When I was ready to publish my urban fantasy novel, Cast into Darkness, one of the first things I turned my attention to was finding a great cover artist. It’s been said “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, but readers do exactly that. I wanted a cover that would both show the book’s genre and tone and stand out from the crowd.
Here’s the process I used to find and work with a top-notch artist.
1) Identify covers in your genre that you love. Pinterest is a great way of keeping pictures of great covers you come across. My Pinterest cover file for fantasy is here: http://www.pinterest.com/jtait06/fantasy-covers-i-love/ Creating a file of covers will give your cover artist a better sense of what will work for you. I focused on books with some genre similarity – urban fantasy and YA urban fantasy with spell-casters. Caveat: some covers that you adore might be based on original artwork or use custom photo shoots. You may not be able to achieve exactly what you want. Understand what is and is not possible for your budget.
2) Find cover artists whose work you love. Check out their websites, take a look at their portfolio. To find great artists, ask your friends who have published who they used. If you belong to an online writer’s group, such as an RWA online chapter, some have lists of recommended artists. Or you can check out this list at Author E.M.S.: http://www.authorems.com/working-with-freelancers/web-designers-cover-artists/
3) Decide on your budget. Some artists are rather expensive, and not all of them are worth the money. Others are very cheap, but their covers show that you get what you pay for. For my book, I wanted to use the cover as a sales tool, so I budgeted pretty high for it. Great cover artists can be found at lower price points. I don’t recommend you do your own cover unless you have a strong design background and thorough knowledge of the tools. Cover design is a specific skill much like good logo design, and personally I think it is best left to the experts.
4) Give your artist a detailed design brief. Include a short synopsis, the genre of the book, it’s mood and tone, and design details like the main character’s description and any other elements you feel are important. Let the artist know what book covers you like (see #1, above). Don’t insist on a cover where every element of the book is represented, as having, say, a sword and a spider and a hat and a red-headed woman on the cover is meaningless without context. Similarly, it isn’t generally necessary to illustrate a specific scene in the book. What you are going for is to give the prospective reader a heads-up on what they are getting when they open the book. A romance should have a couple on the cover, preferably expressing some interest in each other (how much interest may vary with the subgenre). Fantasy should show the fantastic elements of your world – shapeshifters, or vampires, or magic users, for example. And so on.
5) Include any concepts you have. If you had an idea that, for example, you want a couple kissing on a beach and you want the guy to be shirtless and the lady to be blond, let the artist know. He may come up with other ideas, but at least he has a starting point.
6) Don’t expect perfection on a first draft. It rarely happens with design work. Graphic design is usually an interactive process. The designer makes his best guess of what you want, and shows it to you. It’s your job to give him detailed feedback on what you like and don’t like. Each draft after that should be noticeably better. If you find that the artist is not responding to your feedback and you continue to be unhappy with the result, you may want to find another artist. Most reputable artists have a money-back guarantee and will do as many iterations as are necessary to get you a cover that makes you happy. But not all. Check out the terms before you sign on.
7) When you get a concept you like, have the artist tweak it until you are satisfied. As an example, here’s the earlier versions of my cover and the feedback I gave in response:
- First draft:
The artist also did another concept, but I felt this one worked much better. I loved the model and the pose, and the spell in her hand, but wasn’t as fond of the background and background color. And as much as I liked the font used for the title, I didn’t think it would show up well on a thumbnail in Amazon. I also wanted to mood – dark, dangerous action – to show better.
These versions were close to perfect. It was hard to choose between the blue and the red/gray, but in the end I picked the red/gray, since it had more color contrast. Note the clearer but still lovely title font. I also “test drove” it with a small sample of my core reader group, and the feedback was interesting. They felt that the model looked older than college age. One 20-year old guy called her a “smokin’ hot cougar.” While that gave me a laugh, it also gave me concern. So I went back to the artist for help.
The artist lightened up the face, and altered the model’s expression a touch. At this point I was completely happy with the end result.
This cover was done by damonza.com. They were wonderful to work with, and I feel I got a fabulous cover.
How have you used cover designers, and did you feel you worked well with them? What kind of cover catches your eye and makes you want to buy the book?
Janet Tait is the author of Cast into Darkness, an urban fantasy novel of magic, romance, double-dealing, and action. It is available on Amazon and other online retailers. You can connect with her at www.janettait.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/janet.tait.author.