The indie author’s artistic integrity is prime

mine THE BUCK STOPS AT THE INDIE AUTHOR, AND IT SHOULD

I am in an odd position. Someone said something about my cover, in a negative way, claiming they said it as ‘tough love.’ As a ‘friend.’ It hurt – because I am very proud of that cover. To have someone suggest, literally, that ‘I still think you’re shooting yourself in the foot with that cover. I’m pretty sure that a mediocre but professional looking cover will outsell a far more evocative but still obviously home-made effort every time.’

For the record, I disagree.

I had to think about it. To figure out why the response was so visceral to something meant kindly.

Bad covers are UBIQUITOUS

I knew, when I created them, that my two placeholder covers were ‘bad.’ Definitely amateur. But I hadn’t yet done ANY studying about design or cover elements or what a cover telegraphs to a potential reader. I knew those were not going to be published, because I also knew I was going to spend the time to learn how to do covers properly.

As I have taught myself to write properly.

But the comment was about the actual cover I published, and for which I spent an entire summer studying graphics and design and covers, and reading books and blog posts. After accumulating at least a year of studying the CONCEPT of ‘cover’ and of looking over the sites of many ‘professional’ cover producers – not one of which I liked. There were plenty of covers in that sample – thousands that I looked at. I added new sites every time a blogger I respect suggested a cover designer.

I’m not even going to mention bad traditional covers; that is shooting guppies in a teacup.

CAN an indie learn cover design?

In the same way I found ONE photo of a woman out of the thousands that I looked at which would do. At ALL. Because of nuance I would never be able to explain (to anyone except a professional photographer I then wouldn’t be able to afford).

The cover I compared to every set of covers I could find on the books I believe are my ‘comps,’ the ones I want to sell with, and whose audience I believe will like my work. And compared to every set of covers I did NOT want (from too literary to too Romance to definitely genres like SF, fantasy, mysteries, and thrillers). Because if you signal ‘Romance’ to a reader, you had better be providing a proper Romance between the covers, or you’ve already lost the marketing war.

WHO’S ON FIRST?

More and more I’m believing that the choices in the indie world are UP TO THE AUTHOR. And they REPRESENT the author. That the whole thing, beginning to end, is an exercise in learning what choices to make, in making those choices, and in standing by those choices because you ARE the Author. The artist. The creative. The creator.

If you choose to use a commercial editor – with all that entails, from finding one to paying one to accepting the edits – it is your choice, it was hard enough to make, and no one has the right to second-guess you.

If you choose a cover, you yourself will decide exactly what you want, even if that means you want to abdicate the responsibility for the cover to someone else. Or you want to learn Pixelmator and do it all YOUR way. Or you want to paint an image from the book. Or you want pale blue letters on a black background, or yellow on green, or WHATEVER.

The COVER is part and parcel with the BOOK now.

I’m starting to believe that when the author gives someone else responsibility for or authority over a part of the production, whether or not money is involved, it is the author’s choice to do so, and the author’s right to revoke that when and if the AUTHOR decides that is necessary. And it is a precious gift.

Whether or not the results SELL is not the validation. It is how the author FEELS about whether the product represents the best the author can do (assuming that’s the goal) that validates.

Now, more than ever before, when you buy an author’s product, you are getting the PURE author, warts and all, artistic judgment and artistic sensibility and esthetic sense all rolled up into a big ball of product. The consumer may like or dislike it, occasionally even returning the product for a refund; the consumer may give the product a bad review – reviews are up to the consumer.

This product has always had the writer’s name right there front and center.

[Whether the writer was a pseudonym or a ghostwriter has never mattered to READERS. And few people even notice the publisher’s name or logo.]

But other people don’t have the right to judge the product – the book – per se. They only have the right to say, “I liked it.” Or, “I didn’t like it.” They will never have the right to say, “It’s wrong.”

———–

How do you feel about the covers you see, if you’re a reader; or have on your own books if you’re a writer, too – whether or not you design them yourself?

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17 thoughts on “The indie author’s artistic integrity is prime

  1. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    “…claiming they said it as ‘tough love.’ As a ‘friend.’”

    I don’t think so. People love feeling powerful, and unfortunately the sense of power that comes with destructive comments is far more easily accessed than the sense of power that results from building and creating.

    To build, one must actually develop skill and practice. Plus it takes longer. To tear down? Just an ability to discern a soft spot and the willingness to to be mean. Feh. The only reason they said “as a friend” is because that helped them to dive for the soft spot while still able to pretend they’re a good guy. Not buying it.

    I’m with you, Alicia, on artistic integrity. My own book covers are part of my vision for my story and how I present it to the world. M.C.A. Hogarth is another indie who expresses herself in the art she creates for her covers. I suspect there are more I don’t know of who prefer the authentic, the evocative, and the unique over banal mediocrity. And our readers do also. 😀

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  2. clairechase51

    I’m looking at a copy of your book on my desk right now. I loved your cover when you chose it and and I still love it. Of course, that is just me and, just as I love it, others might not like it at all. That is fair. Still, there are times and places. If you asked for feedback before choosing the cover, by all means people should feel free to share their thoughts. After the decision is made and your book is published…. I don’t see the point in negative comments unless you asked for feedback.
    It sounds like a case of bad manners, insensitivity or someone thinking of him/herself and his or her opinions and not thinking about you. Anyone who knows you or at least anyone who follows your blog can see that you are very detail orientated and that everything regarding your book has been very carefully looked at and that your decisions are made after much scrutiny. The book is all you.
    Of course the comments hurt you, but they are made and that is that. Move on…..hopefully the comments were made without much thinking and are regretted.
    Two cents from a friend. 🙂

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Thanks, Claire. Hehe – I am rather detail oriented, aren’t I?

      There are plenty of people who need editing and don’t get it, and some who get an editor because they think they have to, and some of us who have the nerve to think we can learn to do it, of whom some of us succeed.

      Some people think my pricing is all wrong; but I’ve put the same kind of detailed work into figuring out what I thought and what I want, and why, and who my audience might be – I’ll stand by it, but have a sale periodically.

      And some people think that pretending to be what the majority are works. I’ve never been able to do that – and, as a full grownup now, I don’t have to. All I have to do is study the consequences, think hard about whether I want to make changes, and then make a choice.

      I’m not sure the intent was hurtful – I believe the person really thought I needed to make a change because the person’s a bit of an expert, and has a basis for the comment. Possibly also thought I wouldn’t pay attention if it wasn’t presented emphatically. I don’t even need regret on the other end, and have thanked the person for making me do some hard thinking.

      I’m bucking a few things here – but I’m doing it consciously and by decision after taking relevant input, and being open to more. It will have to do.

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  3. D. Wallace Peach

    My publisher did my first covers and they were so-so, some I liked better than others, most were, shall we say, disappointing. Then I did two of my own and, at least, they didn’t cost me much. THEN, I happened upon a cover artist that I fell in love with instantly. Now, I’m investing in all new covers and it is making a difference in my sales. I realized a few things. One, that I’m not a professional cover designer! Two, that not all cover designers create great covers. Three, that when you find an artist you like and trust, you’ll know it. 🙂

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      The key part here is that so-so is YOUR evaluation of those covers. And you must not have been completely happy with your covers, or you would not have looked for someone else.

      You could have chosen to take a design or painting or graphics course; you found an artist you liked – and that is your solution. But you make the choices now.

      I wish you the very best with your new covers!

      I think, in the long run, having someone do your covers is a good solution.

      I may consider that in the future; but for now, I found that I really got into the process, the software, finding the perfect image, taking photos to supplement what I had, choosing and licensing fonts – all of this was fun for me, and I’ll give it up when it is no longer fun. I’m already planning the next ones. It does take time, especially the first time – but I’ve invested that time; I’d like to use it a bit before I decide – and I would in a flash if I didn’t like my results, or don’t in the future.

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      1. D. Wallace Peach

        Absolutely, Alicia. If you have the skills and invest in the learning and technology, AND enjoy it. Then you’re golden. I enjoyed it, I just wasn’t very good at it 🙂 And you’re right that different people will have different opinions (like they do with everything). I’m glad you’re happy with your cover and proud of your books 🙂 That’s the way it should be!

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I will rise or fall with my own boat on the waves. But I’m responsible – as you are – for whatever goes out under my name, a responsibility I take seriously, especially given all the snobbery about indie. And it WILL be different – most professionally-designed covers are NOT created by the author (hard enough to be a professional in one artistic endeavor, much less two).

          It’s a new world. I’m very lucky that I’m not writing to support myself (too much to expect of a first book, anyway), but UNlucky in that I won’t have the potential career length in this new publishing paradigm as the 20 year olds starting to write. You can’t have it all.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. D. Wallace Peach

          I didn’t start writing until I was in my 50’s and I sometimes wonder where I would be if I’d started in my 20’s. At least we’re doing it now! Happy Writing 🙂

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  4. Catana

    It’s our own choice, of course, but that means we have to accept that others *will* criticize. The do have the right to say it’s wrong, but we have the right to ignore them. There are at least two sites that exist solely to display truly awful covers and expose them to ridicule. I admit it’s fun to look at those once in a while and groan, but there are more subtle problems that aren’t enough to make fun of, but do need critiquing. We can learn from the genuine critiques, but I feel sorry for the people whose covers provoke laughs. There are two bad covers on G+ today. One by a professional or someone who might be claiming to be a professional, but includes some of the most basic no nos in cover design. The author is delighted with it. The other showed up on a book review, and was blatantly an amateur effort, probably by the author. Kboards is a virtual showcase for people advertising their book cover designs. Most of them are professionally produced, but indistinguishable from any of the others. Just like the books inside, there’s a whole range of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    We keep learning.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Yes, and I judge people by the covers – especially indies, who have the choice and often should know better.

      I put my second cover on one of those critique sites, but all I got were comments about what I already knew was wrong with it – nothing new or useful. I thought I might get someone to give me possibilities.

      When they didn’t, I went out and did the work. It’s always about doing the WORK. Reading, studying, trying, learning, failing, trying again…

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      1. Catana

        The trouble with critique sites is that most of the people on them don’t know any more than you do, and often less. Also, they’re there to get critiques for their own work, and that influences how honest they’re going to be. The underlying theme is “don’t hurt anyone’s feelings because they may hurt you back.”

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          The particular site I went to seemed to have some real designers on it. Maybe I should have been more clear about what I already knew needed work, and what I would appreciate comments on, but that’s like trying to tell reviewers what you want them to say.

          Instead, I asked a writer whose covers I liked and who has been most gracious in making USEFUL comments and in giving me feedback as I made my choices. Mentors and references (who you go to when you get stuck) are invaluable when you’re out of your depth and one quick answer will set you straight.

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  5. juliabarrett

    The choice, for an Indie, is indeed up to the author. I’ve had many comments on various covers. Sometimes I listen and make tweaks, sometimes I don’t. Depends upon the suggestion. 🙂

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