Tips on Making Covers or Working With a Cover Artist: Part 2

I’m going to cover the viewpoint of the author, and Stephannie Beman will cover the viewpoint of the cover artist.

Today, we’re going to talk about what to look for when choosing the “look” for your cover.

1.  Less Is More (Or Keep It Simple Silly)

Ruth’s Thoughts:

There is a tendency to want to put as much on covers as possible.  The problem is you can only fit so much on a cover.  I like to think of the cover as a snapshot where you give the readers (at a glance) what kind of book you’re giving them.  In my case, I do romance, and in romance there is usually a woman, man or the couple is often the focal point.   But you don’t want the background to overpower the cover.  I could have a cover with a bride, a stagecoach, a horse, a dog, the hero, a couple of kids, a mercantile, and a lasso on it.  But just how attractive would cramming all that stuff into one cover be?  Maybe all of those things have something to do with the book, but it’s not necessary to put it all into the cover.

My advice is to pick 1 focal image and 1-2 images for the background.  This could be a bride for the focal point, a carriage and a field for the background.  Of course, you can get away with using just one picture.  Some of my most popular covers are ones with a single stock image.

Steph’s Thoughts:

As a cover designer, I run into lots of authors who want to add all the key elements of their stories on the cover. While in theory it might sound like a good idea, it isn’t. Keeping your design simple does two things for the cover design:

  1. It doesn’t confuse the message you want to give the readers
  2. It allows the image to be better seen when it is shrunk down.

Too many items and people clutter your cover. It’s best to pick one main element from your book to place on the cover design. If you aren’t sure what that item should be, ask someone who reads your book to tell you. Or you can do as I suggest to my clients and describe your book in one sentence. This will give you a better idea of what you should place on the cover.

2.  Use Professional Images

Ruth’s Thoughts:

Don’t hand draw something.   If you want an image is drawn, get a professional artist to do it for you.  Most of the time, though, you’ll be looking for pictures.  Unless you are skilled with a good camera, I would advise you to choose a stock photo site and buy a royalty free image.  Your cover doesn’t have to look just like a big traditional publisher’s book, but it should be attractive.  I would advise authors to buy the images and send them to the cover artist.  Stephannie can explain more of “why”, but in a nutshell, it helps to protect your right to have those images on your cover.

Steph’s Thoughts

I know that wanting to I save money on a cover and scouring the Internet for free images to use might sounds like a great idea, but it’s not. I suggestion using professional images from a stock-photography site, hire a photographer to take pictures, or hire an illustrator to draw your cover. Yeah, it costs money, but in the long run it can also save you thousands of dollars.

You should purchase professional images because:

  1. It would really suck to find out later that the free image you used was uploaded to Flickr by someone who didn’t own the rights and now you have to pay $8,000 for its use. (True story)
  2. When you purchase the licensing rights this allows you to use the image according to the stock provider’s terms of use. Please read the licensing terms of each site carefully. You don’t want to find out later that you have to pay a percentage of your royalties or that they can demand that you remove your cover with the image on it and purchase another at a later date.
  3. You can download your proof of purchase so when someone comes to you for using the images and the option for going to the designer there because they’ve gone out of business, cannot be reached, etc., then you have proof.
  4. There may come a time when you need an extended license because you want to use the images on other items, you might not have the option of going to the designer because they’ve gone out of business, cannot be reached, etc., and with an account you can manage this yourself.

Unless you are really good with a camera or know how to enhance the pictures you take, I don’t suggest using your own images. Most amateur photographers aren’t aware of the tricks that make a picture useable. Including and not limited to lighting, shape, direction, color, balance, position, etc. Does this mean you can’t use them? Not at all. Just that you should know more about photography before you use one of your own.

3.  Listen to Your Cover Artist (if you hire one)

Ruth’s Thoughts:

While you should have an idea of what you want on the cover so the artist knows your vision for the cover, there are times when the artist’s experience can be beneficial.  The artist has worked with a lot of images.  They’re familiar with fonts, colors, lighting, and how things line up.  This comes from experience.   Maybe you wanted to use a certain picture on the cover, but it turns out the photo is at an awkward angle that makes the way you want to use this image a bad idea.  The artist will probably see that right away.  They may suggest you find another picture or maybe they’ll find one that is better.  Be willing to take their advice into account.  If you are in serious doubt, have them do both pictures–one yours and one with the way they think it looks better.  Then pick the one you want from there.

Artists usually allow you 2-3 rounds of proofs for free so you can give them feedback on what you like and don’t like.  If you keep changing things though, be prepared to pay for the additional proofs.   But go ahead and do as many proofs as you need to get the cover you want.

In the end, it’s your book and the artist will consent to your wishes, but be open to new ideas and at least take a look at what they suggest.

Steph’s Thoughts

To add to what Ruth said above, if you are hiring a cover artist to create your book cover design, chose one whose design portfolio has covers you like. This will go a long way to getting a design you like.  A good designer understands the trends in design. They know the little tricks that make a design better or suggest the right genre.

It’s your job to have an idea of what you want, it’s the designers to create a cover that reflects your vision. However, be open to suggestions. A good designer will protest a bad design choice and explain why it would be bad. They will suggest a better choice and tell you why it would be better. If their suggestions makes sense, listen to them. They are doing what you paid them for and trying to make a great cover. Remember this is their job and a bad cover reflects poorly on both of you.

4 Comments

  1. ronfritsch says:

    Thank you for this post, Ruth and Steph. I agree with all your points, but I especially like the emphasis on keeping it simple.

    1. You are very welcome, Ron. Not keeping it simple is one of my pet peeves as a cover designer.

      A cover should convey the main point of the story, and to do that you should keep it simple and attractive. Too much stuff and the reader isn’t sure what they are looking at.

  2. My son does my covers. I’m definitely passing this along to him!

    1. Norma, cool! I hope he finds all the tips we will be sharing helpful. 😀

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