Welcome back to the book cover design miniseries! To recap:
Part 2 is about the process of commissioning a cover design
What it’s like working with a cover designer
While designing my own covers was good practice and the outcome could have looked (much) worse, leaning too hard into a D.I.Y. ethos can be a mistake. I felt it was important to work with experts where appropriate—and design work (like editing) is one of those areas where it makes sense to recognize your own limitations and invest.
In this case, those limitations were both creative and technical. My artistic and Photoshop skills aren’t that finely honed, and light alterations to stock photos were about all I can manage. All my attempts at cover designs were only as strong as the stock photos. I could have flailed around for a few hundred more hours and hoped to hack my way into a reasonable layout, decent photo, and genre-appropriate outcome . . . or I could work with a professional.
I started looking for a cover designer WAY early (mostly because I originally planned to publish about a year before my actual launch date.) Many of the character traits, themes, and worldbuilding elements were already established, but some things did change considerably. It all worked out, as you’ll see, but I’d recommend caution if you’re a pre-published author eager to get your cover ordered.
That said, there’s usually a waitlist involved. I’d been keeping an eye out for cover artists and enquired with Regina Wamba in early March after seeing her work on Instagram. She has her business very well organized, which was helpful in quickly getting a sense of whether we could work together or not.
Specifically, I sent a sort of preliminary enquiry clarifying what I was looking for and asking about rates. She confirmed that she’d be interested in the project, sent over a “menu” of services, and set the timeline.
Because Regina’s also a superstar photographer, her offerings ranged from ebook-only cover design (using purchased/3rd–party stock photos) all the way up to custom photography shoots to capture the exact look of the story.
Once a design package was agreed upon, there was a contract to sign, a 50% deposit to pay, and lots of homework. Depending on what you select and who you work with, these terms could vary, but creative work tends to take time, and freelancers have to schedule projects (and therefore often can’t do things immediately/last minute).
In this case, the designer asked for 4-6 weeks minimum to process design inspiration, and I ended up letting her know that there was no rush on the design (because I got held up on the editing side) so it was a few months between drafts.
Design homework on the author’s end can look like anything from some quick notes about design ideas to a collection of images or comparable covers. In this case, Regina had a sort of survey for me to fill out that asked about everything from technical requirements (who’s your printer? what are the dimensions?) to setting, characters, theme, and visual elements to the story.
Given my (obvious) inability to be concise and restrained when it comes to wording, I flooded her with ten pages of chaotic scribbles. And a Pinterest cover inspiration board with over a hundred covers to sort through. So, yeah, you can see why designers ask for several weeks to let it all sink in!
That was the main effort on my end. There were a few small back–and–forths with the draft, but it was over 90% there from the beginning. (The first round had a flowery, more “fairytale”–looking border, and no beam of light.) Deciding on cover text was also surprisingly difficult and made for extra work for the designer; I change up my hooks and blurbs too often, lol.
Design drafts are low-res screencaps, so once a design was finalized, I got a dropbox link to full-size covers. In my case, I hadn’t anticipated all the design resources I needed in the initial order, so that added a few steps. Since the overall concept was there, though, and the cover art was graphic not photo–based, ordering larger–format covers (i.e. the square–shaped audiobook cover and the extended artwork for the hardcover) wasn’t a matter of redesigning so much as simply specifying the dimensions and any new cover text. And then, every new format goes into a work queue, so that takes some time as well.
So, that’s pretty much the process from my end! If you’re a first–time author or indie–publisher getting ready to order your first cover, the steps are roughly:
- Decide vision (will the D.I.Y. or premade approach work for you? how are you positioning this book?)
- Check budget (and revise vision or postpone and start saving!)
- Research cover designers, maybe check in with authors/publishers to see what their experience was like
- Initiate contact, communicate goals/vision, and ask for quote/timeline
- Sign contract/pay deposit/schedule cover design
- Send design reference material (instructions/specifications/subgenre, design inspiration, cover text, etc.)
- Review artwork & approve or specify changes
- Pay remaining fees, securely download/save full resolution artwork
- Plan a cover reveal!!
- Launch book
Part 3, how the design of BLIND THE EYES is informed by worldbuilding and thematic visual elements, is in the Nov. 27 newsletter.