Saturday, July 15, 2017

Book Cover as Poem

Subsequent to my last post where I said my cover design for The Single Eye was finished, I decided it was too dark and spent the next week lightening it up.

I now have a GIMP file marked "FINAL."  I've even layer-merged and flattened it and exported it as a .jpg.  But . . . I also saved a version with all the layers available for further manipulation.  If I have to.

Yeah, I'm hopeless.  Especially because I'm still not sure I have the exact shade of blue right, and I keep feeling I have to get it perfect.

And my only hope for escaping perfectionism is to think how book cover design is like writing a poem.

Think about it.

A poem uses figures of speech, allusion, wordplay, and so on to evoke ideas and sensations in the reader.  Its meaning enters through the heart and the gut and makes its way up to the brain.  Poetry is not propositional or literal, and its communication of truth is all the more powerful because of that.

A good book cover does the same.  It appeals to the subconscious and invites you without words to click on it or to take it in your hand and open it up.  You think "That's intriguing" without precisely knowing why.

And book covers are like poems in that with each there are any number of ways that inner pull can be produced.

The way I've been fretting over my cover design since early May you'd think I believed there is Only One Perfect Cover for any one book.  I'm not the only one who labors under this burden.  I've been under a lot of pressure from some fellow-authors (it's always fellow-authors) who tell me I have to hire a pro for this, as if any one person could, just by virtue of their being a professional, generate the cover I need.  This is ridiculous on the face of it.  Books are rebranded and covers redesigned over and over as new editions are published.  Are we supposed to believe that only one of those is the foreordained right one and woe to the rest?


No, the challenge is to get this particular cover to evoke the book, just as a poet crafts this particular poem to express the subject he's writing his verses on.  Is there only one poem that can be written on love?  How about war?  How about the futility of this earthly existence (cue violins)?  Of course not.  All these things can have an infinite number of poems written on them.

They need to fit the subject, of course.  But within that framework the poet strives to make her poem as internally-consistent and as perfect an expression of love or war or futility-of-human-existence it possibly can be.

A book cover is the same.  Yes, you want to follow genre conventions.  Put pink frills and flowing script on a noir murder mystery and you'll end up with some pretty annoyed readers.  But once overall genre expectations are met, your cover has no need to be uniquely perfect, only to be well-proportioned, expressive, and consistent within itself.  

And thanks to advent of the ebook, if I should think up a new design that is even more that than what I have now, I can easily switch the new cover out.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Good Enough, or, The Hamster Wheel

These days I'm trying to make progress on my cover for The Single Eye, and considering that I've been working at it pretty steadily since the third week in May, that progress is pretty darn slow.

No, it doesn't look the same as it did then, it looks better.  And I'm learning GIMP at a good clip.  So all's good, right?

No, it's not.  Seems like the more I work on it, the shakier my confidence gets.  

I mean, you need feedback, right?  And I've asked for it, in my general online writers' group, on Facebook in the authors' group I belong to there, on my personal Facebook page, on Instagram, and in person.

The reaction from ordinary people in person and on social media has been very positive.  For them, the proposed cover looks "real."  They want to know when the book will be available for sale.  They're asking if I've set up preorder.  On Instagram I've had some nice Likes from professional designers.  Very encouraging.  But when it comes to my fellow-writers . . . ouch.  The comments and critiques are all over the place, and what one person likes the other hates. 

I'm taking in the critique.  I note where potential readers might be confused and alter the design accordingly.  And I think what I have now is better than what I started with.   It might even be Good Enough.  

But there's a sick perfectionist urge in me that whispers, "Keep working on it.  Keep working on it.  Even if it takes till next year or the year after.  Keep working on it.  You have to please everyone.  You never will, it'll never be good enough, but you have to try."  But I can't keep working on it.  There's a point where I'm going to have to say This Is It, and I need to say it soon.

A lot of people would advise me, "That's why you hire a cover artist and don't try to do it yourself."  Yeah, but unless I could afford someone with the chops of a Chip Kidd, how do I know the cut-rate designer I've hired (and right now, I couldn't even afford to hire someone off Fiverr) has provided me a design that's all it should be?  I've gotten to the point where even if my cover--- my design or someone else's---  looked like the one on an Amazon No. 1 ten-week bestseller I'd still worry there were ten things wrong with it.

It's sick.  So I have to ignore the neurosis and the paranoia, and maybe my helpful critics, too.  Which is why I'm not posting any more progress views.  I can't let anyone give me the excuse to stay on this hamster wheel.

I've done my best on it, the best I can at this stage.  And I should be able to recognise that.  After all, I've been an artist, architect, and graphic designer a lot longer than I've been a writer, and I've cranked out some very successful publicity pieces during my misspent career.  

And if I think of a way to improve my cover later, I can.  Hey, that's the beauty of doing it myself.