A self-publishing journey: book covers and current “conventional” wisdom

After quite a long gap, I’ve decided to self-publish a few books. I thought it might be interesting to write up my journey, because perhaps the research I undertake will be beneficial to others.

I know, both from my own experience as a book buyer, and from reading many experts’ writing about this, that the cover of your book matters a lot. At least, I think I know that.

I wouldn’t presume to know enough about all this to doubt the views of all these experts, but I do have some doubts. The reason is that my field is non-fiction. Specifically, education. And within that my field is bout teaching and using technology. So my doubt arises from the following thought: if I write a book called, say, “How to use widgets with primary school children”, that is a pretty specific title, and only primary teachers who want to know how to use widgets with their classes are likely to be interested in buying it. In fact, to come across it in the first place, they would probably have had to search for it. In that case, would the cover make that much difference? Perhaps it would. Maybe, if my cover looked boring, amateurish or just plain “wrong”, potential readers would buy the rival book with the better cover? I genuinely don’t know.

I have another problem with covers, although it’s actually the same problem in another guise. I have looked at scores, if not hundreds, of covers, and most of them look the same. I think that must be because the current “conventional wisdom” in graphic design school is that book covers have to have particular styles of typography, certain kinds of illustrations and (above all) particular proportions.

I need someone to come up with a really bright idea

The only cover designs I did like were not really cover designs at all, but templates that you could adapt in Photoshop. Unfortunately, I’m not a Photoshop user. In any case, I suspect that if I were to use one of these templates my book cover would look exactly the same as a hundred other ones that are based on the same template.

What I am looking for, and so far I have been singularly unsuccessful, is a book cover designer that is a maverick. If there were a Facebook group for people who had been thrown out of graphic design school for being unteachable or “off message” or something, I’d look right there for someone to hire.

This phenomenon of what I’ve called “current ‘conventional’ wisdom” crops up time and time again. For instance, I have already written, in The get-rich-quick itch, about the predilection of some writing experts to insist on writing short sentences.I was delighted to come across LONG SENTENCES and why you should use them by Emma Darwin, whom I met at a Society of Authors workshop; do check out her website and blog, This Itch of Writing.)

Another example is in story-telling, where almost everyone I read or hear telling a story does so in the present tense. After two or three sentences, I find this excruciatingly boring.

But back to book covers. I need a book cover designer. I am not looking for one who thinks outside the box; I am looking for someone who doesn’t even recognise the existence of a box!

Oh well, back to the search engine.