I think a rite of passage in this self-publishing thing is to do your homework. This has been done before, and most certainly documented before in this, the Age of Documentation. So the new self-publisher’s first task is to educate herself using the lessons learned by those who blazed the trail. Among the advice that is most frequently and loudly repeated is this: Do not to try to design the cover yourself.
This is also the very first piece of advice I threw out the window.
It was a somewhat worrisome choice, I admit. There’s something about the covers of self-published books that scream “No Professionals Here!” What is it about self-published book covers that self-identify them as such? I have yet to put my finger on it. I think there are a few common missteps: designing in a non-design program, such as Word or PowerPoint; using common fonts like Times New Roman and not tweaking anything about them; using cheap, off-the-shelf stock photography or graphics. But those notwithstanding, professional designers do bring a certain je ne se quoi.
But only some of them.
I don’t want to skewer an entire industry, but let’s just say I’ve worked with enough graphic designers to know that they’re just like any other professional: some are really amazing, some are really terrible, and the bulk fall on the continuum in between.
I would be hard-pressed to call myself a professional graphic designer, but I do perform design on at least a weekly basis in the course of my occupation. I also minored in Fine Art at Goucher, and studied art for 17 consecutive years. I draw and paint at home. I have “an eye” as they say, so I don’t feel out of my element in putting together my own book cover. I’ve chosen to do this because I’ve committed to keeping the “self” in self-publisher. (I’ll tell you I considered for more than a long moment printing the books myself and hand-binding them, but that’s another story. I smartly moved on from that choice.) I consider myself an artist, and I feel I would be cheating some part of myself if I were to leave the cover art up to someone else.
But as I’m moving forward with a particular photograph from a particular photographer, I’m realizing the small piece of joy that I’m missing out on by doing it myself: the reveal. In the same way I will never be able to read Secernere for the first time like any other reader can, I will never be able to see my cover for the first time. It is evolving in draft after draft, tweak after tweak. I’m losing my objective eye for it because I’ve seen it through so many iterations. As explored in earlier posts, I have myriad reasons for knowing I’m ready to publish the book. I don’t have quite so much confidence in the cover design.
I’m a little disappointed that I won’t ever take in that gasp of breath and exclaim, “Oh my god! It’s perfect!” when I see the delivered cover from my hired gun. But neither will I ever have to be a PITA control freak client saying to the designer, “Can you try it once more with Garamond instead?”
It was difficult to settle on a photographer. It’s not the photographer; she’s amazing and her work looks like it was taken right out of my book. It’s more that it’s difficult to narrow my choices down. So it was even more difficult to settle on a handful of her photographs, from which I narrowed it down to one. Now that I’ve mentally locked myself into one, I’m beginning to feel a bit trapped, and I worry that feeling may get worse once I sign the paperwork. After that, the photograph has to become part of a design, and eventually I will be able to change nothing, not even the spread on the drop shadow under my name. That’s the thing about being a control freak: you wholly own the decisions you make, and you can never pass the blame onto anything except the passage of time.
But whatever I settle on will be imperfect and perfect in its own way. Perfect because it will be mine.