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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Indie Publishing: The Cover Image


Andrew's cover for 'Christopher Uptake'
     One of the problems of self-publishing is: What about the cover?  (As Mark Chisnell was saying only the other day...)
     Some writers are talented enough to do their own; or ask past publishers for permission to use the covers from their published editions.
     I wasn’t talented enough, and didn’t want to go cap-in-hand to publishers.  Anyway, if I'm honest, I didn’t like many of my old covers.
      Luckily, both my brothers are artists, and as my Twitter name is @priceclan, you might guess that I’m all for keeping things in the family.
      Let me introduce the older of my brothers, Andrew.  I have eight self-published books on sale so far, and he has done the covers for them all.  So I asked him to tell us about how he learned his art.

Andrew at the Price Clan Christmas Do
      Andrew said:
      I spent most of my free time as a child drawing things.  There was no ‘you must do two hours of drawing practice a week.’ I did it because I wanted to.  Around the age of eight and nine I was obsessed with aircraft and knights in armour.  I probably spent most of my time attempting to draw them.
Cover by Andrew Price
      One of my earliest memories was wanting an easy way to draw a suit of armour, because they were so intricate that drawing one was beyond me.  So I turned to the Beano.  Dennis the Menace had a suit of armour in one story. Why?  Don’t ask.  But it gave me a simple formula for drawing a suit of armour, which kept me satisfied for a year or two.
      I was so mad about aircraft that I copied photographs and drawings of them, and attempted to make my own drawings almost all the time, to such an extent that, at 12, I realised that my efforts at other things, like human figures, suffered.  From then on it was just a process of studying and copying anything and everything.
Design and photo by Andrew Price
      There was something of an artistic arms race in our house. In the ‘60s I had two siblings, one five years older [that's me, folks - Sue Price] and the other about a year and a half younger, and both drew.  What one learned to do, the others had to do their best to learn as well.  It was a matter of pride.  Our parents, on a tight budget, would buy us all pads and pencils and pens at Christmas, and we made them last – drawing in someone else’s pad was sacrilege.
      I remember, at 13, trying to copy Michelangelo’s famous chalk preparatory drawing for the Libyan Sibyl.  If you know this drawing you’ll think I was mad, and the finished result was probably execrable.  However, nobody told me I shouldn’t try, and I was never told my efforts were foolish or that they would never amount to anything.  This is how you learn to draw – copy, copy, copy.

       S: But now you often use a computer. How did that happen?

Cover by Andrew Price.
       A: It seemed a natural progression once computers had developed to a stage where they could make a decent line.  I wasn’t interested in them at twenty (much to my present shame) because I didn’t see the use of them for anything I did.  I’m rather envious of those slightly younger people who saw that they might learn programming and bought a computer and went ahead and did it.
      I bought my first computer in about 1995, because I was interested in 3D computer animation.  It’s everywhere now but this was something I’d been watching throughout the eighties and foolishly believed that it would never become mainstream enough for ordinary people like me to attempt.
      But this is the nature of computers: they gradually take over and you either see this as a good thing and get involved, or a bad thing and leave well alone.  And they still inevitably take over.
Cover: Andrew Price.
      An off-the-peg 3D programme called 3D Studio was released in 1990 and I got hold of a copy and learned it.  This led to a stint in a games company where I learned Photoshop and other similar graphics programmes.  To do art with a computer you need a lot of RAM (Random Access Memory), and my early computer, although purchased for this very quality, would roll over and die if I had even tried to open one of the files I do for Susan’s covers. They are very large files.

      S: How do you go about designing a book cover? 

      A: I make myself familiar with the main events of the book and the most important characters, and then do small thumbnail sketches on paper, attempting to lay out a pleasing design.  I can do dozens of these small sketches before something happens which seems interesting, and then I develop that and try to clarify and strengthen the theme.
Cover: Andrew Price.
      I continue doing this with more thumbnail sketches until I have something that’s strong enough to be developed on a larger scale.  I place characters into the frame, work out things like the positioning of a head, where the arms and hands are going to be and so on.  At this stage I might also do a little research on costume or architecture.  With the Ghost World books Susan wanted the images to resemble Russian woodcuts and this needed research.
      At this stage I may re-evaluate the image, and feel it’s not working.  Then I go back to stage one again.
      If I think the image is strong enough, I start to think about colour.
      The images I’ve so far done have been for kindle, and have to be black and white, but for website publicity they need to be in colour.  This has to be a balance; the colour images must still have the same impact when reduced to black and white.
      They must also have a strong effect when seen as a small thumbnail on a website like Amazon, and this depends on a strong central element such as a figure or a colour, while lettering placement is also very important.
Cover: Andrew Price.
      Design packages in which lettering can be added to a file always allow for layers to be incorporated, so elements of the image and the lettering can be ‘floated’ over each other, and moved about without too much restructuring of the work.  So you can experiment with the right placement of a title or a picture element until it looks right.

      S: Would you be willing to do book covers for other people?  

      A: If someone asks me, yes!

      S: How much would you charge?

      A: It would probably have to be something in the region of £100.  But order two and there’d be a discount!

      S: Contact details?

      A: Oh, just email me via admin at Electric Authors. That's you, and you're my sister - you know where to find me!

          Just to add - the Book Giveaway we held on Monday and yesterday was a big success!  There'll be more details later in the month, but several of us reached the top ten in various categories both in the UK and the US - and some of us reached the number one spot!
          If anyone reading downloaded one of our books - we hope you enjoy it!

          Susan Price can be found at her website: www.susanpriceauthor.com
          And she blogs here at http://susanpricesblog.blogspot.co.uk/

8 comments:

Rick said...

Good post. Nice to have talented family members!!

Lynne Garner said...

Interesting to read how the design of a cover 'grows.' I think my favourite to date is Christopher Uptake!

Susan Price said...

I'm very lucky in my brothers - I'm introducing the other over at my own blog on Saturday.
Glad you like the Christopher Uptake cover, Lynne! I love it too, and it's ten times - nay, a hundred times - better than the original, hardback cover, which, frankly, I thought dreary.

Lee said...

My personal favourite is the Nightcomers cover, and I agree that an image is important, though I'm not sure if we shouldn't look for a term other than 'cover image'. It's telling that of my two novels, the one with the more dramatic cover (Mortal Ghost) is downloaded far more often. One day, both will be professionally designed - also by a family member (so to speak) at no charge! It's called the exchange principle: I translate stuff for him when needed.

Susan Price said...

Book image? Book icon? Perhaps 'book cover' is going to be one of those phrases left behind in our language as things move on.

Enid Richemont said...

I've always loved the Russian woodcut designs whenever they've popped up. You ARE lucky to have such amazing brothers - could you clone them and send the clones to me, please?

julia jones said...

Book icon's a good phrase and please thank Andrew for his clear explanation of what makes the covers work when they are in B & W and on the small Amazon scale. (My favourits, just to be different are the icons for the Ghost series)

Katherine Roberts said...

I saw your Christopher Uptake cover on my Kindle and thought "yes!" so it certainly hit the spot with me. I like others, too... they're very different from the usual photos people seem to use, and with such talent in one family the Price Clan Publishing Company is obviously just around the corner...