A while back, I released one of my short stories on the Kindle store. “The Interview” was a story I wrote for an anthology called It Came From Airport Security (which I also edited), and I decided I wanted to give it some room to breathe on its own.
Of course, I wasn’t about to toss it onto the Kindle store without a cover image. So I sat down and I designed what I thought was a cool eBook cover design.
Nice, bright, with colors coordinated using a fancy-shmancy color scheme generator. Not to mention that the subject of the short story is superheroes, and the hero silhouette was in green with a purple background. Incredible Hulk homage! Fantastic! Add in the nice bold Helvetica Neue text (a very easy font to read), and it was set to go, wasn’t it?
And it’s been that way for a very, very long time with very few sales.
Of course, a cover doesn’t necessarily make sales, but it can certainly hurt them. I took a look at how my cover was showing up in Amazon search results and found that there were several problems with the design.
First, the “nice, bright colors” are actually pretty eye-blistering in that combination. Second, that very readable font doesn’t scale down to tiny sizes well. Third, in making the silhouette as massive as I did I had cut off both of the arms. It’s bad enough at full size, but in a tiny thumbnail it pretty much becomes a rorschach test. Not to mention the fact that nothing about the cover design suggests “superhero.” Heck, with a title like “The Interview,” it would probably also help if the eBook cover design included something that made it clear that it was also a short story and not, y’know, an interview.
I set out with all of that in mind for my redesign. I had a new concept I wanted to try.
Like, zoiks, Scoob! I was going for an homage to those great anthologies of golden and silver age comics I used to pick up at the library when I was a kid. I snagged some artwork from a public domain comic, put the bars across it, then stepped back and took a look at it.
You ever come up with an idea that sounds great when you’re talking about it, but looks horrid when you’ve finally done it?
First of all, there’s an awful lot of clutter going on here. Second, the font scales well for a thumbnail — just not at this size. It was going to have to be a lot bigger in the initial design. Third, the artwork looks awful cluttered. I think I showed great foresight in erasing the text from the original comic, but even that left lots of real estate taken up by a jumble of lines. Which is a big part of the fourth problem — remember what I said about the artwork being a rorschach test? Shrinking this artwork down for a thumbnail might as well have made it a paisley pattern.
And finally, way to pick a golden age frame from a comic where the hero has his hand planted directly in a woman’s face! What was I thinking when I grabbed that page?
I know. I was thinking, “Hey, this page has a lot of action! I’ll use it!”
But that’s okay. You learn by doing with most subjects, and eBook cover design is no different. I reviewed the lessons from both designs and applied them to my third.
- In search results, the cover is going to appear as a thumbnail. You need a thumbnail that reads well.
- Just because you can make your cover design louder and/or more garish than the typical paperback novel doesn’t mean you should.
- The first cover’s image was striking and simple, but flawed by chopping off the arms.
- The second cover’s image was too busy. Simply pulling a page from a comic wasn’t going to produce decent cover art.
So I returned to the silhouette from the first design. I shrank it down so that I could fit the flexed arm completely on the cover, which also left room for the enlarged text in its new font. Then I added a little bit of texture with a free vintage paper texture I had found in order to give it a more earthy, papery feel.
And that’s the eBook cover design that’s up on the Kindle Store today.