Working with a Book Cover Designer

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Every now and again I am approached by a potential new client who knows exactly what they want and basically how the book cover design process works. But more often than not, authors have written their manuscripts and want an attractive cover designed so they can get their new books listed on Amazon and other online book selling outlets, yet have no idea where to start. And most, especially first time authors, do not have any idea whatsoever as to how the book cover design process works or even where to begin. This is not a bad thing – authors write and designers design! Hopefully I can shed some light on the process by offering a few top tips when contacting book cover designers for the first time.

1. Have an estimated expectation for when you plan to publish your book as the book cover designer will need to know when the project will be expected to be completed. And please consider that most designers are carrying multiple projects/clients at all times in order to earn their living, so likely they cannot begin working on a new project immediately. Thus realistically you should always contact any professional you wish to be involved in producing your novel well in advance of your planned publication date to allow sufficient time to work your project into busy schedules.

2. Designers are  your partners in this process and should never outright dictate how your book cover should look. Communication is key – I cannot stress this enough actually. And ask questions – explain what is important to you and if there is anything that you feel strongly about that should be included on the cover. I would rather be given too much information about a project than too little every time! I typically begin working on any new book cover project by chatting with the author about what, if any, ideas they already have in mind for their cover to try and pull every detail out of them about their book. Have a synopsis prepared for the designer to read as that will give them a good overview of your book, and it makes a good resource for the designer to pull ideas from if needed. Most designers do not have time to read entire manuscripts before beginning any design concepts, so do give an outline of any key points that might help to guide the designer in developing your cover layout. It is the designer’s job to research appropriate fonts, images and illustrations to match the subject and genre once the initial discussions regarding the overall design elements have been established. A book cover designer should be accustomed to working with first time authors and know the right sort of questions to ask in order to help guide the author in an appropriate direction to achieve the best possible design for their book. The goal is to best visually and accurately represent the contents of the book; hook potential readers at first glance with the cover design to sell the book to the appropriate target market. Expect to discuss your target market with your designer as that too must be considered in the conceptual stages of book cover design.

3. A book cover designer will need to know how you intend to publish your book – whether it be an eBook cover image only or if you intend to print a paperback, and through which vendor (Amazon, AuthorHouse, etc.). Or if you need recommendations about Print on demand services, your book cover designer should have numerous contacts or recommendations for you. If you do intend to print your book, dimensions and paper type will need to be determined before the designer can set the design for printing. There is a great deal of technical aspects to bringing a manuscript to press and your book cover designer should have a good working knowledge of how to prepare the cover jacket. What they will need from you is trim size (6×9 etc.), a final page count once the manuscript has been formatted and set by a typesetter, and what type of paper you will have your book printed on (white or creme  as each has a different weight and therefore affects the spine width measurement).

4. Most designers utilize royalty free stock resources in their designs. This means that we purchase stock images from online agencies that allows the use of an image in commercial work that may be reprinted without having to pay a royalty fee with every reproduction (every copy printed of a book in this case). There are still limits to using RF Stock resources – in the case of book cover design, image and illustration resources are typically purchased under a ‘Standard License’ which is defined as: You (or your client) want to purchase a File to create an image for a book intended for Resale in stores. If a buyer decides to purchase the book primarily for its content, and not because of its cover or the illustrations inside, the File will play a minor role (Standard License). However, if the book consists primarily of illustrations, then the images are the main reason why the book is purchased; therefore the File plays a major role (Extended License). [SOURCE] Designers may pass on the costs of these resources to their clients or include the costs in their fees – this varies from designer to designer so be sure to ask so you are not surprised by unexpected expenses.

5. Show the designer what you are looking for, if you have a good idea up front. I often ask my clients to show me existing book covers that appeal to them and styles that they feel would work for their own covers. I am a visual person myself, so I’ve found this most effective in learning what the client also expects to see in concepts from me. While I still design original concepts, particular styles (grunge or minimalist or illustrative or bold colors) give me a place to start if I’m given examples of what a client likes.

Here are just a few published (mainstream and not designed by me) covers that I personally like:

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And communicate, communicate, communicate! Keep an open mind and share anything that comes to your mind about what you’d like to see on your book cover. Your designer will steer you in the proper direction for your genre and overall story line – but we draw our inspiration from YOU, so don’t hold back!

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4 comments

  1. Helen Hollick · February 4, 2014

    as always interesting and informative Cathy – thanks! I’ve added this link to my Tips for Writer’s Page on my blog : https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=6132364668526714411#pages

    • Cathy Helms · February 4, 2014

      Thanks Helen!! I hope it helps a few folks new to the process. Your book ‘Discovering The Diamond’ is certainly a jem for all authors!!

  2. J. F · February 4, 2014

    I love working with you Cathy. Not only do you have a good eye for book covers. You are fun to work with a pure delight. I think this is very important as well

    • Cathy Helms · February 4, 2014

      Thank you so much, Judy! I love what I do so that makes it fun too! And I also have a wonderful time with you as well!! And that reminds me – I owe you an email! Ha!

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