There are several tasks that you must tackle before you can self-publish your book. One of these things is creating your BOOK COVER. This part can get expensive if you need to pay CreateSpace or some other cover-creating service to do this for you. I don’t usually trust anonymous strangers or web applications to oversee design elements like that for me, so I decided to commandeer the creation of the book cover myself.
I have a neighbor here in Venice Beach named Randall, who’s a very cool guy and an extremely talented painter. Randall moved in around the time our baby was born. He likes to restore the local wall murals that have been defaced by graffiti, which I think is awesome. Randall’s pad, in an old Venice house, is far too small for his easel, so he sets up his big canvas out on our corner, and that is where he paints. Randall is very tall and thin, so this dude hanging out on the corner with an 8-foot canvas, painting away, could only go unnoticed by me for so long. We chatted every time I walked past, and he’d always say hi to the baby. Randall invited me and the baby to his first art show here in the neighborhood, and his work was very impressive. Now Randall and I are pals, and I move his car for him on street cleaning days when he’s out of town with his other art shows and endeavors.
I told Randall a little about the story of my book, and gave him a very bad stick drawing of what I was imagining for the cover. A week later, Randall had created something incredible for the cover of my book. I handed him some cash and excitedly went to digitize the artwork for my cover. I’m not very good at Photoshop, so I soon was right back at Randall’s place and he digitized the art for me.
And we’re off!
Now, I need to find someone to take the artwork and design the cover. This person will also hopefully handle the technical specifications of the cover. And I think I know just the person. He’s a young fella named Huntley Woods. We’re related but I’m not sure exactly how. He’s my sister’s husband’s sister’s son, so he’s my sister’s nephew and I’m not sure what that makes him to me. But he’s a great guy and when he moved to L.A. a few years ago, I advised him a little on what to do and where to hang out. Now he works at a marketing firm as a junior designer, helping to create movie posters and billboards. I ask Huntley if he’ll design my book cover and he’s thrilled…but he’s swamped with work. This isn’t a huge problem. I give him a few weeks. Fortunately, I’m not shy with this kid since I taught him how to correctly pronounce “Sepulveda” and “La Cienega” and I after a few weeks, I start bugging him.
So Huntley finally gets to designing the cover. I had sent him the text for the back cover and the page count so he’ll know how wide to make the spine. There’s a specific formula for calculating the spine width of your book. People who design book covers know it. I don’t, but that’s just another reason why God made the Internet, so I could look it up.
Eventually, I get the book cover from Huntley. I suddenly seize up. I’m really nervous to even open the file and look at it. 1) Because this is my book cover…THE ACTUAL COVER FOR MY BOOK!!! (Well, hopefully, anyway.) 2) Because if I don’t like it, I’m in a bit of a situation. Because I’ll have to tell Huntley that I’m not using it, or tell him how to change it. I told him in my emails to try anything and be as creative and crazy as he wanted. But now, standing on the threshold of discovering what I’m stuck with…yeesh.
Well, “distant family” is a street that runs both ways. Just like I’m not shy about pestering him to do it, if I don’t like it, I still might have to use it, because the kid is my second-cousin-in-law or something. So, cringing with awkward anticipation, I open the pdf…and jump to the ceiling…
It’s EXCELLENT!!! It’s not at all what I expected, and I love that! Thank god.
(Quick sidebar – If someone is designing your cover for you, make sure they leave room on the back cover for your ISBN and barcode – more on this later…)
Ah, progress! So…when first setting out to get published, I met “Simon” who is a pretty high-ranking executive at a major publishing house. Simon is hilarious and cool as hell. We’ve become very good friends, and we get drunk together whenever we’re in the same city. He has been my secret informant all along as I’ve clawed my way up this mountain. (See the previous posts about that – the tags with “Simon”…)
Within minutes of seeing the cover, I send it to Simon to find out what he thinks. Simon and I haven’t spoken in a month or so, and we’re way overdue to discuss things we hate. Simon call back that night, and he loves the cover! And then we talk about things we hate this week, which for Simon is one bunch of his annoying Hamptons friends. And we discuss things we oddly love this week, which for me is the TV show Enlightened, which is brilliant if you give it time to get under your skin, and which all of you should watch.
Simon has some suggestions regarding the cover. He says they’re based entirely on his own strange “cover issues,” but he’s a pro and he knows what he’s talking about. Simon thinks my bright cover should be more somber, because he likes depressing colors. “But that’s just me,” he says, “You know me…” And Simon does like depressing colors. It seems that almost the entire, self-serious, publishing industry does. I think that’s because it makes the book seem smarter and more serious…and hence, more important. I talk to Randall the painter and Huntley, along with my wife. They all like Huntley’s mega-fiery cover. I sleep on it, and then decide that Simon is right, but only partly so.
Huntley and I come up with a compromise, incorporating more somber, gloomy colors toward the center and keeping a fiery sunset behind the title. Huntley spends a week playing with it and then shows it to me. I love it. Everybody, even Simon, loves this new cover.
Now that my cover is done, and it’s damn good…Here’s how I think you should approach creating a cover for your book. I recommend taking control of this process yourself. As always, the best approach is to ask around and keep asking until you find people who know how to do each separate task that you need done. If you’re persistent, you can probably find someone who knows every skill that is required along the way. This way, you’ll keep control of the look, receive lots of input along the way, and keep costs to a minimum. It is entirely possible to accomplish all of this yourself, if you keep at it.
And now, with the cover finished, we’re moving even further forward! YEE-HA!!!