Category Archives: book covers

Self-publishing, a publicist’s perspective

I often get calls enquiring about my publicity services from self-published authors.

Usually, these calls come too late. The author has gone down the self-publishing route, produced a book, tried to market it, and has reached the point where they are despairing what to do about the hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of copies sitting unsold in the garage. These calls break my heart, not just because they represent broken dreams (and probably bank balances), but often there is a great book inside the whole project simply dying to get out. And it’s simply too late.

Yes, it seems a good idea at that point to make the call for some outside help, and I have successfully worked with self-published authors and will continue to do so but the whole offer must be right. The book must be properly edited. The cover and production quality must be up to a standard where book retailers would be prepared to stock it. The price must be reasonably competitive. Yes, as a self-publisher the economics of bookselling mean you’re unlikely to be able to produce a B format paperback with a recommended retail price of £6.99. So, be clever and choose instead trade paperback at £9.99.

Book marketing starts a long time before a book is finished, and unless you are planning a very specialist non-fiction book, or a title you intend to literally hand-sell every copy yourself, decisions like title, cover, distribution, recommended retail price should only be taken after you’ve done your market research.

So while I have kick-started success for self-published titles post-production, I’m much more likely to be able to help you if you call me before all systems are go.

I had a call from a self-published author about a B format paperback, printed on exceptionally heavy paper, with a retail price of £15.99. Worse than that, the novel was actually funny and the author could write. But the cover was completely, utterly wrong.

Another self-published book I was sent to take a look at had a lovely, attention grabbing cover and good enough production quality. The subject-matter was unusual and also the author’s own background. I was concerned about the title, but was quite excited nonetheless that it was a book I could do something with. Until I opened it. It had not been edited, let alone copy-edited. Howling spelling and spacing errors jumped off the page. I couldn’t read it, and the author could not at that stage afford to correct the problem.

The bottom line is this: self-publishing is expensive, risky and unlikely to make you much (if any) money anyway. If you are thinking about it, put your vanity/author ego to one side, do your research and write yourself a business plan, just as you would were it any other business venture. If you’re unsure about about any part of it, get advice. I’m always happy to look at self-publishing proposals and business plans and one the services I can do for you in advance is provide you a tailored book marketing plan with my realistic suggestions, based on experience, of how you might best market and publicise your book.

There is an excellent article on self-publishing from Simon Haynes, author of Hal Spacejock. (Thank you to Grumpy Old Bookman for the heads up).



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Book cover 5

Now here’s a mystery cover that grabs you by the throat. The feel is up-to-date and sparse. I expect it would be nearly impossible for a mystery buyer seeing this on a table in a book store not to be intrigued enough to pick it up within seconds.

It seems at first that we’ve got so little to go on: a weathered, graveyard angel, a disturbed sky. Yet this is a simple deception in itself and this cover is a very good example of how quickly we can pick up a number of cues without consciously being aware we are doing so.

The font is cleverly reminisant of the kind of raised lettering often seen on tombstones. While the angel suggests peacefulness in death, we see at once the irony as soon as we read the title. The clouds scudding across a changing sky reinforce this tension.

The blues, greys and whites are all cold, yet there is a peep of pink in the sky in the lower right hand corner. And the author endorsement at the very top isn’t in cold white as we might expect, but in green, a colour we associate with nature and life. More intrigue. More tension.

This cover delivers a compelling conflict loaded with mystery, and we’d expect the story to be the same.

Michael W Sherer’s website is here.

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Book cover 4

Jenna Black

Jenna Black’s cover got changed after feedback from a retailer. Yes, this often happens. If you’re interested you can see the old cover here on Jenna Black’s blog.

But let’s look at this cover on its own, since this is the cover the book buyer in the book store will see.

What I like about this cover is it’s cinematic quality. The title is almost painted – big and bold – as if it’s a film poster, not just a book. This gives the impression that here we have a big story. There’s a flag top left alerting us to the fact that it’s “paranormal romance”. Perhaps this is necessary as there is nothing in the cover itself to indicate that is a romance. There’s a woman, some intense-looking eyes and a moon. And further back in the purple background, some dark birds in flight, and a high-rise building. Combined with the title, every cue is that this is a dark tale, full of mystery. The high-rise building says “urban”. The woman intrigues as her eyes are closed and her head held back. We get the impression that her mind is somewhere else entirely.

Purple has a long, historical association with royalty. But here it’s a more contemporary purple: a purple associated with the psychedelic 1960s, associated with music artists from Jimi Hendrix to Prince. This purple warns us that things may not be as they seem. Infused into the darkness of night, it warns us we should be afraid.

There’s a sophisticated veneer to this cover which makes a change from the usual “vampires = blood” cover formulae. However, I find it a little text-cluttered, and this distracts a little from the impact of the imagery. The endorsement (puff) takes up three whole lines.

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Book trailers

I’ve either had my head buried in the sand for some months or book trailers are mushrooming.

If you’ve got a got or seen a great book trailer you’d like to share, send me a link, and I’ll feature the ones I think do the best sales for the book here.

And keep sending the covers in!

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Book cover 3

Amanda Ashby

Another blue cover (see Book cover 2). Now, I mentioned before that blue is a masculine colour. Here that manifests itself in strength: this covers shouts at you. However, to temper this strength are the smooth curves of the font and roundness of the halo and the heart-shape cloud.

Blue is also a colour of calm and tranquility but this cover does not fall into this trap fully because of the pair of legs in jeans and high-heels at the top. They say two things to the book browser: fun and the female experience.

This clearly communicates that it’s a comedy and it’s for young (at heart) women. The clever three-way juxtaposition of;

  • calm, strong, permanent blue sky,
  • soft, ephemeral cloud,
  • and kick-ass, slim-legged chick in heels,

provide the conflict that makes this cover shout “buy me”.

Thanks to Christina Phillips for nominating You Had Me at Halo by Amanda Ashby. To be published by NAL, August 2007.


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Book cover 2

Paws and Reflect

The first thing which struck me about this book cover was not the title, but the blue. Unrelenting blue – a strongly masculine colour – in seeming contrast with the subservient-looking dachshund. It’s this contrast, with its undertones of power struggle, which provides the intrigue.

If you don’t believe me, imagine this cover in pink. You see? Bye, bye tension.

It’s almost irrelevent whether the power struggle is sexual or simply a relationship struggle, but not quite. Because sexuality is brought into the sub title. Not a book about man and dog, but specifically about gay men and their dogs.

The promise of intrigue and tension offered by the cover’s visual semiotics is given a serious veneer by the font used. It is the kind of font used by serious newspapers. Although the title contains a pun, the cover persuades that there is more depth to this book.

And the dachshund? This shows how much thought does go into book covers. Co-author Neil Placky tells me that his publishers cross-referenced zip codes where gay men lived with zip codes for dog breeds and the greatest correlations was with dachshunds.


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Book cover 1

CC Harrison

My book cover’s gotten rave reviews, writes CC Harrison. I can see why. The setting is Monument Valley, but it could be lunar. There’s an other-world quality to the landscape with its powerfully-balanced reflection.

Red is a powerful colour and is associated with vitality and action. It grabs the attention (which is one reason why my PR business is called Red Wave Communications). It also symbolises heat, passion and danger. You would not pick this book up in a bookshop and expect a gentle read.

The font used for the title is intriguing. It has little hooks, which add to the sense I think the reader has already got of an other-world. By contrast the font used for the author’s name is deceptive. It seems rounded and therefore weak, but it is actually very strong, and enforced by being in capitals and in stark white. White can be hot too. The sense given here is that CC Harrison is an authority. I was surprised to discover that this is in fact CC Harrison’s first novel. The impression being given by the cover is that CC Harrison is someone I should have heard of already.

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