Rick Blechta's got you covered!
As a bit of a departure, and carrying forward the blog comments from last week about covers, I've sent mystery author Rick Blechta some questions -- not about writing mysteries but rather, about 'covering' them. Rick's 'other life' is as a designer and since he has a lot to say on the topic, the Q&A is split over two blogs.
1. How important are book covers?
To my mind, box covers are the way prospective readers first see your book. They need to catch a shopper’s eye, especially if you’re not a top-tier author. From my viewpoint as a designer, I like to also think of book covers as posters. One very experienced designer talks about “ten-foot covers”, meaning that she felt people should be able to discern something that intrigues them about a book from ten feet away. Accomplishing that can be a tough thing and it often takes everything in a designer’s bag of tricks.
For something as seemingly simple as a cover with its three components (title, author name and image), you have to consider so many small things and know how to juggle them successfully to get the correct balance. Then you have to worry about things like contrast between the colours used, placement of the components on the cover, treatment of the image so that it doesn’t overbalance or underbalance with the two other components, followed by making everything pleasing to look at (even if the viewer doesn’t know why it’s pleasing). A cover designer has a full dance card.
But it all boils down to this: the cover can make a huge difference in getting a person to pick up that book. Accomplish that and you’re halfway home.
Then there’s the cover’s sell copy: either the inside flap for hardcovers, or the back cover for trade and mass market paperbacks to seal the deal.
And that actually brings up another sore point with me: why do people at publishing houses (usually the editor or marketing director) naturally seem to think that they are equipped to write advertising copy? Being able to express oneself with the written word and writing effective sell copy are two completely different things. When corporations are trying to market their wares, they pay a huge amounts of money to ad people to come up with copy that will effectively sell their products, because they know how critical it is to the success of their ultimate goal: selling things. And yet nearly every publisher I’ve ever heard of composes their sell copy almost as an afterthought and it’s never written by a professional copy writer. Why is that? Have they ever investigated how successful ad campaigns for other products have been assembled? Thousands of dollars of production money can go straight down the toilet if the sell copy on a book cover is ineffective.
It’s really sad to see people pick up a particular book over and over and then put it down because the sell copy is so poor. I’ve watched it happen when doing book cover research.
Bottom line: a great cover can get a reader to pick up a book, but then the sell copy has to seal the deal. If these two things aren’t put together very carefully by people who really know their business, then a publisher is blowing one of their best chances to sell their wares – particularly if the author isn’t a household name.
2. What do you say to those who think, especially with the advent of e-books, that they’re not important?
To those who think a cover isn’t important to e-books, let me ask them this: how else is the book going to be presented to potential buyers? Can’t you see the space where the cover is normally displayed on Amazon, for instance, with a couple of lines of type giving the title and author. Boy, that would be really effective to get the person browsing to investigate further. As long as there are books, covers will be important whether you’re holding a bound sheaf of papers in your hands or an ebook reader. Let me also ask you this: if covers weren’t necessary anymore, do you think publishers would bother paying for them? Why do you think they came up with book covers in the first place?
Thanks, Rick! That's a lot to think about. Part two will appear tomorrow on Mystery Maven Canada.
Besides his career as a writer of crime fiction, Rick Blechta has been a graphic designer since 1998 who now owns a successful design studio, Castlefield Media. Over the years, during which he was mentored by well-known designers and artists, Kal Honey and Kim Lee Kho, he made himself an avid student of this arcane art. His design output has included commissions for a number of book covers.
As a writer, his short novel, Orchestrated Murder, was recently published by Orca Book Publishing, and fall of 2012 will see the release of his full-length novel, The Fallen One, by Dundurn Press.