How to work with a book cover designer

UNDERCOVER – CHAPTER THREE

 As an independent author you are responsible for sourcing professionals to do the jobs you cannot.

Because the title of your job says ‘self-published’ it does not, and should not mean that you do everything yourself.

You can, of course, if you want too, but honestly it is not worth the bother. You are a writer, not a typesetter, or editor, or, as we are discussing here – a cover designer.

You can do it yourself, I’m the last person to tell you that you cannot, or should not. But the reality is that a home made cover, ie one that is made by someone who is not a professional designer, will always look like just what it is.

Your book is competing with thousands and thousands of other books. Ones that have professionally designed covers. Those authors have chosen to invest in their work, to ensure the book, technically the product they are producing for sale, is the very best it can be.

There are sites where you can purchase templates for covers. If you want a cheap and cheerful way of producing a cover these are fine. They do what they say on the tin. However if you want a great, show stopping cover you need to work with a proper designer.

So how do you find one?

Unless you are married to one, or know one in your circle of friends, there is only one way to find a designer and that is by taking the time to do some research. Many authors will credit their cover designer inside their book. You can take a look at book covers you admire and see who they are by. Amazon gives you the opportunity to have a look at the first few pages of a book listing, so you can do your research cheaply without the need to even buy books.

Author facebook groups are another place you can look, ask members for recommendations. There are awards at TheBookDesigner.com which are held each month. Have a look at the site, this will give you a great idea of what designers there are and which is doing work you admire and which will fit in your genre. No matter how eyecatching their designs, however, don’t expect the designer of a gothic horror to come up with something fabulous for your cosy mystery, or romance. Good designers, just like writers, have a preference for the type of work they enjoy. Of course a professional will be able to design in every genre, but their creative juices will really start flowing if they are working in one they like.

You can do an internet search for designers, and also use the site Fiverr.

Whoever you decide to use you need to check out their work and then approach them with an initial enquiry. I dislike it when a designer parries an enquiry with ‘what is your budget’. If I say $400 you can bet that is what the cover will cost!

Check also their availability and how soon they can get to the work.

When do I need a designer?

You can get an e-book cover done before you’ve written a word. Having this as your desktop image will inspire you to keep going. Putting the tag lines together and the title will help cement the ideas you have for your book. However, you can’t really do the print cover until the final typeset version of your book is available so you know the spine width. However that is not to say you shouldn’t communicate with designers right from the very beginning. Having a deadline to have the book finished is a great way to inspire you to keep going.

What do I need?

You will probably require an e-book cover, just the basic front cover of your book. A print version. This has the front, back and spine. An audio book – this is a square version of the cover. You also should ask for 3D mockups of what the print book will look like, this is very useful for marketing and promoting your book. It is useful to have the source files too as this keeps all of your work with you.

 

Discussions prior to work beginning

The cost and time scale are vitally important, but something else to be considered is how many changes the designer will let you make. You can help them by doing lots of research and having an idea of what you want, but sometimes when you see your ideas brought to life you will hate them, the colours are wrong, the text looks horrible, the image you thought was show stopping looks hideous.  It would not be fair to expect your designer to make countless changes for someone who has no idea of what they want, but you will unless they are both a genius and mind reader, need to make a few tweeks. It will help your relationship if you are both aware of the expectations.

 

It also helps to sort out, before the work starts, how quickly they will make changes, or come up with designs and how fast you can respond to them. In an ideal world you are both on the same timeline, able to be at your computers at the same time and respond as the work goes backwards and forwards between you. However, the reality of any situation is that is unlikely. It is far more likely you will be working with someone across the other side of the world and that both of you will be fitting your discussions around other work. Being aware of your time constraints and of theirs can help keep frustrations to a minimum. The aim of the work is firstly to have a fabulous cover, but equally to build a relationship with them for your other covers and that you will go on to work together for many years to come, building a brand for you and a stunning portfolio for them.

 

How to chose

Firstly pick a designer whose work is in the genre of your book. They should have good reviews from other authors, which should say how brilliant their work is and how fabulous they are to work with.

 

 

Pick a designer who works in your genre, has good testimonials from other authors.

 

When the job is complete pay the designer promptly, this advice applies to anyone you work with, typesetter, proof reader, or whatever. And if there is an opportunity, leave them a nice review if they have done a good job. If you’ve suffered a disaster, say nothing unless the job was truly terrible and they clearly weren’t a professional.

 

Before the work starts

Once you’ve found a designer, you need to give them all the information they need. I spend time putting together a design brief. I take a day, or whatever it needs, out of my writing schedule to put it together.

Have a look at covers you like, obviously in the right genre and copy the links so the designer can go into them and have a look.

Then I give the following information:

The book title. This is your opportunity if you haven’t already got a title, to get one together. There is nothing that clarifies the mind quicker than a deadline.

If there are any subtitles or other wording that goes on the front cover, give this to the designer.

The author title. Make sure if you write under a pen name, or have different names for different genres that you have given the designer the correct one. It sounds very straightforward, but it is simple to make a mistake.

It is a good idea to let the designer know what you want in large print, or capitals, and what can be in a smaller font.

Genre: This is important as the designer will need to know what genre the book is, so they can get the cover design right. Imagine ‘Sarah’s Revenge’ as a title, it could be a children’s book, a romance, or a horror. You can imagine the disaster if the designer did not know what the genre was. While most designers are incredibly patient, they are also generally very busy and any time you can save for them will really help.

Give them an indication of the feel you want for the cover, a romance could be sassy, or cutesy, it is important to let them know what you are looking for.

As part of your research for the designers brief, spend some time online, or in your local book shop if you prefer and find examples of ones you like to give the designer some indication of the direction to go in with their work. This is very important as you are two different people with very different ideas which have to be able to merge to produce a cover which will make your heart sing as the author, will do good things for the designer’s portfolio and will help sell your book.

If you are producing a print version you will also need to send the designer a blurb. This will go on the back cover when they design it, but will also give the designer an idea of what the book is about in order to help them design the cover.  More about writing a blurb later.

Author bio. Your back cover may also have your author biography. This gives readers an idea of who you are. It will not generally affect sales, but readers do like to see who has written the book. Personally I find author biographies absolutely fascinating.

The designer will also need your author photo if you are going to have this on the back of the book to accompany your biography.

Publisher logo – if you are publishing under a named company, be it a company who has done the production work for you, or you have set up your own company to publish under. Send the designer the logo for the back cover and the spine of the book.

ISBN if you are using one. Not essential, but some authors prefer to have them.  If you have one send it to the designer as part of your design brief.

Tell the designer the type of feel you want to create, who is the lead character, male, or female, where is the book set, in the city, or the countryside, beach or whatever, this will all help the designer to get a feel for what the cover needs.

Have a look at fonts and have an idea of what you would like, curly fonts or more blocky, the genre of your book will influence this.

 

If there are images, that spark something in you send the designer those too. Such as a map, or other element, depending on the genre. This is rather like creating a mood board for a fashion designer. You can show the designer what you like and let them come up with something for you.

You may have cover images of your own, or ones that you have bought from a website, or may have commissioned artwork of your own. The designer will need all of these, in the largest format you can to ensure the quality of reproduction is kept to a maximum.

 

Have an idea of the colours you think you will like. Look at other books in the same genre and see what they are using, the idea is to fit in with what is selling, but also to stand out enough from the herd so your book is eye-catching, yet familiar to readers.

Size, this is quite an important issue. I once made the mistake of having the book typeset as a 6 x9 version and asked the cover designer to do a cover for a 5 x 8. Of course once it was finished, no matter how fabulous the job, it was not going to fit the book and had to be redone. Not a major problem as it was just a resizing issue, but still frustrating and time wasting for everyone.  When you are sending your design brief to the designer it does no harm to check and then check again that all of your facts are right. Have you given the right size? Attached the right images?

 

Once they have all of the details the designer will get to work.  You may have a very fixed idea of what you want, but honestly the designer does know better, it is their job. What you have in your mind may not work at all when it is put together for the cover, so be open to changes.

Do not be too horrified when the first run of designs comes back to you. In culinary terms you have asked the designer to make you a sandwich. You may have specified which bread you want, or what you want in it, but you can bet, without specific information on butter or mayonnaise, mustard or pickle, heaps of tomato or lettuce, whoever makes the sandwich will get it wrong. The first run of designs is like that. The designer can only do their best to come up with something. This gives you something to work at.

Once you have their initial ideas, taken from your idea, you have something to work with.  Give specific feedback, such as changing the font, or the colour, which elements you would like to change. Giving the designer an idea of the bits of the design you like will help them more than throwing your hands up and not liking it.

It may help to have feedback from trusted friends, or family, or your audience if you have one. I often see Facebook groups showcasing covers and being asked which one would work the best. Sometimes the group may not always be right. Unfortunately while this can help it may also lead to mixed messages and more confusion, so be prepared to go with your gut instinct. One important thing to remember is that you can always change a cover at a later date. My early books have had multiple covers, their originals from the publisher when they were first released, which were, in my opinion, hideous and did nothing to help sell them.  Covers which were for racy books set in the equestrian world were given covers of cutesy girls sitting coyly on beds, putting on makeup. My heroines were more likely to be putting bridles and saddles on to horses than sitting indoors looking at themselves in the mirror. I was so happy when I got the rights of the books back and could change the covers. However, I was blissfully aware of what sold a book and had covers designed with gorgeous horse images on them. Unknowingly I had made the same mistake as the original publisher. The covers were of no relevance to what was inside the book. Now, finally, after having this newbie mistake pointed out to me, I’ve changed the covers to something that not only tells readers what the book is about, in one simple image, but are also eye-catching enough to sell the books.

Later covers were gorgeous images I was given the use off. Fabulous pictures, but of no relevance to the books at all. Finally now they have covers I like and which really helps sell the books, but it has been a long journey to get to this point.  You can, and probably will, update and revamp the covers at a later stage.

The more you write and publish the more knowledge you will get about what covers work and what your books need. Be prepared to take that journey. You probably will not get it right straight away, but you will learn.

There may be a lot of backwards and forwards between yourself and the designer. It is, if you let it be, a fabulous process, seeing your vague ideas coming to life. Sometimes what you had thought you wanted turned out not to work at all and the designer had something far better up their sleeve.

Once you are on the right track you can make tiny tweeks. However you cannot, and should not, expect your designer to keep making changes indefinitely because you cannot make your mind up. There is nothing more frustrating for them to have to deal with a client who is constantly changing the design, especially once the process is well underway. Be prepared to be patient, and professional.

Series

If you are writing a series, or intend too let the designer know, you can build up a ‘look’ which can be kept for the rest of the books. This will make designing the remainder of the books a lot easier

Working in a series

Another thing to consider is will this be a series of books? You can often get a designer to design a series look, and then the subsequent books may be cheaper or at least the process will be quicker and easier.

With a series you will keep the same fonts, probably the same colours for the author name and title and the design elements will be the same, or at least very similar.

Your book cover needs to tie in with your website and all of your social media. It is helpful if your designer can be involved in the processes for all of these.

You can get your e-book cover and the 3 D version done first and get the print cover done when the book has been typeset. This way you can load the book and start marketing it. Having the e-book cover done is a great way to give you an incentive to keep going when you are writing the book.

I actually prefer to get the whole lot done at the same time, but that is a personal preference.

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