Lousy Book Covers

Old Friends There’s a site that I’ve talked about before on Facebook called LousyBookCovers.com. Their stated goal is to prevent bad book covers and to prove that just because you can do your own cover doesn’t mean that you should. They have a sister site to “help prevent bad book covers BEFORE they become an embarrassment” – CoverCritics.com. In regards to the first, I got some interesting news from one of my Twitter followers yesterday. Not just one, but two of my covers were chosen for appearance on their site. (If you want to find the covers you’ll have to go digging.)

I’m of two minds about this. First of all, I think that they provide a useful service. The idea of a place you can go to as a small/independent publisher before you publish and have your cover critiqued (gently for the most part) is interesting. Crowdsourcing anything comes with its own problems, but even if you just paid attention to some of the comments/suggestions made by the original poster, I think there’s good advice to be had. The idea of having a site you can go to that displays covers who haven’t paid heed to the basics of cover design so that you can learn what not to do is also a good idea. I’m not even surprised or disappointed that they picked some of my covers. I have made some doozies. The one in the upper left hand corner likely breaks all kinds of rules. Then there’s this one. Flash Fiction

The second mind I have is this. The covers that they did choose were done by very capable artists, and I signed off on both of them. I stand by their quality and the design choices made by the people involved. So it’s not just a matter of “not doing it yourself” or even a matter of being careful about the artists you choose to work with. I would choose both of these people again in a heartbeat. My gut reaction yesterday was to get defensive. That’s the last thing I want to do. I’ve grown a thick skin (I hope) over the last couple of years, and I recognize that not everything that I’m involved with is going to be deep fried gold. I expect that some of my books will get a one or two star review. The challenge here is, the work that’s getting reviewed wasn’t done by me. As the publisher it’s still my responsibility, but there’s a remove there. It’s made more more complicated by the fact that both artists are friends of mine.

Ultimately, some of this comes down to a matter of taste and perspective. I’m not going to go back and change either cover they picked. One of them is for a short story/serial episode and I envision releasing the other stories with very similar covers. When I release the paperback/omnibus version then I’ll make some thing that looks a bit more “traditional” perhaps while retaining the feel of the individual entries. The other I’m simply happy enough with as it is. Having said that, I do take a lot of the advice they offer on that site, both when it comes to my works and other’s. When it comes to a critique of any work, no matter how “lousy”, as long as it is offered and accepted in terms that include a desire to continue to improve or cause others to improve I think there’s value.

21 thoughts on “Lousy Book Covers”

  1. Found the two covers. Some of the comments are constructive others are pure snark. It’s easy to jump on the snark-train and make fun of what one perceives as “bad art”. I wonder how many good stories I avoided because I thought the cover looked amateurish or downright dreadful. I don’t envy self-published authors and the tough decisions that have to be made. Should I hire an editor or pay to have an awesome book cover. I’d say go with the editor and sell your story based on its content rather than the container.

    1. Yeah, most of them were just snark. It’s a challenge and I’d put my covers (even the ones that I actually posted pictures of) against almost any of the ones they critique. Just have to make sure that every one is better than the one before.

  2. I knew the day would come when someone I know would be featured on that site… and I was so not looking forward to it. I did post a tweet, when I saw the first cover appear there, about how awkward it was for me. You probably heard the “thump” my heart did when I saw it. And the “re-thump” when I saw the second one.

    Because, you may have realized this by now, since I don’t hide under a pseudo, I’m one of the “contributors” on both of those sites, And I’m a mean one. It’s the first time I had to raise my foot from the pedal and let things happen by themselves. I did intervene at some point though: first time I ever used my “friendship” privilege there.

    You and I have discussed your book covers many times before. And since we both have strong views on cover design, it was a challenge. And I have to STRONGLY disagree with @jwilkers: the container is important. No matter how good the content is, if the container doesn’t do it justice it’s not going to sell. That’s what people see first. That’s what makes them read the blurb. They won’t get to the content, even if it’s the best in the word, if they can’t relate to the cover first. It’s impossible to sell a book to strangers on content only.

    And the cover is also a sign of the time spent on the quality of the content. If an author don’t bother about his or her cover, we’re going to assume they didn’t bother with the writing and editing and formatting. That’s the whole point of lousybookcovers.com. And it works: we’ve seen miracles happen. And every one of the repentants confessed they got better sales and reviews after they switched covers. That it did justice to their content.

    Cover design is not about taste, or preferences: it’s about marketing. It’s about letting buyers know, in one glance, what they’re paying for. It’s about advertising a genre, a mood, a search for quality. Taste has nothing, or very little, to do with this process. And this is why we disagree that authors are good judges for their own covers: they are too emotionally invested. Hence, lousybookcovers. Shock therapy. πŸ˜‰

    1. Lucie, I never said the cover wasn’t important. I was empathizing with a self-published author like Scott who has very little to spend on publishing his work and has to choose how to spend his money. If a self-published author has to choose between spending money on getting an editor or a professional book cover I think the money is better spent on the editor.

    2. Like I said I think that LBC is doing some good things (though not all commenters do it in the right way I’d argue, but this is the internet).

      I’d argue that the illustrations (the main focus of those LBC posts) aren’t bad at all. Certainly not lousy. That’s where things get subjective. Could they be better? Perhaps. I agree that it’s certainly possible that different illustration might sell it better. As it stands the ones I’ve chosen for those works are the ones they will have.

      I do agree that authors aren’t the best judges. That’s why I consult with pros as often as possible,

      1. “I’d argue that the illustrations (the main focus of those LBC posts) aren’t bad at all.”

        Please accept this advice in the spirit in which it’s given:

        If that truly is your perspective on those book covers, then you ought not to be making book cover decisions. I’m no expert, I’ve only had about 12 college credits of visual art, but those covers? They’re just bad, and deserve all the snark they get.

        I’m telling you this because I want you to sell lots and lots of books.

        1. I accept your comment in the spirit with which it is intended. I am taking pains to make sure that people with more than 12 credit hours help me in the future. πŸ˜€

    3. Lucie, I’m a little confused, are you saying you don’t agree that the container is important, or you do? (I didn’t see the original jwilkers comment if they had offered an opposing view) Personally, I believe it is, for all the reasons stated in your comment. I even do it myself. If a cover is poorly done, unless I know the author and that he/she is a good writer/storyteller, I won’t bother picking up the book. Then again, I can remember when I was growing up and buying a book with a fantastic cover and was very disappointed in the content. It’s always a gamble for the buyer.

      These days anyone can publish a book. Anyone can make a cover. That’s the good news. The bad news is, these days anyone can publish a book and anyone can make a cover. There’s a lot of noise and slush out there and in order for a new author to stand out above all the rest and have a shot at recognition, they have to do everything in their power possible to shine. That means making the best cover they can and having the best story (with editing!) they can. Unfortunately, the book cover is your first impression. An author has put all their blood, sweat and tears into the content only to suddenly “give up” and Frankenstein together a finished project as cheaply as they can because the budget has already been stretched to the limits. I think that’s the part that baffles me the most. Why stop there? What’s the rush? If you have to save to afford professional services, then do so, delay getting that book out there to get it as right as possible.

      1. I totally agree with you, Deb. This is so sad when I see works of love being thrown out into the wild without a decent packaging. Because, to me, that’s what a book cover is: packaging. I think that’s where I confused you. πŸ˜‰

        What jwilkers said is “Should I hire an editor or pay to have an awesome book cover. I’d say go with the editor and sell your story based on its content rather than the container.” And I had to disagree, as much as it pains me, because I’m a a copy editor and I’m not getting paid for my hours. My point was that, as good as the content is, even if you paid an editor, if the cover is bad it has all been for nothing.

        I also agree with you that it’s a gamble and I also had my share of bad books under sweet covers.

        What has been forgotten with self-publishing is that publishing books is not just one craft: It’s mutliple crafts that traditionally were performed by a team of specialists. And every step is important and should not be rushed, as you said.

        1. Good, we’re on the same page (haha…bad pun). Thanks for the clarification. And I can see both sides of the story (aaaah! Those sneaky puns are creeping up on me today!). I would think though, that it would be easier to release a good story with a bad cover, and change the cover later, than to release an outstanding cover with a really bad story. The story/writing to me would be much harder to fix, because if you can’t write to begin with, ain’t nothin’ gonna save you…unless you hire a ghost writer.

          And for anyone who’s interested, I wrote a blog post a while back with good examples of bad covers and, most importantly, what makes them bad. (If it’s not cool to put the link here, Scott, do feel free to delete it. I won’t take it personally πŸ™‚ )

  3. I’m always appalled at how nasty people can get. You were pretty courageous to go on there and leave responses, you handled yourself well (I was reading the comments on “Way of the Gun”). I also liked this post, I found it enlightening to read the perspective of someone who had been targeted on the LBC site.

    As a designer (of book covers and many other things) I know there’s a lot of crap out there. I see it every day. However, I also know YOU and your reasons for doing things the way you are. Could you have hired a pro for each and every project? In theory, yes. Anyone can. I’ve seen you do it on larger projects and the results have been spectacular.

    What it comes down to is priorities and doing your best. And doing your best is going to change in its scope each and every time. Your stories are good, and that seems to be your primary focus at the moment.

    You’re on the right track, Scott, and I’ve enjoyed watching you grow over the years. Keep up the good work, man, it’ll all pay off in the end.

  4. Very well written response, IMHO πŸ™‚

    That site, and others like it, I just tend to avoid like the plague. I fully admit, I just don’t find that kind of humor funny, though, so I’m probably the wrong audience for it.

    I’m not sure I’d agree it (bashing covers of released works) is a useful service or a good idea. Just reading some of the comments on random covers, the “critiques” seem more like one-line zingers than actual feedback that might help newer authors understand what problems people are finding with their covers.

    I didn’t see anything on the site regarding what is considered a “lousy cover” or if pretty much anything submitted will be posted as such. As you noted, it can be very subjective. For example, on the “Can You Do Better” page – of the 8 examples of “better” covers, I only liked 2. Several of the covers they panned I thought were fine (including your two, which I spotted while browsing).

    Random 5 cents πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks Anma! I’ve seen the zingers and a few thoughtful comments. Lucie and a few others one there are doing it for the right reasons and I’m not opposed to “tough” love. Problem is, sometimes that can look a lot like “hate”.

      I’m glad mine were good in your eyes. πŸ˜‰

    1. Thank you, Deb. I’m a printer by trade but in my mispent youth I’ve studied in library management (not an exact translation from french but close enough) and design.

      So I know enough to know I really don’t know enough. πŸ˜‰

      1. A printer, very cool! On my end I spent a lot of time in print production doing layout and design, so it definitely helps with self-publishing. If we ever need someone to translate our novels I’ll be sure to call you. πŸ™‚

  5. I’ll use initials for the titles in question, since you chose to have people go digging for them rather than provide links (might as well have linked, though, imo, to facilitate the discussion here):

    I personally think the F.W. is fine except for the unintentional penis in the background, which would be a minor change. I am even OK with the font, though it might be interesting to see other options for that. Maybe my criteria would be different for a physical book on a shelf in a bookstore competing with more “polished” packaging – I do tend to view ebook “covers” slightly differently. Anyway, this says to me that it’s a pulp-type story of a type I might well like. It seems to remind me of old independently produced modules for table-top role-playing games, which I have a nostalgia for – so I do not know if it would work as well for younger readers.

    Some other covers on on lousybookcovers.com have also worked OK for me, though I do agree with most being quite bad. An example that worked for me is the one for “Alternate Hilarities,” though I think one of the robot’s guns could be positioned better. (I have no connection with that book or the ones focused on here.)

    I’m afraid that the one for W.O.T.G, on the other hand, is just really bad to me, mainly because of the foreground figure. The background is OK, but that foreground figure does not feel like a style choice but instead just poor, amateurish execution. Sorry, but it was surprisingly bad to me, enough to make me avoid buying it and for it to reflect badly on the authors listed on the cover. I also think the font at the top would be better if a less rounded one with sharper angles (am thinking, I guess, Bushido -> swords -> sharp), but this is really minor compared to the foreground figure.

    1. I debated linking directly to it. I decided not to because I didn’t want to make it look like I was trying to drive traffic to this things in particular.

      I wanted the first cover to call to mind not only the pulpy RPG covers, but also old school wanted posters. These stories are sort of “creature of the week” types so I wanted the covers to reflect that.

      I see what you and others are saying about the WOTG cover. It could be me just being too close to it to see. I’d recommend that you try WOTG and let me know what you think about he stories inside. I feel like they’re worth the time.

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