Let's not kid ourselves - everyone judges a book by a cover. Whether it's what draws you to pick up a novel, or its the clinching factor that leads you to buy it, the cover is the first impression of your book. But there is far more to book design than just the front cover. Authors must also consider what the interior layout of their book is going to look like, and how these designs transfer over to electronic formats.
Know Before You Go
Before finding a designer, it is important to decide what you want in a cover. The best way to form this idea is to do research. Look at the books that are currently being published in your genre. What trends do you see? What features or qualities cause these best sellers to be at the top of the list? The cover isn't just what you want - it needs to be something that will sell.
Keep in mind, this is article is geared towards authors who are self-publishing. In traditional publishing, it is the publisher who will decide the design. If an author is fortunate, they may be consulted, but it is not a necessary part of that process.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give is, do not design your own cover unless you are trained to do so. Book design is a specific style of design, and unless you have those skills, it should be left to the professionals. Yes it can be costly, but the professionalism of the designer will be reflected in the cover design, and interior layouts need to follow specific guidelines that can be easy to mess up. An amateur or self-made cover can be picked out of a crowd. Similarly, an outdated style of cover design also stands outs, and not always in a good way, which is why research into the market is important.
Working with a cover designer will also be a smoother process if you have a clear idea of what you are looking for. If you don't know what your idea is you may waste time (and ultimately spend more money) trying to get it right. This does not mean have the whole cover planned out in your mind. Being flexible in your idea allows for creative wiggle room for the designer, and allows more room for originality. A good designer will bring your vision to life, but it may not look exactly the same as what's in your head.
Finding a Designer
There are lots of places to look to find a designer. Check the acknowledgments in the back of the book that has your favourite covers. You may also find designers on service websites like Fiverr and 99Designs. These sites can help you find a design in a budget-friendly range.
Choosing a designer comes down to your own personal style, and what style will suit your vision and genre best. All designers should have a portfolio available on their websites or platforms. Unlike finding an editor where you may reach out to several for writing samples, what will likely narrow down a designer is their rates, and if they are available.
Similar to signing with an editor, the communication begins with an inquiry. Reach out to your designer of interest no less than three months in advance. The earlier you reach out the more likely your designer will be available, and it's best to make sure you have lots of time to get the designs completed as well. Some questions you may also want to ask the designer in your inquiry (if it's not already clear on their website)
How many rounds of edits will you go through?
What is the payment structure?
Will they also do the interior layout? (If not you'll need another designer for this)
Will they do other formats, like ebooks?
Other things to look for as you start the conversation:
Are they communicating with you? A designer that doesn't communicate effectively to you, in a reasonable time frame, can make things very frustrating throughout the process.
Do they ask questions? Are they really trying to understand the intention of the cover?
The Design Process
Every designer is different in terms of how many rounds they will offer, and what kinds of changes can be made. After an initial consultation with my designer, I was provided with four initial black and white sketches based on the ideas I had shared. After I chose two that I liked, the designer did a partial rendering of the designers, adding some colour and depth. From there I picked a layout I liked best, and we went into full rendering. After that, we worked on final tweaks, like the colouring and slight positioning - the nit-picky thing. This process took around 3 months from initial conception to final product.
For the internal layout, the designer provided me with a template layout since my full manuscript was still with the editor. From there we could discuss things like font, size, and spacing of the chapter headings. Once the manuscript is done the designer then plunks the book into the desired internal layout. I had one round of approval, where I got to read through and make any notes, or edits needed. It is a great opportunity to have one final read-through for those pesky mistakes that may have slipped through proofreading.
In terms of payment, commonly you will pay a portion of the feed upfront, and then the remaining amount upon completion of the project. Again this is different for every designer, and remember your final cost may change depending on if you needed any extra rounds of edits throughout the process.
Deciding on a book cover is a daunting and often overwhelming task. The decision will ultimately be final and that cover, even if you do a reprint or second edition, will exist for the rest of eternity on the interwebs or on people's shelves. So above all else, it is important that you love your cover as well. This is your creation after all, and you should be proud of that awesome thing.
Either way, it's the first impression people have of your book, so put in your best effort to make sure it's a good one.