Monday, June 04, 2012

How to Find a Great Book Cover Designer, and the 7 Rules You Need to Know to Work Together (without Driving Anyone Crazy)

Chances are you’re going to want to publish more than one book—and if you’ve put all that effort into finding a good designer the first time, you’ll want to have a good relationship with that designer so that he or she will want to work with you again. Part of this means knowing upfront how much everything will cost, what is and isn't included in the price, when the designer expects to be paid, and how long it will take the designer to finish the work.  

The first step to finding a great cover designer is to get recommendations, and the best way to do that is to hang out in places where other indie authors hang out. Most indie authors are proud to show off their covers—after all, it’s a great way to publicize your books—and are more than happy to tell you who designed them.

One of my favorite indie author hangouts is the ebook experiment group, which I started on Facebook. At the bottom of this post you’ll find links to the websites of different cover designers who have been recommended by indie authors I’ve met there and elsewhere on Facebook.

Twitter chats, like #IndieChat and #MBPA, are another good way to connect with indie authors and to discover book cover designers you might want to work with.

Once you get a recommendation, check out the designer’s website. Most cover designers today have a website, which should include a portfolio of previously published work. You need to see if the designer is really as good as the writer who recommended the designer says, and you also need to see if the designer’s work fits your particular book. Doctor Seuss, after all, might have designed great covers, but that doesn’t mean he would have been the right person to design the cover of a vampire novel, not unless the title of it is One Fang, Two Fangs, Red Fang, Blue Fang.

So what should you look for when you check out a recommended designer’s portfolio?

Read my two previous posts on cover design ("What You Need to Know About Cover Design Before You Indie Publish Your Noveland "Indie Publishers, What You Need to Know About Book Covers") to get an idea of what makes a great book cover great. In short, you should look for clarity, the right mood, something that fits in with the current bestsellers in your genre, a good hook, simplicity (as in no overwhelmingly distracting colors or other elements), and something that makes the book stand out among competing titles. Some of those requirements—particularly “standing out”—cost more, so you might want to stick with something that’s just professional and standard for the genre until you can afford something better.

Beyond what you should be looking for, you should also learn to recognize the things you need to avoid. The guest blog post I wrote for Indies Unlimited (Cover Basics, Part II) might help you there. It’s an uncharacteristically snarky, but very funny, post on the things I think but don’t say when I see badly designed covers. Hopefully it will give you a laugh or two, as well as an idea of what not to do.  

Okay, so let’s say you’ve gotten some recommendations, checked out several websites, and found a designer whose work you like. The fonts and images are clear and can’t be misconstrued. (I saw one with what appeared to be a phallic symbol on the cover, which later turned out to be a very strange, stylized Red Riding Hood. Unless you’re writing erotic fiction, this is not a good thing.) The mood (dark, humorous, playful, sexy, etc.) fits the mood of your book. The designer has experience designing books in your genre. The covers you found on the designer’s website had a good hook, one that made you want to open the book and start reading. The covers are simple, in that everything in them tells you something about the story you couldn’t get from the title alone, and nothing is redundant or distractingly overwhelming. It’s contemporary, and not hopelessly outdated. And—if you can afford something special—the cover isn't like one you’ve seen a million times before, one that could fit half the books in the same genre. The price also fits your budget. Great! Now what?

Most designers will indicate on their websites how they want to be contacted, so contact the designer in that way. First find out if the designer is open to working on your project, how long it will take, and how much you can expect to pay and when. Be aware that it might take an in-demand designer several months to finish your project, and allow for that time in your publication schedule. Also be aware that the many designers expect to get paid partially, or even fully, upfront. Some charge for edits. Some don’t. It’s best to have everything clear in writing from the start so that there are no misunderstandings.

Before I tell you how to work with a cover designer without driving yourself—or the cover designer—crazy, let me explain why that’s something you really want to do.  

I’m a writer, but I’m also an illustrator. As an illustrator, I have worked with so many difficult clients that it has put me off working for individuals altogether. I love working with magazines and newspapers, but you probably couldn’t convince me to design your book cover. I’ve been burned too many times.

You don’t want to do that, because chances are you’re going to want to publish more than one book—and if you’ve put all that effort into finding a good designer the first time, you’ll want to have a good relationship with that designer so that he or she will want to work with you again. Even if you decide to work with another designer, that second designer might wonder why you switched designers, contact the first designer, and discover you’re not an easy person to work with. You don’t want to be that kind of client. You want to be the kind of client a designer loves working with, so that your designer will not only want to work with you again but will give you good recommendations for other designers if for some reason that designer can’t help you the second time around.  

That takes care of the “why” regarding not driving the designer crazy. Now let’s look at the “how.”

7 Rules for Working with 
a Book Cover Designer

1. Get everything in writing. If you’re getting a custom-made cover, get everything in writing so you know exactly what you’re paying for, how much it will cost, when you have to pay, and when you can expect to get your finished artwork. Most designers charge at least partially upfront. Some include edits in the price, and some charge extra for them. You’ll need some of this information in writing if you choose to buy a premade cover, but there’s less of a hassle involved when you can’t make changes, like you can with a custom-made cover.

2. Be clear with your instructions from the start. I once knew a newspaper manager who could babble on for an hour without anyone understanding what it was he wanted. No one can give you what you want if you can’t say what it is you want. Be clear. Let the designer know a little bit about your book, like its title, genre, intended audience, mood, and basic plot. Do not drive the designer crazy with too many details.

3. Don’t expect Bloomingdale’s at Wal-Mart prices. While it’s important to have a clear vision, it has to fit the designer’s abilities and your budget. You might want a cover that looks exactly like the cover of the latest bestseller, but some of those are painted by illustrators who work a month or more on that one illustration and charge thousands of dollars. Others require hiring a studio, a photographer, a costume designer, models, and more. Like the Rolling Stones song goes, “You can’t always get what you want…”  Adjust your vision to fit the designer you’ve chosen. Don’t try to change the designer to fit the cover you have in your head. That never works out.

4. Ask questions. One of the best things you can do is ask the designer for input. Maybe the designer has great ideas that never would have occurred to you. Or maybe the designer has made certain design choices you don’t understand. Don’t pretend to know things you don’t, and don’t be embarrassed to ask.

5. Respect the designer. Realize the designer is a professional and trust him or her to make the right choices for your book. If the designer isn’t a professional, you shouldn’t hire him or her.

6. Be professional. Be courteous, pay on time, and value the designer’s time, work, and talent. For example, some designers don’t charge for edits, but that doesn’t mean you should push it. There’s no justification for more than one edit, two tops.  It’s possible the designer might come up with a terrific cover concept that doesn’t exactly fit what you have in your book. Maybe the cover has an extreme close-up of a brown eye, and you’ve described your character as having blue eyes. Just how important is the character’s eye color? Does the entire story revolve around it? If so, you should have mentioned it in your brief description of the story. If it isn’t, consider that it’s easier to search your manuscript for blue eyes and replace them with brown eyes than it is for the designer to go back to the drawing board to make those brown eyes blue. You can ask the designer how much trouble it would be to make that change, but only if you’re paying for a custom cover and this is your first edit. I don’t think anything drives me crazier than a client who keeps asking for changes after changes, mostly because that client doesn’t really know what he or she wants or how to communicate it.

7. Give credit where credit is due. Ask the designer how he or she would like to be credited in your book, and make sure you let other indie publishers know what a great job your designer did.

The two most important words to remember are clarity and respect. Ask questions so you have a clear idea of what you can expect, and communicate those expectations clearly. You are a writer, after all, and the Internet is a written medium. There’s no reason why a writer should have a difficult time communicating clearly online. And try to respect that the designer is a professional, one who has studied and worked hard to get to where he or she is in the profession. You wouldn’t tell your doctor what you think it best for your body. You would tell your doctor what’s wrong and ask for his professional opinion. Tell the designer about your book, and ask that designer for his or her professional opinion. Some of the worst designed covers I have ever seen were created by designers who were trying to follow the writer’s detailed instructions. The writer was probably happy with the finished result, but probably not as happy with his or her sales. Treat the designer like a professional, and the designer will see that you too are a professional.

And finally, be flexible. Designers aren’t mind readers. They can’t give you exactly the cover concept you have in your head. But if you’re flexible and clear about what you want, you might get something even better.

* * *

And now, here’s a list of cover designers other writers I know have been happy with. Some charge less, and some more. I’ve only listed the more expensive designers I think are worth the extra money. This is by no means a complete list, but it is a good place to start. If there’s another cover designer you’d recommend, I hope you’ll tell us about him or her and leave a link in the comments below.  

  • Dara England has decent premade ebook covers starting as low as $18. These are particularly suited to romance and historical fiction, but you’ll find some YA and paranormal covers in there too. She offers both premade and made to order e-book covers, and her prices are quite affordable:

  • I was really impressed by a friend's book cover, and this is the place that did it: Right now covers are just $99. These are first-rate covers at a fraction of the cost.

  • Carl Graves (cover designer, reasonable rates) website: Client list includes Alexander Sokoloff, Barry Eisler, Erik Lynd, J.A. Konrath, Jack Kilborn, James Swain, L.A. Banks, Lee Goldberg, and Tobias Buckell.

Of course, if you do have the skills and experience to design your own book cover or for some reason you still don’t want to hire a professional, here are some good places to look for images that could look good on your cover and don’t cost a lot:


FigmentQueen said...

Scarlett's covers are wonderful, and she has a range of packages to suit your budget -

(Scroll down on the first page to see a range of covers for different genres, or search by category to see the covers she has made for others in your genre.)

Shevi said...

I checked out Scarlett's website. The covers are nice and professional, and I like that the different price categories come with different extras, like a Facebook timeline image. Prices start at just $100 for an e-book cover. I'll add this to the ebook experiment doc of Facebook too. Thanks!

Syd Gill said...


This is a great post with some wonderful tips. I like how you took a neutral/unbiased approach respecting both sides of the equation.

As a designer I've been very fortunate to work with some wonderful clients but I have heard some terrible stories from fellow designers.

I'm an affordable designer myself, I'd love to share a link to my website. You can find my portfolio and a list of my services on my website:

Unknown said...

great guide i was inspire on this post because i really like to become a
ebook cover designer &
book cover designer
but im still studying how to become a professional on illustrator.

Unknown said...

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Unknown said...

A great article which gives some insight into the book cover, I've worked within the design world for many years and I belive that it's all down to the passion for creativity along with the wanting to help. Dave at

Emmanuel Nataf said...

You should take a look at Reedsy (! A community with amazing cover designers:

Emma Graves:
Mark Karis:
Kerri Resnick:
Alejandro Largo:
Nicole Caputo:
Kate Gaughran:
Daniel Cullen:
Mark Ecob:
David Drummond:

fiverrite said...

Thanks so much much for this tips, I was having serious problem with one that used to do book cover for me until I was introduced to a perfect designer who has done many unique covers for me. Here is the link You can try her as well if you are experiencing what I experienced.