May 8, 2014 by Mod
So you’re in the market for a book cover? Many writers leap into this step of their publishing journey with little to no preparation or knowledge. But there is a lot to learn about cover design, even if you DO hire a professional (rather than do it yourself). In my opinion, the best place to learn these things is from the actual designers you approach. With this help not only will you be informed but it will help you to be sure you are choosing the right one.
With this in mind, here are five conversations you should have with prospective book cover designers.
What style of covers do they do?
Roughly, there are four types of cover design – graphical, illustrated, photographic and photo-manipulation. It will help if you know what kind of cover you want. Show the prospective designers covers you like and ask whether they might emulate them.
You should also be clear as to whether you want a cover that is 100% original, or whether you are happy with some use of stock images. You should know that an original design (or an exclusive photograph) will usually cost up to 10 times the price of a stock image cover.
Graphical covers use simpler single color shapes and graphics in a bold but non realistic way.
Photographic covers base their design on one main photograph
Illustrative covers contain more realistic or representational images, but use illustrations rather than photographs
Photomanipulation combines several photographs and effects into a new work.
Here are some examples of different styles of covers I’ve done.
Note that none of the above covers are fully custom. I use stock imagery in all my covers. To get an idea of what a custom illustration might look like on a cover, check out these two books, both painted by the artist Janice Kun.
YOU may not have a preference – that’s fine, but note whether your cover designer DOES. Some designers specialize in one style of cover, even one genre (hard romance for example ). Make sure you choose a designer that suits your vision or your book’s needs.
Each designer prices their services in a way that works for them. Some have higher prices than others. Some charge by the hour. Some include the cost of stock images in their flat rates. Some bill those separately. Some designers are happy to make minor tweaks down the road – adding a blurb, changing a tagline – but some will charge for these.
The main thing for you to discuss is YOUR budget. If you have allocated $50 to your cover, that severely limits you – mostly to pre-made covers and designers just starting out. $200 will get you into many designers’ ballparks. $500 and up and you might get an exclusive image or original illustration.
You can pay thousands for a book cover – but I wouldn’t. When you consider the likely returns on your book, it’s just not a good investment. If sales are your goal it would be better to allocate a reasonable sum to your cover and the rest to reputable promotional and marketing activities.
However, if having an awesome cover for your own enjoyment is your goal, then by all means spend away. Word to the wise though. If you commission a traditional painting or drawing, ask if you are paying for the actual artwork or just the rights to use an image of it or both. An original painting by a trained artist will usually start at about $1000 but owning that painting may not grant you the rights to use it as a book cover. Ask the artist – get it in writing.
Speaking of getting it in writing, ask your prospective designers about copyright. If they seem casual about it, telling you “they got the images from the internet” or they don’t know – run. Image copyright is complex and the rules need to be followed. If your designer doesn’t know the rules, they might be an artist, but they are not a book cover designer.
Also, once your designer has completed your cover, technically you need a contract from them to hand over the copyright to you. You can find a boilerplate contract that does the job nicely here.
For more on copyright and contracts, read this post.
Make sure your designer can complete your cover when you need it. Some designers book many weeks or even months in advance. Also ask your designer about how long any tweaks or changes might take. You might, for example get a great review that you want to add as a blurb on your cover. If your designer can’t complete this change for six weeks you might lose momentum.
Discuss how long the process will take too. This is an education for you apart from anything else. Some of my clients have been surprised that the initial period might involve a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about fine tuning the concept. It will help you maintain your wits if you know what to expect up front.
By this point you should be ready to choose your designer. You need to have one final conversation with them. This concerns the specifications of your book. If you are just publishing an eBook, this is pretty straightforward. Your designer will likely provide a high resolution jpeg in 6×9 dimensions. You can use this on most web retailers’ sites, such as Kindle, iTunes etc. You might also ask your designer if they will give you smaller versions for other retailers.
However, if you plan to do a print book, it gets more complex. You need to discuss who is printing your book. Apart from the fact that a print book requires a spine and back cover, Individual printers will have their own specifications that the cover must meet. They may have templates they wish designers to use.
And you will need to choose a print size (6×9, 5×8 etc). Also your page count must be FINAL, as this will affect the layout of the spine. Final page count is determined by how your book interior is laid out. My advice: don’t begin the cover design process until you have all this knowledge and made all these decisions.
Getting a cover done for your book can be a nerve wracking experience. You have put your heart and soul into your book and of course you want what’s best for it. Taking the time to choose your cover designer carefully will make this process not only less painful but also more successful.