Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z = Zebra Print Makes for a Bad Book Cover


There are some things I just can’t get past when looking for a new book. A bad cover is one of them. Go to lousybookcovers.com if you don't think they're out there. 

An author's book remains unsold, month after month, and the author assumes the market is just “tough” or that she hasn’t had enough of the proper marketing.

Nope. It’s not the marketing strategy, and it’s not the market itself. It’s your cover.
  • It’s hard to read any font, no matter how large, if your cover image is so busy that the font is just one more set of squiggly things.
  • Your three year old’s crayon drawing is for the fridge, not your cover.
  • Five different fonts is too many. And don’t match them exactly to your cover image, especially if it’s bright yellow flowers.
  • Lots of words on the cover make it worse, not better. Save some words for inside the book, eh?
  • Don’t use the words “A Novel” unless there is genuinely a reason someone might think your book is something other than a novel.
  • If your book’s title is Bearing Love’s Burden, don’t have a cover with a romantically entwined couple, a shadowy figure in the background who is literally carrying a burden, and a full moon with a bear’s head in it, looking down at them.
  • Cowboys don’t wear tank tops or walk around with their shirts unbuttoned. None of the outdoorsy types I know want to get any more itchy dirt and crap on them than they have to, and would never think to unbutton their shirts while out in the field.
  • Eyes that look down from the sky on a couple on a ranch/boat/picnic are just creepy. I don’t know where that trend started, but I wish it would stop. It’s freaking me out.

And zebra print? Just . . . no.


61 comments:

  1. Thank you for the tips and congratulations on your completion!
    Visit http://www.malavikka.blogspot.com//

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    1. Thanks, Malavikka! I appreciate the visit and the comment!

      Delete
  2. And ideally, your cover should gel with the type of novel you're writing. If you have a romantically entwined couple on the front, that creates particular expectations about the content, which might be dashed if this turns out to be your Murakami style literary one.

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    1. Ideally, Stu. Ideally. A few months back, someone on GR asked for cover art feedback. The entire cover was only a blurred picture of a streetcar on a hill, and the author couldn't understand why people were asking her if it was a travel guide. (It was a romance for the over-sixty crowd.) She became very defensive after at least three more mentioned confusion, said she liked it the way it was, and then left in anger. Why ask if you don't want to know?

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  3. One should watch a few people at a library who are browsing to see what catches their eye. Bet that Zebra Print would burn mine :)

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    1. I always feel hypnotized and a little dizzy when I look at wild prints. Thinking of looking for books at the library makes me wonder if cover *spine* art might be something to focus on as an attention-getter.

      Thanks for the visit! I hadn't seen your blog until today, but plan on exploring it at my leisure—especially to find out more about your banjo collection.

      Delete
  4. Ditto on the "eyes in the sky being freaky" thing. I mean, what, are there ghouls up there watching lovers? Doesn't that count as "peeping toms"? Also ditto on the multiple fonts thing.

    I'd add one more things to this list: just because some book covers are too full, doesn't mean that authors should go the opposite route. A blurry or vague cover, one full of fuzzy shapes, might as well not even be there at all. It doesn't lend an air of "mystery"--it lends an air of, "Huh, I wonder if the camera was out of focus?" A cover should give us something to look at; if there are too many things, then it becomes difficult to focus, but if there are too few, then there's nothing there to focus on in the first place.

    Congratulations on finishing the A to Z Challenge! This was so much fun to read, so thank you for putting it all up for us. :)

    --H.C. Dallis
    Challenge of the Week: Character Quirks that Matter

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    1. H.C., first of all, thanks for being faithful to visit and comment this month!

      When I see the nearly-empty book covers, I always think of the movie "This is Spinal Tap," when the band decided their new album cover would be black. Solid black with nothing else—because they were trying to go the route of the Beatles' White Album, and figured it was their ticket to comeback fame.

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  5. Hmm, zebra print MIGHT work if your book is about a zoo or a safari. :)

    Happy Z Day!

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  6. But zebra print is just so cool and the tweens love it. I heard that one time with someone who was trying to design a cover. I couldn't believe what I was see/hearing (it was an online post). The bad thing was that they were serious. Now, don't use crappy art like the Trad Pubs used in the 80's and 90's either they suck and people will overlook it as junk. You cover has to be simple but convey the message of a book. In one of my books, I just have a steel-gray rose floating in a pool of blood. The font is a basic font and the title looks like rusting metal. Simple. Another has an image from a scene in the book. again simple.

    Lynda, I have really enjoyed your posts for the A-Z challenge. I can't wait for the Coffee Chats to start back up.

    Happy Z Day

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    1. note my post is STILL shorter than yours.

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    2. The fact that "tweens love it" would be enough for me to run far and fast.

      I'm no designer, but I know what I like. Animal print does not fit in the "what I like" category. Not for book covers, not for clothing.

      This was my longest post of the month, but the comments have really been topping out the word count here! I'm proud of you for restraining yourself.

      Delete
  7. "Cowboys don’t wear tank tops or walk around with their shirts unbuttoned. " -- Even if it's one of those romance novel covers that Fabio posed for? Ha.

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    1. Congratulations on getting through the month! So did I!

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    2. The only thing that defines whether you are a cowboy or not is the hat. Anything else just says "what kind of cowboy" you are.

      A tank top usually denotes that the hero in question is a thug-cowboy, likely from the east side, and he carriers a 9mm vs. a 45 Colt.

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    3. Silver Fox, congratulations right back at you! We did it! I'll be over to see your Z post in a short while; I thought I'd give you time today, rather than doing our dual-comment dance with each other.

      The Tank Top Cowboys have always worried me. I'll bet they worry other cowboys, too. I'm not sure that I agree with Stephen's assessment of the East Side thug-cowboy, though I will agree that anything below the hat tells *exactly* what kind of cowboy you might be.

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    4. I just remember the Smothers Brothers' version of Streets of Laredo. "If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy, too."

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    5. HA! I loved the Smothers Brothers!

      Delete
  8. I clicked the link you provided. Oh dear. The thing that perplexes is that the author MUST have thought this was a good idea or it wouldn't have happened. Difficult stuff to wrap the brain around...

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    1. Oh, Robin, you could while away the hours at that site, shaking your head and shouting, "WHY??"

      I allow myself one visit per week as a treat when I need a good laugh.

      Delete
  9. Okay, so is this a guid to what you want my next cover to look like? I say that because I fully intended on using a guy, in a boat, wearing a zebra print shirt, with creepy eyes looking up from the water. The clouds above are drawn in crayon, and the title is in 4 fonts (not 5). It 's going to be called "The things we think, and do not say, because if we say them, it makes them real, and no one wants to hear the things we think and do not say, because that'd be creepy - a novel, a volume, a lengthy periodical."

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Well . . . as long as there are only four fonts and not five . . .

      You're very persuasive, and I'm going to say, "YES!" to the entire thing on the condition that I get to be the creepy eyes in the water. If I can't be the creepy eyes, the whole thing needs to be shot down.

      Except the title. The title rocks.

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  10. Faith, an' ye're wastin' yer time, lass! Anyone who would put any of these things on their book cover is going to be immune to your subtlety. A full moon with a bear's head in it? Whoever came up with that undoubtedly feels that it is an epiphany that moves the art of literature ahead by half a century. What I consistently read in those how-to-write books I always speak of is, "The simpler, the better."

    Well Lynda, my new friend, it's been a fun ride, and I must join the others here in offering my congratulations on finishing the challenge. I "discovered" you at "S," and while I didn't comment on every post, there wasn't one that I didn't enjoy, or learn something from. Through you, I met Elle Todd and H.C. Dallis, and all three of you have been added to my update feed. I'm looking forward to years of enjoyable conversation and discussion, and in closing, I will just say, Thanks for doing this!

    Your friend,
    "Blimprider"

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    1. Jack, I think "immune to subtlety" is an apt way to put it. I did make up the Bearing Love's Burden cover all on my own, but I have seen covers which are not far from it, out there for all to see (and look away from) on Amazon.

      I'm happy to have gotten to know you, and even happier that you've met some of my favorite people, too. There's a great gang out here in the blogosphere and they're all extremely supportive of each other, as you are.

      Onward!

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  11. Zebra print should be left to zebras, they are the only thing that can pull it off. I am very sorry that I only discovered you at the end of the A to Z Challenge, but I will be visiting again very soon.

    Gracexxx

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    1. You're right, Grace. Zebras seem to be the only ones who can do "the look" well.

      I'll be around; visit anytime!

      Delete
  12. "Bearing Love's Burden" - of course you'd have to have a shadowy figure carrying a burden, and a bear's head looking down from a full moon. How else would you do it? ;0)

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  13. I love looking at animal prints - AT THE GAME RESERVE!
    (When I need some light entertainment, I'll have a link to click-----)

    It was great to connect via the A to Z challenge, Lynda!
    Your theme was an education, for sure!
    Congrats on reaching the finish line!
    Keep in touch! (I'm following your blog by e-mail)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Michelle, make sure you only click that link if you have time on your hands. It's tough to look away once you've opened that door.You'll find yourself clicking, even while bracing yourself for what might show up next.

      Congratulations to you, also, for a terrific A to Z! I may not have commented on every letter, but I enjoyed your theme and the challenge of thinking up captions for the cartoons. You'll be seeing me around for sure!

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  14. I love animal print, but I'll agree with you...not on a book cover!! And eyes looking down from the sky...that is just creepy!!

    Great post! Happy Z day! Yay, we survived the challenge!

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    1. The "eyes in the sky" thing make me paranoid. I'd have to place that book facedown on my nightstand so it wouldn't watch me.

      Happy Z day to you! WOOT!

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  15. Galactic zebras might get my attention.
    You're right a cover matters so much. If the cover doesn't rock, I won't even read the blurb.
    Congratulations on completing the Challenge.

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    1. Thank you, Alex! I had fun.

      If a great book doesn't have a great cover, nobody will ever find out how great the inside is.

      I know you're an old pro at this Challenge stuff, but congratulations anyway. Your posts were terrific, and I had fun getting to know the other bloggers you featured each day.

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  16. I've seen those zebra covers somewhere just today!

    Great meeting you, Lynda. Hope to see you often.

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    1. Did the covers make you dizzy? Crazy prints make me take a step (or three) back.

      This has been a great month, and I'm glad to have gotten to know you a little. You'll be seeing me again.

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  17. I swear my contemporary romance didn't sell as well as it could have because I didn't want a half naked couple on the front. I buy the books w/ the half naked couple but I couldn't bring myself to put them on mine. I will have to find a compromise for book 2.

    Thanks for all your support of Stormy on the blog this month. We appreciate it.

    Heather

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    1. Heather, you could try one person completely naked and the other completely clothed, naked faces but clothed bodies, naked animals but clothed people . . . the possibilities are many.

      I'm sure you'll find a good compromise. There are plenty of people who don't need the half-naked couple to sell them on the book.

      I've enjoyed Stormy's posts this month. I guess I never realized how inferior I was when compared with a garden gnome. I've made my peace with it, though.

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  18. I love it! I still remember getting hooked on Isaac Asimovs robot series. The covers really grabbed my interest and I had to know more.

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    1. This might be why I'm attracted to science fiction books more easily than most genres. The cover has to sell me, and I need to know I won't be embarrassed to carry it around with me.

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  19. I have no book in the works, but reading these tips helps me identify why I like or don't like covers of books. It's also fascinating to know there's a website dedicated to bad covers. Someone else introduced me to cake disasters. Really? A website for that? Funny stuff everywhere. Congratulations on making it to the end in one piece!
    Visiting one last time from A to Z~
    Wendy at Jollett Etc.

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    1. Thanks, Wendy! I think once you start to notice a pattern with what you like and don't like on covers, it helps to eliminate certain ideas without even having to look at them . . . although I don't have to see a zebra cover to know it's on the NO list.

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  20. As a graphic artist, I can tell you that you are spot on with your suggestions for Cover Art. My Daddy was a 'real life cowboy' from Stetson to Tony Lamas and I assure you he always wore his levi's and western shirts buttoned, snapped and belted. Looks like most of the commenters/readers/writers agree and will be well on there way to success in chosing Spine Art that says 'Pick Me'!

    Thanks for a great round of Writing/Editing/Revising Tips and the entertaining comments and replies. No doubt, you're followers will be excited as I am to keeping on keeping on. Thanks for the plug on my Resume'.
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal

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    1. Sue, I'm glad to have reinforcement from someone who knows what real cowboys wear. I'm also glad to have so many people agree with me on this, because it restores my hopes for the future of book covers.

      I'm so glad to have gotten to know you and look forward to more of your terrific posts as the weeks and months go by. Come back anytime!

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  21. I agree, a good cover is essential, I won't pick up a book if it doesn't attract my attention. Then of course it needs a good blurb.

    Glad you made it through to the end of the challenge.

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    1. Jo, a good cover will cause me to give even a mediocre-blurbed book a chance. But not the other way around, certainly.

      Whew! We both made it!

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  22. Your cover should reflect what the inside of the book is all about. Must be hard to put the book title on a zebra print. Congrats for completing the challenge

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    1. I'm guessing zebra print would go well with very large fluorescent pink font. I can't imagine anything else showing up. :)

      I hadn't seen your blog until tonight, but your posts look fascinating. I'll be sure to take a better look and catch up!

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  23. I'll have to take a look. It probably doesn't beat the worst rock album covers, which are incredibly cringe-worthy, but different genre, of course.
    Stopping by to say hello from Crazy Town in Looney Land.

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    1. I think you'll have a great time at that site, Sally. The book covers are right on par with the album covers we've all ridiculed over the years.

      Crazy Town in Looney Land is a terrific site, and one I've gone to frequently after discovering it at the beginning of the A to Z. Your gang is doing great things over there. :)

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  24. Those are some scary covers you mentioned. I am proud of my covers actually, but yes I have seen some cringe-worthy ones.

    Brandon Ax: Writer's Storm

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    1. Brandon, your covers are killer. And not in the sense that they'll kill me if I look too long at them.

      I saw one on lousybookcovers last night that made me cry, I was laughing so hard. My 18yo and I were trying to decide if the person in the picture had had a robe drawn on her in a Paint program, or if her head was Photoshopped onto a naked person and then had clothing drawn on, or what. And there were animals that looked as if they were added later. AND the entire thing was stretched very tall. It was astounding.

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  25. You are right. The cover is what draws us. Congratulations on completing the A to Z challenge.

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    1. Nana, you should be proud that your covers meet NONE of the above-mentioned items!

      Congratulations to you as well. A to Z was great!

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  26. That's a pretty crazy site. The covers were worse that I expected. You'd think a person could tell if a cover was bad or not, but I guess some folks just don't have a sense for visual art.

    Lee
    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

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    1. "Worse than I expected" pretty much sums it up. I have such a hard time believing people would think so many of those covers were just fine for their books. And yet, they're listed on Amazon for the world to see.

      Someone on GR posted the link there a few months back, saying he'd seen his book cover on the site and only then did he realize how amateurish his looked. (For the record, his original wasn't great—mostly boring if anything, but it wasn't BAD like the others.) He got a new and improved cover made by a pro and was able to laugh at himself and the cover featured, thank goodness.

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  27. My first covers weren't 'horrible' but they didn't really sell my books. I think my current covers sell my books better and they make the series look more like a brand.

    I did work with a cover designer once who make a beautiful cover and I told him the image was beautiful and would look perfect on my wall, but it didn't work as a thumbnail cover. That pissed him off and our relationship soured after that. My new cover artist isn't that sensitive though, so I could freely give my input without offending her professionally.

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    1. I love your current covers! Professional and obviously looking like a series while each is still unique.

      There is some great art out there that simply won't work on a book cover. The designer you worked with originally should have realized that, or at least should have been professional enough to deal with your assessment.

      Delete
    2. It wasn't just my assessment--I showed the cover to a bunch of people and asked them what they thought the book was about based on the cover (which, by the way, is a smart thing to do if you're unsure about your covers). The reactions were funny, but also sobering in that about 1 in 10 thought it was suspense fiction.

      My current covers were made by Farah Evers, who hadn't done suspense fiction covers up till then. So I told her the elements I wanted included:
      - every title has an O in them, and I want crosshairs in the O.
      - a push dagger in the background. Push daggers are nasty but very effective daggers, a handle in your hand with a blade that protrudes between the fingers of your fist, so you punch and stab at the same time.
      - I wanted a female silhouette to show the protagonist if female, but I didn't want a 'sexy' silhouette, more a business-like woman. Hence the silhouette that is phoning with a dagger in her free hand.
      - all the covers needed to look similar, yet distinctive, so readers wouldn't be confused and buy the same book or think they already bought the book.

      Farah came up with the colour schemes, I wanted beveled edges to the push dagger so it wouldn't be 'flat', Farah came up with the symbols on the push dagger (fingerprint, microchip), but I selected the symbols (silenced gun) or had her adjust the image (the first bomb on Fundamental Error looked like a toy). Farah came up with the Amsterdam gable houses in the background that are only visible at a larger size.

      So we worked well together and she'll be making the covers of my future publication too. Since I have ideas for at least four publications, that means she has a steady client in me, which is always nice if you're an independent designer.

      And her prices are incredibly reasonable. At least, for me...

      Delete

I love comments, and will always answer them, partly because I like having the last word and partly because I just like getting to know the people who read my blog.