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One Picture (on a Book Cover) May Be Worth a Thousand Sales (I Hope and Believe)

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Before I became a book
publisher last year, I didn’t think much about the importance of book covers.
As a reader, I concentrated on whether I wanted to read what was inside the
book. Sure, I knew about magazine covers because I had spent 10 years as a
journalist, and I had even taught a course on the magazine business at Oregon
State University.

 

After I became a publisher,
however, I quickly focused on the fact that cover image and style could do as
much for book sales as they do for sales of magazines. Especially with mystery
fiction, which I publish, readers choose a book for two reasons: they are
attracted to the front cover, and they like what the back cover tells them
about the story. Drawing on my journalism background again, I decided that I
would use photographs on the covers of the books I published.

 

Although an illustration or an
abstract design might be more appropriate for some books, I like using photos
for several reasons, including:

 

·
Photos signal realism, partly
because readers are accustomed to photos in magazines and newspapers and to
film footage on television.

·
Photos can be free or available
for nominal fees. You can find many good images on the Internet, and, as I
discovered, some photographers who display their work on the Web are pleased to
have it appear on book covers. You do need to get written permission to use any
photograph, however, even if you don’t have to pay for it. If you don’t already
have a permission form, you might consult <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Business and Legal Forms for Authors and
Self-Publishers
from Allworth Press.

 

Once I had decided to use
photographs in my book covers, the next step was getting the help of a gifted
graphic designer, Liz Kingslien, whom I have known and worked with for 15
years. She readily agreed to design the covers as well as the interiors of the
books in my mystery series.

 

Like me, she thinks that the right
photo can sometimes convey the essence of a book much better than an
illustration. “A good photo can create a dynamic, eye-catching book cover,” she
says. And often, there is no money to pay an illustrator anyway. “The
availability of stock photography has definitely expanded my toolbox,” Liz
Kingslien says.

 

The Crazed Bear and the
Sinister Visitor

 

The first cover Liz designed for
my series was for Murder
Below Zero
, which takes place in the Arctic. Along with ice, the
story features a polar bear. Liz located the perfect shot on photographer Ivan
Rothman’s Web site. After gaining his permission, she worked to incorporate his
image into her design, which involved altering it somewhat.

 

“The polar bear photo was not only
low-resolution,” she recalls, “it was horizontal rather than vertical. I wanted
the bear to be more threatening. I enlarged the image, and also enhanced the
eyes and snout to make the poor bear even more crazed looking. If you read the
story, you’ll see why this is appropriate.”

 

[A photograph of a polar bear, rotated and with enhancements to the eyes and snout, makes the creature look suitably crazed for a mystery’s front cover and a promotional poster.]

Many readers and booksellers have
mentioned the cover’s appeal, and booksellers often keep the poster version on
display long after my bookstore appearances.

 

For the latest mystery in the
series, Searching for
Murder
, published in August, Liz went for a more conceptual
image. The story is about the search for the president of a university. When I
was a university professor, I once had an office with a mottled glass door. I
knew that many universities still have these doors in their older buildings,
and I told Liz that it was always scary to see someone come up close to the
door from the outside and peer through it.

 

She found a free photo online of a
mottled glass door with a shadowy, sinister figure on the other side. The
photographer, Emin Ozkan, lives in Turkey, and when Liz and I contacted him to
say that we would like to use his image on my book, he was happy to grant
permission. It turns out that the sinister image was fairly innocent. “I took
the photograph at my house,” he wrote me. “It was my nephew standing there,
appearing as a silhouette. When I saw him, I asked him not to move, and I
grabbed my camera.”

 

Changed only slightly in Photoshop—Liz
darkened an area that would have made it hard for people to read the book
title—the photograph seems to send a dramatic signal to booksellers and
early readers. In about six months, I should know what the cover did for sales,
and I will send a report for a 2007 issue of <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>PMA Independent
.

 

Ron Lovell is publisher of
Penman Productions in Gleneden Beach, Oregon (www.martindalemysteries.com). Liz
Kingslien owns Lizart Digital Design in Chicago (www.lizbiz.biz).

 

 

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