True, but hey, neither here nor there. Just the way it is. It’s not like you can’t spot an Indie self-designed book cover a mile away on Amazon — even decent looking ones often have that “this is a professional designer-free zone” feel to them. But, you know what, you’re smart, you know all that, right? So I’ll shut it and go straight to what you’re reading this piece for: Tips. Tips for selecting images.
So here you go, off the top of my head like an email reply to a friend who just asked. At this exact point in time as I write this post, I can honestly tell you I have no freaking idea what’s going to end up on here, so that should tell you right off the bat that no way no how will this prove to be an exhaustive post on the subject. But maybe I’ll be lucky enough to be able to swing 2, maybe 3 or 4 good solid tips or so that you can take to the bank.
First, a reality check. The bad news is that, at its very core, proper image selection truly is an art, not a science. Really truly truly. And the good news: So freaking what? You’re not trying to win design awards, change the course of history and/or establish yourself in a new profession (because if you are out to do any of those with this post, boy are you going at it wrong). The reality is, your real objective here is to not make such a mess of things with such an amateurish attempt that your prospective reader will go, “Oh gawd, this is soooo lame, I don’t think reading this sh*t’s worth my time…” That’s for blog posts. Even higher chance of screwing up that “go/no go” decision if you’re selling a book, doncha think?
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Well, Grasshopper, don’t fret. Like I said, so what? Your goal is to look the part. Your prospective reader will take one quick look at the image you’ve selected, go through some split-second go/no go mental process, and that’s it. Getting to a go with that split-second you’ve got is dirt easy if you look the part. Then, presumably, your writing takes over. At which point, hey, it’s all on you, so quit looking at me.
Still with me? OK, onwards to the tips!
As the Internet likes to keep reminding us, it all starts with the right keywords. In this case, your search for the right image starts with entering the right keyword(s) to search for! This I really can’t help you with, but why should I since you, in essence, are a wordsmith, so you should be able to come up with a short list of keywords — or even keyword terms — that “fit” your blog post, article, book, etc.
Not so easy? Takes practice, Grasshopper, like many other things in life. Keep at it.
Here, try playing with image searches, such as the one at iStockphoto. Besides being a really nifty and robust source of inexpensive pro images, it’s got an incredible image search engine for us to play with, actually, so even if you don’t plan on buying anything from there, it’s a good place to visit to help you generate even more ideas for your search.
That’s part of the tip. Even though you start with keywords, you never really know what a search engine will find and where it may take you. Scan through the results iStockphoto gives you, for example; you may be surprised by what you’ll find and the ideas that they may help stimulate.
With a better search engine like what iStockphoto has, you can even qualify your searches with things like color keywords (yellow, green, red, etc.), or even image styles. Try this search over there, for example — computer retro — and see the interesting selection the site delivers and suggests to you. I’d say explore iStockphoto‘s search capabilities whenever you can, something you most certainly won’t be able to do at many other sites with far less capable technology.
Sub-tip: If you have an idea for a topic (a keyword!) but no article or book idea yet, go to iStockphoto and do a search and just futz around. Seeing the right image may help write your piece for you! For those of you who suffer from writer’s block, you’re welcome.
Keep it simple. Why do we keep seeing this KIS thing over and over and over again? No different here — the simpler the image, the better. And that goes for everything, not just the image’s general look-and-feel. We’re talking simple colors. Simple textures (as in none, if possible). Simple shapes and layouts. This is particularly critical in today’s marketplace for books, since cover images get shrunk down to thumbnail sizes for online marketing. Complex images do not resize well.
And now, for the most important tip, I think…
Each picture has way more than one image. Who said you had to use the whole image the way it’s been presented to you? Zoom in! Crop! Move off center! Rotate the image! Etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. This is actually where experience becomes a major plus — it takes a while to get to the point where you can look at an image and your coconut zooms in to the “parts” that may be useful and of interest. But do it enough times and you’ll start getting the hang of it, particularly since it takes just a minimal amount of technical skill, really. If you think about it, it’s just about changing your point of view — nothing technically difficult or fancy, such as messing around with colors or Photoshop effects, but we’re not even going there so no worries mate! I’m just telling you to move your eyes around some. Try it!
That should do it for now, Grasshopper. Maybe if enough of you ask for it, I’ll revisit this someday, but you’re armed with enough info now to be dangerous, you graphic designer you! Get to it!
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