No matter what the old adage says, your cover is the best promotional and marketing tool available for your book. People will judge it and analyze it and critique it and decide whether or not they want to buy your book based on its cover. So how do you make sure you have a good one? Here are a few quick tips.
Make sure the art is good: Now since you’re a wonderful comic person, you might already have the artistic skills in place to draw your own cover and make sure that it looks compelling and dynamic. If you are one of those folks whose skill set lies in writing and aren’t so artistically inclined, don’t worry, you’re still wonderful, you just need some help. The key is to make sure that the art on your cover is dynamic, compelling and of professional quality. Dynamic can be a bit of an abstract idea, but what you want is action. Action will help draw a reader’s eye in. Action, especially in comics, is what catches people’s attention. Alternatively, you can use a very dramatic scene, as if your comic book was a movie and the covers are stills taken from one of the most dramatic points in the story. The choice is up to you. You should base it on the theme and style of your story. If it’s more dramatic, a dramatic shot is probably better. If it’s very action-adventure oriented, then you want to show some very dynamic and exciting action and adventure; either battles or chases or maybe even protagonists fleeing through the jungle in a Jeep being pursued by the antagonist. Those are just some examples. The point is that you want to have a professional, illustrated cover. Now how do you do that?
Well, if you’re an experienced artist or comic illustrator, than you probably have the cover area covered, not a problem, but what if you’re one of those writing folks that I talked about earlier? Well remember all those awesome people I told you that you would meet at conventions and socialize with? This is where making those connections comes into play. You’ve hopefully built up a cast of friends with varied skills through your convention networking and industry research. Some of those folks may have been talented artists. If so, talk to them, ask them how much they would charge to do an illustration for your cover. Save up a small budget and hire a talented professional. You can likely find someone that you know through your professional network that could illustrate a cover for you anywhere from $50–$400 depending on skill, talent level, experience and your budget. Of those friends, one may be able to work with you and may give you a reduced gig for a particular number of complementary copies that they can then turn around and sell at shows and conventions and appearances. If you’re one of those writing folks and you don’t draw your comics yourself, then you likely already have an artist on board and you could hire that artist to draw the cover in addition to the interior contents of your graphic novel.
There are also many resources online where you can find and connect with professionals willing to draw your cover at a reasonable rate and within your budget. Just a few of the sites you can go to are digitalwebbing.com where you can post a job ad, or you can post a job ad seeking professional freelancers in places like updesk.com, bibliocrunch.com and fiverr.com. There are other sites, but those are the three that I personally use most often and have had the best experience and results with.
The title matters
Just as important as your cover art is the title. Before people have a chance to see your book, early readers or reviewers will be talking about it with their friends and online. Word-of-mouth can be a key to successful sales in any independent publication. So the title may be the first thing that people hear about your book and no matter what, it will affect their perception before they have seen anything further. Just think about. How many times have you or a family member heard the title of a movie or book through word-of-mouth and been turned off and said aloud, “That sounds stupid?” Before you’ve even seen the trailer or read a page or look at the cover, you’ve often decided that some form of entertainment isn’t worth your time due to an off-putting title. So how do you choose a good title? First of all, I want to add a caveat to this section, saying that there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like your book. In fact, there’s always going to be a percentage of your target market that doesn’t like your work, either story or the art or even the title, so you can’t grab everyone. Don’t censor yourself when creating your title. I still get flack for the title of my graphic novel Monkeys and Midgets to this day, but anyone who actually took the time to read and review the book has often given very positive comments and understands what I was trying to do with the story. I lost some people with the title only, having never given it a chance. That’s fine. They’re not part of my target market. My target market is for people with a sense of humor and who like goofy stories and who are willing to give something a chance. It’s a very fine balancing line between censoring yourself and being overly offensive and it’s a line that’s different for everybody. Or you can experiment and feel out where that region is for you and make a choice of what side of that line you want to fall on.
That being said, there’s a number of good tips for helping you pick a title that works
The descriptive title: A simple idea. What is your story about? Think about it. Decide what the most condensed version or one sentence synopsis of your story is and then use that to craft a title. Now you don’t want to get too crazy and unwieldy, I’m not saying use an entire sentence at all, but you can draw some keywords from that and string them together. A title like The Day Jimmy Got Caught in a Nuclear Comet Storm and was Given Crazy Advanced Alien Powers is a little bit long and unruly, but the title Jimmy Got Super Powers might be the start of refining a good title for your book.
Referential: Similar to the descriptive title is the referential title. It refers to some story plot point or element in your work. For example, if your story was about a woman whose life has been changed by the tragic death of her grandmother as a child and one of the things that she remembers about the funeral were purple orchids next to the casket, maybe the title could be The Purple Orchids, or if your book was about an ordinary janitor who found himself pulled into a world of spies and espionage, your title could be The Janitor. It refers to something relating to the story or a plot point, but may not identify the key narrative. This is a very often used form of title, especially in comics. Most regular monthly comic book series are titled after the main character. So your book could be titled something like Pastrami Man or Spelunking Boy. Anything like that works very well in the capes and tights set.
Spoof: If your comic is a spoof of a pre-existing material, then the title itself could be a spoof. Take for example The Almighties comic series written by myself and my co-writer, Sam Johnson. In this case we decided to make a spoof of The Avengers and created The Almighties parody, complete with a logo that spoofs the classic Avengers logo. We’ll talk more about it shortly. Many other spoof comics have experienced different levels of success in the past and they are all good examples like the Spitting Image series that was published in the early days of Image, spoofing their own characters, or Marvel’s self-lampooning What the– –?!, not to be confused with its predecessor, Marvel’s competition lampooning Not Brand Ecch!
Non sequitur: More commonly found in things like titles for songs and obscure movies, a non sequitur type title is still an option. Non sequitur essentially means that there is no connection or no obvious connection between the title and the piece of art. This one can be a little more difficult to stumble over and work with, but by no means is it unapproachable. Keep in mind, however, that your title is a very important part of drawing readers in, so a non sequitur may not be a great option for a title unless you can come up with a collection of words that seem very interesting and draw readers’ attention.
Title formula: Speaking of a title formula, there are a few other ways that you can craft a title. In his book Publish a Book and Grow Rich, Gerry Roberts offers several ideas, along with the formula for how to title your book. Gerry suggests you think about the main point of your book, what it’s about and then come up with five different title options relating to the subject matter. The first one should be shocking for shock value to get readers’ attention. The second should be controversial, something that’s really going to provoke opinion and interest. Third is borrowing. Borrowing is when you use the title of a famous movie or song or something else that you can draw a correlation to your book with. There are a lot of Beatles’ songs whose titles are borrowed for books. The fourth title you would come up with should be based off another well-known book. Look at examples of previously published books that were successful and have similar content, then make a play on that title. Alter it a bit so that it stands out and becomes your own but draws a comparison between your book and its predecessor. The last of the five titles you should create would be a bold title, not a bold font, but a title that would make large and incredible claims. Something that people would take notice of. Now analyze those five titles and decide which one you feel fits your piece of work the best. Again this is all subjective and you’re going to have to make this choice yourself.
The final point that I want to make about titles is even though they are important, they are not set in stone. We have a hard time accepting that, but if you’re releasing a fully completed book and you find that sales are lagging, it could be the title. It might just be failing to resonate with people. If you’re using very easy and simple to update formats of publishing, like the ones I’ve outlined in this book, you have the control to change the files and republish the same book with a different title whenever you want. After a few months, if your sales are still lagging, try re-releasing the book with a different title, maybe one that’s more controversial or eye-catching. There’s a misconception in society that the book title is set in stone. The reality is that many books are released with different titles. It’s a practice that’s been used since the publishing industry started. In fact, many of the famous books we know from classic writers were originally released with different titles and when they weren’t successful, the publisher changed the title to the ones that we know today. The Dead Un-Dead = Dracula, The Strike = Atlas Shrugged, The Last Man in Europe = 1984, First Impressions = Pride and Prejudice, Prometheus Unchained = Frankenstein, John Thomas and Lady Jane = Lady Chatterly’s Lover and the list goes on.
Logo: This is the important point that marries the idea of your cover art and your title together. Logo is a very important part of your title, cover and marketing mix. According to the Image Comics submission guidelines, when you submit a comic for publishing to Image, the logo should be large and open, its color should contrast with the background colors on the cover art image. (So if the art is dark, the logo should have bright colors and vice versa.) The logo should be large and “the font should be clearly legible from across the room.” Get that? When I walk into a comic shop and I look at the rack from across the store, I should be able to see the title of your book and read it easily. It’s great for you or the letterists you hired to play around and experiment with fancy fonts and lettering that looks like it was created by hermetic monks with brushes a thousand years ago, but the reality is, if I can’t read it, it’s not a good font for a logo. No exceptions there, even if you’ve seen an example of someone who didn’t follow that rule. Doesn’t mean they proved that rule wrong, it means that they just did the job of making a logo wrong.