Your Books Are Cooked! - by Susan Price

          Earlier this year, we, the Authors Electric, produced a
Cooking the Books by Authors Electric
collection of pieces called 'Cooking the Books.'

Tasty treats and unusual eats from Authors Electric blogging collective!...Here’s a chance to cook from our books with e-readable recipes, or just get the not-so-skinny on what keeps authors stoked while they scribble: some of it yummy, some of it funny. An ebook to binge or snack on, where the calories are certified virtual. Dig in!
          As it was my suggestion, I did most of the production work - compiling the pieces sent to me by the others, formatting it, uploading. Though I should mention the help provided by other Electrics, especially Ruby Barnes, when the formatting all went pear-shaped. The title was supplied by Julia Jones, and the blurb above by Valerie Laws.
          As editor for an indie ebook, it fell to me to design the cover. I started out with an idea of having a cooking pot filled with various e-readers. However, I found the task of turning this idea into a useable image quite a struggle.
Andrew's work...
          I have to admit that usually, when doing anything arty on a computer, I rely heavily on help from my brother, Andrew Price, an artist who hardly ever touches a brush these days, using a computer instead. But Andrew, though long-suffering, was busy with his own projects and couldn't spare the time to pull my chestnuts (so to speak) out of the fire. I was also training to be a consultant with the Royal Literary Fund, which was head-nipping, so I'm afraid patience was thin.
           I tried taking straight photos of the only e-reader I own, a Kindle Fire, in a saucepan. Didn't really work.
        I tried downloading photos from the internet, and making a collage which (I thought) I could then photograph. Didn't work.
         Also, my stove is gas. Doesn't work for 'Authors Electric.'
         Andrew took pity and said that if I could get some good, high quality photos of an electric hob (ie: not from the web), some pots, and some e-readers, he would merge them in a graphic programme, and produce a final image.
         So I appealed to the others for photos. Cally Phillips sent photos of her electric hob (even though she isn't in the anthology - she was too busy republishing the entire catalogue of S R Crockett and running the on-line Edinburgh ebook festival.) Others sent photos of their e-readers. We were all set to produce a image of a pot full of e-readers on a stove.
         But Andrew asked me to look at a first 'sketch,' to check the placing of the titles - and what I saw was the cover at the top of the blog. White background, glowing orange rings describing part of a circle, and the title and 'Authors Electric.' My reaction was, 'Wow!' I thought it was a simple, uncluttered, powerful image, which would stand out because of its strength and clarity.. The electric rings tied in with 'electric' and with 'cooking.' I called a halt. I said, never mind about pots and e-readers - we'll go with that one.
          Because I was pressed for time, I was autocratic about it. I said, this is what I've decided on: this is the cover the book is getting.
         So the ebook was published, and all was quiet for a while.
         And then, this week, Kathleen Jones was forced to unclench
Kathleen Jones
the gritted teeth at last, and admit that she hated those electric rings. They reminded her, she said, of years of domesticity, of the slog of preparing meals every day. One or two of the others then piped up and said that they felt the same.

         Now this took me by surprise, I admit. Not by the fact that some people didn't like the cover - you're never going to please everybody, all the time, no matter how hard you try, and for 28 people to all feel the same degree of liking for something would be a miracle.
         No, what surprised me was how the image was interpreted: domesticity, drudge, slog, frustration, boredom...
         Whereas my interpretation (and the reason I chose the image) is: electricity, power, heat, simplicity, directness...
          Neither of these interpretations is wrong. The difference lies in the experiences of the mind making the connections. I'm very undomesticated. It's never been my lot to produce meals, day after day, year after year - so I don't make that reaction to the image. If I cook, it's usually for myself. If I don't want to cook, I don't.
          So the point of this blog is that, when coming up with your ebook cover, there's a lot to think about besides whether you not you, personally, like it. Quite without your knowing it, the cover image may be sending out a message that you didn't intend at all.
          This, of course, is why publishers and product manufacturers, spend a lot of time and money on testing covers and packaging. Cleaning products, for instance, tend to be packaged in bright, 'clean' colours because darker colours - though they would stand out among all the others on the shelf - suggest 'grubbiness.'
         Anyhow, comes the hour, comes the woman. Chris Longmuir, crime-writer and techie, stepped up and said she would design a new cover, along the lines first suggested. Here's her first, trial run, which I think is great stuff, considering that she was having to teach herself new skills as she went along.

          Some tweaks have been suggested. Some people don't like 'Authors Electric' being staggered - they want it centred. Someone suggested that the wooden spoon be removed.
          I'm lobbying for a light background, as I know designers are mad about 'white space,' and I think many people may, at first glance, assume something sinister is going on in this book.

          Any thoughts? - On this cover, or on covers generally?


Lee said…
The proposed covers look very amateurish - the flame image is too easy, too 'cutesy' (yes, I've used it myself, but I've since listened to professional advice) - everyone and his neighbour photoshops fire - the font shouts 'self-pubbed' in the worst sort of manner, and in the second image (with the green background) you can even see the cut&paste job around the flames. Though I'm still waiting for my own new cover images to be designed, I can't emphasise enough how important this is. (There is an enormous difference, for example, in the number of downloads between my first and second novels, more than I believe is due to the stories themselves, and I rashly designed the second cover on my own.)

Get a professional on to it!
madwippitt said…
I like it. I liked the first one best at first glance: but as I looked more at them both, I get the point about the lighter coloured top part, and yes, it IS better - except that I think it is not yet quite the right shade of background though. I suspect that the title might need a change of colour too so that it stands out against both the background and the flames as the E and B rather blend in at the moment.
This all shows just how difficult it is to get a cover right, and how difficult it is to achieve the right result - thanks for an interesting post Sue, and Chris for producing something which looks pretty good!
Chris Longmuir said…
Well, Lee, I am an amateur as far as covers are concerned, and I do get my own covers professionally designed, but Authors Electric is a non profit making gathering of writers, so there is no money in the pot for a professional cover. I must admit I was playing around with the ideas, and as Susan says, learning new skills at the same time, so I was astonished when other members of the group liked what I produced. So I'm sorry you were disappointed, although I agree with you that the raw edges can be seen in the lighter version, whereas they are masked in the darker one. However, if you can find a professional cover artist to work for us for free, we're open to suggestions!
Chris, I love your cover. I must admit I DID have the response Susan describes to the electric ring. Not because I've ever had too much domestic drudgery, but because it reminded me of much loathed domestic science classes at school - which is interesting in view of the observation that you just don't know how an image will 'strike' a potential reader. However, the minute dissection of cover art and design seems mostly superfluous, especially when - as Chris says - this anthology isn't designed as a money making exercise and we don't have any budget for a fully professional cover. What IS important seems to be an immediate 'hit' for the eye - especially in an eBook. My worst selling eBook is a collection of short stories with a very tasteful and nicely designed cover - it hardly sells at all. I know it's because it looks boring and there's no indication at all of contents. But since I didn't publish it, and a very big company did, there's not much I can do about it except hope that some of my other books will send readers to it. I'll pay for professional design most of the time and always for novels, but for the odd trio of stories or single play, I do it myself using my own photos or husband's artwork. I know these aren't perfect but readers don't seem to care as long as they are colourful and attractive. What matters more is that they have a flavour of the contents. I recently decided to change a professional and rather beautiful cover using another designer. I still love the original cover, but with a warmer, more feminine and more inviting image the book immediately started to sell well in its category. Unless a cover is truly awful in visual terms, I don't think the minutiae of design matter much to casual readers. What really matters is the initial impact, the sense that here might be something vivid and exciting. And in those terms, I think Chris's cover works beautifully and says everything that needs to be said.
Chris Longmuir said…
Thank you for the vote of confidence, Catherine.
Kathleen Jones said…
Sorry to be the one who precipitated this crisis Sue!! Like Catherine I also think Chris's cover works (the dark one). It's a good strong image that says everything and implies 'that there might be something vivid and exciting' as Catherine put it.
Lydia Bennet said…
I had no strong feelings against the original cover which was striking, and I thought, deliberately 'retro' - however now that people have come out about not liking it, I like Chris' first effort, with a few minor tweaks; many big publishers put out novels with dark backgrounds, they don't seem to have trouble shifting them - most crime fic is for a start - we are a blogging collective of professional writers so our occasional, usually free, collaborative ebooks are not going to be or look like our own professional ebooks and there's nothing wrong with that imo. We can't expect professional design for nowt. The very good news of course is that we can keep tweaking and changing the cover and see how each one does, one of the many joys of ebooks!
Lydia Bennet said…
just looking at the top 100 kindle bestsellers, there is a wide range of black, dark, bright, pastel, pale covers:
Dennis Hamley said…
Chris, I like your first cover best: the black gives it depth and character which the other doesn't quite get. But I'd like the title centred. However, I quite liked the old cover, with its electric rings suggesting that what was inside the book was good homely fare produced on a rather old-fashioned cooker. Still, a ceramic hob wouldn't quite have the drama. But this is an entirely homespun project, we can't afford professionals and writers aren't necessarily great artists.
Lee said…
I do understand the problem with paying for professionals, and I certainly don't mean to denigrate your efforts, Chris, and I even more assuredly don't mean any personal affront - after all, I've made plenty of my own mistakes - but there's no point in my not being frank about my opinion.

I do agree with Dennis that if you decide to go with one of these covers, the black background is more effective - more dramatic.

Nick has used a professional artist who doesn't charge very much at all, and this may be a possibility. I'm sure Nick is happy to provide a link.
Lee said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee said…
BTW, Catherine, the so-called minutae matter a great deal in design just as in writing: even if the casual reader doesn't consciously notice these details, they affect the whole in key ways. (At least this is how I approach my work, perhaps misguidedly.)
Lee said…
Last point, I promise.

Every morning before starting in on writing, I go through a warming-up routine which includes reading a page or two from Fletcher's wonderful (& hefty) collection about design, The Art of Looking Sideways. This is what I happened to turn to today: 'Good design is good business.' (Thomas Watson Jr, IBM Chairman 1961-1971). Steve Jobs would likely have agreed.

My point? To whom are you marketing Cooking the Books? Just yourselves? Or do you see it as a way of presenting AE writers to the general public? If the latter, maybe the expense of a professional cover is worth a small contribution from everyone.
Nick Green said…
The response to the original electric rings was an interesting one. For me, they invoked my childhood - we had a cooker like that. But I can see how, to anyone who'd slaved over one to cook for an ungrateful family, it might now look like the very Eye of Sauron.

If anyone wants me to contact my tame designers, I'm happy to oblige. It wouldn't cost the Collective anything.
Chris Longmuir said…
That's a great offer from Nick, maybe we should think about it.
Pauline Fisk said…
I like the first cover. There's a sense of hubble, bubble, toil and trouble about it. Many a professionally designed book can, and does, fail to hit the mark. I think this cover works, professional or not.

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