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Now that I have come to terms with the idea to self-publish the novel, I’ve got to make a few decisions. One of the most exciting ones, I feel, has to be deciding what goes on the cover. As I reflected on the cover designs for all my books so far, I can see that all my ideas, rationale and experiences have also evolved.

What does ‘cover’ mean?

I still remember that when I approached my first printer, I told him I needed help to create a ‘cover’. He had no clue what I meant. I had to take out a book from my bag and show him what I wanted help with.

“Oh, you mean cover design,” he said, nodding. “That, my designer can help you with.”

The moment I returned from that meeting, I researched the meaning of these words. I learnt that ‘bookcover’ was a term often used for ‘book cover image in library management software’. With hardcover books, the removable paper cover used to protect the book is called ‘dust jacket’. A ‘book cover’ was any protective covering used to bind the pages of a book. Once I understood what these terms meant, I began to analyse the details of what should go on the cover.

I started with what I shouldn’t have on the cover. There was a novel that I was so eager to read. The blurb stated that it was the story of one woman’s struggle in Malaya during the Second World War. The cover design, however, featured a Japanese woman holding one of those paper umbrellas. It made no sense at all and only served to annoy me.

Next, the cover must, at the very least have the title of the book and the author’s name. Everything else adds to this. The blurb is meant to tease and entice the reader into buying the book. The ISBN and barcode makes it easier for bookshops and libraries to locate and stock the book. The ‘puffs’ (comments made by others) means that a person whose opinion matters has read the book and endorses it. A publisher will place his logo for branding purposes.

That word ‘branding’ then hits on what most publishers will try to achieve – strike that balance between marketing and still staying true to the story inside. Most authors who have publishers will say something along the lines of ‘I am not a graphic designer. I am a writer. I leave it to my publishers to decide what is a good cover design.’ This, however, isn’t so easy when you’re self-publishing a book. From my experience, the main concern I had was money. How much was it going to cost to create this wonderful design that I liked and still fulfilled its purpose? Everything depended on the budget.

It’s All About the Money

When I finished the manuscript for ‘The Banana Leaf Men’, I had very limited funds. The budget for the cover design was RM1,000.00. Since the designer was going to charge me RM1,000.00 to convert whatever image I gave him into a format that was suitable for printing and typesetting, I had to think fast. I sat the dining table and, with pencil in hand, sketched my protagonist. Since the overall costs would increase if I used colour, I decided to stick with black white. The only concession I allowed was that the border and script would be burgundy in colour.

After this first foray into fiction, I worked on non-fiction works like ‘Mad Heaven’ and ‘My Cholesterol Journey’. For these, since I was not funding the project, the people who were the subject of these biographies had the final say. They used images of themselves and, naturally, there was lots of colour.

By the time I came to work on ‘Ladoo Dog’, two things had changed: I had a little more money to spend and eBooks were becoming more popular. Again, to get that actual ‘look’ I wanted, I created a painting of Ladoo. Then, I contacted Mitch Moccia of monstercovers.com. I gave him a basic idea of the colour I’d like to use and voila, he came up with a cover design that everyone loved. The cost to create this design was US147.00. When all the print copies were sold, I uploaded the JPEG format file to Amazon.com.

At the same time, Rohi suggested I do a reprint of ‘The Banana Leaf Men’. So, I commissioned Mitch Moccia and asked him to create this new, more colourful design for the eBook.

With ‘Knowledge of Life’, MPH Publishers were very kind and asked my co-author and I for our input. I remember being impressed because taking into account that all the stories were about Ayurveda, the designers had used the lotus as one of the main elements of the design.

Making Memories
Once again with ‘Mark Your Memory’, it’s the publishers who’ve decided on the cover image. This one intrigues me for I’ve never seen a photo of an Indian woman standing with her elbow on the man’s shoulder. I’ve also never seen South Indian men here in Malaysia wear such elaborate turbans. It makes me wonder… And that, perhaps, is what makes this cover design work – it makes me want to take a closer look at the book.

Now that I’ve dissected all the cover designs I’ve been involved with in the past, I need to work on the one of the novel. It’s a literary novel and the examples I’ve looked at include ‘Shalimar the Clown‘, ‘God of Small Things‘, ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin‘ and so many more. While all of them have their plus and minus points, none has served to inspire me thus far.

I clearly need some inspiration and would love to know your stories about cover designs for books. For those who’ve published their work, please share how you chose your designs. For those who are readers only, please tell me what made you like a particular cover design. You can either enter your comments in the box below or send me an email ( editor@howtotellagreatstory.com )

(15 April 2018)

Aneeta Sundararaj fears social media and aims to ‘go local’ with ‘the novel’.  Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (http://www.howtotellagreatstory.com).

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