(Hello again, ebook lovers! Due to personal and family issues in March, Lila has been on hiatus. Luckily, Westin Lee stepped up to the plate with this wonderful guest post on working with a cover designer. Look for the link to his site at the end of the post.)
Graphic design is a medium that might be totally alien to you. However, it is a necessary part of creating a polished ebook. Don’t panic! There are tons of graphic designers and cover artists willing to work with self-publishing ebook authors. With the right approach, it can be a positive, exciting experience. And more importantly, the resulting cover will look great.
1. Finish your book.
If you’ve ever undertaken a massive project before, you know that siren call that comes to you way ahead of the finish line. The voice says, “Let’s get the cover made!” even though there’s not a finished work to put inside that cover. It seems innocent enough, right?
Don’t do it! That’s putting the cart before the horse. And besides what you may think about carts and horses and their relative position to each other, there’s another really good reason you should wait:
- You may not REALLY know what the book is about, and that might be the idea you want on the cover.
I have a manuscript undergoing revision right now for a book, and I have done a bad job listening to my own advice – I have a couple dozen sketches of cover designs already. But sure enough, last week I had a revelation about a theme in the book that I had never thought about. And it’s so prevalent, I think it has to be on the cover somehow.
Back to square one!
2. Make sure your designer has the right information.
A good designer will always sit down with you (electronically or otherwise) and ask you questions about your book. We will ask about important scenes or characters in your book, what the story is, and what the themes are. We might ask if you have a cover in mind, and if there are any covers that inspire you.
Regardless if we ask, make sure we have the answer to the following question:
- What story do you want the cover to tell to a potential reader?
The answer to the above is your mission statement. Whatever you know (or don’t know) about cover design won’t matter if you know what message your cover needs to convey. It’s easy to get lost in the details of a cover (no, that’s all wrong, her hair is shoulder length!!), but with this question answered at the very beginning of the process, you and your designer will be on the same page. Try answering these next two questions to flesh out your ideas:
- What do you want the reader to feel when they look at your cover?
- What questions do you want the reader to have when they look at your cover?
3. Be responsive!
The normal process of working with a designer goes something like this:
- Designer gets information.
- Designer sends a proof design over to you.
- You tell the designer what you think.
- Repeat as needed.
The faster we hear back from you when we send a proof, the more quickly we can work for you. Cover work can drag on sometimes, especially as we’re refining the design, and we know you’re going to be busy. If at all possible, try to respond in one business day to any proofs or questions. If I can’t send an updated proof in that timeframe, then I get in touch and let you know when you’ll see the changes or revised proofs.
4. Be specific!
When you provide feedback, do your best to not only say whether you like or dislike something, but also why you like or dislike it.
We know the visual language and the written language are different beasts. We’d never expect a client to start naming fonts or mentioning that they want an analogic color scheme. But it helps to know what you like and don’t like!
On a recent design, my first round of feedback was ‘The back is fine, but I don’t like the cover.’ Um…Can…can you clarify that? Even saying, ‘I don’t like it but I’m not sure why,’ is helpful. A good designer will be able to listen and ask questions and figure out what’s not working.
And a final note – it seems less necessary to point out why you like something in a design, but if you know why, please tell us! That information could help down the line. Maybe we know you’re not happy with a design overall, but we know that you liked the pattern and one specific element of it. That might be all we need to make your perfect cover!
Let’s be honest – I’m a person that knows what I want most of the time. If I go into a project where I’m working with a freelancer, I can get very specific about what I want. Perhaps you do the same thing? ‘Okay, I want this.’ ‘Do this.’ ‘Move this here.’ That’s great! See tip #4.
Regardless of your approach, think of the relationship as collaborative. That’s going to get you the most for your money and time. The best, most surprising results have been from work where a client has encouraged suggestions and improvisation.
Whenever possible, ask your designer what they think, and more importantly, ask them to try things. I can build a specific cover if that’s what you want, but if I have the right information and the space to think, I might come up with something awesome that you’d never have thought of.
And if you don’t like it, cool! We’ll try something else.
6. Be a jerk.
Okay,please don’t be an actual jerk. What I mean is, this is your money and your project, and even though I just said to think about it as collaboration, the designer is ultimately working for you.
Speak your mind. Say if you don’t like something. Say if you do like something, even if it’s not feasible for your cover. If you’re feeling any doubts, say so!
Maybe this is easy for you. Maybe you are a loud writer who hits tables a lot to make a point and told your friend just now that their hat is stupid. If so, this tip is not for you. My tip for you is, ‘Please do not yell at us.’
This is a tip for those of you who might let something go by that you don’t actually like, because the conversation might be uncomfortable:
We want you to tell the truth. We want happy clients. What we don’t want is to spend hours and days hammering out a design, and you secretly never really liked that butterfly image in the first place.
Don’t let that happen! Be a jerk! We demand it!
7. Ask for fewer options.
If a designer offers ‘unlimited’ revisions as part of his services, take advantage of that by limiting the number of proofs you get at one time.
The idea of getting twelve proof covers at once may sound appealing, but there are two things to keep in mind. The first is that too many choices make your job harder. Looking at two or three designs at a time is going to let you really give your attention to each one.
Here’s the other important part of this tip: By asking for just a few proofs at a time, you are asking us to cull the herd and take responsibility for the work we send. If we know we can only send one design, we’ll be extra focused on making it as good as we possibly can.
8. Have faith!
A good design takes time. And that’s if a book is about something relatively simple, like a man going on space adventures. Or a woman who is working for a terrible boss.
I’ve seen book descriptions that blew my mind. I read what the book was about and instead of that initial flood of colors and images and ideas, it’s like my mind opened its wallet and a fly buzzed out. Some book ideas are very, very hard to get across well in a cover design.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We have the tools; we just need to work through the process. If you see something that you don’t like, make sure you use tips #3 and #4. If you have fears that this is all going south, politely be a jerk and use tip #6. Talk to your designer and keep working at it. Like a problem passage in a book, eventually you’ll get it right.
Westin Lee is a cover designer and author. Have any questions about cover design or design services? Head to westinbookcovers.com.