Mock Book Covers: Q & A With E. Kristin Anderson

The first impression we have of a book always begins with the cover. The visual introduction makes promises about the story before the spine is ever cracked. Even in classrooms around the country, students are encouraged to illustrate covers to their stories. It’s the final touch for the author and the first impression for the reader.

Well, my last post with Marc Tyler Nobleman about his use of mock book covers as a way to market an as-yet-unsold manuscript got me thinking. Maybe there’s something to the idea of creating these preliminary covers for our manuscripts.

During National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), authors are encouraged to create mock book covers as added inspiration. Start a Google search and you’ll find a slew of authors creating them for their own purposes. I didn’t have to look beyond my own Austin community to find a strong proponent.

E. Kristin Anderson, co-founder of the popular Dear Teen Me blog (soon to be published as an anthology) creates mock book covers for her own young adult novel manuscripts. You can take a peek at those covers at her blog here.  Emily was kind enough to share her perspectives.

Emily, thank you for chiming in.

Why did you decide to create mock covers for your manuscripts? Was it for your own benefit, or as a marketing aid, or both?— I do it entirely for myself, really.  And maybe just a wee bit to have an image on my website to put next to the synop — readers on the web do NOT like the wall o’ text, so having something — anything! — there is going to keep their eye on your page a bit longer.  But, mostly, I just like having something that looks like a REAL book is very motivating for me as I work on a first draft, or even in the revision process.  It makes me feel like the goal is surmountable.

What do you think are the pros and cons of attaching a visual image to an as-yet-unsold manuscript? — Well, that depends on the writer, I think.  As someone who’s worked in page production (my job at The New Yorker was in the page makeup department…late night shift)  I know how many changes can go through at the last minute.  If you’re prepared for that as an author, and if you can divorce yourself from the image you created, I don’t think there really are any cons.  I mean, almost no author really gets a say in their final cover, and, if they do, it’s usually a last minute “do you like x or y better?” or a very simple “is this ok?”…at which point the publisher may or, likely, may not make changes. (Note: I’m VERY lucky in that the design team for Dear Teen Me has included me and my coauthor Miranda in the process.  Wow! So unlike most design scenarios!)  So….I guess what I’m saying is that if you can make a mock cover, and always think of it as that — a MOCK cover — go for it.  If you have any delusions that a publisher is going to use your cover as inspiration when they buy your book, put them away.

What has your response been so far? –– Most of the response has been from folks on Facebook/Twitter who have kindly praised the design.  (I am so not a designer, I just have a few photo shop skills and use way too many shortcuts.)  Although I *do* believe that the few agents who contacted me for partials after seeing my website may have spent that extra ten seconds on my “books” page because of the covers.  Like I already mentioned — images break up the text for web browsing.  You always hear that agents contacting unpublished authors based on their blog or website is about as rare as a unicorn fart — this has happened to me three times. (Given, I haven’t signed with any of them, but they all ended up reading fulls and giving tremendous feedback with requests to see future work.)

Do you have any advice for pre-published authors thinking of creating their own mock covers? — At risk of sounding like an arrogant jerk, I’m going to say this: if you can’t do it well, don’t do it.  I know that my mock covers aren’t exactly New York Publishing House Calibre, but I think that they are fairly decent.  And if you don’t think you can make a cover that looks comparable to something on a book shelf in your genre, you might be better off not doing it.  Also, do NOT use Papyrus, Comic Sans, or Courier fonts on your covers…or anywhere.  Ever.  (Admittedly, I type up manuscripts in courier, but that’s the only good place for it, as far as I can tell.)  If you use stock art — which you probably will — make sure that you are taking it from a place that you’re allowed to take it from.  I use and  BUT, some of these photographers have specific rules.  Some artists on dA request that you contact them if you’re going to use their stock art outside of the site, or they might require that you post a link to their page.  Do NOT just grab stuff off of a Google image search and run the risk of getting in trouble with an angry photographer.  This is doubly true if you decide to make those mock covers into REAL covers for, say, a self-published ebook, since most free stock art is for non-commercial use only.

Do you know of other authors who create mock covers? — The only published author I can think of off the top of my head is Stephanie Meyer — I remember reading on her website back in the day that she would create mock covers to print out and give to her family/beta readers with the manuscripts before she sent them to her editor/agent.  I do this sometimes, too.  Because I am a huge nerd.

Click here to see a previous interview with Emily about her participation in critique groups.