Cover Design Basics

Book Cover Design BasicsEach month, the Nonfiction Authors Association asks a burning publishing question of the industry’s best, brightest, and most innovative experts. Here’s what they have to say!

NFAA: What is the best piece of advice you’d offer to an author about working with a book cover designer?

LEWIS AGRELL — THE AGRELL GROUP

When authors have contracted with a cover designer, they should have already done their research on cover designs that are similar in genre. The easiest place to research covers is amazon.com. It’s always a good idea to see what is currently “hot” in the design world.

The author should show the graphic designer three to six cover designs that he/she really likes. That way, the designer has a general idea of type style, colors, and basic layout that is desired. That will make the creative process much simpler. One important point: The graphic designer has most likely been creating successful covers for many years. Authors should be wary of trying to force their own ideas on the designer. That’s like telling a surgeon how to best remove your pancreas. Let the expert do the job, and don’t interfere. You might be surprised at the final result, when you give the designer complete creative freedom.

Lewis Agrell has been a professional book cover designer for eleven years and has illustrated one children’s book. http://www.theagrellgroup.com/html/bookcover.html

DEBBIE O’BYRNE — JETLAUNCH.NET

The first piece of advice I would give to an author before choosing a cover designer is to search the Internet for various designers and check out their portfolios. If you do not like anything else they have designed, you likely won’t be happy with what they can design for your book. It is best to have somewhat of an idea of what you would like your design to be. You can look through Amazon at covers in the same genre as yours and make a list of ones whose cover design you like. This will help when looking through the portfolios of cover designers. Do the covers make it clear what the genre is for each book? Are they eye-catching and modern? Most importantly, would you be proud to sell one of them as your own?

The other bit of advice is to find out what the designer’s process is. Make sure it fits in with your schedule and that you don’t have to worry about revision limitations that may cost you more than the initial quote. This can also be a great way to get to know your designer a little more. Although chatting through emails or on the phone isn’t quite the same as talking in-person, you want to feel comfortable with your designer and have confidence that they will understand your needs and be willing to work with you on your design until you are completely happy and satisfied with your cover design.

Finally, cost may be a large factor for many authors, so be sure that you find a designer that can fit your budget without sacrificing quality.

Debbie O’Byrne is the senior cover designer at JETLAUNCH.net. www.jetlaunch.net

SCOTT JORDAN — THE SCOTT JORDAN GROUP 

Preview the final cover design laid out on a typical Amazon book page before giving final approval. This is critical because the majority of potential buyers will view it as a two-inch thumbnail rather than see it as a bound book stacked on a table or bookshelf.

Scott Jordan is a book and website publisher with more than 30 years of expertise in creative services, distribution, and channel marketing. www.TheScottJordanGroup.com

JIM SHEPARD — OCTAGON LAB 

I would say the best thing to do when working with a book cover designer would be to be very clear in your general vision of your cover upfront, including things you don’t like and wouldn’t want to see on your cover. However, be ready to receive the designer’s artistic rendering of your vision even if it’s not exactly as you imagined it. An experienced cover designer has probably done this hundreds of times, so you can trust he made his choices for a reason. Often authors are already convinced in their ideas and they tend to ignore the fact that they may not translate very well on a cover.

OctagonLab is a custom book cover design service that lets you get your cover done professionally and affordably within 3 days. www.octagonlab.com

LAURENCE BENNETT — NORD COMPO

I have two pieces of advice to offer.  I have worked with designers of book interiors and book covers in multiple countries—the U.S., Mexico, Spain, and France. While tastes vary, one common factor, the clarity and precision of the original instructions, transcends all languages, cultures, and countries. I have heard authors say, “Give me a cover that is an award-winner” or “I want a cover that will stand out from all others on the bookshelf in the bookstores.” While these are worthwhile objectives, they are not very helpful to a professional designer. The designer does not know your tastes. You can save a lot of time and sometimes money (if you are paying by the hour) and achieve a more satisfying result if you think through and clearly communicate the look you have in mind. State your color preferences and dislikes. Tell the designer the emotion(s) you want the cover to convey—fear, anger, disgust, love, lust, whatever they are.  If you want your cover design to evoke the 1950s, say so. Another helpful hint is to go to a bookstore, physical or online, and select four or five book covers that you really like and send those to your designer as guidance on your taste.

Lastly, remember that when someone is browsing online, she will first view your book cover as a thumbnail. Therefore, it is important to avoid creating a cover that is cluttered and text-heavy, making it hard to read as a thumbnail.  Of course, the buyer can enlarge it on her monitor, but she has to be enticed to do so in the first place. So, for maximum impact, keep it simple.

Laurence Bennett is Executive Director, North America, for French book technology giant Nord Compo. Prior to that, he was President of Bookmasters Distribution and before that, Vice President of Digital Print Media at Baker & Taylor. www.nordcompo.com

ROB PRICE — GATEKEEPER PRESS 

People judge books by their covers. Even an untrained eye can spot the differences between a professional and amateur cover design. A professional designer will know how to capture a book’s essence, keep it in line with genre-specific norms, and ensure it is marketable. They will also be able to use their discretion to take your ideas and run with them as needed.

When hiring a designer, make sure you ask for their portfolio and make sure their terms are clear. Before contracting with someone, clarify answers to the following questions: will they be providing graphics and images? Who will responsible for their cost? What happens if you are unhappy with their work? Will they create only one design or several? Is their price for the front cover only or is it inclusive of the back cover and spine? What is their turnaround time?

Rob Price is the Chairman of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and the President of Gatekeeper Press with 200,000 books sold as a self-published author. Gatekeeper Press works with authors looking to self-publish who earn 100% of their net proceeds, retain 100% of their rights, and reach readers all over the world. www.GatekeeperPress.com

CLARE ELLIS —STONE PIER PRODUCTIONS

Get ready to answer lots of questions about your book. A good designer will typically ask you to fill out a lengthy questionnaire inviting you to describe your book’s storyline, positioning statement, and more. Sometimes even your favorite colors. Putting some time into your answers is the most important thing you can do to help your designer and your cover.

Come prepared. A good designer will prompt you for a cover blurb, professional author photo, and back cover copy—key elements that help inform the look of your book.

Vet your cover options. Most designers offer two or three covers to consider. Run them by a group of friends and advisors, preferably heavy on your target audience, and ask for a vote. You need these guys, maybe more than you know. It can be really hard for authors to be clear-headed about their own books.

Take your time giving feedback. It’s better for your cover, and your budget, if you can share any requests for revisions all at once. So don’t rush your response.

Give your designer space. It’s hard yielding control when it comes to your book. But your designer will appreciate the creative freedom and your cover will be better for it. And isn’t this a big reason you chose to go with a pro in the first place?

Clare Ellis is the Director of Stone Pier Productions, a creative agency for authors. She also works with Stone Pier Press, which publishes good books about good food.

1 Comment on "Cover Design Basics"

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  1. Ronald says:

    Jim at Octagon Lab not only does great work–see the cover for “The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same”–but he is also patient.

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