So, you’ve done it. You’ve finished your book. You’ve peaked that literary summit of authorship and are sucking in the sweet, sweet oxygen that is success. And now that you’re at the top, you’re looking down on the whole publishing world and have decided that the plot of land that is indie publishing—that beautiful, little (but growing!) plot right over there; yep, over there; a little to the left; see it?—is your perfect destination. But you know what that means: publishing your book, which includes finding a cover design. Good thing for you, we’re hitting you with a few steps that’ll make it as painless as possible.
1) First things first: figure out and put down (in writing, so you stick with it) your budget. It might just be that you’ll find an awe-inspiring designer who’s going to charge you five times the amount that you had ball-parked. That’s no good. There’s a wide range of prices when it comes to design, and the priciest option isn’t necessarily the best option; price fluctuates with skill level, yes, but also with experience level and the amount of custom work put it. So do a little research here, and once you decide the amount you’re willing to pay, you can move forward.
2) Take some time to decide whether or not you need to hire someone to design your cover. Do you have any design experience yourself? Do you have a friend who does and might be looking to bulk up his/her portfolio? There are a decent amount of online resources (free or very inexpensive) for DIY cover design that just might fit better with your budget (like Canva, DIY Book Covers, or CompletelyNovel).
We’re putting out this warning: an audience WILL judge your book by its cover, and your cover is the number one marketing tool that you have, so you shouldn’t skimp on the quality in order to save a few bucks (especially if you have no design skill whatsoever). Take everything into consideration, and don’t take the decision to create the cover yourself lightly.
3) Decide the format of your book. Are you going e-book? Paperback? Hardcover? This will determine how much space you have to work with. An e-book needs to look good as a thumbnail, and the only marketing you have is the front cover. With paperback and hardcover, you’ve got a lot more space; but remember: you want a unified cover across the board. You don’t want to get caught up in a killer hardcover design if it won’t translate over for your e-book format.
4) Okay, so you’ve decided you’ll hire a professional designer, and you’ve got your price range and your preferred format. Anything else you need to decide? Yes. Your timeline. Don’t make the mistake of falling in love with a designer only to find out that he/she can’t even get to your book for three months, and then it’ll take another three months to finish! This happens with very in-demand designers, and it’s something you need to ask about if you can’t afford to get started late.
5) You’re so close to getting to the fun part: researching designers! Really, we promise. The one last thing you should do beforehand, though, is to research covers. Find designs that really stand out, catch your eye. Figure out what’s popular in your genre and what’s a hot seller for your audience. The best thing you can do for your designer is to have a structured idea of what you want before you begin (we recommend keeping a Pinterest board of covers that you like and/or are in your genre). It’ll make the process that much smoother.
6) All right, all right, now you’re really ready. Next step: put out your feelers. And the best advice that we can give is to reach out to fellow indie authors, because, like tattoo artists and Indian restaurants, the best cover designers come by recommendation. Most indie authors are more than happy to tell you who their designer is—especially if they’re pleased with the work—so if there’s a cover that really strikes you, reach out and ask about it (or check the acknowledgements or copyright page, as the author might have volunteered the info there). The last thing you want is to be overwhelmed and under-informed while googling cover designers.
7) So you’ve gathered a handful of names that sound really promising. Great start, but don’t reach out to them right away! Make sure you spend a good amount of time on their website and looking at your portfolio; Sven from KillerDesigns might make the most badass thriller book covers you’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to rock your heartfelt, coming-of-age novel’s cover (sorry, Sven). Be particular. Narrow your selection down dramatically—you don’t want to waste your time or the designer’s time.
8) Are you ready to take the big step? (Yes, of course you are, you’re annoyed that it’s taken eight steps already to get here.) Well good, because it’s time to commit. You’ve found a designer with just the right flair, someone that you think you can trust with your book. Reach out and set up a meeting or two in person—you want to be comfortable with your designer—and if all goes well, make it official. But don’t forget the most important part of any agreement….
9) … getting it in writing. Seriously, take the time to do this, and not only for the terms of labor; be sure to sit down and create a legitimate cover brief—the details for book size, title, content, whether or not it’s a series, intended feeling/image, etc. You and your designer need to be completely on the same page (pun intended) otherwise, inevitably, something will go horribly wrong. You could have sworn you told him that your main character is blonde, but the girl on the cover is brunette; you wanted explosions of color, and he produced black and white. So take the time to put the conversation in writing, look over it again together, then get started.
10) In case something does go horribly wrong (we are in the publishing industry, after all), keep in mind that this is YOUR book. It’s your baby. You have spent years creating this work of art and it should be treasured. So if there’s an issue with the design that bothers you a lot, put in for an extra edit—even if it costs a bit more, even if you’re on a tight timeline. We know this can be stressful and frustrating—we’ve been there—but you don’t want to look back with any regrets.
11) But be sure to end on good terms. Don’t be the person who requires six edits because your character’s cheekbones aren’t just right, unless that was part of the original deal with your artist, and you’re both prepared for the number of revisions. You’re an artist; keep in mind that the designer is as well. Trust your designer’s opinions, especially if he/she’s really familiar with the book industry. If you end up loving the cover, you’ll want to work with this person again. And you want to make sure the designer wants to work with you again! This can be a beautiful, mutually-beneficial relationship that lasts for a good long while! That way, you won’t have to go through steps 1-8 again.