Monday, April 09, 2012

Followup on Joe Konrath's Cover Designer post

Last week I reposted Joe Konrath's posting regarding his cover artist's "fire sale", for only $150 you can have a premade cover. I also posted my covers along with that posting just to put them out there again.

What I wanted to share with you today is a couple of comments and followup comments on Joe's blog. I'm not being mean-spirited or anything, just felt I needed to justify some of what Joe said about my covers. (Warning this is a long post, so if you don't have time to read all the way through, please try to come back and finish reading and leave your comments. :) )

This first comment was posted three up from my original comment. There was another comment between Righter's block's comment and Joe's comment, but only these are pertinent for this posting. What it comes down to is this, a cover artist is offering "premade" covers at a discount. Why? Why would a professional even offer "premade" covers in the first place? The whole objective of finding a cover artist, regardless if you are just starting out or you've been publishing stories for ages, is to find someone who will meet the needs of your particular story, not the other way around. I never really said Carl's covers weren't good; I just stated they were generic and I can't see paying $150 for "premade" covers that wouldn't fit any story (even Joe posts in his original blog posting that if you want to change colors or what not that you probably could for an extra fee, even though this is a what you see is what you get sale - the covers are sold as is) I had written. I also stated I wouldn't pay $150 for something that was stock photos or "premade". Admittedly, I have changed one of my stories to fit the cover but only two lines in the story, not the whole story, because I felt the cover Heather did was perfect and that it really conveyed the message of what the story is about. More elaboration on this in Joe's second comment directed at me and trashing my covers and my illustrator/cover designer. This is not a professional way to handle the negative comments, and I never trashed Carl nor his covers. Just stated they were generic and I wouldn't pay the $150 price for stock photos.

Righter's Block said...
Are you serious? $150 for THOSE? Those are generic and awful. I'd much rather do one in MSPaint. This reeks of a scam.
This is the first comment that led me to leave a comment on this particular posting (like I said, it was 3 up from my comment with 1 between this one and Joe's response).

Joe Konrath said...
@Righters - Please send me a cover you've done on MSPaint. I'll happily post it. Until then, I encourage you (and everyone) to back up their opinions with facts. It's very easy to confuse personal taste with quality. We all need to explain why we like or dislike something, and understand the difference between subjective and objective.

Carl has an incredibly acute eye for color, tone, lighting and shading, space, vector, and balance, among other things. He can evoke mood, genre, and setting with amazing skill. $150 is a steal. If you think otherwise, show us your stuff.
Joe challenges Righter's block to show his stuff created in MSPaint (since Heather does all my covers and has her own programs, I can't comment on showing something I designed since I'm not the designer and have no art background).

This is the comment I left, agreeing with Righter's block about the covers being generic.

elysabeth said...
My thoughts were the same as Righters' - these are very generic and don't really evoke any reason for me to buy a book based on any of these covers. My illustrator, who also does all my covers to specs, only charges $75 for full covers for print books and the same for ebook covers. I have several of them that have evoked some very good responses from everyone - the covers are quality. I did a comparison of covers from a story that won first place and the publisher had done the original cover and having republished with my illustrator's cover and the response was overwhelming that the second cover was the preferred one. I posted this on my blog a while back ( when the story was about to be published (so would have been late November/early December).

I haven't checked out Carl's normal prices but $150 for an ebook cover seems pretty pricey to me, but then again, I'm not earning $100,000 in three weeks like you did, Joe. I'll stick with my young, very talented, illustrator/cover designer, thank you very much. - E :) (No where in this comment do I trash Carl or the covers. Honestly, looking at these covers, I wouldn't have picked up the book because the covers didn't stand out, this is what I mean by generic. There isn't anything setting them off from several other books in any of the genres you could see them as. Doesn't mean that the covers aren't good, but jump off the shelf into your hands great they are not. I could see #11 as a possible fun, flirty YA or even a flirty romance but the colors alone and the generic look of the cover wouldn't cause me to take pause and read the back cover blurb or the description or even open the book to see what it was about, thus I probably would pass by this book and not purchase it.)

This is Joe's comment directed at me only where he trashes my covers and Heather. I've stated many times how my illustrator/cover designer is young (remember she just turned 18 not too long ago and she is going to school for the sole purpose of getting her graphic design degree and to learn about all the things a cover designer needs to learn) and very talented. So I'm going to break down Joe's comments and explain or justify things.

Joe Konrath said...
Elysabeth - Again, see my comment about the difference between personal taste and quality. (this is what he stated in his comment to Righter's block originally, and I know Heather does quality work because she doesn't sign off on a cover until the customer is 100% completely satisfied, even if after a few days or a month the customer decides that the cover needs changing)

I checked out your covers on Amazon, and though you may like them, they just aren't professional quality. And I'll go into some detail why:

Tulip Kiss, Bride and Seek, The Proposal, and Finally home appear to be nothing more than a single image with a name and title on them. A book cover is more than just a picture and some words. (the argument here is that these are definitely more than a picture and some words. I know, because it took me 8 tries to get "The Tulip Kiss" right, wording and depth of the color of the tulip, and I saw the many layers and depth of the cover as Heather developed it) If I took the Mona Lisa, and put "Masterpiece" by JA Konrath on it, it would not be a good book cover. Which is why The DaVinci Code cover was what it was.

The eye isn't drawn anywhere on your covers. No vectors. No shadowing or lighting. No blending of the font into the cover so it appears organic rather than slapped on. (again, I know with "The Tulip Kiss" that Heather did blend the font into the cover as I saw the many changes and layers it went through until it was exactly what was needed for the story) (as for the other covers, the fonts are the right fonts and I don't see that they look slapped on an image; again, I am not the artist, so most of this doesn't mean anything to me, but they all mean something to Heather and she works very hard to make sure the covers convey the story in a small amount of space and she is still learning a lot of what goes into the business, so for her young age, the covers have evolved into quality work and I've seen this since I've been working with Heather for 2 years now, well okay, almost 2 years) Much too much negative space. No pleasing composition. No color palates to speak of. The titles and author names are hard to read, especially at thumbnail (which is where most buyers see covers.) (I don't look at thumbnails and most of the time I have printed the covers for when I'm out doing a live event so that folks can see the covers)

None of your images convey the genre--in fact, I have no idea of their genre. Are these romance? Chick-lit? Lit-fic? One of them has a category listed as Humor (this is an amazon thing as I have it listed as romance and humor under that but amazon only lists it as humor. It is a humorous romance and the cover really does convey that - the setting of a romantic dinner with an engagement ring box and a frog in the box. This is an April Fools Day story and is riddled with practical jokes and the frog is very humorous and pertinent to the story. This is the only story I've ever changed anything in for my cover, because when I went back to read the story, I realized that I didn't have the frog in the ring box but the frog was background noise during dinner, so I rewrote the two lines about the actual time Henry proposed to fit the frog in the ring box. Normally, I want a cover that fits my story, not the other way around. I was very impressed with this cover and felt it totally conveyed the humor of the story that I couldn't not fix the story to fit the cover), and the cover doesn't show that at all. (I don't see how a frog in a ring box in a romantic setting can't be considered humorous, just goes to show that men and women will see something totally different. Joe sees this as not humorous and not romantic; all my readers and customers see the humor in this, being that it is a romance and all. This is also my second place winning story and if it didn't fit the contest I wouldn't have placed at all. Sorry, Joe, the cover is both romantic and humorous.)

(as far as the other covers conveying their genres, the only one I can say that isn't really up to standards is "Bride-and-Seek" and this is my fault as I was in a rush to get the story published so I could offer it as a freebie for Valentine's Day. Even before Joe's comment, Heather and I had already had a chat concerning the cover for "Bride-and-Seek". This is a paranormal romance (a ghostly romance story) based on a legend in the UK about a bridegroom who loses his wife to a game of hide-and-seek on their wedding night. I knew that the castle or the "haunted" manor needed to be on the cover. I've been through several changes with this cover but went ahead and published it without being 100% satisfied. Hopefully this will be fixed soon and I can show a new cover. I'm open to suggestions to pass along to Heather of what anyone, including Joe, feels should be on the cover, knowing the story of groom loses bride to a game of hide-and-seek (the attic thing that Joe references as being a coral in a goldfish tank is the trunk the bride got locked in and where she died, but how does one convey a man searching for his bride who was lost tragically in a silly game on their wedding night?). "The Tulip Kiss" is another paranormal romance story (again amazon only lists the story in ghosts & horror, which is not how I have it listed - romance first and then paranormal or ghost story). This is another tragic story of wife losing husband on a very frigid, cold winter day due to an accident on an icy road. The winter scene with the tulip in the background is exactly what the cover should be since it conveys a love for a person as well as a special flower. I don't think Heather could have done more to the cover, and if she felt she could do something differently, she would have voiced it which she never did. Finally Home is a YA paranormal mystery. The house that my protag is looking at from her bedroom window is where all the mystery lies. Finding the secrets of that house is what pulls my reader into the story. So, again, I do believe that the cover for Finally Home is exactly what is needed for the story. I had school librarians comment on the house on the cover saying that they knew that house (it was in one of the towns they were from) or they had seen that house before (either while driving from place to place or just happened on it), so the house was definitely the intriguing point of the cover, which is what I wanted. The house is actually what the story is about. The original cover for this story was the attic scene where Kelly and Emma find the secrets the house holds by way of a mirror (okay Kelly finds out things because Emma already knows but is only a device to help Kelly unveil the secrets the house holds); Heather had made the whole cover look like the attic boards and flooring with the mirror kind of propped up on the wall and Kelly looking at the mirror and the old woman looking back. I didn't really like that for a cover because I felt that it didn't highlight the house like it needed to, but I did love the mirror and felt it needed to stay, because the old woman in the mirror truly reflected who she is supposed to be. So, Heather came up with the now cover for Finally Home moving the mirror to the back cover and making the back look like the attic in a sense. The two main components - the house and the mirror - are exactly what the cover conveys and I think Heather did an excellent, professional job of getting those two things correct. Granted it, as Heather stated to me, she is young and is not going to be 100% perfect like others who have been in the industry for 20 or 50 years. She is still learning but she is also gaining on-the-job experience by having her own graphic design business going while trying to write her own stories, edit for several companies and go to school. She has a lot on her plate, but I know she will go make a name for herself eventually. I think my covers are professionally done and that Heather continues to rise to the occasion of creating, not "premaking" covers that do what they are supposed to do, sell books.)

And your State series--I'm not saying this to be mean, but they are among the most amateur covers I've ever seen. The drawing isn't professional, and the images look hastily done and cobbled together in a montage-type of way that is not at all flattering, eye catching, or professional. (oh boy, this one statement hit such a nerve with me and this is why I hadn't commented back on Joe's blog and decided to bring my comment dissection over here. First of all, Joe, these are children's books. The books are part fact and part fiction. They aren't supposed to be elaborate covers since there isn't really a plot to the stories. The characters are playing a game and trying to guess which state is being described based on clues the game is giving. The covers are supposed to be a montage of three of the clues inside the book and the titles tie the clues and state together in a different way. Since I don't want to give the state away immediately and want my readers to guess along with my characters, they have to come across the actual clues when they are reading the story and make their guess later. I do well with my state books at in-person events and hopefully will pick up online sales from other things - bookmarks, being connected with a small group who will be doing book fairs, freebies, banners, et cetera. My goal basically is to get the stories in the schools to be used as a supplement for a social studies curriculum geared for 3rd through about 6th grade. The covers are what the stories are about since they are about the individual states.)

If you paid $75 and you're happy with the results, that's fine. Were the people who liked your covers folks you know--friends, family, writing buddies, etc? If so, they aren't the best people to get advice from. Strangers are much more honest. (I've had three actual friends or family make comments on any or all of my covers that Heather has done for me. The rest have been from strangers and persons who have actually bought my books as well as folks from online.)

I could take any of your covers, put them up against any of Carl's (and he's done hundreds) in a blind poll, and his would be picked 100% of the time. (any of his generic, premade covers? Since my covers are custom made to fit my particular stories, I don't think that would be as accurrate as you think, but if you feel that 100% of the persons polled would pick a premade, generic cover over a custom made cover, then run a poll - but it wouldn't be a fair polling since you are biased towards Carl and I'm biased toward Heather, and it isn't like I haven't had other illustrators/cover designers because I've been published with a midlist traditional publisher before going the self pubbed route. If you can get a neutral party to run a poll of several of the covers on your posting versus several of mine, then go ahead and do it. I think the results will be less than 100% for Carl's covers, not that I would ever think I would get 100% or even 99% of the votes, but I do know that my covers are quality and strangers like my covers and have been purchasing my ebooks and I believe that I'm getting my name out there and that sooner or later I'll be making enough with my writing to support me instead of me supporting my writing.)

I'm really not trying to hurt your feelings here, or come off as a jerk. (but that is exactly what you did, come off as a jerk because you totally trashed an 18-year-old's work without knowing anything about my stories or the reason for the particular covers I have; my feelings aren't hurt because everyone has an opinion and is entitled to voice it) I don't even know what the image on Bride and Seek is supposed to be. Is that coral in a goldfish tank? Only after staring at it for 30 seconds did I notice that weird ghost profile coming out of the bottom. (see my previous comments above concerning this cover and no that isn't coral in a goldfish tank but the trunk where the bride died. I'm open to any suggestions from anyone, including you, on what you think the cover should have on it based on the background of the story now.)

Again, not trying to be mean. I'm trying to be constructive. If Carl had ever done a cover for me like yours, I would have rejected it after a three second cursory glance. (that's pretty impressive that you would just glance at a cover and reject it rather than making sure it fit your needs and the story; again, all my covers are custom made and the covers featured on your blog are "premade" generic, and several can be used for many different genres, which isn't the purpose of a cover. The purpose of the cover is to convey the story in a single image, so no author should be purchasing premade covers and fit their story to them.)

A professional cover artist working for a Big 6 publisher gets upwards of $1500 for cover art. (we aren't talking about professional cover artists by being indie authors using indie cover designers and artists who freelance and there is a big difference in being published by the Big6 or any other traditional publisher out there. They use their own illustrators/cover designers and you are stuck with whatever they decide is best for your book, even if it is the most generic worst cover ever imagined. You have to keep that in mind, we are talking about small fish in the vast ocean of the publishing industry by using indie cover designers. I'm not even sure why you would liken someone like Carl or Heather to the big publishing houses because that isn't what the original comment was about at all.) There is a reason for this. Professionals do quality work, and they understand the nuances of art, especially cover art. I've seen Carl make a cover from scratch. It can take many hours, and he'll use a dozen or more layers for lighting, texture, shading, blending, etc. (again, my cover designer is young and is still learning but for not having been in the industry for 20 or 30 or 50 years, I think she does very professional work and she will get better as she gets older and has more knowledge under her belt.)

These covers he's selling look like pro covers because they are pro covers. (the covers he is selling are pro covers but they are "premade" and being sold as-is, again asking an author to fit a story to Carl's covers; they are not custom covers and are therefore generic, several can be used for several different genres, which is not what you want your cover to say; you want a cover that speaks specifically to your story alone, to stand out and be different.) Your cover artist isn't. And your covers aren't helping your book sales. I know this because I once too had unprofessional covers.
(I'm starting to see a shift in my sales but it doesn't have anything to do with my covers, it has to do with my marketing strategies, which is a never ending process. I also have not been in the industry very long, just barely 5 years, maybe 6, and I'm still learning things every day. I know over time, my cover artist will grow and change with the industry and she will be considered a pro like Carl but for now, I'm willing to give a young girl a chance to do custom made covers that suit my stories and are up to my standards.)

This is not meant to trash Joe, Carl or anyone else. This is something I had to mull over several days after reading Joe's comment directed at me personally and my cover artist. I think as a professional that common courtesy goes a long way. When leaving comments or replying back to someone's comments on your blog, if you can only say negative things, then please do so privately. Bashing people because they are young, too new in the industry or don't know what you know or do things the same way you do or can't afford to pay a cover artist the same that you pay yours is not the way to handle things. Grant it, Joe bashes the publishing industry all the time, but to take personal hits on something like covers he feels are not professionally created or whatever just really got under my skin. If at any place in my comment on Joe's blog I came across as trashing or being negative about Carl or Joe, I apologize because that isn't what my intent in was when I posted my comment. I commented based on seeing the covers (which I felt weren't jump off the page saying you need me, buy me now covers) and reading other people's comments. I only agreed with Righter's block that the covers were generic looking, not that it smelled of a scam or anything else. Again, if that is how Joe or Carl read my comment, I apologize. I think I've explained everything that Joe felt was wrong with my covers, but if I haven't, I'm sure I'll hear about it later from someone. See you all in the postings - E :)


Faye Tollison said...

I totally agree with you, Elysabeth. A pre-made bookcover does nothing for your book. You want it to reflect the story inside because a reader is going to read the title and look at the bookcover to even decide whether or not they want to read the blurb or look inside the book. A good bookcover that reflects what the story is about will help sell your book. A generic bookcover, which is what these pre-made bookcovers are, will not do a thing to help sell your book. Your bookcovers do just that. I love THE TULIP KISS bookcover and FINALLY HOME. They are fabulous and would certainly make me buy the book (which I have done).

Faye M. Tollison

BatyaD said...

I like your covers. They tell me a visual story about your your written story. What more could any cover want? They're beautifully done.

Obviously Joe gets a boost out of putting other people down. We all know the truth about people who do that. Just shrug your shoulders and move on.

Personally, I'd never pay money for a generic cover. Any amount.