Being your own art director for your Kindle e-book might be more work than you think!
For the course of the twenty years that I've worked in games, whether on board games, card games, miniatures games, family games or puzzle games - or on the computer side of things, social games, family games, educational games, RPG's or MMO's, the choice of art and art style for the property has always been an important consideration for me as a game designer.
So when I had the chance to do my own book covers for my Amazon releases, I figured that it was going to be significantly easier to do my own covers than it would while working within the bureaucratic machinery of an entertainment corporation. While there are advantages to running your own shop, I learned a lot from the experience that makes publishing on Amazon more of a challenge than I originally expected.
First off, the biggest lesson I've gleaned is that people like to see people on covers. You know, with noses and elbows and eyes and human features that people have come to expect to see in the real world. While I believe that traditional book publishing can afford go with all different kinds of artistic or abstract covers, for an entrepreneur who is just starting to build their business on Amazon? Featuring people on your covers is a must. Because when you have under a second to sell to potential readers before they scroll to the next part of the page, nothing beats having your characters fronting your work.
For the Kindle, I say this partly because most people are going to see your book cover in a shrunk-down state - and partly because a single eye-blink length evaluation will let them decide whether they like or don't like what they are seeing. People are naturally drawn to the human face and are hard-wired to make judgments about whether they find other people attractive, interesting or intriguing all in a fraction of a second. To not include characters on your Kindle covers means skipping out on this potential resource, as that key point of contact is worth a lot more than most people expect.
Additionally, we all know that readers will decide whether your work is professional or amateur with a single glance (based on the art, layout, fonting or familiarity factors). But I'm of the mindset now that a good-looking character fronting for you can allow the potential buyer to decide whether they like your character, are interested in who they are, or are intrigued by the world they are in. I personally like abstract covers for the books I read in my spare time - but after taking a look through some of the top-20 lists for different genres on Amazon, there is a trend there that I just can't ignore.
Commissioning art doesn't have to be expensive, as there are a variety of ways to get Photoshop savvy folks and/or hire Kindle-related firms who are willing to help put together a cover for you using art from stock photo places for a nominal price. But there is an additional advantage to finding and hiring artists that already have strong followings, in that people that follow that artist may help get the word out as your book is launching. (During my initial push for Wish in early October, the opening reveals I did for the front cover earned me hundreds of hits and retweets out to tens of thousands of people. While I have no real way of telling what the artwork did for my sales, having great cover art certainly didn't hurt my climb into Amazon's Top 20 for free Sword and Sorcery e-books for a week or so.)
So, with art, I also have to say that you should budget yourself carefully. Admittedly, selling a few thousand copies of a book on Amazon could put yourself into cover money for other projects for years to come - as Amazon's 70% royalty rate for exclusive e-books can bring in some decent cash if you are lucky enough to catch a big wave. But for your first book budget conservatively and don't pay out top cash for art if you're not sure whether you are going to sell hundreds of copies or dozens of copies. (Or less.) The way that I'm starting to see how the Amazon system works is that every additional book you put out expands your audience. So while your art budget may start small, as people read and review your books, your audience and profits should start to steadily grow over time. Amazon publishing is generally about the long-game for most authors - save for the lucky few who strike it rich with the right book at the right time.
So, my advice in a nutshell - feature your main character(s) on the cover in a setting that tells the setting of the book at a glance. (Don't be afraid to be clever with your covers, as my book Wish is an Arabian Nights sword-and-sorcery tale - and in the background you can see Seattle's Space Needle out amongst the minarets framed against the desert sky. I've had a number of folks pick up my book because of that little tidbit.) Stock art, model shoots and a good Photoshop treatment can do wonders for authors on a limited budget. Be sure to budget yourself carefully and follow the key rule of gambling in Vegas - don't spend more than you can afford to lose. But remember as well that in order to get ahead as a Kindle author competing against hundreds of thousands of other authors you have to balance risk and reward - so spend your money carefully with one eye on the proverbial prize.
Causes Scott Hungerford Supports
Heifer International, Red Cross