Kay: Revising Made Easy (Thanks, Cover Design!)

What do you think? Too much type? Script too hard to read? Would you check it out?

This cover seems to have all the elements, but it looks pretty amateurish. Would you pick it up?

This week I temporarily set aside the revisions on my WIP to focus on another aspect of my “self-publishing journey”— creating covers for the three completed novellas languishing on my hard drive. In other, more accurate, words, my life force has been sucked out of me by the heinous graphics software program InDesign because I’m too cheap to hire a cover designer.

My word, how I hate that program, which is entirely because I’m so ignorant about it. I had to use it at my last day job seven years ago, and then only in a very limited capacity. Seven years and who knows how many updates later, InDesign might as well be string theory, genome analysis, and astronomical map projections rolled into one. It is very complicated.

I decided to tackle it again because the revisions on my WIP have slowed to a crawl. I’ve looked at that manuscript so many times now that I’m not sure what I’m seeing. The last time I suggested to my critique partners that I cut a section because it was boring, they freaked, saying it was that scene that made the chapter. Really? Clearly I’ve lost perspective. Clearly I need to give the book a rest.

While I take a break from revising the WIP, there’s a lot of things I could do for my writing career: start a newsletter, post to FaceBook, figure out an ad campaign. But they say that the best marketing tool is a new book, and I have three novellas just sitting here. But my problem was, I didn’t want to spend $300 each for three little books that will never earn back the expense. At 99 cents per copy, of which my royalty is 35 percent, I’d have to sell almost 1,000 books of each novella just to break even.

Not gonna happen.

Enter InDesign. I’m not a book designer, much less a graphic artist, but I’ve worked on thousands of magazine covers, I used to be a typesetter, and I feel relatively confident about my ability to know what’s working.

Overconfident much? I downloaded the free trial version, which is good for a week. Then you either have to pay or they shut it down. InDesign is cheaper now that you can buy a monthly subscription, but $20 a month is still $20 a month. Free is better. And I didn’t want to get stuck in a credit card loop where they keep charging you because you forget to cancel or can’t figure out how to cancel.

So I’ve been hustling. The color bars nearly stumped me, and the outline feature did stump me, but two days later, I have two simple covers done. For one cover, I already had the cover image and it just needed placement and type treatment. The other cover I started from scratch (the image cost $4.09). One cover to go. If I decide to keep going, which right now is up in the air.

Two full days of this, for only two simple covers. Work a graphic artist could do probably in an hour. Still, it’s the satisfaction of the thing, right? And on the upside, I am so ready to get back to the WIP. So ready. (For a related discussion, check out the blog post by Kim Bullock, “Motivation: Make Writing Dessert Again.”)

How many of you are planning to self-publish (or already have)? And how much of the self do you plan to put into that journey?

19 thoughts on “Kay: Revising Made Easy (Thanks, Cover Design!)

  1. I use inDesign regularly. I love the watercolor looking graphic on the Christmas one. I would probably put Caterwaul Creek on one line together and get them to match up in length, pretty close under Christmas & I would probably put your name up with it. I would put the extra tag line at the bottom under the car. Once I saw the title I realized the “bumps” all over the car were Christmas lights, but having a color/some color on the cover might pop that out more than the white – you might want to experiment. From the tagline on that one – the only thing funner would be part of a Christmas tree or ornaments sticking out from the front end of the car or a couple of distressed ornament balls on the front grill or bumper like it ran them over… which would be tricker because of the type of graphic (the tree bits, more than an ornament.

    The “Gregory” cover isn’t horrible – it’s simple, I’ve seen those… but in this case it absolutely gives no idea what your book/genre is about. If I just saw the cover I would think, self-help/business type book.

    I know I’d be taking this route too – to try to make my own covers. And no – I don’t consider myself a professional graphics person – even though technically I am because I get paid to do that as part of my job. (I do brochures, ads, webby stuff.) Also, for the last 6 mo that I’ve not been writing, I’ve been arting. I’ve been experimenting like crazy with watercolors this month, because it’s World Watercolor Month. So, if you let us know more about the story & idea you have. Maybe we can experiment and give you more ideas and options.

    • As some of the ladies here begin their self-pub journeys, I’ve become more interested and open to self-publishing. I know next to nothing about it and to be honest until recently still thought of it as “vanity” publishing. I’m getting on board now, though.

      As to your book covers: I love, love, love the “Christmas in Caterwaul Creek” cover (with modifications per PennyH). It makes me think of a fun, fast romantic romp. It’s eye-catching and hints at the story to come (which would interest me). I’d definitely pick it up and give it a look.

      Reading Gregory cover–meh, not so much. It’s the readers first look and frankly, it doesn’t tell me much about the story and it’s sort of vanilla (i.e. boring–so sorry). I’d sex that one up (a lot).

      • Hi Kat! One of the things that’s interesting about your comments is that—well, I love all my children, but let’s face it, some of these stories are better than others—the Christmas story is a better book. It also is not really a romance, just a hint at the end that maybe a romance could develop, but it is a fast romp with a lot of adventure and action and definitely no mistletoe and hugging couples, as Jilly feared. It’s just meant to be a fun read with a different angle on the holiday theme. I had a lot of fun writing it. I enjoyed writing the Gregory story, too, but I wrote it during a somber time when I was having a lot of difficulty, and while it isn’t dark, it definitely brings up difficult issues. I wanted the cover to reflect that (a “serious” guy, as I mentioned to Penny), and I guess it does. But “meh” is not my ideal for a cover, either. Maybe in time when I’m in the mood to spend some money on it, I’ll get a pro to take another stab at it.

        And let me say about self-publishing—I’d never do it if I had the opportunity to accept a traditional contract. I have NO interest in getting covers made or planning marketing strategy, or doing any of that crap. What I enjoy about writing is a) the writing, and b) the talking about the writing. Everything else is meh for me. The problem is, I’ll never get a traditional contract, so if I want my books to get out there, I have to do it myself. I don’t need to get rich, or even low-income, with self-publishing, but I enjoy seeing my name out there, and I enjoy getting the occasional positive review. So I’m stuck with self-publishing.

    • Hi, Penny! Thanks SO MUCH for your feedback. And let me say first, congratulations on World Watercolor Month, and your participation in it! The world needs more art. I love watercolors. You go!

      One thing that’s interesting to me from your comments is how the Gregory cover looks like a business cover to you. Damn! I didn’t see that when I bought the image, but you’re so right. The story is partially epistolary, in which a bookseller develops a relationship through email with a customer who has an interest in happiness and who wants her to choose books for him. It’s not a romance story in the sense of HFN or HEA, but they meet in person in the final paragraphs and she accepts a dinner invitation, so…you can imagine that happiness will ensure. 🙂 (Therefore, I didn’t need—and shouldn’t have—a cute couple on the cover.)

      I had had a professional cover designer do a cover for Gregory a year ago for a giveaway I participated in. You would know the designer’s name if I said it; she’s very well known and has done fabulous covers for everyone, including one for me for one of my full-length novels. But the cover she did for Gregory really sucked. I was in a time bind and I’d already used up the changes I’d paid for, so I let it go. But it didn’t work at all. The image was of a young woman in a short skirt and high heels (not at all my bookseller of the story), standing among piles of books (okay) with the legs of a guy next to her, looking for all the world like he was going to mug her (really bad). The colors were bad, the type was clunky—I just hated it.

      So I figured I couldn’t do worse if I did the cover myself. Because of my limited skill set with InDesign, I can’t use an image that has a busy background, because I can’t either tone it down or cut it out (combining two images with a fade is WAY beyond me), so I need pretty much a blank canvas there so I can stick in the type and have it be legible. No suitable pictures of women with books presented themselves. I had this guy that I used and another guy, very cute, in a full-length pose and dressed very casually. Maybe I should have gone with him. He clearly would not have been a business guy. I went with the suit because I was thinking the character was “serious.” Now that I’m seeing it through your eyes, though, right—he looks like a business guy.

      Your comments about Caterwaul Creek are spot-on, too. I first tried those two words on one line, but I thought the type got too small and hard to read when it was thumbnailed. A graphic artist would have had more skills in improving that. But how fabulous it would be to have extra elements, like a wreath on the bumper or some Christmas ornaments or a tree, like you suggest! Even a color background. I would LOVE that. If I ever go with a professional designer for that book, I’ll ask for that. My InDesign skills don’t let me get that creative (and I’m not sure my creativity would have extended that far, either). But just reading your comments reinforces for me the limitations us non-artists have when we’ve decided to cheap out on book covers.

  2. PS – It would take me more than an hour, because I would be trying different font types, colors, placement, and other options…. Just like you probably did. 😀

  3. If you decide not to invest the $20 per month, you could always try Canva. I believe that’s free, and it’s *supposed* to be easy, though I’m guessing that one woman’s easy would be another woman’s impossible. I’m planning to indie publish next year, but for sure I will not be attempting my own covers. I’ve given some thought to the kind of look I’d like, and the brief I’d give to a cover designer, and honestly I’m still struggling with it. I think typography is the single most important choice though, especially as the cover needs to pop as a thumbnail, so as a former typesetter you’re ahead of the game there.

    Re. your draft covers–what Penny and Kat said. I love the Caterwaul Creek one–the title is very fun, and the Christmassy car seems to go well with the title and type. I’d pick that up, even though in general I don’t like Christmas novellas (yay, no snow, mistletoe, or legs-and-boots shots of couples hugging). The Gregory one doesn’t make a story promise, and as Penny said, it looks like non-fiction.

    • PS Next time I’m stuck and feeling lacklustre, I’m going to try playing with Canva. I bet it doesn’t take me two days to find renewed enthusiasm for the WIP.

      Good luck with the edits 😉

      • Yeah, basically I feel that it’s two days I’ll never get back, although I do have two books up and that’s something. But now—I feel that I should do something to market them, and I DON’T WANT TO. That would just double the time I wasted building covers. I tell you, the hassle never stops. 🙂

    • The problem with InDesign is that I could invest $20 a month from now to forever, and I’d never get better at using the program because I don’t write fast enough to turn out enough books for which I’d want to create covers that would keep me familiar with the software. So that’s just out. If Canva is free, though, and I write more novellas, I’ll definitely look into that. And in any event, I do plan to go with professionals for my full-length novels. I’m not looking forward to the process, though. My experience with the pro for Gregory put a real damper on my enthusiasm, because I think, as insufficient as my own effort is, it’s not worse than what the pro did for me. I mean, you can see that her cover is more professional. It’s just not better.

      Now that I’m thinking about Gregory and the story promise—I almost used pink color bars to give the book a softer feel, and then I decided against. I wonder if that would have worked better in terms of conveying a “fiction” look? And something else—maybe I should have changed the title. I liked the double meaning of it at the time—the bookseller has to figure out what the customer wants with no guidance from him (so she “reads” him), but also he reads a lot of books. But maybe something else would have worked better for the story promise. You know—“Gregory Finds Happiness—and a Girlfriend—in Books,” or something like that. I can see the best-seller lists coming my way!

  4. (-: And here I come, with my own contrary opinions. I really like the illustration on the Caterwaul Creek one, but there’s something I hate about the Cs. They are so round and curvy, and I hate the way they are all in a straight line, I think. I think I would like them staggered. But I’m no designer, so I’m just thinking. But, if you have 10 minutes, please print out the cover (maybe in two sizes — if you stagger the Cs, you may need smaller words — 25 percent smaller?), cut it up into elements with your scissors, and move it all around for about five minutes. I think you can get something with a little more dynamic flow.

    OTOH, I love Reading Gregory. Great title, and I’m a sucker for a guy in a suit, and a guy who reads. The tag line really makes this. I wonder what would happen if you put some hearts on the book sides — something that looks like magic marker. Or if you put the tag line in a heart-shaped sticker? I’m afraid that’d tip things over into Cornyville.

    The economics of the thing suck.

    Really interesting post, though! It opens up my eyes to a lot of possibilities.

  5. After I finished that Christmas cover and uploaded it, I wondered if I should have centered those lines. That would have disrupted that solid row of C’s you don’t like and would have filled the negative space on the right. I like negative space, but there might be a limit. That might have been a better decision. If the trial version still works tomorrow and I have time, I’ll give that a shot. I think the idea of putting the tag line in a pink heart-shaped “box” is a good one, and I’ll try that, too (but tomorrow is a busy day already). The thing with cute ideas is that my skills are really poor. I can’t emphasize this enough. I’m limited to dropping in an image and placing type.

    • There are so many things going right in these covers. It’s easy to point out the niggles, and it’s a lot of fun to brainstorm someone else’s project, LOL. Thanks for letting us play along.

    • LOL, I think that looks pretty good, too. There were too many rays flying off that glow around the sword, and you can’t read the title in a thumbnail, but otherwise, looking pretty damn fantastic! LOL.

      The blogger really does a great job. I’d love to read a tutorial about how she made that amulet actually work in the art, instead of standing out like a cheesy piece of costume jewelry. I think it’s something to do with the colors, but I don’t know. She probably did it intuitively. So cool! Wish I could put elements together like that.

  6. Pingback: Kay: Rethinking a Cover – Eight Ladies Writing

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