This hasn’t happened the way I expected.
When I set out on this book-writing adventure, I thought it would be a mostly creative process. I had thought that the job of being a writer was … well, you know … about writing. Plunking words onto the page. Being all arty an’ stuff.
I would sit in my equivalent of an artist’s garret and craft beautiful prose in a dreamy Byronesque-sort of way.
Perhaps with a little less sex than Byron. I am a married man, after all.
No-one told me about this thing called marketing. Writing blurbs. Designing book covers. Price points and giveaways. Goodreads reviews. Amazon reviews. Sow-shull meedja. Websites. Blogs. Forums, fora, forae.
Oh, sure, I knew that these things existed, in the same way that I “know” that Mount Everest exists. But that’s not the same thing as climbing the thing, is it?
About two years ago, I wrote my first book – “Love, Death and Tea”. A snappy and thought-provoking title, I hope you will agree. My long-suffering wife did all the clever computery things to turn it into an ebook.
And then she turned to me and said: “Do you have a cover?”
My cloth ears heard “do you have a lover?” Which would have made for a very different conversation indeed.
Once we had cleared that one up, I went into one of my huddles. I wanted something simple yet striking. Eye-catching. Minimalist. Post modern or maybe even post-post-modern. Avant garde, recherché and with a little bit of va-va-voom.
But what to choose? The book is a comic story about the end of the world. A gentle satire of zombie and fantasy books. A very British apocalypse. How do you put that into a book cover?
My friends, my muse was with me. She can be a seductive and persuasive minx when the mood is on her. She whispered … “you’re a creative sort of bloke. Why not design it yourself?”
That was an image to play right into my artist’s garret and Byronic sex fantasies. How hard could it be? I had an old copy of photoshop in a dusty corner of the hard drive. The internet had hundreds of stories from people who had worked wonders with free software. If they could do it, so could I.
It took several weeks. I tinkered with designs, researched, scribbled, looked at other books, scratched my head, scribbled some more.
An image came to me. My main character spends a large amount of the book pulling a VW campervan. If you are feeling literary, it is a metaphor for suffering, hard work and duty. Or maybe it’s just a way of making a road trip in a world with no electricity.
So my cover would be the equivalent of a road sign, with the main character like the exit sign man pulling a campervan. Because I couldn’t draw a campervan it was abbreviated to a stick figure pulling a mysterious rope. Enigmatic. Puzzling. Memorable.
After a lot of work, this is what I came up with.
If you are one of the lovely souls who bought the book, it’s what will be staring back at you from the library on your Kindle.
To tell the truth, I’ve never been 100% happy with it. It looks amateurish. It’s just the sort of cover that a bloke with no design experience would cobble together whole trying to understand how photoshop works. Because that is exactly what it is.
Two years on and the book has sold a few hundred copies. People seem to like reading it, with four and five star reviews. There is a solitary two star review from someone who thought it was awesome, but we will draw a polite veil over that one. I like to think that her mouse slipped and she really meant four or five stars.
But that cover still stares back at me. And it still looks amateurish. I keep seeing lists of awful book covers and feel a sense of dread that my cover might be one of them.
To celebrate a new book coming out soon, I decided to refresh the cover of “Love, Death and Tea”. Try again with something that looked a little less like crayon on a blackboard.
But how to do it? I went into another of my internet huddles and did some research.
The most expensive option would be to hire a professional designer and spend oodles. And while that was tempting, Mrs Once would need some convincing. And if I did it for Love, Death and Tea I would also need to do it for the other books. That could very easily add up to a four figure sum.
I looked at pre-made covers and was distinctly underwhelmed. Most seemed to feature Poldarky nude male torsos. Nothing there to light my fire, not being of a Poldarky disposition.
I even looked again at designing my own cover. I bought a couple of interesting looking ebooks, which turned out to be moderately cynical short pamplets masquerading as books. I found several videos and written tutorials on line about how to do design a cover in Word, Gimp and/or Photoshop.
In the end, I decided against the DIY option. I didn’t doubt that I could learn how to do the physical stuff of importing pictures and adding text boxes, but it would not make up for my lack of design talent. Others may be able to do it, but a good man knows his limitations.
There is more to writing a good book than knowing how to use Word. And there is more to designing a cover than knowing how to use Photoshop.
The option that seemed to make most sense to me was to use fiverr. The deal here is that you pay a basic fee of $5 to hire someone to make the cover for you.
I looked at the top fifty or so ebook cover designers on fiverr and again found most of them to be underwhelming. I kept coming back to one of the most highly rated and popular companies called pixelstudio. In a “what the hell” moment, I placed an order.
Naturally, it cost more than $5. On top of that I added another $5 for them to find a photograph. Another $5 for them to send me a Photoshop file as well as a JPEG. And a $5 tip because I’m a generous soul. And a $1 processing fee for … oh, I don’t know … somebody processing something. That brought us to a grand total of $21.
And a few days later, this is what they sent me back …
Okay, so it has lost some of the “cleverness” of the stick figure pulling a rope. But that might have been too clever anyway.
I am very happy with it. For me, it looks a lot more professional than anything I could come up with. I will certainly be using pixelstudio again both for my existing books and the three new ones that are coming out in a couple of months.
What’s the catch? I am not sure there is one.
The deal works for Pixelstudio because it will not have taken them very long to produce that cover. They are one of the most experienced companies in the business and will have hundreds of templates to draw on. I have no illusions that they will have spent hours crafting over something unique for me. My guess is that they reached for one of their previous book covers and adapted it with my title and photo. Maybe twenty or thirty minutes of work?
I have no problems with that. I am buying their expertise in a field where I am a total novice.
And while $21 costs more than designing my own cover, it uses up a lot less of my time. The weeks I spent designing my amateurish cover could have been spent doing that creative thing…
… writing more books whilst fantasising about being Lord Byron.
What do you think about my new cover? I would really love to hear your opinions.