They say not to judge a book by its cover but, let’s face it, most of us still do. Your book’s cover is the first and most powerful marketing piece you have, and you want to make sure it’s effective.
If your book is with a publisher, you may or may not be asked about what you would like the cover to look like. If you’re hiring a freelance cover artist, you definitely will be asked. Some artists will do as many revisions as you request until you are 100% satisfied. Others will give you one or two rounds of revisions, and then charge a fee for any additional ones. This is actually very fair, considering the amount of work that goes into creating a good cover. What you want to do is be as detailed, specific, and thorough as possible in all your communications with your cover artist.
Cover art for eBooks can be done simultaneously alongside the editing, since eBook covers are all one standard size. If you or your publisher are putting out a print version as well, the cover will need to wait until edits and formatting are completed, because the size will vary based on the final book size. If you are starting with an eBook and considering maybe doing a print version in the future, always do both covers at the same time. It’s much easier to take a print cover and make it an eBook cover than it is to go the other way, and doing them both at the same time ensures consistency.
1. First Contact
There may be a form involved to make it easier for you to communicate your preferences to your cover artist. It will ask things like color schemes, elements you want on the cover, character descriptions, short book description, genre, whether it’s part of a series (very important), things you like, don’t like, things you want, and don’t want. If you have examples of what you’re looking for, send them. It’s not always smart to copy a cover exactly, but you may like some elements that your artist can emulate. If you have stock images you want to use, send them (or a link to them), and make sure they are as hi-res as possible. A good rule of thumb when shopping for stock images: always look for a version that isn’t tightly or awkwardly cropped, and always get the largest size possible. This gives the cover artist more freedom to play with spacing and composition.
In this part of the process, take your time, really think about what you imagine your cover to look like, and put all your requests into one form or list so that the artist has all the information necessary to begin working on your cover, including the proper template for your print cover if you need one (this is your responsibility if you’re working with a freelance cover artist). The more emails you send back and forth, the more confusing it’ll be for all parties involved.
2. The Proof
The first version of the cover you will get is called a proof. It’s basically a preview of what the final version of the cover will look like. It’ll likely be smaller than the final version and watermarked. It might also only have a watermarked comp (or free) version of your requested stock image, rather than the final, paid one. In this step of the process, you want to make sure you and your cover artist are on the same page about the cover. Look over the proof thoroughly, read every word, including the title, series name, author name, etc. Consider the colors, spacing, how it fits with the rest of the series (if applicable). Show your friends and family and ask for feedback.
You will likely have notes for corrections. Sleep on them, compile all of them in one list, and then send it to your artist to be addressed. Again, you want to tell them everything in one communication so they don’t have to keep going back and forth. If you don’t like the stock image, font, or certain elements of the cover, speak up. If you have corrections to the back copy, series name, or even the title or pen name, now is the time to tell them. Artists (or anyone else, really) don’t like to do corrections piecemeal. If they can address everything at the same time, everything will go much smoother and faster.
3. The Final
Once all the corrections are done and approved, the cover will be finalized. The comp images will be swapped out for hi-res versions, the layers will be flattened (graphic artist speak) and the completed cover in its full resolution will be delivered to you or your publisher. This is where you put on your marketing hat and do a cover reveal to show off the pretty for your book. And, because a picture says a thousand words, it’ll likely be the best tool for you to drum up interest in your upcoming release, so use it well, and often.
NOTE ABOUT SELF-MADE COVERS:
Some authors are multi-talented, have a fantastic eye for design, and are very handy with graphics programs. They can and do create their own covers, and those covers are virtually indistinguishable from those done by professional artists and designers. It still takes a lot of work, training, and education to put together a presentable cover, and it’s much more complicated than just slapping text over photos. There are licenses and copyrights to consider, to say nothing of the technical skills required to actually put the elements together.
Most authors do not have those talents and skills. However, they still create their own covers, and those are the ones you can tell from a mile away were done by an amateur, and often times, readers won’t even consider clicking on them to learn more.
Hiring a professional does come with a price tag, but it’s one that is absolutely worth the investment. If you don’t have the skills or know-how to create a professional cover, hire a professional to do it for you. Many artists are very reasonably priced. Some might even be willing to barter a cover in exchange for something other than money. In the worst case scenario where you simply can’t afford to hire someone, hold off on publishing your book until you have saved up for it. There may not be a surefire secret path to success, but there are some pretty obvious surefire ways to saw the branch right out from under yourself. This is one of them.