Choosing a cover designer (wisely)

Choosing a cover designer (wisely)

When my friends and I started a publishing company, the first book we decided to publish was one of mine, Nameless, the first in a series about time travel, goofy androids, and green tea. After surviving a content edit and making corrections suggested by my beta readers and laying it all out so it looks nice on the inside, we needed an epic cover.

We knew we would need to hire a graphic designer, but the problem was we knew three.

So how did we choose?

The Old Knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The Old Knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The first way to pick a designer is to ask for a portfolio. Most graphic designers will have a portfolio they can show you that demonstrates their work and style. If you find a designer who’s done covers before, and you like the way they look, you’re probably in a good place. If you find a designer who hasn’t done a book cover before, but you still like his style, you’ll probably still be okay. But if you find a designer who doesn’t know book covers and you don’t like their style? Why are you even talking to them?

Be open but be honest. You’re going to be paying these people a nice little sum to create the cover of your dreams. Just don’t forget to be nice. Most artists I know have learned how not to take things personally, but don’t start off by making it personal either. If you don’t like their style, don’t take it out on them.

How did I choose?

I had three options to choose from, and all three of them were wonderful, amazing artists whose work I adored. And when it was all said and done, they were going to cost about the same amount of money too. But of the three of them, there was one factor that trumped the others.

I decided to go with someone who’d been recommended to me as a graphic designer, even though she hadn’t done book covers before. Why? Because she was willing to send me some proof versions to choose from.

I haven’t done this before, and while I had two other graphic designers lined up, since I didn’t know what I was doing and I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I didn’t want to waste their time. Or spend extra money fixing things I hadn’t even thought of yet.

So make sure you know which category you fit into.

The Windrider Saga by Rebecca P. Minor, winner of the 2013 Parable Award
The Windrider Saga by Rebecca P. Minor, winner of the 2013 Parable Award

I’d recommend either of my other graphic designer options, and I’m still looking to use them in the future. But I respect them and their time too much to waste it running around in circles. The designer I chose to go with didn’t mind sending sketches and proofs as examples that we could nitpick.

If you aren’t really certain what you’re looking for in a cover, this is vital. Don’t hire a professional graphic designer if you aren’t going to be professional about it. You’ll waste his time and frustrate him, and you’ll probably end up spending a lot of money in the process. And you might chase off a valuable future resource.

Be professional. Always. Just because you’re self publishing doesn’t mean you aren’t a professional. You’re a bold individual with a story to tell that’s too big for a big house.

How much do you have to know?

How-to-BrainstormI had a basic idea of what I wanted for my book cover. I had a definite opinion about it too. And, personally, I think both of those are important in this process. You need to have some idea of what you’re looking for in a cover, and you need an efficient way to communicate it. Otherwise, it won’t matter how patient your chosen designer is, they’ll still want to strangle you when the project is done.

You don’t have to have your entire cover concept laid out and sketched or all that, but you do need to have a basic idea of what you want it to say. Your cover is like a billboard for your book, so if your message doesn’t shine through on your cover, nobody is going to know what your book is about. And nobody knows what your book is about better than you–so, to me, that means you shouldn’t just tell a designer to know himself out. You have to communicate.

So how do you communicate what you’re thinking for a cover? It’s a magical thing called a Creative Brief. And I’ll tell you all about ours in the next installment!

A.C. Williams

Amy Williams left a lucrative career in marketing to write novels about space cowboys, clumsy church secretaries, American samurai, and alternate dimensions. Along the way, she also discovered a passion for teaching other creative professionals how to use technology to make life easier. Through video instruction or one-on-one coaching, she teaches software, blogging, basic graphic design, and many other useful skills that help creative entrepreneurs get stuff done minus the frustration.

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