For self-published authors, which comes first, the cover or the book? In the past, I’ve considered the cover to be like the icing on the cake, rather than the baking tin, and focused on writing the book before thinking about the cover design. However, a recent conversation on the ALLi members’ Facebook forum has made me think again.
What prompted the conversation was a Facebook post by one of our members, Derek Murphy. Announcing that he’d just started planning a new novel, his post was accompanied by what looked like a fully-formed, ready-to-roll cover design, which was already exciting interest from potential readers in the eventual book.
As Derek is also a book designer, his approach should not have surprised me – but I was intrigued to find out whether he was the only author who thought this way. So I put the question to our members, and here’s a summary of their responses.
- Mocking up a book cover before you start writing makes a book seem “real”, which can help motivate you to write it.
- Defining the cover before you write the book makes you consider your readers’ perspective.
- Having the cover in front of you while you’re writing keeps you focused.
- Once you’ve planned your book, you know what the key elements will be, so it’s easy to brief it in to your designer at that stage – why wait?
- Planning it early gives you the chance to live with the cover for a while before you have to commit to the final version.
- If you’re taking this approach of writing the book from the outside in, so to speak, why stop at the cover design? Also add a working title, strapline, and make up a puff quote from the type of person you’d like to endorse it.
- If you show off the cover while you’re still writing the book, you’ll intrigue your audience long before the book is published, via a cover reveal announcement at any stage you like, and warm them up to purchase it once it’s published.
You Can Always Change It Later
Planning your cover before you write the book does not commit you to sticking with it. Nor do you need to worry about wasting money on a cover that’s eventually changed – you can always do a mock-up for free, so that you’ve got a cover to live with, and bring in the paid, professional designer towards the end.
- If the book evolves into a different animal as you write it, you’ll obviously want to change the cover.
- If a new trend arises in cover design for your genre, such as the notorious “headless women” that fronted historical fiction for a while, you may want to jump aboard that wagon – or, as an indie, you may choose not to!
- If you discover someone else has produced a similar cover in the meantime, you may want to change
Of course, you don’t need to stick with your draft cover design once you’re ready to publish, nor after it’s been out there for a while. Both trade and indie publishers often switch covers to keep a book looking fresh and up-to-date, or if to boost sales if the existing cover isn’t leading to sales. But as an indie author, one big advantage you have over the traditionally published is that you call the shots on your cover. Authors with trade contracts usually have very little say in the way their book is packaged for publication.
Inspiration for NaNoWriMo
This conversation has prompted me to try a new approach with my own next book, a cosy mystery that I’m planning to draft during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. As usual, I’ve had the title in my head for a long time, Best Murder in Show. When I registered to take part, I noticed that the profile for each author’s WIP includes a placeholder for an image. So I’ve mocked up a rough, home-made cover design and plugged it in there, to inspire me to complete the NaNo challenge. I’m planning to commission a professional cover design when the book is done, but for the moment, I’m hoping I’ll benefit from this strategy for all the reasons outlined above. Will it work? I’ll tell you in December….
With thanks to Pauline Baird Jones, Julie Day, Keith Dixon, Michael MacMahon, Karen Myers, David Penny for joining the conversation on our closed Facebook group (one of the benefits of ALLi membership), and to Derek Murphy for the initial inspiration.
- How Changing Cover Designs Can Boost Book Sales – by Scarlett Rugers
- How to Make a Free Book Cover – by Debbie Young
- How to Use a Survey to Choose a Cover – by Debbie Young