I’ve been increasingly aware over the last year that there is something lacking in the covers of my Cobble Stones books. I was pleased with the covers when I made them, but even then I thought they could probably be better. I didn’t know how to make them better using the skills I already possessed. I couldn’t even see why they were wrong, I just had a vague sense that they could be better somehow. I called it good enough and put the covers on the books. Then they didn’t sell. Not only that, but I watched during conventions when all the other covers on the table got perused or picked up and examined. The Cobble Stones covers did not. Ever. The only time those books sold was when someone who reads this blog came to the table specifically looking for them, or when people listened to me read out loud from one of them.
I’ve spent some time trying to figure out what to do differently, particularly as I’m contemplating releasing a new book in the series this year. I’m going to need another cover and I didn’t want to replicate the mistakes I made with the first two. So I did what I should have done before designing covers. I went out and found several books that are very like mine in tone and content. Then I stared hard at the covers. I found they all were mostly plain with a single image and then text. In comparison the cover of Cobble Stones 2011 is busy and confusing.
I chose to photograph photographs because that was within my skill set. I chose images that had actually featured on the blog, because that seemed appropriate to me. I thought that having lots of images reflected the episodic nature of the book’s contents. I tried to make sure the images had an implied journey. Up close you can see all those things. From more than two feet away, or at thumbnail size, the book just looks…brown with something jumbly going on.
In contrast, Kennison’s book grabbed me from across the room. The blue drew me in and the title captured me. In fact, that is how I found Kennison’s book. A teacher had it on her desk during a parent teacher conference. I kept sneaking glances at the cover and scribbled down the title at a moment when the teacher thought I was taking notes on my student.
Here is another stark comparison.
For the Cobble Stones 2012 book I was in a tearing hurry. It is even less cohesive than the first Cobble Stones cover. With the first cover I refined it multiple times and engaged the help of a friend with an artistic eye. We shot all sorts of arrangements and selected the best one. For the second cover, I did it all myself in the space of an afternoon. It shows. None of the images match to any of the essays that are inside it. All they share in common is the fact that they appeared on this blog during 2012. I suppose that is fine for a sampler book, but the cover image is supposed to be an advertisement for the contents, not an extension of them.
The cover for My Grandfather’s Blessings demonstrates to me the importance of a good subtitle. In creative non-fiction, memoir, and essay books the title catches the reader, the subtitle elaborates and sells the book. I need better titles than: Cobble Stones with a year appended. I need to make clear that these are books in the Cobble Stones series, but each book should have its own title and subtitle. I suspect the first two will always retain the titles they currently have. I intended them as samplers, and they’ve served that purpose. Incidentally this will also solve a problem I’ve had when packing and shipping orders. The titles of the books are so similar that I have to pay special attention to which book was ordered. In fact I put the words “snow” and “sand” into the item description just to help me differentiate. This is manageable with two books, but could get very problematic with more.
For the print editions of the first two books, I’m stuck with these covers for awhile. I have over a hundred copies of each book and it doesn’t make sense to spend money re-printing them when they still haven’t broken even. I’ll continue to sell them at conventions and use them for promotional purposes. The next Cobble Stones book will be different. I may try to do a more thematic arrangement of essays. I’ll definitely see if I can work with a cover designer who has the necessary skills to produce the right cover.
Of course the other reason the Cobble Stones books haven’t sold is because I’ve put so very little energy into marketing them. People can’t buy books if they don’t know the books exist. With both books, I kicked them out into the world with very little support because there were so many other things going on at the time. I hope I can do better for future books.
By the way, I highly recommend The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kennison and My Grandfather’s Blessings by Naomi Remen. They are both excellent.