If there’s one thing readers complain about when the words “self-published book” enter the conversation, it’s visual quality. Inside and especially outside, authors who may have a wonderful grasp of the written word often fail to translate that talent into the realm of graphic design. I’ve talked about cover art before, and I’ve discussed the pluses and perils of the the mysteriously hooded figure and the voluptuous temptress who could really benefit from a professional fitting. Stay away from the cliché, I’ve always said. But what if the cliché isn’t entirely what it seems?
Book designer Derek Murphy thinks he’s solved the problem of the generic cover by offering templates customizable in something as simple as Microsoft Word. Wrote that coming-of-age novel screaming out for a font last seen in the window of Urban Outfitters? Need a dark and passionate showcase for the pouty, scantily-clad model defining your debut romance? Want some big, bold block letters to grab readers for your dystopian sci-fi epic? Fork over 87 bucks, open up Word, drag-and-drop your stock photos, and you’re ready to go.
Now, I have mixed feelings about this, which is why there will be a poll at the bottom of the article. Many of the templates do look professional, and if they are as customizable as Murphy says, they could help out a lot of authors who can’t afford personal designers. But something in the back of my head wonders why we want to rely so heavily on our Thinkstock accounts to produce the same cover over and over with slightly different variations of color and font. Do we really want more templates?
A whole lot of the publishing industry, traditional and otherwise, is built on the prototypes of previous successes. The Hunger Games does well, so every YA novel for the next five years is a slight variation on the moderately-independent-girl-takes-on-dystopian-evil-with-a-novelty-weapon theme. We know this to be a truth in nearly every creative discipline. Creativity defines our culture as much as culture defines what we produce. Right now, our culture demands wispy sparkles and a hot chick in black leather staring soullessly out from behind spiky bangs. But I struggle to make a connection with that. I’m just not sure templates bring us all that much closer to beauty on the outside of a book or truth within its pages.
“The most useful benefit of these templates is that it will give you some creative boundaries,” Murphy says. “You’ll know you’re starting with a strong, professional design basis, and you can ‘color within the lines’ of tried-and-true book cover design that sells books.” I don’t know, but that just rubs me the wrong way. That might be because I don’t write books solely to sell lots of copies (and probably wouldn’t even if I tried). I don’t write commercially, so I don’t usually think of ‘coloring within the lines’ as something to strive for. I will also admit that I don’t make particularly riveting book covers.
My objections are more philosophical than anything else, and I wouldn’t dispute the value of a service like this to authors who want to give it a try. Lots of authors need those creative boundaries – or at least they need some creative guidelines for an unfamiliar medium – and to them, this might be the godsend they’ve been looking for. What do you think?