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A Tale of Two Book Covers

9 August 2011

Both online and in stores, covers are key elements in marketing and selling books. One of the frequent criticisms of self-pubbed ebooks is poor-quality covers. Some experts advise going with a publisher and to get much better quality.

Fantasy romance novelist Grace Draven has gone both ways and here is her first cover:


This cover is from her publisher and the fuzziness in this clip-art paste-up by somebody who just learned Photoshop is obvious in the original – click here to go to Amazon, then move your mouse to the cover to bring up Look Inside and choose the front cover view. You’ll note how the sophisticated professionals at the publisher got the cover proportions all wrong on Amazon as well.

Here is Grace’s reaction to her first cover: “Fuzzy, pixelated picture with day-glo blue outline on a font design that looked like I was advertising for Dippin Dots Ice Cream.”

And here is Grace’s second cover:



Passive Guy doesn’t think of Dippin Dots when he looks at the second cover.

After Grace’s rights to Master of Crows reverted to her last month, here’s what she did for her second cover: “I’d previously commissioned and licensed alternative artwork for this book from an artist I discovered on Deviant Art. I now had the chance to use it as the cover for the re-release of the book.”

PG hasn’t dealt with Deviant Art, but Grace likes them a lot.

Grace’s new version of her book is currently available on Smashwords and should be up on Amazon shortly. You’ll note a significant difference in price between her new Smashwords version and her publisher’s old Amazon version.

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Self-Publishing

19 Comments to “A Tale of Two Book Covers”

  1. brendan stallard

    Hah, bloke has all his kit on. Up on a hill, wind is howling, freezing cold, deadly birds dropping stuff……and the lass has her shirt off!


  2. Much, much better. The font is much improved as well.

  3. Deviantart is an online gallery where anyone can upload their stuff. You can find anyone from highschool kids uploading class doodles to professional illustrators (and sculptors and metalsmiths and writers and lots more).

    You can look for someone whose style you like and maybe find out if they are open for commissions, but that’d be between the author and the artist, Deviantart is not involved. (Just saying because the “dealt with Deviantart” sounded like you thought they were some kind of agency or something.)

  4. The second cover is definitely better. And I think it is better because the author took an active interest on how her book cover should look like. With publishers, they assign the task to an employee, who probably works cheaply, never read the book, was guided by someone who never read the book, and this is what you get. I once saw a horror book that was proposed with a pink cover. Somehow the author had a say so, the book was delayed for a year until a more appropriate somber cover was designed. Therefore, authors should take the matter in their own hands and guide the illustrators to design covers that reflect the essence of the stories.

    • DG – I suspect your analysis of what went on behind the scenes with the first cover is correct.

  5. It’s amazing what happens when the writer controls how their work is presented.

  6. Great before/after analysis. And yes, it just underscores the fact that NOBODY is going to care about your cover as much as you will.

    True, some traditional publishers have awesome and amazing marketing and art departments, and an author can ‘get lucky’ with their cover. However, the reverse is completely true (and one could argue, more the norm).

    My first novel did not do all that well, in LARGE part because the publisher put a title and cover on the book that completely missed connecting to the core readership. It’s historical romance, and I invariably have browsers at booksignings come up, pick up the first book, and say “Oh, you write erotic contemporaries?” Um, no. Sigh.

    I can hardly wait for the day the rights revert and I can give that book the cover it has always deserved. 🙂

    For an interesting discussion by Barry Eisler about bad covers given by traditional publishers, check out this post at Dear Author: http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/lets-give-them-something-to-talk-about/

    • Let me also clarify that in the world of genre mass-market traditional publishing, the author gets pretty much ZERO say about their cover, their title, and often has little to no input on the back-cover blurb. Despite, in many cases, trying hard to influence things. So, don’t judge a book by its cover. Really.

    • You’re right about covers being a crapshoot with publishers, Anthea. In almost every post about what’s wrong with publishers, Barry talks about the green garage door on the cover of one of his books.

  7. That’s a shocking comparison.

    I found my cover artist through Deviant Art. He was reasonably priced and extremely creative. I’m very happy with the end result.

  8. While it’s certainly true that the second cover uses much more evocative art and is far more elegant than the first, it’s equally true that these days a cover needs to work well as a thumbnail on a PC screen.

    My guess is the title on the first cover would be readable as a thumbnail and the title on the second cover wouldn’t.

    I don’t envy anyone who wants to design book covers these days — whether they’re salaried employees of a publisher or freelancers working for an author. Creating a cover that will prompt a purchase by a customer shopping in a bookstore *or* shopping from an ereader (especially one with a greyscale E Ink screen) is a tough assignment.

    • Dick – I think you do two covers, one for the physical book and one for the online bookstore.

      • Common sense would tell you that’s the way to go. But during the many years I merchandised books on Barnes & Noble.com I never noticed a cover that a publisher had artfully tweaked to work better as a thumbnail. (Not saying it never happened, just that I myself never saw it.) And my previous experience in publishing suggests few houses if any will pay a penny extra for cover design if it means asking for a separate thumbnail; there were many instances building the bn.com bookstore page where I’d cringe at the unreadability of a thumbnail cover for a high-profile title or author. All of which is a longwinded way of saying I don’t think publishers have yet faced this dilemma and, if and when they do, they’ll likely ask themselves the age-old question “Will it sell any more books?” and, having no comparative sales numbers to draw on for an answer, keep things status quo ante.

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