So you’ve written your book, you have your editor and you know which self-publishing route you are going to go with. Now you need a cover and you’ve decided to heed all the advice out there and hire a professional cover designer. You’re excited and you want to jump right in but where do you start? Well, there are some fundamental things you need to know before and after you hire someone that will make you (and your designer’s) life a lot easier.
1. Do your research.
Before you even consider hiring someone to do your cover you need to do your research. There are a lot of really good designers out there that are good and there are also a lot of bad ones. Do a search, compile a list and start stalking your favorite designers (ok not literally, that’s just creepy). Check their website, their Facebook page, Twitter account. Are they on LinkedIn? Do they have customer reviews on their website? If not I might consider that a red flag, but not a big one. Do they have published work? Check their portfolio. Does the work they do or the style they do suit your book? Is it what you are looking for? Ask yourself some questions too. What kind of style do you like? There are photo covers, photo-manipulation covers, illustrated covers, minimalist covers, the scope is broad. Look around at covers you love and, assuming they are suitable styles for the type of book you wrote, keep a list handy. Designers love to work with authors who have a clear idea of what they like. (But not a stranglehold on their idea, we’ll get into that in a moment.)
Email the designers you want to know more about. Let them know you’re in the market for a cover and you are looking around. Find out if they are accepting new orders, what their prices are like, if they are willing to negotiate. Tell them your vision for your cover (or if you don’t have one) and see if it’s a concept they can, or want to, work with. Some designers will get excited and jump on an idea straight out of the box because what you’ve given them has sparked an idea. If this happens, make sure to bump these designers to the top of your list because it generally means they love the concept just as much as you do.
Think of it like a job interview of sorts because, truthfully, that’s exactly what it is. A caveat about this, however, remember that even though you are hiring them, they can choose whether to work with you or not, so if you come across as a difficult client, hard to work with or are too demanding, chances are they are going to choose not to work with you. This is especially painful if you’ve narrowed your choices and have your heart set on a particular designer and their style.
2. Provide as much information as possible, but give them creative freedom.
Some of the best covers come from a true collaboration between the author and the artist. As I said above, some designers will get an image in their head the moment you give them your idea for your cover. That being said, if you have a stranglehold on your idea the only thing you are going to do is prohibit your designer from using all of their creative resources. You hired them for their skill let them use it.
Let’s take an example: You tell your designer you want three people on the cover the protagonist the hero and the heroine. The protagonist is 6’2”, wiry, dark hair with blond streaks, green eyes and a cleft chin, He wears a gold eagle pendant on a box chain around his neck and always wears black button down shirts. The hero is 6’4”, muscular but not bulky, looks good in green, has dimples and blue eyes and carries a rabbit’s foot, which is symbolized in the book and really needs to be on the cover. The heroine is…well, you get the idea, right? Now the book takes place in a small city in Wyoming so that has to be on the cover and the scene you really want to use is at night during a bad thunderstorm… I’m feeling constricted just writing all that. You can understand how being too specific would make a cover designer want to scream right?
Now, I’m not saying giving character descriptions is bad, it’s not. What is bad is when you have already built the entire cover in your head and refuse to budge even an inch from your vision.
If you don’t have any ideas for a cover, let the designer know. That’s what they do. However, it’s best if you still give them pertinent information such as basic genre, character descriptions, location, age range of your target reader base, and general mood of the book. Give them a synopsis or, if you’re confident, give them the book to read.
Sometimes, even if you don’t know what you want, you know what you like and don’t like. Look at other people’s book covers and give the designer examples of what kinds of style you like. Tell them if you have a favorite color or a color you can’t stand. Show them fonts you like or hate. The bottom line here is designers like to have as much information as possible for their creative mind to draw from but hate to have their creativity dictated to them.
3. Keep an open mind.
You hired them because they are a professional. Take their advice into consideration. It’s okay to have an idea in your head, but don’t become too attached to it. If you’ve hired the right professional they are going to know what will and what will not work on a book cover. Your goal here is to use the cover to sell your books. If your designer tells you your idea isn’t a good one, listen to them because chances are they know better than you do.
Oftentimes (and this happens with good designers) as soon as you give them your idea (blurb, synopsis, scene, etc.) they are going to form an image in their head. Let them run with it. You may love it. You might hate it too, but I’m betting it will be somewhere in between. There will be some elements you like and some that just don’t do it for you. A good designer will work with you to tweak these elements into a cover you will love.
Whatever the outcome of the first draft is, be sure that your feedback is specific. Don’t just throw, “I don’t like it,” at your designer. Why don’t you like it? What parts of it don’t you like? Are there parts you do like? A designer can’t do anything with, “I don’t like it.” Don’t be unkind, use constructive criticism. Designers who have been doing this for a while have, more than likely, developed a thick skin when it comes to criticism of their work. They understand that it’s a job and you are a client so they are not overly emotionally invested in your cover on a personal basis, but even the most seasoned designer is going to be taken a bit back if you just rip something to shreds. A brand new designer will, quite possibly, be crushed, not having had the time or experience to develop that thick skin yet.
4. There is a difference between a stock image and a cover design.
It might sound simple, but some people don’t understand the difference between a stock photo and a cover design. Stock photos are royalty free photos you can use as a component on your cover design. The thing about stock photos is, unless they are single usage (and therefore far more expensive) than anyone can purchase them and use them. This makes it possible, if not desirable, for the same stock image to appear on many different cover designs. When you choose your designer try to take their originality into consideration. What you need to remember is, if something like this happens, it’s not necessarily the designer’s fault. Some stock photos are just popular, especially in the romance genre. If you are providing stock photos you’ve found that you want the designer to use (yes, you can do that) try and be sure that they aren’t being sorted by “most popular” since this is going to increase the chance that someone else has already used it.
If you are letting your designer choose the stock image, be proactive. Be a part of your design experience. Check your genre on Amazon, look at other covers and make sure there isn’t a similar design using the same stock photo out there. Do this before you sign off on the design. Do this during the rough draft approval stage so it can be fixed before the designer (or you) spend money on a stock photo you can’t use.
This is where we go back to looking at the designer’s portfolio and asking them questions before you hire them. Ask them how they create their covers, what methods they use, what programs. Educate yourself in the process and your design will be better for it in the long run.
5. Look at bad design too.
Nothing will tell you what you don’t want better than browsing one of the many websites dedicated to bad book covers. There are many to choose from but Lousy Book Covers is probably one of the best. It can show you exactly where design goes wrong, and if you don’t know exactly what you do want on your cover at least you can show your designer what you don’t want.
Good Examples of Bad Book Covers is another short reference to some pretty bad covers.
Looking through these websites can give you a good baseline to go by when you are hunting for your designer. If the covers in their portfolio look anything like what’s on these websites it’s a good idea to steer clear of them altogether.
Notice one thing I didn’t really talk about here is pricing. A designer can set any price they want for their work. While good designers are, inevitably, going to come with a higher price tag the reverse is not always true. A high price tag doesn’t always mean a good designer.
Remember, designers are people too, many of them make a living, feed their families and pay their bills from the freelance work they do. If they are good, and you recognize they are good, don’t try to lowball them with a ridiculous offer. An established designer that knows the business and has experience isn’t going to sell themselves to the lowest bidder. Odds are if they are that good and well established, they have plenty of work to keep them busy. They understand the value of their time and have clients willing to pay them their price so they can afford not to take every single person on.
In the end, just make sure your cover is a good one by hiring a good designer.