So you’ve spent a year or whatever writing a novel and it’s fucking brilliant and then some asshole expects you to put a cover on it. The gall! It’s not about the artwork, surely? It’s about your brilliant masterpiece and how the story, the plight of your characters and the prose will connect with the reader. It’s about the words, man.
I guess in a perfect world, no books would have covers. We would choose to read novels based on their blurb, a small sample or maybe word of mouth. I don’t know if you’ve been watching the news recently, but Donald Trump has become a serious contender for the White House. We do not live in a perfect world and covers are a necessary evil.
I look on Amazon at some of these things. Christ, there are some turkeys out there. And I totally get it. Your prose will shine through, right? Who wants to spend money on a graphic designer when you’ve already paid for an editor and proof reader?
I’ve been blinded by this sort of artistic arrogance before. I once sent a demo CD to a record company with a handwritten track list scrawled on the front. And my writing ain’t pretty. I’m left handed, you see. I was born to be many things, but a calligrapher is not one of them. Did I hear back? Fuck no.
A few months later, I sent another demo CD off with a well-designed cover (I had a friend who was studying graphic design and he helped me out). A month later, on the back of the demo, I was playing to a record company in East London. They signed us. Things deteriorated thereon in, but that was nothing to do with artwork (lets blame ego and vodka for all that).
A bad cover is like turning up to a job interview in shorts and a singlet. You might get a hiring manager who does not give a fuck, but I don’t imagine it happens too often. It’s a statement of intent, you see. It says, “I mean business, motherfucker.”
You know I’ve bought books and records purely because of their covers. Take Paul Neilan’s Apathy and Other Small Victories.
What a wonderful cover. I actually enjoyed the cover a whole lot more than the novel itself, but the point is that it piqued my interest and I paid for the thing. Would I have done that if it was Times New Roman on some Adobe stock photo that he’d cobbled together himself? Of course I wouldn’t.
So I’ve looked at options. There are so many websites that sell templates for reasonable prices, or will knock you up something bespoke if you want to pay a little extra. The templates seem to me like cop-outs. They look like they were taken from a template, which then reduces the appearance of professionalism. I’m not saying they’re terrible, but I just felt I wanted something better.
An inevitable by-product of living in East London for ten years is that I know a bunch of graphic designers. Another experience from my music days was using one of these guys. She was sleeping with the bass player and he wanted to use her on account of her being Austrian (he really liked Kraftwerk, and that was close enough to Germany for him), her hair was angular (artistic, innit?) and she was “quite good at drawing.”
It didn’t turn out so well. She completely missed the point and, because we couldn’t offend the bassist’s girlfriend, we were stuck with a CD cover we had to use.
Having been denied it before, I’m a big fan of creative control. That’s why self-publishing is an absolute no brainer for me. While the demo CD design turned out well, the idea of having some Palace hoodie clad skateboarder I once met over a mirror at a house party in 2008 design a cover for me doesn’t feel right. And I’m not quite as diplomatic as I once was about things I don’t like. I foresee trouble taking that route.
So I’m going on my own.
Photoshop is pretty cheap – you can rent it for £18 a month. Should only need it for a finite period of time and with these subscription services (which I love), I can dip in and out.
And I thought that if I see it as an extension of the writing experience rather than an irritating obligation at the end of it, it could actually be quite fun. From Scrivener to Logic, I enjoy learning creative programs. So this weekend, I’ll sit in front of load of YouTube tutorials, I’ll swear a lot and I’ll start seeing if making my own is really a viable option. I cannot wait.
So far, it feels right. Which probably means that I’ll be writing a long post on how I hate Photoshop early next week and hitting you up for design contacts.