Self-Publishing No-No’s: You Can Tell A Book By Its Cover.

The Final Cover for The Mom Who Took Off...

The Final Cover for The Mom Who Took Off…

You can’t tell a book by its cover. Oh, yeah? I do, all the time. I don’t buy a book unless I like the cover. I loved the cover of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild—a worn hiking boot—and that was the reason I splurged on the hardcover version of her book. I just had to have it. And I was right, I loved the book.

When I was starting to mull over the idea of self-publishing The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle I was first going to do the cover myself. A DIY cover that would show my creativity, right? Wrong.

While some authors can get away with their own covera, I knew I had to hire a professional. Especially after I saw some self-published authors’ book covers. They looked so…so…unprofessional.

And it is true that you get what you pay for. I figured that I was investing in myself and my career. I had to approach self-publishing the way you’d approach any business. I wanted to make the book cover be the best it could be. I ended up hiring designforwriters via Catherine, Caffeinated, Catherine Ryan Howard, who has amazing tips for self-publishing here. She suggested designforwriters.com and I loved the bold covers that Andrew Brown made for a variety of authors.

Andrew and I spoke and I told him about my book. It is a book about my journey across Canada and up into Alaska on my motorcycle with my husband on his motorcycle. It is a  journey of self-discovery as well as a love story. He came back with this cover:

First Try

First Try

While it is cute and whimsical and…not to be picky and too geekily techno, but that is a pink Vespa with hearts and I happened to ride a BMW red motorcycle up to Alaska…I also knew I would never buy a book with a cover like that. I don’t like writing with curlicues. I don’t read books with titles that have curly letters. I like my fonts like my husband: simple and sleek. And I am my first reader. If I don’t fall totally in love with the cover of my own book, why would anyone else?

Also, the cover was remarkably similar to another cover…A few months earlier, I had asked someone to do a cover for me. I didn’t want to pay much money, and the designer had come up with this:

Try Number 2

Try Number 2

Doesn’t that woman look crazily scary? Would you have bought a book about a woman like this? She looks like she took off straight for the funny farm. I wanted a cover that would inspire you to take off on your own journey…whether it is to run a marathon or walk to raise money for cancer research or sit at home and try to write a book.

Part of the problem is that cover designers work from stock images. If you want a free image, then there are few photos to work with. This woman on a Vespa happens to be one of the few free images floating around.

Maybe I wasn’t getting my message across. Did I even have a message? Did I even have a reason to want to self-publish a book? (More on checking your motives in a future post.)

Then Andrew came up with this cover.

Try Number 3

Try Number 3

So, what was wrong with this? Well, I’m not a big fan of the colors. I wanted a real photo and not an image. From far away, it looks like a papercut. Also, seeing those words on the cover made me rethink the idea. What was I trying to say? I also realized that I have an aversion to the term “Empty Nester.” It sounds as enthralling as “Menopausal.”

Also, I realized that the motorcycle wasn’t really the message. I didn’t write Men and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Oops, I mean Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The motorcycle was part of the journey, obviously, but it was more than that.

So we went back to the drawing board and Andrew came up with this:

Number 4

Number 4

The catch was that I had to buy the rights to use the photo. So make sure when you do hook up with a cover designer you say that you are willing to spring for the rights to a photo or you are limited to free photo or art images.

I thought it was super until I showed it to my youngest daughter, Libby, who said, “Mom, did you really reinvent yourself?”

Ouch. She was right. While I did reinvent a vision of myself during the ride (read the book to find out) I didn’t turn into a 5-star chef or change into someone radically different. In point of fact, I became more me, which is a magical, radical concept. Also, the “reinvent” word didn’t feel authentically me. It seemed to be a word that was floating around the internet zeitgeist but it wasn’t my own. Plus, it seemed to wordy.

Andrew was very patient when I told him that I need another cover…and that is what you now see at the top of this page. I like it. I would buy this book. If I saw this book, I’d wish that I’d written it. And I am happy to say that I did.

The Most Important Self-Publishing Tip: When you are self-publishing, treat yourself like the CEO of your own publishing company and treat yourself as the primary author. Make solid business decisions. Invest wisely. Do not settle for schlock. Do not give self-publishing a bad name.  This is your product. Treat it carefully.

What do you think? Does it make you want to buy the book? What are you experiences with cover designers? Did you do your own cover?

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About dianabletter

Diana Bletter is a writer living in northern Israel whose novel, A Remarkable Kindness, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in August. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, tabletmag, and other publications. Her first book, The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (with photographs by Lori Grinker) was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award.
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17 Responses to Self-Publishing No-No’s: You Can Tell A Book By Its Cover.

  1. Wonderful post, Diana. Very helpful step-by-step examples. I was drawn to first and last examples, but Libby was right with her question, so I liked the wording on the first example (and real cover) best in the long run. Soon the book will be out, and I want to buy it!

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience about self-publishing. I will be keeping this for future reference if I don’t get an agent. LOL
    All the best with your book. 🙂

    • dianabletter says:

      Hi Tracy, I hope you do get an agent. I had 4 of them! That’s the easy part…Then they have to sell your book, which is the hard part. Keep me posted on what happens and good luck!

      • Hi Diana,
        That’s quite disheartening to hear. Four agents and they couldn’t find a home? That’s not very encouraging. Did you get feedback as to why? It must be very discouraging for agents as well as they don’t get paid unless a book sells.
        Again, I wish you all the best with self-publishing.
        Tracy
        P.S. Who knows I might be following in your footsteps. 🙂

      • dianabletter says:

        Hi Tracy, All four agents were very enthusiastic with my work. The editors of various publishing houses all sent very positive feedback about my books and all said that the market is very difficult. And yes, you are right because agents invest a lot of their time hoping that they will sell the book. They will only take on projects they feel they can sell so they can recoup their investment. But I encourage you to try and then let me know what happens!

      • Thanks, Diana for sharing and offering to help.
        In general, if agents and publishing houses have a difficult time selling a book, how would self-publishing make ones chances any better?
        I’m sure there might be others who would like to know as well. Hmm…perhaps I given you a topic to post about here.
        Thanks again,
        Tracy 🙂

      • dianabletter says:

        Hi Tracy, I wrote a bit about this in my post today and I put in a link to your wonderful site. I will write more in upcoming posts about the roles of agents and publishing houses and the real nitty-gritty work that writers have to do to promote ourselves. Thanks!

      • Hi Diana,
        I’m am truly touched that you included my link.
        Thank you, thank you, thank you! 🙂

  3. Thanks for the info… I have a friend who needs to know this… Thanks again

    • dianabletter says:

      You’re welcome! Please tell your friend to share his/her experiences with us! And if anybody needs a recommendation for a great cover designer, it’s designforwriters.

      • Thanks, It’s not easy for my friend to share as he is an inmate in prison. Long story but a good one in the end… Hopefully he will be getting out soon (after 23 years) and share his story more easily. In the meantime I am helping him getting information for his first book “Sermons From The Inside”. Thanks again.

      • dianabletter says:

        “Sermons from the Inside” sounds like an amazing book. He can go to createspace.com and do a cover through that site (which will also publish the book). A lot of people are pleased with it. Keep me in the loop!

      • Thanks for the help. Since Don can’t access a computer while in prison myself and other friends are helping with this project. Hopefully he will be out in a few months and can do all of this hands on. He has an amazing story. He entered prison with a 9th grade education and now has two Phd’s and is an ordained minister. He is currently working on that story. Thanks again…

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