Guest post by Harriet Hodgson
There are dozens of royalty-free websites on the Internet. Some specialize in certain types of photos, but most seem to be general. Before I chose a cover for my latest book, I looked at more than 2,000 photos.
What a job! After weeks of searching I finally found a photo that matched the picture in my mind.
Your book will look the way you see it in your mind if you provide input on the cover photo. It is easy to get distracted when you are looking at photos, so you need to remind yourself to stay on task. What should you look for?
Symbolism is at the top of my list. My recent work focuses on grief and there are many hackneyed symbols for it, things like lilies, swans and candles -- images I avoided. Instead, I looked for a calm photo that gave the reader hope. The choice I finally made was a photo of a battered aluminum rowboat on still water.
The boat is a teal-colored and has visible dents and scrapes on the side. I think the rowboat symbolizes a grief journey and the dents and scrapes symbolize the challenges we all face. But symbolism that is too obtuse does not promote book sales. If the reader has to go through several thought processes to understand the relationship of the cover photo to your book, then you have made a poor choice.
Color is another criteria and must be used wisely. The psychology of color is a complex topic. If you know a little about it, however, you can use it to your advantage. Red is a good example. Though red attracts attention, it also represents royalty, blood, and in some instances, horror. This is why I avoided the color red when I was looking for potential cover photos.
The teal color of the rowboat is a calming and the water is calm as well. Interestingly, the graphic designer continued the water image and blue on the back cover of the book.
You also need to take the basic shape of the photo -- horizontal or vertical -- into account. A horizontal photo may work for your cover, but getting it cropped costs extra money. Reducing and enlarging a photo also costs extra, an important point it if is your money or the publisher's money.
The clarity of the photo is extremely important. A photo that is out of focus can turn off potential buyers and a clear photo can attract them. Sometimes a graphic designer will choose a blurry photo to make a point. This is okay as long as potential buyers understand this. Your publisher can provide you with more information about photo requirements.
Finally, you need to be on the lookout for title space. A long title and subtitle will not show well against a busy background. I chose the rowboat photo because there was plenty of room on the bottom for my title. I also chose it because the downward reflection of reeds on the water leads the customer's eyes directly to this title.
Cost is the final, and perhaps most important, criteria. Spending a little more for a photo may pay off in the long run. Some photographers submit a series of photos. Click on the photo you like and then look below for others in the series, which may be less expensive.
Cost, title space, clarity, shape, color, and symbolism all influence your photo choice. The right photo can make your book a winner. Here's to super sales and more books!
Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson
Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30+ years. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors,
Centering Corporation has published her 26th book, "Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life" and a companion journal with 100 writing jump-starts. Hodgson is a monthly columnist for "Caregiving in America" magazine and a contributing writer for the Open to Hope Foundation website. Please visit Harriet's website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.