Budgie’s Journal #174 – “Aesthetics Are Important” or “If You Don’t Look Good, You Look Bad.”

This is a follow-up from Tuesday’s piece, The Bane of the Independent Writer, which was about indie authors ignoring the fact they aren’t edited and their self-published books aren’t properly formatted. I touched on covers a bit, and I missed some important points. Well, here they are.

If you want to get caught up, here’s a link to the aforementioned blog post: The Bane of the Independent Writer.

When I set out to write that post, I had no intention to put other writers on blast like that. Do people still say “on blast”? Did they ever? Anyway, it got out of hand, but I don’t apologize. Some things need to be said, and I’m not one to coddle.

Also, as one last disclaimer, this isn’t an ad for A Million and One’s self-publishing and graphics services. Yes, we edit, format, and do covers, but that’s not why I’m posting it. Although, if you are interested, you can check it out here: A Million and One Self-Publishing Services Page.

OK. Let’s get down in the straight poop and have us a real talk.

I made this point yesterday, and it’s something that has been said by multiple writers: “A cover isn’t important if the content inside is good.”

Wrong.

You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Also wrong (and a cliche). That’s what covers are for: judgement. It’s your first impression to potential readers. It’s your teaser; your visual flirtation.

Making your book look good is as important as the content within. Your cover will grab your potential readers’ attention or turn them off. A book with a generic photo and just your title might was well be camouflage to the shelf on which it sits. And yes, this includes a virtual shelf as well as a physical one.

Get a cover that burns: reds, oranges, and yellows attract attention like fire. Blues and greens tend to be more passive, but this doesn’t mean you can’t use them. Be anything but generic, but don’t misrepresent your book by using a cover image that has nothing to do with your book just to hook readers.

Make sure you’re sized right too. The default paperback book on Amazon is 6×9. If you have to shrink or stretch your image to fit, you’ll end up blurring it or having a border around it. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen someone put out a cover with a black border on the top and bottom because they used a square picture for a rectangular cover. That’s just basic geometry.

Trust me… I learned some of this the hard way, and I’ve changed covers because of it on a few books. If you’re not making your own cover, let whoever is making it know the dimensions you need. Be wary of putting text too close to the edges too.

Allow me to self-indulge and share some of my cover art from some recent books of mine as an example:

The inside of your book is no different. I’ve talked to a dozen or so authors who have no clue how to format texts for paperback versions of their books. Selling in Kindle is easier, since formatting isn’t as important for e-readers. Amazon will automatically make it fit whatever screen the reader is using (you just need headers and page breaks). For paperbacks, though, you need to clean it up yourself.

Proper margins, title pages, headers, page breaks, fonts, hyphenations, and page numbers are the basic set of formatting tools you’ll need. If it looks rough on the inside, you’ll turn off your reader.

Again, I’m not getting into editing again, but punctuation and grammatical editing is also extremely important.

I honestly didn’t know formatting was so hard a concept for some people. Maybe I found it easier since I took Word-based classes in college. If you have the chance to take a course, do so. If you can’t, there are those online who can help (heavy hint to check that Million and One link from earlier).

Write well and look good doing it. Your name is on the book, and you have a reputation to uphold. I know buying cover art isn’t cheap. I’ve been quoted up to six hundred bucks for a simple cover, and I’m lucky to have some artistic friends like Dan Civitella, Jim Watts of Vagabond Saints, and Katherine Marshall of A Million and One Magazine to help me.

Again: When you look bad, it makes the community look bad. Don’t learn about the importance of aesthetics the hard way. I want you to sell books and look damn good doing it.

-Budgie Bigelow
7/19/18

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