ~ Amanda Kelsey ~ ~ She is outstanding, I think as a cover artist and relatively new. I worked with her for cover of my next release, Branded by the Texans.
What I like about Amanda is that she designs for lots of different genres and heat levels.

Kelley said...

It seems women do want to see a hot man on the cover, but you have to consider the genre and whether it's an erotic romance. Most of my covers have women on them because decent men couldn't be found to fit the time periods. I wish I had the talent to do my own covers, but I have worked with an artist that seems to get what I want.

I really like your Torc of Moonlight cover for some reason. I don't think people have to be on a cover, especially if you don't write hot erotic romance or erotica. I do think your cover with the warrior in chain mail (while maybe not appealing to some women) fits your time period (from what I read in your excerpt). I would rather a historicall accurate cover than put some hottie on there that looks like a refugee from an 80's hair band.