Thanks to Cover Artists Scarlett Rugers, William Kenney, Laura Wright LaRoche, Aidana WillowRaven, and Evan Lerman for lending their advice and expertise on what makes a great cover and why it’s a good idea to hire a Cover Artist for your book!
Why do you think it’s important for authors to hire a cover artist/designer rather than doing it themselves?
Your book cover tells the reader ‘this is the quality you should expect from me’. It tells them how much you’re prepared to invest, how many months and years went into it, how professional you are. If you have an amateurish book cover, then your reader will expect the same low-quality writing inside.
It’s like going to a job interview. If you had two candidates with the exact same skill set, yet one showered, ironed her clothes, brushed her hair and prepared her answers for the interview, and the other rolled out of bed and put on a mismatched jacket and pants that had wrinkles and food stains and didn’t take the time to do her hair- who would you hire?
First impressions always count. – Scarlett Rugers
Simply because a book is judged by its cover, reflecting what’s inside. If a bad cover is the first thing seen by a reader, then chances are they will pass on it, unless someone has directed them there.
Authors need to follow so many steps, such as, beta readers, editors, formatting, promos…. That sometimes the cover is overlooked as a key element. But, I would like to add that I have seen some ‘homemade’ covers that are absolutely beautiful. If the author has an ‘artsy’ side and is able to create an image that is suited for their book, then I say there is nothing wrong with that. Not all great covers are created by professionals and not all bad covers are created by authors.- Laura Wright Laroche
Designers and cover artists (usually two separate animals) are trained in more than how to put images together. They are taught how to ‘see’ in a way the average person isn’t. Plus, even if adept at art and design, an author is often too close to the work to be able to effectively convey what the reader will likely see when they read the text. Allowing another trained professional to visually interpret your words can be very educational to you as an author. You can then see what you are really getting across to a reader. – Aidana Willowraven
I think it’s like any other industry. You want a professional that has some experience to design your cover. A good artist/designer is aware of current trends, how colors work with each other, how to leave space for the title and author’s name, etc. If you’re an independent author, you have to compete with the big guys. A great cover invites the reader in, a bad one and they’ll pass you by. – William Kenney
A graphic designer’s training is only half-technical. Yes, we learn how to use programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, but the bulk of our schooling involves conceptualization and marketing. Things like typography and layout discipline go a long way towards knowing when and how to use certain styles and concepts. Since a lot of what we do is meant for cognitive interpretation, we as artists can take a concept and use it as a baseline for how to lead your eye and what to do with your attention. The same arguably-deceptive tactics we employ in order to sell soft-drinks can also do an insanely good job selling your book. The use of certain colors, lines, photographic images, even what direction someone is facing can have a real tangible effect on people, and we know exactly how and when to use those things. So giving a professional graphic artist a synopsis of your story, your intended effect and maybe some specific details you want for your cover (if possible), you have at your disposal someone who can take what you have in your head and create it in the most effective and gripping way possible. – Evan Lerman
How much input do you want or expect from your authors?
It is definitely a collaborative process, no doubt about it. But there is a sort of balancing act that both the author and designer have to do. It’s important for the author’s feedback and ideas on the cover be heard and considered, and equally as important for the designer’s opinions and concepts to be heard. The designer has much more experience and knowledge in the field than the author and the author can often be too close to the book to see things objectively.
I can’t say there’s a specific percentage that should be author input and the rest the designer’s, but if the author has ideas they should be free to share them and discuss them, to see if they will work or not. If they are happy for the designer to take the reins then that’s okay too! – Scarlett Rugers
I welcome as much input as the author wants to give. It is a representation of their story. They know the settings, characters and events. I want to create the emotional response that they are looking for with the cover image. Some authors send basic sketches to give me an idea of what they want. – William Kenney
I encourage input from the author and I listen to what they are expecting. Some authors know up front what they want, while sometimes that can be limiting to a designer, others are at a loss, giving more flexibility for creating. However, i give my full attention when I work on a cover, making sure the author is happy. – Laura Wright Laroche
Quite a bit, actually. I expect them to help me to know their character beyond what can be read in the book. It’s a symbiotic process when I create a book cover. – Aidana Willowraven
Aside from the obvious author, book and any other required text, some basic details; ideally a synopsis, the emotional effect your story has, the specific genre or audience you are writing for, and any specific types of images or graphics you truly want in there. If you have a color preference, that helps too. The rest we can play by ear as we take it apart and change it between drafts. – Evan Lerman
What is your time frame for completing a book cover?
My first round of concepts takes 5-7 working days. From there I respond to feedback/changes within 24-48 hours (normally within a day). But a book cover can take anything from two weeks to six months to complete, as some authors need time to think over the concepts before sending their feedback, or real life gets in the way, or their publishing plans get delayed. I’d say the average time is between two to three weeks. – Scarlett Rugers
I usually offer a 2-week turnaround, unless the image is very complicated. I create painted covers (usually for fantasy/sci-fi), so the more detail, the longer it will take. – William Kenney
That varies per season. Normal time is 6-8 days, but during the holidays it can take up to two weeks. – Laura Wright Laroche
That’s a tough one. I’ve had some I could paint and design in a week, and other take three months or more. Many factors like revisions, email delays, and life interventions (like computer crashes or illness) on either side can cause delays. And to be honest, I’ve learned nothing in this industry goes according to the initial plan or timeline. Even the big houses have deadline issues. – Aidana Willowraven
It depends, really. I have a full time job, so the first draft can take a few days to a week depending on how drained I am from everything else. After that it is usually smooth sailing. I personally don’t charge for extra drafts – probably a freelance no-no in the eyes of other artists, but personally, the extra work doesn’t bother me – so I am willing to put forth the work until the client is completely satisfied. Ideally, revisions take just a couple of days. – Evan Lerman
What common mistakes do you see in book covers?
The type is poorly applied. There are some really stunning covers out there where the author has hired an artist to do a bespoke piece of artwork, only to have type carelessly slapped onto it after. It might be the wrong type face, a garish looking type face, placed awkwardly, distorted and stretched, there’s a lack of colour or texture to it, the list goes on… type is just as vital as the imagery and should always be thought out carefully. – Scarlett Rugers
I see too many people trying to use fancy fonts on their covers. They might look really cool, but they are difficult to read. Simple fonts are always better. You want the reader to immediately understand what’s on the cover. I’ve seen a lot of covers where the designer has gone overboard on text effects. They use every style at once (drop shadows, glowing text, embossed text). Doing this shouts ‘amateur’ in my opinion. Take a look at products in stores. See how they use their logos and box designs. Most lettering is not fancied up. They want you to be able to read it from across the store.
I’m not a fan of photo covers. I’ve seen many, many covers where the elements look cut out and pasted on a background. The perspective is off, they often forget to place a shadow under a cut-out character, proportions are off, the lighting is different on each object, etc. – William Kenney
A plain photograph with the wrong style of fonts and/or graphics. This is so common among ‘do it yourself’ ebook and printing cover creator sites and it’s easy to spot the ones done this way. – Laura Wright Laroche
My biggest pet peeve is seeing a character portrayed visually in opposition to the text. If the MC is a brunette, but the artist has her as dirty blond, I get testy! I’m also a stickler for proportion. If an artist doesn’t know the basic anatomy and musculature of a figure, animal or human, it weakens the overall look and is highly distracting. These reasons are actually why I decided to become a book cover artist. A book cover’s job is to encourage a reader to read the text. It’s not supposed to force him/her to analyze what’s wrong with the MC’s shoulder joint.- Aidana Willowraven
The biggest mistake I see is making it obvious it was done as a generalization. You can just tell a publisher probably did it on the fly in just a few minutes because they had other books to do at the time (or at least that’s what it looks like); usually slapping in a semi-relevant piece of imagery with no discernible artistic value other than to let you know what sort of book it is; an airplane here, a scared woman there, nothing clever, just another recycled visual cue to sell the book. – Evan Lerman
What do you think makes a great book cover?
- Typography- see previous answer about ‘common mistakes’. Types purpose is to support the concept, while being almost invisible. It should not draw attention to itself.
- Layered concepts- a personal favourite style of book cover design is when semiotics is used in the concept and the image has many layers of understanding. Books like a newly released version of Fahrenheit 451 with a match imbedded in the cover and the strike pad on the side is a perfect example. Another great example is penguin’s latest release of 1984, with the title censored (one version they have cut it out, another they put tape over it).
Designing a book cover should be exciting and fun, and not rushed. Take time to consider your message, what you’re trying to tell your readers with the images you choose and the typeface you use for your title. – Scarlett Rugers
The cover must grab attention. In most cases, you will get one chance to make that sale. Someone scanning through books on their kindle has to have a reason to pause at yours. Convey the atmosphere of your story, choose a great and intense scene and pull the reader into your world. – William Kenney
An image that reflects the pages inside, while complimenting the author’s personality. The image needs to draw attention, while the reader absorbs its title. – Laura Wright Laroche
Accurate portrayal of the characters, good composition, good color usage, good lighting, and a grasp of what sells. Of course, the author has to love it. Too many authors are not absolutely thrilled with their cover. Aidana Willowraven
Cleverness. For instance, if you’re selling a book about the tragic life of a famous rock star, you don’t just want a guitar or a microphone, you want the ambiance. You want a compelling backdrop and some typography that fits the atmosphere they lived in; handwritten lyric-like text, polaroids, some sort of collage that denotes a colorful life full of adventure and conflict. If i can admire a book cover the same way i can admire a good movie poster, it did its job well. – Evan Lerman
Aidana Willowraven, mother of three, was trained in fine art, studio design and animation at Norfolk state and Old Dominion universities. She has illustrated and/or designed over 500 books through her company, Willowraven illustration & design plus, in Tennessee. Her work has won numerous awards, has been published in several magazines, and has earned her guest appearances at various conventions.
To view her portfolio, or contact her, visit her Website: http://willowraven.weebly.com
Laura Wright Laroche
“In a world of words anything is possible.” – Laura Wright Laroche
I am a cover designer working with both traditional publishing companies and freelance authors. I love to create a ‘one-of-a-kind’ cover for my clients. Being a published author myself, I know the importance the cover can make.
I am a native of Noblesville, Indiana where I was born in 1968, but I spent my childhood in the small town of shoals. I currently reside in Linton, Indiana. I come from a supportive loving home, and as the youngest of six children, probably enjoyed being the “baby” a little more than I should.
Author and cover designer at llpix photography and design
Visit my amazon author central page for a listing of all of my published work!
Scarlett is a professional book cover designer, from Melbourne Australia. She’s worked with both self-published authors and traditional publishing houses, dedicating her time to make authors feel like best sellers.
Her goal is to empower authors to be the best they can be. She does this by designing beautiful book covers and working together with authors to produce a book they’re proud of, and to encourage development of their skills in writing and publishing.
She has also been writing since 1998, and has published two books: 1001 first lines, and Oscar & Josephine. You can find her here:
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