Well, first you have to find a designer. As in many things when first learning the ropes of self-publishing, Google is your friend. There are TONS of designers and services out there, your task will be to weed through the list and find someone that is a good fit for you.
Keep the following in mind when making your decision:
1) Hire someone who has a proven track record. This could mean: a) Visiting several different designers and comparing their portfolios or b) Hiring a designer who created a cover that impressed you (the cover designer is usually listed in the front matter of the book, most likely on the copyright page).
2) Don’t take the designer’s word for it, get feedback from previous clients. Send inquiries to authors who had book covers designed by the designer you are considering. Visit the designer’s portfolio, get a couple author names, visit their websites and send inquiries. You’ll want to know if the designer is easy to work with, open to ideas, reliable (responsive and meets deadlines) and are the authors happy with the services rendered and final product?
3) Is the designer’s website professionally designed? If the website doesn’t look professional then how can you trust that the book covers will? The website should detail what is included in the design, what factors could increase costs during the project and what type of files you will receive at completion. The website should also have a section where the designer displays their portfolio. If their stuff doesn’t appeal to you, again, why would you hire them?
I honestly can’t say how I stumbled upon my cover designer Scarlett’s website, but I’m glad I did. I was impressed by the professional look and feel of her site and by her past work. What really convinced me though, were all the great articles on self-publishing she had on her blog. You really got a sense that she knew the industry and had a passion for what she does. Her website also did a great job of laying out what you could expect if you chose her for your cover.
Remember to start thinking about your cover sooner than later. If you are planning on releasing your book next week, it’s really too late to be thinking about the cover. Designers, especially the better ones, will book up fast so be prepared to wait for an available timeslot for your project.
Your designer will probably send you a contract to approve before they start. They will also require a deposit up front before they begin work on your cover. Once we had things finalized and the date booked for my project, Scarlett sent out a questionnaire for me to fill out. In it she asked things like:
- Who is your target market?
- Do you want the book to be legible at the size of a thumbnail?
- Do you have a specific idea/design that you’d like to see?
- What’s the impression you want to give your audience when they first see the cover of your book?
- What don’t you want on the cover?
- Which adjectives do you want to describe your cover? (Multiple choice)
While it can be helpful for you to know what you want up front, the right designer should be able to take your vague ideas and give you something to work with. Try to keep an open mind. The first set of concepts your designer shows you are just the starting point, from there you will work together to fine tune your final concept.
In my case, Scarlett sent two initial concepts:
I liked how Scarlett sent the concepts with the various different formats. On my own, I probably wouldn’t have thought about how the cover looked as a thumbnail or in black and white. I also had a little panic attack when I looked at her designs and saw the placeholder that said “This is where your tagline or testimonial goes…” . Tagline?! I hadn’t thought of that. A little brainstorming though and I soon came up with taglines for all three books in the trilogy – Thanks Christina for letting me bounce ideas off you!
After spending some time looking at the two designs, I came up with a detailed list of what worked and what didn’t for me for both of the covers. I then made a few suggestions of what I would like to see changed and sent it all back to Scarlett. Armed with this new information, Scarlett made some changes and I received updated files a couple days later. Although both still appealed to me, by this time, one design spoke to me more than the other. I decided to focus on that particular concept and so I sent back a few more comments on changes I would like to see for the one concept only. I even did a little cut and paste hack job and mocked up what I was thinking. A picture is worth a thousand words after all.
When Scarlett sent the updated file back, I knew we had a winner. I loved it! But that wasn’t the end. We still had the print cover which needs the spine and back cover as well. Scarlett was spot on with her concept for the back and there really wasn’t much to change.
In order for your designer to get the dimensions right for the print cover, you will have to know what size your book will be (mine is 5.5″ x 8.5″ which is one of the common trade paperback sizes) and what paper – white or cream – because, believe it or not, that makes a difference. You will also need to know the finished length of your book (how many pages) when it is formatted to your chosen dimensions because that will determine the size of the spine.
So that’s my experience in getting the final concept for the cover of Dead and Kicking developed. If you really want to have a look inside what makes a great book cover, I recommend watching this TED talk by Chip Kidd, a book designer (among other things) and art director at Knopf. Kidd is the genius behind such covers as Crichton’s Jurassic Park and 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.