Cover design and it’s importance – Guest post by author C.R. May

Today i bring to you a guest post from author C.R. May. Cliff will talk about covers and their importance . You may remember recently i posted a review of one of his books Fire & Steel. Covers are so important to me and play a big part in deciding what books i buy. Cliff i must say has some awesome covers which definitely catch the eye and draw a reader in.

I hope you find his take on covers as interesting as i have.

Without further ado..take it away Cliff.


 

This is a tale (cautionary if you are a new or aspiring author) about the very first thing which draws us to a book which is, of course, the cover.

As a first-time author I looked forward to the cover design part of the writing process; it must be easier than writing a novel, right? If only that were true. The simple fact is that if you are an independently published author the whole shebang, research, planning, writing, re-writing, editing, cover design, promotion etc, is entirely in your hands. Of course there are a myriad number of professionals out there willing to help you out for a fee, but it is a truism of writing today that the cottage industry of editors, proofreaders, and cover designers which has grown to satisfy this demand often make far more money from the business than the people who write the books themselves. A professionally produced cover can easily cost four figures. What if, like the vast majority of self published books, your surefire bestseller actually sank like a stone? Amazon alone publish thousands of new titles each and every day and even at a very reasonable £1.99 a go, the author actually receives not much more than £1 per download. For a physical copy the profit margins can be even worse. The production costs for a print-on-demand publisher like Amazon’s Createspace will produce an average sized paperback containing around 100,000 words for about £8. If the author adds just £1 to that for their own profit he or she will still be priced out of the market by the big boys. I once saw Tesco selling Ben Kane’s latest hardback bundled with his previous volume for £6. Paperbacks in the big supermarkets are typically £3, or two for £5.

So it can be tough out there, your cover has to grab a potential reader’s attention straight away. Let’s see how my own cover developed over time using my very first book, Sorrow Hill, as an example. The story starts off with young Beowulf poaching two eagle chicks from the nest so, after spending days groaning over jokey or just plain ridiculous ‘Viking’ pictures on photo sites such as Shutterstock, Getty Images etc I gave up with that angle. Anglo-Saxon was even worse, pictures of Big Ben, red post boxes or Union Jack knickers seemed to be about all that they had to represent one of the most advanced cultures in early medieval Europe. Beowulf? Angelina Jolie of course. So back to the eagles it had to be. This is my first design from back in 2013.

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A nice image, monochrome to be ‘different’ – (before I discovered that most readers don’t do ‘different’). If they are interested in Roman literature they expect to see a Centurion or legionary standard on the cover; Dark Ages, longship/swordsman.  Even before book two had appeared I decided that if I wanted affordable originality, I would have to make my own.

I have a statue of Odin/Woden which is a copy of an original in the Swedish National Museum Stockholm. By placing this onto a picture of a pattern-wielded sword (and supporting the head on a ball of blu-tack!) I developed a common look to the series which also reflected the series title, Sword of Woden. Delving into the various fonts and script types which you can find on most computers gave me this…

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Although this image looked far better, and certainly easier to develop into a series, at a smaller scale it quickly became apparent that it was not much more than a red and yellow blob and far too dark when viewed on an e-reader or mobile phone screen so… A bit more proficient by now, I stripped off the script and increased the shading before adding gold and white lettering. The darker lower third helped with the clarity of the title, and thus was born Sorrow Hill – mark 3:

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Not convinced? No, neither was I, so back to the eagle it went, this time using an image which I had taken at Battery Park in New York City with my trusty Canon IXUS.

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It’s a nice cover, and it might have remained that way if the book had not done too well. Fortunately not only did it seem that I could spin a good yarn after all, but others seemed to agree. As word spread and the Sword of Woden series was followed by the equally well received Brennus, Conqueror of Rome series of books, it became obvious that my homemade covers were just not up to scratch. With an established readership and more confident now in my ability to sell books on a consistent basis, this year I finally took the leap of faith and began to commission professional covers…

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The Sword of Woden trilogy, being the early life story of the legendary figure Beowulf, necessarily contained a few supernatural elements. One of the minor characters who appeared in books one and three, the Angle, Eofer, is now the subject of my latest series, King’s Bane, which tells the story of the Anglian migration from present day Jutland to the lands which would in time become England. By using the same cover designer for both series of books and writing a novella, Dayraven, to link the two storylines, I have left the myth and legend element of the Beowulf tale behind and grounded the events more firmly within the  history of early sixth Century Europe. Utilising the same designer for the Sword of Woden and King’s Bane series’ means that I can finally obtain the homogenous look which I have strived for over the past few years, while injecting a greater degree of action into the cover images. Here is the cover for the first book of the King’s Bane series, Fire & Steel to illustrate the point.

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I think that we all agree that it is an unfortunate part of book buying that a book really is judged initially by its cover. However good an author’s work, he or she has not much more than a second for their thumbnail sized image to spark an interest in the potential reader from among dozens of others. Even though the book has been available and selling steadily for three years now, the new cover for Sorrow Hill has led to a spike in sales and increased traffic to my website. Every one of the various stages which a novel undergoes from the initial idea in the author’s mind to completed book is important, but the cover art really is vital to its success.

Similarly, the addition of good quality maps can really help to lift your book above the competition, especially in these days of ‘look inside’ features on e-book websites. My first books had no maps at all, and several readers were good enough to contact me via the link on my website to suggest that they would really help to understand the storyline. As my books are all set in the ancient past, most of the names used are either in their archaic form, Hroar’s Kilde for present day Roskilde for example, or even based on educated guesswork as in Sleyswic for present day Schleswig.

My first maps were similar efforts to the cover designs which I made at the same time, best described as helpful rather than artwork. This is an example of my first maps, in this case the map which accompanied the concluding volume of my Brennus series, Nemesis.

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As you can see the information is all there and it’s not the worst map that I have ever seen in a book, but it’s obviously homemade and has no ‘wow’ factor. Here is the new map which replaced it:

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All of my books now contain maps of this quality, hand drawn by the same artist Simon Walpole who will also draw the maps in my future books. This will help lend a feeling of continuity and familiarity, reenforcing the effect of the similar cover designs.

Covers and, thanks to the ability to look inside or even download samples of ebooks in moments, maps, really do give a book the best chance of success and are an essential investment for any novelist.

To connect with Cliff head to the author’s website or Twitter. You may also like to view his author page on Goodreads, Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

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4 thoughts on “Cover design and it’s importance – Guest post by author C.R. May

  1. Cliff May

    Hello Gordon, thanks for the compliment, I liked your description of the first draft being only the roughly-hewn block, dragged down from the quarry, on your own piece. Sorry for the delay in answering your question, I have been on the road. I saw Simon’s maps in your own books, they really do add something as I am sure you will agree.
    For my updated Sword of Woden books and the new King’s Bane series I am using the services of Olly at MoreVisual as I believe you do yourself. The Brennus pair I made myself using images from Shutterstock and the Raven image for Dayraven my daughter painted in school!
    I like to have a variety and, as I hinted in my own piece, I really enjoy having control over as many of the parts which go together to produce the finished article as possible, although I am a bit more aware of my own limitations.
    Cliff.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Gordon Doherty

      Ah – I had a suspicion it was a cover from MoreVisual (I recognised the style!).
      TBH I still really enjoy playing around with Paint Shop Pro etc to make covers/imagery myself, but I can’t craft anything remotely as god as Olly & co!

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply

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