I just published a 140 page ebook on Amazon called Ebola: Local voices, hard facts. Now there are a LOT of other books about ebola on Amazon. I needed a catchy cover to compete with all of these. As soon as you see what the competition looks like -book-coverwise- I think you’ll agree it shouldn’t be too hard to create one that stands out. After all, none of these other books seem to feature stories and interviews with the people directly affected by Ebola in West Africa.
First 40 book covers on Amazon when searching for “ebola” books
The first result (top left) is the only one of this bunch that seems to be a non-fiction book I would read, with real research and an aversion to fear-based marketing. Half are fiction and the other half are end-of-the-world guides targetting the “prepper” community. The author of the top book, David Quammen, pulled a 120 page excerpt out of his much larger, older book on the emergence of new diseases, dressed it up, and republished it. It’s a clever trick – and clearly he’s selling a lot more copies this way.
In the same vein, I wanted my book to stand apart with a book cover that illustrates what it alone offers (among these ebooks) – people, voices, authentic perspectives, and an actual discourse on the disease with a non-apocalyptic tone.
My first iteration was inspired by an artist I found on eboladeeply.com while researching my book. I contacted the artist and incorporated one frame from her comic strip about ebola:
But it didn’t quite capture the feeling. The spacing was awkward. The title didn’t stand out. The cartoon made it feel, well, cartoonish. I loved this as art, but it wasn’t working on a cover. It didn’t send the message I wanted to send to my prospective reader. So I started over.
My next draft aimed to incorporate actual faces of the people in the book, or face like those described in the book:
One good thing about this is that the faces emphasize this is non-fiction, with real life sources. The light yellow/cream color burst really helped this look like a book with an image and words connected, and not some piece of junk (I tried white background before). I thought I’d nailed it and went to bed.
The next morning I still wasn’t satisfied. I looked at the revised book cover and it was too symmetrical. My wife thought the font wasn’t professional enough. And there is just too much border junk and unimportant words around the edges. I’m not well known as an author, so my name should be tiny. It was too busy. I started over a third time.
I read a blog on creating your ebook cover and this section gave me an AHA! moment:
Layout: Don’t Be Afraid of white space
On the design below, the right design is the final design design, but a designer worried about not using all the space might do something similar to the left or middle. I’ll let you make up you mind which has the most style and sets the best mood for a short story.
I spent hours on google image search looking for a picture that fit my title. Two images stood out as possibilities:
This is Pearlina (featured in the book) from Katie Meyler’s blog about MoreThanMe’s work in Libera at racingheartblog.tumblr.com.
And this one captures the reality – this is both a medical crisis and a family crisis.
I wanted something simpler, more personal. A single face:
I faded Pearlina’s face into a silhouette because I didn’t want her to be singled out as the poster child for ebola. She never got the disease, but was put in isolation. For the other image, I could never get it quite right. Looked like a photoshop job.
So I combined this with my previous iteration of faces, and I’m sticking with this for now. Combining pearlina with the vertical spread of photos sends a clear message that this is personal, authentic storytelling from the place where Ebola is actually affecting lives:
- Search Amazon for other books that will appear beside your own book. Study them. Be sure not to copy them, but think of what your book has that other books don’t. Emphasize that aspect in the cover and the summary. You only need to beat out the books that are similar to your book to get a sale.
- Keep your cover simple. Make a mock up in PAINT – a free built-in program on windows machines – and stare at your version. If you use cover art, use something that fits your title. You can use an image but it may work better modify the image to obscure and iconify it.
- Be sure you have permission or check that it is a public domain / creative commons image. I contacted the artist for my first cover about reprinting, and I contacted the blog owner who posted the images I used in the second draft. Google images are not always well sourced, but try your best. Some photo licenses allow you to reuse a photo if you drastically modify it to where it doesn’t look like the original.
- Don’t be afraid to start over. Move things around. Change colors, fonts, sizes. Try making your text very small except for one or two words you want to draw the reader to. In my case, the one word is obviously “ebola” in every draft.
- Use Pixlr.com if you don’t have a fancy graphics editor. It does the job. You can upload your images, turn them into layers (like photoshop) and apply filters to transform your images. These were all made on pixlr, after I found a good starting image online.
- Amazon has a free online book cover editor, but it is pretty limited and turns out covers that look like all the other ebook covers on amazon. I think it is better to make your own elsewhere just to stand out.
- Don’t center everything. Use the edge of the image to intrigue your viewer. Show half a face, or half a word.
- Make sure any face on your cover has strong direct eye contact. Research shows this makes a difference if you want to make an emotional connection.
- Another more complicated design I tried on a previous book used Pixlr to fade three images into one cover (like your typical suspense novel) — an old man, a child soldier, and fire in a village:
It’s not awarding winning work, but it does fit the genre better than anything I could create with Amazon’s cover making tool. I spent a while looking for the right old man face, and here I’d like to look further – even asking one old man I knew from Gambia to send me a photo to use. With the fading, you can obscure people until they are pretty much anonymous.
Last – give a new artist a chance. I worked with a teenager who wanted to try making covers for a while on this project. It took 6 weeks to write 140 pages, but she didn’t come through with a cover that would work. I wasn’t able to advise her on what to draw. Still, I’m hopeful I can use her art on my next book cover.