The value of a book cover

12 04 2011

Many times I see posts by authors, mostly self published, that want cover art for their upcoming book. Often times these posts are followed up by some kind of comment (by the author) stating how this should not be very expensive because it would not take more than X amount of time to make. I have even seen authors talking about how you should not pay more than $5 for a cover! Excuse me, but $5 is a latte, it is lame to ask anybody to work for a latte.

Now the problem seems to arise from said authors thinking that:

Cover art by Dan dos Santos

a) What they do (writing) is soooo much harder than doing art! Why should they pay a good price? Art comes naturally!


b) Apparently they are soooo famous that people will read their name and buy the book, and the cover is actually not so important.

The problem is that a book cover is actually very important, in the brick and mortar bookstore and also online, because it is the first thing that catches your eye. A good design, good typography and the right kind of art will attract the right kind of audience. A sci-fi book should have a sci-fi illustration and technical looking design, not a full blown medieval fantasy look. A romance cove will repel some people while attracting others. And there are codes to these styles, and the artist has learned them, and the artist is spending hours in each cover, plus the knowledge and experience that brought this artist to where (s)he is today.

It is a problem that is very big in the e-publishing area, because a lot of these publishing houses pay about $50 per cover, how would you expect a self published author to want to pay more? Now, for those of you that might think that $50 is a fair price, a lot of these covers are photomontages because a photomontage is faster than illustration from scratch, and while the artist might be saving time, it is also a reality that the publisher does not provide nor pays for the stock in most cases. So the artist is stuck with paying for the stock and fonts out of pocket, and how much of those $50 are left? Not much really. Good resolution stock photography starts at around $10-15, if you have to buy several photos (heroine, hero, background) voila! your salary is gone. And fonts are expensive too.

On the other hand we have the paper publishing companies. For some reason they seem to take this cover art issue more seriously. While I have never bought an e-book (I just love books with a passion and I love to have them and see them in my home) I have many times bought a book for its cover. I remember my sister, being probably 14-15 picking her first fantasy novel just because the cover was gorgeous (it was made by Ciruelo Cabral, by the way) and she was not disappointed with the book. Years later I still find myself going toward attractive covers with good story telling, they make me curious, if only to pick up the book and read the description of the work, and that is the first step in selling a book.

As an artist, with some experience now and knowledge of other artist’s works, many times I find it easy to identify the author that has been hired for the cover, and let me tell you, if the publishing house has taken the pains and the budget to hire someone who charges good money, let’s say Dan dos Santos or Kinuko Craft (in which case I have bought the book just for the cover) it means that the publisher considers that particular book to be good enough as to deserve a lot of money going to the cover art alone, let’s not go into layout and fonts. And if they are willing to spend a small fortune int he cover, then it means that they are quite sure that they sill recover that and much more. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of a good cover.