Book covers are important. This is a message that is drummed into indie authors a lot. It’s also, like editing, an area where getting someone else involved (somebody who can actually draw or design, for example) might make some sort of economic sense. If you are selling your book for actual cash, that is. If you’re not making money from selling the book, it becomes difficult to justify spending money on it. For me, it also goes against the self-sufficiency ethos I’ve been living by in relation to this book (and in many other areas of my life).

When I first made The Roman and the Runaway available I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the cover. I knew I wanted something that said ‘modern day’, because the title of the book suggests that it is set in the past and I needed to dispel that notion with one glance. The book is mostly set in the picturesque village of Aldbury in Hertfordshire, so I browsed images on the Flickr website and found an appealing one with a Creative Commons licence on it. The licence was ‘attribution required‘, which meant that I was free to re-use and re-mix the image however I wanted, so long as I acknowledged the original creator (whose Flickr name was Draco2008). I also dropped him a line to say what I was doing and he was happy with my use of his picture. I adapted it as the header for this blog, too. I love the whole idea behind Creative Commons.

So that was that and the book cover was fine: an attractive, contemporary photo.

Original cover

And yet…

The more I looked at other people’s book covers and back at mine, the more dissatisfied with it I became. It was too static and didn’t really reflect anything about the story (well, apart from the pub, which does feature in the book and which is pretty well reflected by the pond!). Last month I started to think about what might work better to draw people in, while still explaining that this was not a book set in Roman times. Creating a drawing is beyond my artistic skills, but I thought I might be able to create a photograph that would work.

I enlisted my twelve year-old daughter as a model and we went off into the woods together with a rucksack stuffed with towels and my camera. This was the first time I’d ever done a photo-shoot with a human being (most of my photography (excluding family snapshots) is of plants, insects and birds). It was an interesting experience and I took around 60 photos.

My aim was to show Pagan (the runaway of the book’s title) as she might appear when walking near her campsite. My daughter is a little young, as Pagan is fourteen in the book, but she is tall enough to carry it off. Her hair was a bit of a problem – it is quite dark and curly and I’d described Pagan’s as straight and blonde, although she dyes it a nondescript  brown in the book. It was the curliness that was going to be the issue. Before the shoot, we washed her hair and straightened it as much as possible without hair-straightening devices. Then we went off into the woods.

One of the photos in particular captured what I was looking for. My daughter’s shoulders were slightly hunched in this one, making her look somewhat dejected, as Pagan would have been, alone and far from home. I spent a day or two playing with this image – trying it monochrome, using different fonts and colours for the title.  I had to flip the image vertically, as originally the girl was walking towards the left, which didn’t work at all. The collage below shows some of the different ideas I was playing around with as I worked. There are many others which didn’t get saved, needless to say!

Discarded ideas

I was using Paint Shop Pro as my image software. I’m certainly not proficient with it and often find it completely unintuitive, particularly where adding text is concerned. And as for the number of different fonts, well – there are so many that you could easily spend a whole day just looking at each one!

In the end I found that blurring the image worked better than making it monochrome. It hides the determined curliness of my model’s hair and makes the text stand out more than it does on a crisp version of the photo.

Current cover

I’m very pleased with the end result. It’s still contemporary, but with a bit more action to it than the original, and perhaps a slightly more emotive image. I don’t think changing it has had a big impact on the number of downloads from Smashwords or Feedbooks, but I’m happier because it is home-made and home-designed. What do you think of the change? Better or worse?

POSTSCRIPT: I’ve updated the cover again, thanks to a kind suggestion from another indie writer, Joseph Mitchell, author of Shard Mountain. This time I’ve used a drop shadow effect, which really does make the text stand out better than it did before. Thanks Joseph! Here’s the ‘final’ cover:

Most recent version