A few days ago, I found a thread on a writer’s message board where the original poster offered a course about book cover design. The proposed course didn’t go over very well. Responses complained about the price of the course (“Two hundred dollars would buy me a lot of book covers.”), while others suggested changes to his website and more samples of past work. Through the full range of comments, though, nobody mentioned time management for writers. Why would they? It was a thread about cover design. Or so it seemed.
A quality book cover is fundamental to your book’s success. We’ve all heard, “never judge a book by its cover,” but that’s exactly what readers do. Have you scrolled through the pages on Amazon, looking for your next great read? Probably. If you’re like most people, you scan the book covers first, one after another. You skip past the covers that don’t have the “right” look. The story itself could be the best ever, but most readers will never find out. A great cover might not convince you to buy the book, but it can make you stop and look.
Time Management Decisions Disguised as Something Else
What struck me about the thread was the overall “do-it-yourself” tone of the original post and many of the replies. The original poster essentially said I can teach you how to do your own cover. Responders argued that I don’t need you to teach me because I can teach myself. Both assertions miss the point. The key question isn’t can a self-published author learn professional cover design, it’s should she?
“Can I?” is a very dangerous question for writers because, at least to some degree, the answer is usually yes. You can learn to produce a book cover. You can learn to format your book, build a website, or set up a Facebook page. The question to ask isn’t, “Can I do it?,” but, “Should I?”
Both sides in the cover design thread focused on the “Can I?” question: “Can a self-published author learn to produce her own book cover?” The better question would have been framed as a “Should I?” question: “Should I spend the time and money necessary to learn how to do a professional cover design?”
How much time should a writer spend learning the basics of cover design and color theory? How much time can she afford to spend away from her writing? Wouldn’t she become a better writer by focusing almost exclusively on her writing, and not splitting time between writing and graphic arts? These are important questions. The answers to them are vital, because in the end, they’re not questions about her ability to learn a new skill. They’re time management choices for a writer disguised as something else.
Writing Time Is Your Most Precious Resource
Writing is hard work. Human nature being what it is, there are times when writers find reasons to do almost anything rather than sit down and write. Fortunately, for those so inclined, a writer can distract herself on an almost endless number of other things–like learning about cover design–things that feel like work, and not procrastination. I didn’t get a chance to write today, but my .html skills are getting better every day! She will become a better writer by writing, not by playing with Photoshop.
Money Isn’t The Real Issue
You can hire a professional cover designer who will produce (hopefully) a beautiful book cover costing thousands of dollars. Most writers don’t have that kind of money to spend on a book cover, so they consider doing their own. Get a copy of Photoshop and watch a few YouTube videos. How hard can it be? And there won’t be a bank-breaking check to write. It seems like an attractive option when publishing on a shoestring.
There is another alternative. There are lots of very inexpensive cover design alternatives, with some as low as ten dollars! Some of the low-priced designers do surprisingly high quality work. My guess is that most will do a better job than a writer moonlighting as a cover designer. Given the wide array of alternatives, it just isn’t necessary to sacrifice your writing time in search of an inexpensive book cover.
Time management for writers is crucial to a writer’s development. The more time a writer spends writing, the better the writing will be. Writing will become easier. Falling into the trap of doing tasks–like cover design–serves only to delay and hinder. Put your focus where it should be: on your writing.
And, do you you really want to know how a Layer Mask works?