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Never judge a book...

…by its cover. That’s what we’re told, but we all do. Or we try to. One company (Persephone Books) has decided not to bother, and they put all their books in plain grey covers.

Other publishers give a lot of attention to covers, and achieving a good one isn’t easy. To be effective - i.e. to sell the book - a cover should convey the genre, fit the theme/subject of the book, hint at or show a scene from the story, and match the covers of other books by the same author. I’m talking about fiction here, of course.

There’s a lot of talk about what makes a good cover, and we self-published and small-published authors spend a lot of time- and sometimes money - on trying to get it right. Of my covers, four have been produced by top-class designers, three by professional designers but ‘on the cheap’, and two have been done by me. Take a look at them and see if you can work out which is which.

I often wonder whether to show on the cover the faces of the characters. Some say it helps, but I prefer my readers to imagine for themselves what the characters look like based on what I’ve written about them. One way I get around this is by asking the designer to show figures from the back. When a designer includes a face, it can work very well. Kerryl's face on the cover of Paradise Girl is exactly how I imagined her. The same with the face of Yalka on The Rhymer’s Daughter. On the other hand, Lander’s face on the cover of Aftershocks and on Jericho Rose isn’t quite how I saw him.

Currently, AI is throwing the whole cover design business into the air. Here are two examples of what it can do. I experimented with an app called Midjourney, giving it a simple instruction. “Line drawing of a young woman wearing armour and holding a sword.” In less than half a minute it produced this.

If I was writing a book about a warrior princess, all I’d need to do is add the title! If I wanted an image in full colour, the app would do that for me too.

To try something else, I gave the app an even simpler instruction. “Manga girl with wings.” That was all, and this is the outcome, again in less than thirty seconds.

Spot on for the manga genre.

The only drawback of using AI is a lack of clarity about copyright. If I commission a human designer, part of the fee I pay is for exclusive rights to use the artwork they produce on my e-book, paperback, and hardback covers, and for advertising and promotion. For AI it’s not clear who owns the image. The creator of the algorithms that produced it? The owner of the hardware that runs them? The owners of the hundreds and thousands of images that have been fed into the AI app for it to learn what to produce? Probably all of these. And what about me? Midjourney created what it did in response to the request I made. If the wording had been a little different it would have come up with different images.

All you can be sure of is that a lot of lawyers are going to be tied up in this for a long time (and will probably get very rich from it). For now, I’ll stick with designs done by humans.

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