I've been meandering through the websites of various small presses, thinking, maybe if no agents take an interest in my work, I could pitch to some of the small presses. Problem is, as I look around at some of their sites, I've found the books they publish have some really horrible covers. And I'm not just talking poor designs, I'm talking really amateurish looking stuff.
I don't know about anyone else, but to me that's a huge turn off. Part of that is probably my art background--I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, and painting/drawing have been a part of my life pretty much my whole life. So maybe I'm biased when it comes to artwork. But is that really it? Some of this stuff looks really thrown together, cheesy, lame.
These are issues I see in all of them:
The layout. The font doesn't work as part of the whole piece, rather it's just stuck there to show the title. A very basic--yet essential-- aspect of graphic design is incorporating font into a piece. Look at some professionally published books from big publishing houses. It doesn't matter how big or small, or even what type of font they used--it just looks right. It works as part of a whole. A few random examples:
Does this seem too snooty or complain-y? I just think that if I had a book published, I'd want it to look good, and I'd imagine most other authors would feel the same. Which leads me to the next thing: can a small publishing house, e-pub or otherwise, compete with big money? In other words-yes, I know most of these smaller presses likely don't have the funds for a big art department. Their resources may be limited. Maybe they just can't afford to acquire images from professional artists or photographers and have to create them themselves. Maybe they employ people who weren't formally trained in any kind of design. Maybe it's a matter of a one person art department versus several people.
That said, isn't it just an excuse? At the very least, all you need is Photoshop (even GIMP is a decent alternative...and free) and someone who knows what they're doing to create professional looking covers. I don't think finding a design needs to be outlandish in price to get something good to work with. Hell, with digital cameras and computers, it shouldn't even be an issue. I'm sure there are plenty of amateur/unknown models out there you could hire for a reasonable rate to set up a photo shoot if you wanted to use real people. You can also acquire image rights from thousands of artists and photographers from companies like Getty. Or you could inquire with artists from places like deviantart.com.
My point is, there are so many options out there, and I think small publishing houses not only owe it to authors, but to themselves to produce professional looking covers.