Working with a cover designer: how to make it easier for you and your designer

Going Under: A Bill Roberts Thriller

I recently had a custom cover designed for my new thriller, Going Under, and the experience was fantastic…but this didn’t just happen by chance. I’ve heard many stories of frustration and disappointment about working with designers. Now, in their defence, they have a difficult job and they are not mind readers.

Some authors may wish to give up control completely, and see what the designer comes up with…but that’s not me and I wouldn’t recommend it. Designers are artists, not necessarily marketing experts. Nobody knows your book like you. It is critical to the success of your book, that you get the cover right. I’ve put together some important steps in finding and dealing with designers that should make the process smooth and efficient for both parties.

1. Figure out what you want, and don’t want.

Surf the internet and bookstores. Use a notepad. Quickly scan the shelves, giving the covers a couple seconds each. What in your genre catches your eye, and why? What makes you pick up a book? Is it a face, a fantasy scene, a big bold heading? What colors do you like? Make notes of all the points you like. Also make notes of what you don’t like. Why do you scan over some books and have no interest? Is the cover too busy? Is the font hard to read? Cut and paste covers you into a Word document and put them in a lists of what you like and don’t like.

2. List any specifics you think you need in your cover.

Have a clear title and author.
For a book cover, in my opinion, there are a few important points that a lot of covers don’t have. Keep in mind that most people will be seeing the cover in a small thumbprint, and will likely only spend a couple seconds looking at it. The title and author should be clear and easy to see. Have the main title stand out and keep any subtitle smaller, so it doesn’t distract.
Make the genre very clear.
It also should be very clear from the cover, what genre it is. Don’t put a steamy half naked love scene on a horror novel. You’re not selling cars. You might sell a few books that way, but readers don’t like buying books that aren’t what they thought they were.

Decide on what style of art you want.
Do you want to use a photo-style images or illustration artwork? Do you want to use your own images or artwork, or are you going to need the designer to find or draw them for you? Research the stock images available on the internet for something that you like or that might work for you. I doesn’t need to be the exact image but it will give the designer an idea of what to look for. Cut and paste these into your document, with the URLs of where you found them. Here are a few sites for free stock photos:

3. Find a designer.

Search the Internet.
Once you have a clear idea of what you want to see in your cover, research designers on the web. Look for previous covers they’ve done. Do they convey the “feel” you’re looking for? What’s their website like? Confirm the authors who used them really exist, and contact them if you want. Search for reviews on the designer. Make sure the work they have posted was actually designed by them.

Ask around.
Go back to your list of covers you liked and email the authors. Ask who they used and if they would recommend their services. The indie community is amazingly supportive.

4. Make sure you and the designer are right for each other.

Once you find a designer who you think can do the job, email them. Send a brief description of what you are looking for and see if they are interested. Also ask their timeline and estimate costs. Ask what is included, ie. how many concepts, how many revisions, what do they give you. Let them know where you plan on selling and make sure they know how to do it. Print, Amazon, CreateSpace…they are all different and each have specific requirements.

If they respond promptly, seem interested and their schedule and estimate are good, send them the document you’ve put together (or a summary version). Add a brief description of your book, the feel you are looking for, and any particular ideas or scenes in the book they can use in cover ideas. Again, neither of you have committed yet. See if this is a job they feel they can handle and want to do. If they get back to you and you feel comfortable with their response, it is time to proceed.

5. A couple final thoughts.

Be respectful of their time. Respond quickly to questions, and requests for feedback. And finally, pay them promptly. They’ve often Put a lot of work in. Don’t make them wait for payment.

I recently had the pleasure of working with Marianne Nowicki of, on the cover of Going Under: A Bill Roberts Thriller. The experience was exciting and I was very impressed at the back and forth interaction. She was able to turn my words into a great visual. I look forward to getting through the edits on my next book so we can work together again soon.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments.

Silas Payton