Cover designers often work with stock photography for various reasons, but finding the perfect low- or no-royalty image that isn’t overused can be a major challenge.
We've all seen the stock photos of serious business people gathered around a boardroom table or happy shoppers walking through a mall with their arms full of shopping bags, and while the images may be a bit overused, it's because they depict somewhat realistic situations.
And then there's some stock photos that make no sense. We don't think these images will be overused anytime soon.
At least we hope not.
Image courtesy of Getty.
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Everyone loves a good book cover. That’s indisputable—good covers catch our eye and drawn us in. Every good cover requires hours of work by the designer as part of a painstaking process to accurately reflect the content while appealing to the tastes of the target audience.
To see book covers come under fire is a truly fascinating look into what we have come to expect from a cover. Last summer, Justine Larbalestier’s YA novel Liar was originally featured a young white girl with long, straight hair, while the protagonist is clearly described as a black girl with short, textured hair. Jaclyn Dolamore’s Magic Under Glass has just been released with a cover featuring a young white woman, whereas the protagonist has dark skin and ‘exotic’ features. As Mitali Perkins described it in “Straight Talk on Race,” publishers want the cover “to sell more books, [so] the main character may be portrayed on the cover as less foreign or ‘other’ than he or she is in the actual story.”
Teen book reviewer Ari pleaded with publishers to consider the audience they alienate: “Do you know how much that hurts? Are we so worthless that the few books that do feature people of color don't have covers with people of color?” Bloomsbury changed Liar’s cover prior to its official release and is re-issuing Magic Under Glass with a new jacket design. Their original response to the controversy mentioned that the covers were “intended to symbolically reflect the narrator’s complex psychological makeup.”
Book buyer Catherine Linka of Flintridge Bookstore reveals the intrinsic difficulty of chalking this up to discrimination or carelessness: “The cover works symbolically… [but readers want a cover to give] an honest representation of the experience that they will have with [a book].” And therein lies the rub: what was in dispute was not the stylistic choice, but rather the audience’s expectation that the cover should more literally match the inside the story.
Different designers approach the process in different ways, but generally they read the book or have a detailed synopsis. They aren’t designing blindly. Choices are being made all the time between what is obvious and what is complex. There is a certain level of independence, but the designer will still ultimately be answering to the publisher.
What may come as the bigger surprise is that the author rarely has any say in the book cover design. Traditionally, design lies solely in the hands of the design team, perhaps with some input on behalf of the editorial or marketing department. But the author does not factor in, as is obvious from Larbalestier’s response to her book’s cover design.
There are some smaller and independent publishers who offer a more collaborative design process, with designers and writers working together toward a final cover design. Open communication between the two can prevent many of these issues by allowing each to explain their process to the other. But even this presents its problems—an author may have his or her own artistic vision and not always understand what types of covers sell, which is the ultimate job of the designer: to make a cover sell. That is not a particularly romantic view, but it is a realistic one. Still it is important to remember that the design is still art. It’s merely art meant to encourage a purchase. And as an author, you must be prepared to deal with the ramifications of having other people interpret your work.
If you do find yourself in a more collaborative environment with a designer or team, remember that their experience in the field may give them a different vision than your own, and it is important to respect some of their more unconventional suggestions or design ideas. It’s all a part of the process.
A selection of fantastic book cover design blogs:
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Sending a book to press is a lot like putting together the perfect outfit for a big event. Every piece of the ensemble must work together and complement each other nicely, and it's the little details that make it really dynamite. If you want to be the hottest, baddest lady in the room, er, book on the shelf, think about these final touches before you head out to strut your stuff:
Headbands (those little strips of fabric at the top and bottom of the spine): I've been accused of being a purist, and it's true that I often prefer my headbands to be solid, neutral colors and to do what they are meant to--cover the glue that holds the binding together. But sometimes it's appropriate--or just plain fun--to jazz up the headbands with stripes or an accent color.
TIP: Fancy headbands rarely cost more than white or black ones, so feel free to be adventurous.
Case Covering (paper or cloth that covers the cardboard front and back covers and spine): Neutral colors are usually best for the case covering. Black, white, creme, and blue are safe bets. Consider the colors on the cover and determine whether you want the case to match or to contrast with the jacket's dominant color.
TIP: If you plan to match the case cover with the jacket, remember to choose the case cover color first. Color options are more limited for case covers than they are for jackets, so it's easier to match a jacket to case cover than vice versa.
Endsheets (inside front cover and facing page, and the inside back cover and facing page): A paper other than white or creme for endsheets can really make a book look finished. Black endsheets immediately add gravitas, bright accent colors from the cover ensure design continuity, and embossing endsheets with texture can create a polished look. Sometimes the best option is to use the same paper for the endsheets as for the case. Printed endsheets are great if you want to match a specific color or present a unique pattern or image. Of course--here's the purist again--there are times when the perfect endsheet is white or creme—the same color as your pages.
TIP: Don't forget to consider how the jacket flaps will contrast with the endsheets.
Spine Stamp (foil stamp on the spine of the case): The spine stamp is usually the last decision a designer makes before sending a project to press. It's the extra blot of lip gloss, the last swipe of bronzer on the cheeks. Choose a foil that will contrast nicely with the chosen case covering. (My favorite case so far is white with bright magenta foil on the spine. Not appropriate for your general business book, but for girly relationship handbooks it's perfect!)
TIP: Small type that can be printed perfectly on the jacket may bleed when it's presented in a foil stamp on a textured case. If you're not sure, ask your printer.
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Short answer: yup. More accurate answer: sort of. Answer you will likely hear from a publisher or distributor: “It depends.” Answer from a retailer: “You’ll have to talk to corporate.” Corporate’s response: click.
Translation: premier shelf placement, face-out arrangement, and positioning on promotional stands (e.g., end caps, new release tables in the front of the store, and virtually all placements in airport bookstores) are paid for by publishers, distributors, and authors. It’s a common misconception that store employees select the titles to be featured and base their decisions on the quality of the content or perhaps the power of the author’s message. Pshaw. Not only do retailers sell the front-of-store placements, but they also sell obscure arrangements such as “in section, top shelf, face out” and “regional placement on end caps in section.” So, does this mean that any author—regardless of the quality of their work—can pay their way into the most trafficked areas of bookstores? Are we being fed content based on riches instead of richness?
Authors cannot simply walk into Barnes & Noble’s corporate headquarters with a check for twenty thousand dollars and demand premier placement across the country. Though publishers, distributors, and authors do pay for the placement, retailers are very selective about which books get the opportunity to be promoted. They base their decisions on sales potential, which boils down to
- Author’s platform and name recognition
- Cover design
- Quality of content
- Author’s marketing plan
If you want premier store placement for your book, make sure you have
- All of the items listed above
- A publisher or distributor with a history of negotiating strong co-op promotions
- Six months of lead time
So, how does a book end up on the new release table at the store’s entrance or the holiday table in the children’s section? Here’s a quick breakdown of the process:
Publisher or distributor’s sales rep meets with the category buyer.
WHEN: The reps generally pitch buyers five to six months in advance of publication. By that time, they already have dust jackets; galleys, blads, or review copies; and marketing plans to add weight to the pitch.
WHO: Each rep must have at least five titles in the category in order to get a meeting with the buyer, so note that sales reps are not self-published authors with no distributor.
WHERE: The reps meet with the buyers at the retail outlet (if the outlet is independent) or the corporate headquarters (if it’s a chain). Unless the retailer is a small independent, store employees and floor managers do not decide on what books to carry or promote, so do not waste your time pounding the pavement. (Exception: some stores will support local authors with small displays, but in general, placement decisions are made by buyers, not managers or clerks.)
The rep solicits a buy and a placement promotion if co-op money is available.
WHAT: Co-op is what retailers call placement promotions. The term comes from “cooperative advertising,” stemming from the major publishing houses’ practice of allocating a set percentage of the previous year's sales for co-op to be divvied out between titles as agreed upon by the publisher and bookseller.
HOW: After the sales rep finishes pitching a book, the buyer typically tells the rep how many copies that particular retailer will likely carry when the book comes off the press. If the publisher, distributor, or author has a budget for co-op promotions, the rep negotiates the placement directly with the buyer.
WHO: The buyer will only offer a co-op placement for the book that he or she believes will sell the most copies in that space at that time. Retail 101: location, location, location. Buyers will not sell the best real estate in their store to a title that won’t perform. If Dr. Phil’s diet book will outsell your book of poetry on the front-of-store table, it is not likely that the space will be available to you.
If the title performs well, the rep can negotiate an extension.
WHEN: Co-op placements are usually sold in blocks of two to four weeks. If the book sells well during that time, reps can negotiate extensions.
HOW: Extensions are based on sell-through. If a book sells well and the retailer believes the demand will be sustained for a notable period of time, they will offer to extend the promotion. Time your consumer marketing efforts (such as publicity) to coincide with your co-op promotions. If you do not drive consumers into stores while the book has the premier spot, your product will likely move to a spine-out placement in section the moment your co-op promotion expires.