By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
Traditional publishing is a funny thing. It’s a hurry up-and-wait type of business. Sometimes (quite frequently, actually), everything moves at glacial speed. But sometimes, things happen before you’re ready. And you never really know what’s going on behind the scenes exactly to cause either one.
I heard from my editor on Friday that she’ll be attending—today, actually— the cover conference for the book that I’m currently writing. This is a book that’s due in January that will publish October 2014. For some reason, everything that’s happened with this book has happened earlier than I was ready for, and it’s made me a bit flustered. This is the same book where the teaser chapter was due at the same time as the outline, but then the outline had requested revisions…you remember.
This is the series where the editor (and I love this editor—she’s very talented and I live in fear that she will be promoted and won’t be my editor any longer), really likes me to be involved with the cover process. Each time I assure her that’s not necessary and I don’t know a darn thing about design—but she’s good to keep at me and encourage me. I’m sure, looking back now, that despite the fact I’ve dragged my feet for every cover—it’s helped me out with the self-pubbed covers that I’m a good deal involved in.
This is a cozy mystery, so there are elements that need to be on the cover for branding both the genre and my series. It will most definitely have a corgi on the front of it, and I’m sure I would hear from the readers if it didn’t. It will have a very peaceful, picturesque scene with an element of danger in it—an overturned glass of red wine, a knife to the side, a broken chair. And, because the series hook involves quilting, there will be quilts.
The title was the first thing the editor asked me about. She and the copy editors had ideas for titles and she asked for my feedback on them. This is another area where I appreciate their contacting me, but I know they usually have their own ideas for titles and marketing plays a role. I do come up with ideas for titles…they tend to not use them. :) But they’re very polite about considering them.
Branding the covers in a series also involves the way the title appears on the cover—font, appearance. It can even go to the level of whether it’s an outdoor scene or an indoor scene.
My editor was going to attend the conference with information off my old outline and I hadn’t updated her with a new outline (oops) that reflected the changes we’d agreed on earlier. So…I agreed to the changes she suggested, but didn’t correct the outline and send it to her—instead, I scribbled the changes on my hard copy of the outline. That was clearly not helpful. Now I’m in a time crunch and don’t actually want to stop to edit the outline and send it her way, especially since I’m halfway through writing the book.
So she asked for the unedited copy that I’ve written so far so that she could skim it for more ideas for setting the cover using scenes from the book. This is the third time this has happened with different series and now I hardly even blink an eye. Earlier, it would freak me completely out to send what essentially was a disaster over to my editor. This time I attached the file with the warning that although the teaser chapter one was in perfect shape but the second and third chapters would be extensively rewritten…since there were two more characters to add to them, and the other chapters should be fairly static in terms of major changes. The text didn’t even have chapter breaks included and had notes to myself included throughout. At this point, though, it’s more of a trust issue—I know that she knows that I’m not going to turn in something like that in January. So it’s easier to send it.
I also sent along, at her request, pictures of quilts that were similar to ones that I was writing into the story.
Honestly, I’ve never had a problem with a cover that either Penguin or Midnight Ink has done—they tend to do beautiful covers. I’ve heard horror stories from other traditionally published writers about covers they’ve had and how they feel the covers affected the sales of their books. I’m sure if I’d gone through a horrible experience, I would be a lot more involved in the process, except…well, I don’t know what I’m doing. I only know what I like and don’t like.
For both my other Penguin series and the Midnight Ink book, the covers were done and it was more of a fait accompli and I was asked afterward if I had any changes or if I approved of them. So I didn't have the input on those covers…and I will say that I think this is a lot more the case with most of the big publishers…my experience with my editor and this series is more the exception than the rule.
For my own self-pubbed books, I’ve taken a page from my publisher’s book and branded the series as well as I could, especially for using a couple of different cover designers …most recently Scarlett Rugers. I have the sweet scene and the element of danger. And no images of people on the cover—there’s never been a person on any of my covers so I won’t start now. Well, there’s been a dead person’s hand. That’s as close to human as has been on a cover. I try primarily to make sure that the color scheme used and the setting tell readers that there’s a new book in my series…and that it’s the same series.
The difference with the self-pub is that I think my designers have a sense of relief that I’m not trying to backseat drive with the covers—I’ll throw in what I’m looking for and pick my favorite design…maybe ask for small changes. But that’s the thing—I’m no designer and I have no time to try to become one. I’d rather be writing more books.
But I do want it to look good in thumbnails. I do want the thumbnail-sized image to clearly belong to the rest of the series. And I want both my name and my series name to be obvious on the cover—I need readers to find my books.
This is how I start the cover process for the self-pubbed books:
I ask if they’re backed up. This is important—if they are significantly backed-up, I’ll need to use someone else.
I give them the sales copy/back cover copy that I’ve written for the book.
I give them a paragraph of ideas for setting the cover. For the book that came out in August, I emailed: “The cover scene could be set in a backyard. We could consider using a croquet set or croquet mallet as the murder weapon/dangerous object to indicate it's a mystery. Since the murder occurs during a party, we could show a cocktail or wine glass spilled over on the patio furniture, or a broken high heel...something like that.”
I attach pictures of the other books in the series, if the designer hasn’t worked with me before.
I tell them what precisely I need in terms of format. These days, I say: “I'm interested in an ebook cover (the book will run on Nook, Kindle, iTunes, Smashwords), a print cover (spine and back cover for CreateSpace), and an audiobook cover for ACX.”
I give the ISBNs and the price to be printed on the cover of the CreateSpace project.
That’s pretty much it. Then I field any questions from the designer.
(I do maintain a free database of cover designers and other self-publishing professionals here if you’re looking for a place to start.)
If you’re published, how involved were you in the process? Does you genre have a standard “feel” for its covers? If you’re not yet published, how interested are you in being part of the cover design?