Dos and Don'ts of Working with a Cover Designer

How to Get the Most out of the Process and End up With a Cover You Love

When it comes to the book production process, it’s hard to find a more exciting step than designing your cover. After months or even years of writing, something about seeing your name and book title on a beautifully designed cover makes it all feel real.

A good cover is also your most important marketing tool. The last book I purchased grabbed my attention on the strength of its cover. I downloaded a sample immediately and ended up buying the book even though I hadn’t heard of the author. A strong cover has the power to turn someone browsing on Amazon into a reader, and that’s why it’s critical to work effectively with your designer.

Here at MCP, we prompt our authors to complete a cover design questionnaire, which helps our designers get a sense of what the author is looking for. Of course, I think our design team is the best in the business but even if you hire a freelancer you should always be asked to provide some sort of creative brief. If your designer doesn’t ask you very thorough questions about your target audience, visual style, the message of the book, and so on, you might not be working with a professional. So, whether it’s our team or yours, here are the best ways to ensure that you have a meaningful and productive relationship with your cover designer.

DO provide examples of work you like. As a writer, you’re used to using words to describe what you like. However, it’s good to keep in mind that designers, by nature, are visual people. An informal survey of our design department revealed that providing examples of covers you like is the best way to indicate your style. So, go take a look at your bookshelves. What draws your eye? Are there particular colors or fonts that you consistently prefer? Are there conventions within your genre that you keep noticing? Start keeping a list of your favorites so that, when the time comes, you can provide concrete examples to your designer.

DO be specific. Here’s where your writerly skills come into play. Along with examples of things you like, it’s important to articulate to a designer why you like them. And for this, you’re going to need to be specific. For instance, here’s how author Chivvis Moore described her vision for her upcoming book First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust in God:

Here are things I don’t want – camels, pyramids, desert scenes, palm trees, veiled women… any of the stereotypical images of Arab or culture or religion, images of myself or Western women traveler-types, any images relating to Israel/Palestine conflict.

On the other hand, the images that I love and which many Arabs consider most fairly representative– infinite, intricate geometric designs of on wood, cloth, tile or stone; calligraphy; Islamic architecture; paintings of Arab towns or villages – these I love because I have already been introduced to them...

Notice how this author can describe not only what she does and doesn’t like, in specific and helpful detail, but tell a story about why she likes it? This helps our design team convey that story in images. Ultimately, that’s exactly what a good cover is meant to do.

DON’T limit yourself. Another thing to note about the example above is how the author leaves room for interpretation. Having a clear vision is good, but not if it blinds you to new possibilities. After all, you are working with a professional designer because they have skill and experience – so let them use it! Often, authors are amazed at what our design team can come up with given enough creative license.

DON’T forget about digital listings. Close your eyes and think about a book cover. You’re probably imagining picking it up off the shelf, right? Well, the truth is, that’s not how the majority of people are buying books these days. Digital sales eclipsed bricks-and-mortar stores a few years ago, and the trend is only going to continue. That means you need to think about how your cover looks as thumbnail on a site like Amazon. It’s not going to take up a lot of visual real estate, so you need to make impactful choices. A lengthy subtitle may not be legible, and fine details are likely to get lost. Better to go for something simple and bold if you can.

DO work within the medium. These days, it’s all about graphic design. Our design team works with stock imagery to create custom covers for each author, which primarily involves photo editing and image manipulation. If you’ve scoured the internet and can’t find any images that match your vision, you may consider hiring an illustrator rather than a graphic designer. Just make sure the illustrator has some experience designing book covers and is aware of printer requirements for things like bleeds and image resolution.

Have any tips I may have missed? Have you had a particularly good (or particularly bad) experience with designing a book cover? Add a comment on Facebook and tell us all about it!

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