A Book by Any Other Cover: My First Foray Into the Digital Garden

Despite an early resistance to eBooks (blasphemy!) and a long love for the printed page, I admit I’ve come to appreciate what digital books can offer readers—convenience and price foremost—and, even more importantly, what they can offer writers.  And so it was with great joy that I was able get HarperCollins to revert electronic rights to four of my first books: The Truesight Trilogy and A Gathering of Shades. To make things more interesting, I decided to also self-publish a manuscript that had been languishing in a dusty corner of hard drive for years.

Pretty soon, I was not only in the business of writing books, but producing them, as well. It’s been quite an adventure! Getting the text ready was the hardest part. Fortunately, I’m married to a brilliant copyeditor and proofreader who was able to proof my final digital manuscripts against their printed counterparts. (Good thing—she found lots of errors the original editors at HarperCollins had missed!)

But besides preparing the actual books, I faced another challenge: Covers. Harper owned the cover art rights to my original books, and I needed a new cover for the unpublished work. The one consistent message that came through during all my research on digital publishing was the importance of having a professional-looking cover. A quick tour of Smashwords or the Kindle store will quickly show you the why. The difference between a professional and amateur cover is striking and instantly recognizable.

After some soul searching and some Google searching (I’m starting to wonder if there’s a difference anymore) I discovered Claudia at Phatpuppy Art, an artist specializing in digital art (not to be confused with an illustrator) out of LA. She specializes in book covers and had done several for Amanda Hocking. (For those who haven’t heard, Hocking became a Kindle superstar and multimillionaire after self-publishing a series of supernatural romances.)

Claudia was great. She was diligent in her communications and flexible with her rates. Before I knew it, she was on board. We started with the Truesight Trilogy first. In exchange for a reduced rate, part of the deal was that I would do a lot of the legwork, which involved coming up with the basic layout and design concept along with combing through many, many, MANY online pages of stock photography in search of suitable images.

Once I finished prepping, we went to work. She crafted a first draft, I made suggestions. Back and forth we went, a flurry of emails and phone calls. Claudia was incredible—smart, no nonsense, honest yet supportive. She understands what makes an eBook cover different from a regular cover. Keep it simple! Lots of contrast between light and dark! It has to look good as a thumbnail since that’s how perspective buyers will see it.

In three days, I had three covers. They looked awesome. Books two and three looked better than the originals, I thought. I was so excited, I signed her on for two more. Two days later, I had covers for A Gathering of Shades and my new soon-to-be released middle grade novel, I Wish I May. I was shocked. The part of the process I was dreading most—anticipating weeks if not months of slow, difficult work—was over in less than a week. And it was fun! Exhilarating, even.

Of course, the work wasn’t finished. The art was done, but the typography remained. For that I turned to my colleague at Lyndon Institute, Ellen Levitt. A talented designer, she spent several wonderful sessions with me, picking fonts, adjusting their placement and appearance.

As an author in traditional publishing, you have very little control over the cover. My editors at Harper and Chronicle were always very good at keeping me in the loop, but at the end of the day, I was more or less a bystander. So it was an interesting experience to be on this side of the process, to be directing the design in partnership with two talented professionals.

Self-publishing is a lot of work, but it is empowering and rewarding with the right people at your side.