The Etiquette of Creating a Book Cover: Author & Artist

Book covers are important. They are the image by which your book will be judged. Everyone says, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but honestly, if the cover doesn’t catch our attention, it’s unlikely we will read it. When you sign up with a traditional publisher, they have their own graphic artists who they will assign to your book, and you will work with them. They have their own process. What I want to focus on though is when an indie author is working with a graphic artist to create the perfect book cover for their self-published book. However, when working with another creative mind, there is an etiquette that must be considered for the best results. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Make sure the artist and you work well together.
  2. Come prepared with an idea for the cover.
  3. Don’t settle for less. Follow your gut. Be honest but respectful.
  4. Give the artist creative license.

Make sure the artist and you work well together. As exciting as it is to be at the stage where you need a cover for your book, remember you might not get along with the first artist you encounter. So, before assigning her the task to design your cover, communicate with the artist. How well do you communicate? Are there any misunderstandings? Do you just have a bad feeling about it? Can you be honest with the person? If anything raises a red flag in your mind, do not follow through. It’s better to delay the design of the cover and find the right artist than to force cooperation between the two of you when there is no chemistry. Trust your gut.

Come prepared with an idea for the cover. When I had my first book cover designed, I had no idea what I wanted, so I told the artist the basic idea of the story. When he came back to me with a proof of the cover, I wanted to cry in horror. It looked like a boring textbook—gray and lifeless. But of course the artist didn’t know better. He never read the book. How could he create a proper representation of a story he’s never read? Armed with this knowledge, I sat down and imagined what the book would look like on the shelf of the bookstore—what did the cover look like? From there, I sketched out a very rough idea of the cover and sent it on to him. With that, he was able to work his magic. The lesson learned? It is better to have a vague idea of what you imagine the cover to look like than no idea at all. However, keep in mind, the end result will likely be nothing like you imagine—it should be better than you imagined.

Don’t settle for less. Follow your gut. Be honest but respectful. There will be countless of versions of the cover. With each one, if something doesn’t feel right about the cover, express to the artist what you think the problem might be and ask her if she could change it. The artist won’t see the cover like you do because she is working so closely with it, so you need to point out when something doesn’t feel right about the cover. Neither you nor the artist should get irritated with one another when you’re nitpicking. Both of you should be patient and working with one another. If the problem doesn’t seem to be resolving, take a break. Get away from it in order to look back at it with new eyes. When you come back, you might not see the problem at all—or you might have a better way of explaining what exactly the problem is to the artist.

Give the artist creative license. If you can create your own cover, then do it, but if you can’t, then let the artist do her job. You may present an abstract idea for a cover, but it’s her job to put it into the concrete. Unless the cover is completely illustrated by the artist, most artists will use stock photos for the pictures of the cover, and unfortunately those may not be exactly the look you wanted for this character or that one. The artist should be able to manipulate it to look closer to what you want, but it will be slightly different than what you imagined.

As an author, you may have googled images that you would like to see on your cover, but do not expect those pictures to be used unless they are stock photos. It is okay to find pictures you like and even actors you imagine for your characters, but in the end, accept the fact that none of those pictures will likely be on the cover at all. Otherwise, there is potential of getting in trouble with copyright laws and such. You don’t want that headache. The graphic artist will try to find pictures that are extremely close to the ones you chose, but they will not be identical, and this is good—it makes it unique to your own work.

Now, if you do want to choose pictures that you can use, look up stock photos. Here are a few sites:

www.istockphoto.com

www.dreamstime.com

www.123rf.com

www.dollarphotoclub.com

www.shutterstock.com

And there are many, many more! Find the pictures you like, but don’t purchase anything yet because the picture might not fit perfectly into the cover that’s being created, and an alternative photo will have to be chosen. Show the artist the pictures you’re thinking about, and let them create a mock cover. Once you’re satisfied with the cover, the artist will tell you which stock photos you need to purchase. Is it your responsibility to purchase the stock photos? Yes—unless the artist and you came to some kind of agreement beforehand. This is something you will need to discuss with them just to make sure you’re both on the same page.

When you are working with a graphic artist, the two of you are on the same team. You want the same thing—the perfect cover. Both of you should be patient and professional about it.

Also, authors, if you’re looking for covers and you don’t want to go through the stress of working with an actual artist, you can find pre-made covers for a reasonable price here: www.selfpubbookcovers.com.

Now artists, you may work with an author who is very insecure and doesn’t feel comfortable asking you to make changes. If you sense that is the kind of person you’re working with, be patient with them and reassure them that you want the perfect cover for their book. When you finally think you’ve arrived at the perfect cover, then here are some questions you can ask such an author:

  • “Is the background exactly the way you want? Should any of the background elements be changed or altered in any way?”
  • “Do the elements in the foreground meet your approval? Does anything stand out that shouldn’t? Or is there something that should stand out but doesn’t?”
  • “Do you approve of the color of the cover? How is the lighting/shadows?”
  • “Are your name and the title positioned where and how you want them? Do you approve of the font?”

If the author approves of everything but you still get the feeling he’s not being completely honest (with himself if not you), you can recommend he think about it for a day, and if he’s still content with the cover, then your work is complete.

If you’re the artist, the last thing you want is for the author to come back to you further down the road and finally confess, “I really don’t like this element of the cover. Could you change it?” When this happens, you have to consider how much you’re going to charge for revisions after the job has already been completed and such. That is stress no one wants to deal with.

If you’re the author, the last thing you want is to be stuck with a cover you secretly don’t like. It’s very hard to promote your work and be excited about your book if you dread the cover. If you’re not excited about it, no one else will be excited about it, and your sales won’t get off the ground. The cover does affect your confidence, so it’s better to be open and honest with the artist during the process rather than regret it later.

However, artists, there will likely be authors who are perfectionists and constantly asking you to change their cover over and over and over again even though it’s really good. There will come a point where you will simply have to put your foot down and calmly but professionally inform them that you can only do a certain number of revisions and after that any additional revisions will be an added cost.

Authors, don’t freak out when I say that to artists. Most artists won’t tack on any additional cost because they really want to work with you and have the best cover for you. Nevertheless, if you push them too hard and are unreasonable, they will stand their ground.

Once you find an artist you work with splendidly and their fees aren’t unreasonable, don’t let him or her go. You can have a wonderful working relationship that could last through book series, and this also allows for consistency of the book covers.

Remember, both of you are creative individuals coming together to create the finished product of a book. Give each other space and respect. Be professional, be honest, but also be considerate.

In the end, you should have an impressive masterpiece.

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