I’ve long felt that much of being an adult, and a professional whatever-it-is-you-hold-yourself-out-as, is knowing what you’re good at, and what you’re not.
You do the things you’re good at. The things you’re not good at, you either learn how to do competently, or you find people who are competent at them to take of them. (n.b.: A brief aside here: Competence is the point at which other people are willing to pay you for your services, not the point at which you feel like you know what you’re doing. There is far too little competence in this world. I don’t care what your IQ is; I care whether you’re competent at whatever it is you want me to pay you money for.)
I am a competent writer. I have been supporting myself and my family in this profession since the late 1990s. I am not, however, a competent graphic designer, as much as I would like to be.
Good graphic design is both an art and a science. The art should be obvious; the science, however, is less so.
To someone without formal training in the field, it can be difficult to appreciate what separates the good from the bad. You may be able to feel that one example is better than another, but the why of it can be elusive. I hasten to add here that “formal training” can consist of self-study; there are many awesome graphic designers out there who are entirely self-taught. These folks, however, have taken the effort to study what works and what doesn’t, to compare things that look good with thing that look like crap and understand what separates them, to learn the specific mechanics of creating good design, and to spend an awful lot of time practicing all of this stuff.
There is in fact some established science behind why the human eye prefers certain color combinations, how certain designs direct the eye rather than confuse it, and why a whole array of design conventions are more effective than others. It isn’t just a matter of creating things that “look nice.”
This brings us to self-published book covers. And here there is really little point in belaboring the fact that the world judges your book by its cover. Simply put, an amateurish cover tells your prospective readers they’re getting an amateurish book.
All of the covers I’ve revealed here were created by professional graphic designers. I could certainly have saved myself the $350 or so I’ve spent so far on covers and done them myself, since I’m not completely unacquainted with Photoshop and Illustrator. They would, however, have looked quite a bit less interesting than the ones I’ve gotten.
Part of the reason is that a graphic designer, being disconnected from the book you’ve just written, is able to think about it in a way that you, as the author, cannot, and is able to think about how best to present it to the world in a far more objective fashion.
Pretty much every cover I’ve commissioned has come back looking very different from what I had originally envisioned, and every single one of them has looked better than the cover I would have created on my own. I don’t regret a single cent I’ve spent so far.
If you want to convince the world your writing doesn’t suck, you need to get that world to read it. And getting it to read your writing requires an intriguing cover.
Don’t sell yourself short.
(P.S.: I’m supposed to get the draft cover for The Needle and the Dungeon tomorrow. Between you, me, and the fence post, I can’t wait to see it.)
Update: The cover is in, and you should see it in the post below. This is precisely why I don’t do my own covers.