A great cover design is one of the best ways to help your book get noticed because readers DO judge a book by its cover.
Your book cover will also be one of the best marketing assets you can invest in because you will use it everywhere – on your book sales page, your website, social media, maybe even business cards and of course, the physical book itself.
I consider professional book cover design to be non-negotiable if you are taking your author career seriously.
In today's article, Damon from Damonza, an awesome cover design service that I recommend, outlines how best to work with a book cover designer.
Having written your book with your own hand, you’ll likely realize that covering it will be no easy task.
Thousands of words, linked together into an exciting, dramatic or even raunchy narrative, need to be represented by a simple and impactful cover. Heck.
Because you want what’s best for your book, you’ll be looking to engage the services of a professional. Someone whose job it is to get your magnum opus flying off the shelves. Someone who’s more than capable of summarizing your story into a beautiful confluence of image and text.
Someone who knows who will buy your book, what they will like, and has the skillset to produce something that speaks to them.
While it may not be your iMac on which the cover will be produced, you’re no less key to the creation of it. As the author, you’ll be steering the design ship, unfurling metaphorical spinnakers and looking into the distance through a metaphorical telescope.
But those without much ship-steering knowledge could find themselves quickly running their vessel aground.
Sea captain metaphors are hard when you’ve never been a sea captain. But let’s continue unabated.
Let these 9 tips for getting the very best out of your book cover designer be your lighthouse in the distance.
1. Make sure you pick the right designer
The very first – and by far most important – step to getting the best out of your cover designer is to hire the right one. The quality of your cover will depend entirely on the quality of your designer, and cutting corners on who you hire will seriously affect the success of your book.
Remember; in this capitalist world of ours, you inevitably get what you pay for.
So what does the ‘right’ designer look like? They should offer:
- A proven track record – Look for designers who can point to their stunning and diverse portfolio and give you real-world success stories.
- Knowledge and expertise – A good designer will have a deep understanding of what a reader wants from a cover. A quick chat should reveal how well they know the market.
- Adaptability – The designing of your cover needs to be a flexible process. A good designer will be comfortable with any changes of heart or tack (within reason).
- Availability and punctuality – 1) Is the designer ready to take on your brief straight away? 2) Will they commit to delivering the final draft within a reasonable timeframe?
- Value for money – Now I don’t want to sound like your dad here, but you need to spend within your means, kid. Finding a designer who ticks the above boxes is great until you have to take out a second mortgage to hire them.
If you know what to look for, and are willing to spend a little bit of time looking for it, you’ll have a far greater chance of cover design success.
2. Know your goals
Your cover is the door to another world; a world created entirely by you.
And what are your hopes and dreams for the published work? Is your ambition to simply get published? Or are you hoping for this to be the first in a line of stepping stones to literary fame and fortune?
In order for your designer to produce the perfect cover for your book, you’ll need to offer them a clear idea of your goals.
It’s vital that you know what you want from your book before you start talking turkey with the designer, as this will have a huge impact on how they go about their business. Tell them what you want your story’s ‘door’ to say.
3. Bring your inspiration to the table
Sure, the designer is the expert, but by no means does that discount your imagery ideas. After all, nobody knows the world within those pages better than the person who created it!
Don’t be timid in suggesting ideas to your designer, no matter how offbeat they may seem. Want a hologram of a Hulk Hogan high-fiving a manatee on the cover of your historical account of the Crimean War? While it may not be what appears on the final draft, there’s no harm in saying so.
If you’ve got a specific color scheme in mind or can point to cover designs that have tickled your fancy in the past, these suggestions can be hugely helpful in guiding the process.
While the finished product might not exactly match that which had formed in your mind’s eye, it should represent a nice middle ground between your raw inspiration and the designer’s expertise, Hulk Hogan or no.
4. Remember that the cover is there to sell the book
Writing your book can be an incredibly introspective and personal experience. You’ve spent an ungodly amount of hours pouring your heart and soul into this work and handing the reins over to some perfect stranger to gift wrap it can be painful.
There is a temptation to have your cover reflect the personal nature of the book’s insides. Many self-published authors can make the mistake of putting a family photo or the artwork of a close friend on their cover; while a beautiful gesture, doing so can be hugely detrimental to the success of your book. While the image will speak to you, it probably won’t speak to prospective buyers.
This most commonly happens with memoirs. An author will select a photo with huge sentimental value, but that will mean nothing to an unfamiliar reader who is simply looking for something eye-catching as they browse the bookstore shelves.
Endeavour to limit your personal attachment, and remember that the cover is there to sell your book. The greatest compliment you can pay your work is to ensure that the maximum amount of people read it.
5. Don’t be shy with feedback, but make sure it makes sense
There are three types of feedback that any cover designer will be familiar with, and generally comfortable with receiving:
- “I love it! Let’s go ahead and finalize!”
- “We’re almost there, but can you change this minor detail to better match my personal preference?”
- “I love this about Draft 1, and this about Draft 2; can you make a cover combining these elements?”
These three pieces of feedback represent over 90% of what a cover designer will hear day-to-day from their clients.
But a small minority of feedback is less actionable, and simply serves to stall the design process and frustrate both camps. Telling a designer “I don’t like it – start again” is absolutely pointless, as is “can you just make it look like [this cover]?’
So sure, don’t be shy when offering feedback, but make sure it’s reasonable.
6. Respect the designer knows what they’re doing
Further to the above point, some self-published authors go into the design process with blinkers on – they have a set idea of what they want in a cover, and will disregard the advice offered by a professional who has designed thousands of covers.
It’s a cover designer’s job to know what works. By going against that advice, you’re forcing them to produce a cover that they know will not be successful – it’s an awkward spot for them to be in to say the least.
Imagine going to a Michelin star restaurant, receiving your Michelin star food, then telling the chef “this is terrible – my meatloaf is WAY better”. If you hand the meatloaf recipe over for them to cook, would you expect them to cook it? Does your personal opinion make the restaurant any less Michelin star-worthy? Does it automatically cancel out the years of training that the chef went through or the awards from experts that the restaurant has won?
It’s vital that you respect the opinion of the designer, and realize that they know what they’re doing.
7. Don’t move the goalposts
While we’ve already listed adaptability as a key trait for any cover designer to have, it should be a trait that you, the author, use sparingly. While minor changes of tack will be expected by the designer, complete paradigm shifts will not.
If you ask your designer to create a moody, mysterious and dark cover and they provide a few drafts to choose from, you can’t then go back to them and suggest a change to Hulk Hogan high-fiving a manatee.
As mentioned earlier, set your goals firmly before getting a designer to begin their work. By doing so you’ll save all parties involved a lot of heartache.
8. Steer clear of recreating a specific scene
Number eight can be a tripping point for many an author. You’ve written a scene of pure 24-carat gold, and you can imagine nothing better to slap on the front of your book than a visualization of this incredible extract – a combination of image and text that matches the scene word for word.
Bad idea, hombre.
There are a few reasons why recreating a scene on your cover is inadvisable:
- The thumbnail rule – Your cover needs to look good as a thumbnail, so as to sell well through online retailers. An overly detailed cover will not translate well to being shrunk.
- Your audience aren’t idiots – They appreciate subtlety, metaphor and intimation. By offering a paint-by-numbers cover you take away the mystery.
- Minimalism is more impactful – Potential readers will spend an average of 2 seconds glancing at your book before deciding whether to pick it up or click on it for a closer look. If your cover is too complex they will simply glaze over it. Minimalism works.
Your best bet? Keep that golden nugget of a scene as a lovely surprise for your reader within the confines of your book.
9. Communicate clearly
Communication is key. Having chosen a terrific design firm who puts an onus on communicating clearly and promptly, it’s up to you to do the same.
Any suggestions you might have or any reservations that might be floating through your head need to be verbalized – it’s in no one’s interest to keep these things bottled up.
Remember too that this communication is a two-way street; again, if you’ve chosen your cover design firm wisely you can be sure that they’ll be listening to you, you just need to ensure that you’re doing the same.
Designing your perfect cover, as we discussed earlier, is a group effort. While you’re the captain of the ship, your design firm makes up the crew. It’s your responsibility to shout orders, but you also need to listen to your first mate when he’s telling you there’s an iceberg dead ahead. When those in charge of the outside of a book communicate freely and openly with those in charge of the inside, good things happen.
Cover design, like a tango, takes two. By choosing your partner wisely and following these rules, you’re doing everything in your power to ensure that not only do toes remain untrodden but that the dancefloor is set alight.
What has your cover design experience been like? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Damon Freeman is a South African living in New Zealand, and the founder and creative director of the specialist book cover design company, Damonza.com.
Since 2012, Damon and his team have designed well over 3000 book covers for first-time writers, New York Times bestselling authors, and small and large publishers. That’s a whole lot of covers, so it’s very fortunate that he kinda likes doing it 🙂 And since he’s a terrible writer, authoring was never really on the table. He even had to get someone else to write this bio for him.