Book Cover Design Resources

Like it or not, people do judge books by the covers. And poor cover design is one of the areas where self-published authors are most often panned by critics. Self-published authors know this risk, and they know one of the keys to a good cover is a good designer. According to a survey from Taleist, 41% of self-published authors pay for cover design. The survey also shows that authors who get help with editing and design of their books make 34%—so the investment pays off.

Below is a list of graphic designers who have experience designing book covers. Each has unique strengths and styles, and they range from independent artists to members of larger design groups and publishing organizations. Each shares their advice for authors and a bit about their work in their own words—and they almost unanimously bristled at the “favorite cover” questions. They’re listed alphabetically by first name.

There are many other ways to find a book cover designer. Start with referrals from other writers or by tracking down the designers who created covers you love. The Graphic Artists Guild also has listings of designers to help you find the right fit. You can also find designers familiar with book cover design on LinkedIn, or you can post an ad on Craigslist or Elance. If you’re on a tight budget you can hire students at a local design school.

So how much can you expect to pay? It varies—of course. Some of the factors include who owns the rights to the art, how many sketches and revisions the designer will do, the complexity of the project, whether it’s a paperback or hardcover or ebook, and more. The designers below have a wide range of services from an ebook cover for $395 to original art for $3500. On average (a rough average) an author can expect to pay around $800 to $1000 for a cover by one of these designers. Some are higher, some are lower—but a good price doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good fit for your book.

Betsy A. Riley

DO find someone who’s familiar with your genre. There are some genres I don’t do—like romance. My style just doesn’t work for that genre.

DON’T forget that you hired the designer because they have some knowledge or skill that you need—give consideration to their advice.

Favorite book cover: Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Song and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: That One Left Shoe, edited by me, and Furred & Feathered Friends: Katrina Castaways by Nancy Clark Townsend.

Website: http://brws.com/; http://bluedragonpress.com/

Claudean Wheeler

DO have a clear idea of what you’re looking for in a book cover. Do you want it to be serious, whimsical, authoritative, badass, conceptual, energetic, modern, clean, grungy, etc.? Have examples available of covers or design styles that you find effective. Your designer will be able to hit the ground running and dive right into the project.

DON’T assume it’s a good idea to include family photos on the cover of a book. Trying to make something personal may appeal to you but not necessarily to the masses. Even if you don’t have family photos in mind, don’t let personal attachments to certain elements get in the way of a marketable cover.

Favorite book cover: I love what Penguin and B&N do to reinvent classics.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: Currently Where Do You Get Your Ideas by Fred White is my favorite cover. It changes daily.

Website: http://www.behance.net/claudean

Damonza

DO provide the right information during the briefing process. Providing too much information for the designer is almost as bad as not providing enough. Other than the basic storyline, the most helpful information to provide the designer is an idea of the tone of the cover—do you want to convey mystery, humor, fear? It also helps to provide samples of other covers that you like. If you have a main character who you would like to be on the cover, then you must describe that character as fully as possible but allow for the fact that it may simply not be possible to find the exact image of the character that resides in your imagination.

DON’T clutter the cover with your entire storyline. I get this pretty often, where the author wants to tell the entire story on the cover. It’s never a good idea, as it makes the cover too busy and loses focus. Ideally, you only want to hint at the story, while conveying the genre and tone of the book on the cover. Actually, that’s one way where you can often see the difference between traditionally published and self-published authors, just from the covers. The well-known authors almost always have a very simple, powerful image with clean, well-placed text. Self-published authors often have busy, overly detailed covers and far too many focal points.

Favorite book cover: One of my clients recently sent me the cover of Frost by Marianna Baer as a reference for a design—I think it’s beautiful. 

Favorite cover you’ve designed: I don’t have a favourite cover that I’ve designed. In most cases, as I finish designing a cover, I love it. Every new cover I design becomes my favourite until I finish the next one.

Website: Damonza.com 

Dave Bricker

DO find out whether you’re talking with a designer or a software owner. Everybody with Photoshop and a computer calls themselves a designer, but bootlegging the latest version of Photoshop is not much of a qualification. Do ask the designer if they’re familiar with electronic prepress; they’re going to have to make sure the design is produced to the printer’s specs. Ask if they have favorite styles, designers, and typefaces. A good designer can explain these tastes and choices.

DON’T tell the designer what to design. Some people will tell their dentist what drill bit to use! Of course, your input counts, and of course, your designer wants you to love the cover, but allow a professional to guide your design away from comfortable clichés. Find someone good and then trust their instincts, experience, and advice.

Favorite book cover: Though I don’t emulate his style, I love the innate spirituality of Alvin Lustig’s work, like The Man Who Died.  I also like Chip Kidd’s cover for Dry.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: Richard Geller’s Living On The Outskirts of Heaven

Website: http://www.theworldsgreatestbook.com

Duncan Long

DO know what you want for your cover design with a good feel what covers in that genre look like, and then be willing to let the cover designer have a little freedom and listen to their suggestions. Also be sure to look through the designer’s portfolio to be sure their style matches your vision for the cover.

DON’T micromanage a book cover project. Designers know their strengths and what does and does not work for a cover design; often you can browbeat them into making bad changes—to the detriment of your cover. Also be sure to have one person who knows what they’re doing have the final say on the design. Too much input will create what designers sometimes refer to as “death by committee.”

Favorite book cover: As an illustrator, I’m biased: The Michael Whelan cover created for Robert Heinlein’s Friday.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: My favorite illustration (but I didn’t do the cover layout) is Dale Allan’s Lead Me Not Into Temptation. I illustrated and laid out P.J. O’Dwyer’s Relentless.

Website: http://duncanlong.com/

John Jackson

DO check references. Lots of people can draw and paint—big deal. Unfortunately, it’s easy to spend a lot of money and get literally nothing in return. Especially important is the artist’s track record on meeting deadlines. An unreliable artist won’t be able to provide any proof that they can do what they say, when they say they can deliver it. That’s a big red flag.

DON’T try to make the cover about the story. The cover, in most cases, is evocative not illustrative. The point of the cover has never been to tell the story. The only point of the cover is to get the audience to spot it on a website, or across the room and be interested enough to turn it over and read the back cover copy. Let the artist and designer do their job. There are proven formulas to cover design.  Don’t second-guess the work because “My protagonist never wore a black dress. I specifically said in chapter six, that it was grey.”

Favorite book cover: The Michael Whelan cover for Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: I make it a point for each cover I do to be better than the last, but I’m still fond of the Simon Vector cover and Correction. 

Website: www.atomiccovers.com

Kathi Dunn and Hobie Hobart

DO find someone with experience (several years) in the book design field. They should understand the nuances of creating a cover design that gets results from a specific chosen market, not just make something look pretty. For example, if the author’s purpose in creating the book is to generate more business, the designer must understand how to use the cover design to establish credibility, open doors, and create results and totally resonate with the target audience.

DON’T be lured by a low design cost. It usually means that a template is involved and the designer is cranking out a “look-alike” not a custom design for your book that will set you apart from the rest. Or that you’ve chosen a neophyte who is using you to gain experience. Or your cover is spit out as quickly and cheaply as possible with no thought about the author’s objectives in writing the book. Cover design is the most important investment you’ll make in your book since the cover is your most important marketing tool, so it is the last place to cut costs. You get what you pay for!

Favorite book cover: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari  by Robin Sharma and Crossing the Tracks for Love by Ruby Payne.

Website: http://www.Dunn-Design.com 

Kimberly Leonard

DO find someone with considerable experience both in book cover design and marketing—if you’re interested in actually selling thousands of copies of your book and making an impact on your book’s market niche. Just because a designer can put what you want on a cover doesn’t mean you’re getting the book cover you need to sell your book. Find someone who connects with you personally, connects with your book’s subject matter, and can bridge the gap between your vision for your book cover and a saleable book cover.

DON’T price shop your book cover, unless it is simply a vanity project that will be given away to family and friends. You will never know the negative impact that a cheap book cover has on your sales! Don’t take the risk. Here’s a good metaphor: Your book is your child. Would you put a generic, bland, or awkward face on your child, or take the time and care to craft a face for your child that is unique to them and tells everyone their personality and purpose?

Favorite book cover: Where I Was From by Joan Didion.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: Intuition Involution, Activating the Promises of God, The Agony of Winning, and Performance Under Pressure.

Website: http://www.bookcovers.com

Rachael Ward

DO find someone who is experienced and familiar with your genre. Book cover design is a breed all its own and not every graphic designer will understand publishing and the constraints that come with it. Make sure the designer you hire has a book cover portfolio for you to review. This will be the best way for you to find out if their style matches yours and if their quality of work is at the level you expect. Make sure you sign a contract with your designer that states exactly what you are paying for. Some designers only allow so many rounds of changes and anything beyond that will be extra. You don’t want any surprises when you get a final bill, and you don’t want to pay for half up front and then your designer disappears and never sends you the files. It’s best to have everything in writing.

DON’T forget you always get what you pay for. Sometimes it’s wiser to invest in a designer who costs a little more. Usually they will have more experience and a better understanding of what you need.

Favorite book cover: I’m in love with the line of classic book covers Jessica Hische came up with for Sterling Publishing. There is so much you can do with typography and printing to make your cover really stand out. 

Favorite cover you’ve designed: Elegant Knotted Jewelry and Sell Your Book Like Wildfire

Website:  www.rachaelann.info

Ted Ruybal

DO find a book designer. Make sure they have designed many books of all genres and types (paperback, hard case, dust jacket, etc.). Contact the authors for additional feedback. Word of mouth is valuable for a book designer, his/her work must represent the best of the author as well as the best of the designer.

DON’T hire a graphic designer or anyone who is just playing around with Photoshop and does not consider this as a profession. There are a lot of details and tricks to producing a well published book. A graphic designer may not know these tricks resulting in a book that looks self-published or rejected from press for not following their guidelines.

Favorite book cover: Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange cover designed by David Pelham in 1972.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: Nightmares from Eberus by J.C. De La Torre.

Website: www.wisdombooks.com

Tamian Wood

DO find someone whose portfolio of work makes you drool. Do get the opinions of others who are readers of your genre. Most of today’s writers are Internet savvy. Post a few cover designers samples on your Facebook page and ask your fans/readers to say which one makes them drool. (You should ask permission from the designer to display their work, but most probably wouldn’t mind the added publicity so long as you are giving credit where credit is due.)

DON’T ever let your second cousin, twice removed, create your cover. No matter how much money you think she is going to save you. If you want to have a bestselling book, your cover must look like a bestseller. Don’t base your decision on price. Period. Even if you have to save up for a year, your cover is worth it. And most good designers are aware that budget is a concern for self-pub authors and are willing to work out payment plans. So you skip your favourite coffee house a few days a week and save up your pocket change.

Favorite book cover: This may sound corny, and oh so teenage girlish, but I really love the simplicity of the Twilight series.

Favorite cover you’ve designed:
I always find that the book I’m working on at the moment seems to be my favourite, but I still like The Everdark Gate by Elisabeth K. Burton and Rising Above Enron by Carey Falter.

Website: www.BeyondDesignInternational.com; www.tamianwood.com

About MAW

Melissa Anne Wuske is a freelance writer and editor. She is also the communications director for Stop Traffick Fashion where she writes about human trafficking.

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