I did my own cover art. Got a problem with that?

I did my own cover art for "Blood Picnic and other stories". I composed the elements, arranged the lighting, shot the photo, framed it, put it out for public comment, incorporated suggestions, added the touches of digital blood, selected the fonts and effects for the attribution and title and put it all together. Could a real graphic artist have done a better job, even building on the photo I took? Oh, absolutely. I don't know what details of color, shadow and proportions would have been changed, but it would be much better than I could do. When I send a piece of my photoshop work off to a real artist, the way it looks when it comes back always reinforces that fact. I do OK, but I'm no artist.

In the #bookmarket tweetchat yesterday, the topic was cover art. The opinion was expressed that an author doing his own cover art is taking a big risk, i.e. that it might end up looking lousy. Said opinion was expressed by a graphic artist; I agree, and I said so. I noted that I did it myself because I didn't have the ability to pay an artist for a cover. This reason was, to put it kindly, waved away.

At the end of the chat, the graphic artist said, to a chorus of agreement from other graphic artists, that any author that "claims they can't afford professional covers" is kidding himself and needs to "rethink his plan". I'm pretty sure this was intended to be insulting and dismissive of stupid amateurs, so I took it as such.

I've got a couple of standards that I'm bringing to it, OK? My published work needs to be a) good, b) salable, and c) result in a net positive on the balance sheet. Look, I would LOVE to be able to have gotten professional editing support, professional cover art, professional promotion for "Blood Picnic". The book would have been better because of it. It would be great to have such things for my future anthologies and novels. Will I get it? If I can find a way to pay for it, sure. The fact is though, this whole thing? This "writing"? It's a pay-as-you-go thing, which started from zero. Not only have I got no wealthy patron behind me, no big government grant, and no generous fellowship covering costs, but Mrs. Noland and the four little Nolands get first crack (and second, third, fourth and fifth cracks) at any spare money that happens to come along. It doesn't leave much for writing-related expenses.

My self-publishing only becomes vanity publishing when I sink more money into it than I could ever hope to recoup through sales. Hence my irritation with the graphic artist who was dismissive of my having done my own cover art. Book #1 had a few typos, has a tolerable layout and has a decent but not fantastic cover. My plan, what I intended all along, was for profits from Book #1's sales to pay for Book #2's pro editing and pro cover art. Book #2 would then pay for Book #3's editing, artwork and promotion. Lather, rinse, repeat until I have no more worlds to conquer.

That's my plan. I'm not going to "rethink" it because it's a good plan and it's working. It's been slower and more difficult than I expected, but every plan of attack suffers when it comes in contact with the enemy. For my next book, I might try putting out a call: "Will Edit In Exchange For Cover Art". Aside from that, the plan is what it is. Anybody who doesn't like it can either tell me how to do better within the particular constraints of my life, or shut the hell up.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. The idea that a writer doing his own cover art could end up with a cover that looks like crap rests on the idea that the writer has no artistic taste whatsoever or that the writer doesn't give a damn about the cover and just wants to throw something together.

    Regardless of who creates the cover art, the author has to like it. The author has to look at it, think it looks good (or good enough), and approve it. Graphic artists don't have a monopoly on what looks good, and no decent author is going to publish a book with a cover he thinks looks bad, even if he made it himself.

  2. Typical elitism from graphic designers (saying that as a degree holder in graphic design).

    I agree with 4ndyman that no author is really going to put out something truly wretched just to put out a book.

    At the same time, I will mention something I learned from Stephen Clarke's "Talk to the Snail": "French literary books have the most boring covers since Moses carved the commandments onto bare stone. Even then Moses probably chose a nice shade of grey rock for his tablets. To be taken seriously, a littéraire novel must have a plain white cover with no decoration except for othe title and the author's name in tiny lettering..."

    Granted, you're not a littéraire, but maybe you could go for that approach next time and sneer at the philistines who don't understand that "anything more flamboyant would devalue the words inside..." ;)

    In the meantime, feel free to tell these snobs they're full of it. The M&B romance I was reading the other day had a red-haired heroine (like flame according to the books) and a black-haired hero. The cover illustration was of a blonde with a guy whose hair was medium brown at best. Even professionals don't get it right.

  3. I've seen many "professional" covers that aren't worth squat. Who says a writer doesn't also have the talent to create a book cover?
    I don't know who created Amanda Hocking's Trylle trilogy covers, but they are very non-descript. It was her stories that sold the million copies.

  4. 4ndyman: I'm reminded of an old saying - "You might be a lot smarter than me, but that doesn't mean I'm an idiot." I was going for a threshold of good enough, and I think this cover met that. My next one will as well, since I'm still not at a point of being able to hire someone. Good enough is good enough.

    Janet: I considered doing that, actually, just plain text. Or plain text with one eye-catching graphic element. As I looked over the e.books at Smashwords and Amazon, I saw a lot of that. It didn't look cool or edgy or ironic - it looked thin, cheap and tawdry. I wanted to do better, and I hit that mark in the essentials.

    Laura: This echos what Janet said, and I certainly agree. Lots of pro covers are less than impressive. Clean and professional looking, true, but derivative and uninspired, or unimaginative and forgettable. Mine is nothing for the ages, but it's enough to get me in the Premium Catalog at Smashwords, and thence to the wider distribution channels. So, back to "good enough".

  5. Laura: I think Amanda Hocking did her own covers.

  6. I would agree that in most cases, a professional cover artist will do a better job (for example, Alex Young did the cover for Guns and his cover was WAY better than the covers for my two self pubbed efforts) BUT I've seen some piss poor covers by so-called artists, as well as some amazing jobs done by the writers themselves. As with everything, it comes down to the end product, not who did it. Just because someone is a graphic artist doesn't automatically mean they'll be able to design a cover - after all, their speciality might be billboards, or logos, which come with a whole host of requirements and specialised knowledge that just won't translate to a book cover. After all, you could hire the best artist in the world who could design a beautiful cover that would look great on a paperback...but how crap is it going to look as a tiny grayscale thumbnail? Sorry, I've gone off on a bit of a rant but my point is, yes, it would be wonderful if we could all afford professional covers, but we can't. The only other solution I can think of is to approach your local art college and offer the brief of your cover to the students - they get portfolio work and you get free art. Just a thought...

  7. @Ivy - That's a GREAT idea! When I was at Lakeland, we did logo design competitions, where a business or governmental entity needed a new logo. Tony, I'd bet if you have a community college in your area and you needed a new cover, you could contact the department chair for graphic design/illustration/what have you and get help that way.


Thank you for leaving a comment. The staff at Landless will treat it with the same care that we would bestow on a newly hatched chick. By the way, no pressure or anything, but have you ever considered subscribing to Landless via RSS?