Pre-made Covers & Video Killing the Radio Stars

I judge books by their covers.

I’d like to take a moment out of my morning to discuss the thorn in every book cover designer’s side—pre-made covers.

As a professional graphic designer, designing is my bread and butter. I’m paid for my time, my creativity, and my ability to create something visually appealing, and effective, that meets my client’s specific needs. While some people may argue that pre-made book covers can entail all of these things, let me first stress the point of individuality. I’m assuming that most authors write their books in hopes of it being something new, fresh, unique, and something that sets them apart from the ever-flowing stream of stories in the same genre. If their hopes for their book(s) is just that, why would anyone accept less than that for the cover? It is, after all, the first impression the story is going to make.

Why buy the ball gown if you’re just going to run to Target to pick up a pair of flip-flops to wear with it? Think of your book as an entire package. The story, the editing, the cover, the blurb, the marketing. Sell your book as a whole.

The way I think of it is like getting your hair cut. Perhaps there is a hairstylist who does a mean bob. She cuts it with razor-sharp precision, the same length each time, not a hair out of place, in varying shades of black to extreme black. She may be the master of the bob hairstyle, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should be walking around with their hair cut into a bob. Some people look better with long, flowing locks, or some with short, styled hair, or some with pink, bone-straight hair and half their head shaved. My point is, most people, go to the hairstylist first, and the hairstylist looks at their face, their hair, their needs, how much time they’d like to spend on it in the morning, then cuts and styles their hair in accordance with their wants and needs. And that makes sense, right? So why wouldn’t that same concept be applicable to book covers?

But I know what you’re all thinking. Starving authors, tiny budgets, easy-of-use, all that jazz. “But Natasha, I can’t afford to have a professionally designed cover. Pre-made covers are easy and cheap, so they’re really my only option.” Well, that’s fair, but easy and cheap are two adjectives I, personally, would want nowhere near something I’d created. Sometimes, if it was cheap, it looks cheap. I’ve seen amazing cover artists who are selling their work for $125 or less, and personally, I think that’s a steal for a beautiful cover personalized just for your book.

We’re all guilty of seeing a gorgeous book cover and picking it and reading the blurb because of it, or even just adding it to our TBR list because of the cover. I judge books by their covers, and sometime during your lifetime, you probably have too. I judge movies by their posters and their trailers, I judge TV series’ by their commercials, I judge places by pictures I’ve seen of them on the internet. If Cinque Terre only had terrible, low-resolution pictures of it floating around the internet, grainy, underexposed, and unfocused, do you think as many people would be setting their travel sights there?

One thing I’m not saying is that you have to be a professional graphic designer to design a good cover. If you can design your own cover, or have a friend do it, and they’re not a professional but it looks good, then fantastic! Spread the cover love. I’ve seen a few very good unprofessional book covers in my past, and I think feel the same toward them as I would a professional one.

And as for the designers who make pre-made book covers—I get it. I totally get it. There’s a market for it, and a lot of authors are interested in buying pre-made book covers, so if there’s a market for it, why wouldn’t you supply it? My sadness is more of a reflection on the desire to use pre-made book covers in the first place.

Spend the bit of extra money, put a pretty face on your book, and feel proud that the beautiful outside matches the inside.