Advice for a Young Book Cover Designer

There was a post on the KDP Forums asking for words of advice for a cover design starting on their own path. Well, me, I think I know it all, so I thought – yep, let’s answer this one. I’m not protectionist with my working methods. In fact when I started out as a freelance design, a freelance photographer took me under his wing and taught me much – so to not pass on some advice would be terrible. And it’s worth posting here because it’s a look into the the mind of how I works.

Here goes:

I have a few questions for you. My very good friend and college roommate is looking to start designing cover art for indie authors, so I’m doing a little research for her. No, she didn’t ask me to research for her, but she is very talented and I want to do everything I can to help her succeed.

Everyone has to start somewhere – and although I’ve been a commercial professional graphics design for more years that I care to mention – I’ve just started off on the book cover thing. And really enjoying it.

First of all, we started some where, so the most important piece of advice to someone starting out is this:-

“Don’t worry about how things come out at first – you learn from your mistakes, you get better at what you do, your ‘eye’ improves year on year – if you love what you do then everything will follow – the work, the money and the improvement in your skills.”

1) How much do you generally pay? What is an acceptable price for a cover in your opinion?

This all depends on what she’s willing to charge for her time – some people are doing covers for $15-$40. I charge between $150-$250 depending on how many options people want to look at. It’s always healthy to give clients the options to start off with – three options of price and work is always perfect. There’s a psychological reason for this – some people like to feel like they’re getting a bargain – they’ll always pick the bottom option – some people will always like the flash the cash and get the most expensive option! Everyone else – which usually ends up in the bell-curve standard-deviation of the populous – as in 75% of the people will go for the middle options. Options are good.

Another helpful tip when it comes to price is this – remember you can always up your prices. It’s simple supply and demand – you as a designer only have a certain amount of hours in the day – if you’re busy – put up your prices. Sometimes this can be an advantage as well because it shows you’re not designing cheap crap.

I think where I would like to get my book cover design would around the $400-$500 mark for 5 options to chose from. At the moment as I’ve said I’ve just started so I’ll have to wait till I get busier.

When it comes to price, and the endeavour in general, you’re the captain of your own ship. Which means the responsibility comes down to you when you don’t do the right thing, make mistakes and things are not working – but it also means that you have your hand on the wheel – if you’re heading in the wrong directions – plot a new course – you don’t have to ask anyone – you just do it. It’s freedom alright!

2) Do you include copyright/credits for the cover and cover artists in your front matter?

No. You don’t have to do that. At all. In fact, I don’t say anything about it to my clients but pretty much all of them say they’ll credit me – ask how I want to be credited. To my website only I say, because it’s my blog – all my portfolio is on there, prices, how to contact me.

If you’ve done a good job and you’ve got on with them they’ll want to do that for you. Any way. They want to show off they’ve handed over money for their nice cover.

To ask people to put a credit to your cover in their book seems a little churlish. But that’s just my own person style of working.

On this matter of dealing with clients – I would say the way to go for your friend – is for her to be friendly – be herself – she doesn’t have to have a profession starched front. That style of working always makes it harder to communicate with people and get the ideas flowing back and forth with the both you and the client.

3) How much input do you like to have during the design process?

Here we go – this is pretty damn important. Probably the most vital question you have asked here. Who’s right – the client or the designer. It’s always some sort of nice marriage between to the two. And like a marriage someone always knows best … and that’s the woman. The woman in the sense of the person with the sense of the feeling and emotional intelligence. That’s the designer. I’m a man, by the way. But for this metaphor I’m a lady.

Sometimes a client will have something very specific in mind – sometimes they will to come with a open brief – they just like your design – go away and do something. In both cases it’s very important to get input in the subtlest of ways flowing in both ways.

For example, say a client give you a blank canvas – it’s kind of dumb not to ask at least some questions about the book – some feelings the author has about the book. And when you come to put down your very own ideas as the designer – it’s a time saver if you tell your ideas to the client first – what you think you’re going to design for them before you actually fire up Potatoshop, Illustrator or in my case Xara Designer. They’ll always come back and say I like this idea or I hate that idea. The correct response to their feedback is always – WHY? Always ask the client why – all the time – like a child! More info is always good.

Now let’s take the other end of the spectrum. The client has an utterly specific idea in mind. These are the worst clients. They unmoveable, they’ll fiddle around with your design – suggest things you know won’t work but you still have to do it. Their ideas are usually bad as well. They never have any good ideas. They’re the sort of client that want a literal cover – there’s a cat in the story – there is a house in the story and there is a hot air balloon – so I want a cover with all three things on there. Thankfully these clients are few and far between.

One way of dealing with these clients – is simple – don’t take their money – politely tell them to go elsewhere. The money isn’t worth it – you know you’ll spend ten times the time on their work – it’s not worth your while. When you get better at spotting these clients – you’ll know what I mean.

But what if you want to take their money? Can you? This is where your confidence as a designer comes in. Like wise, before putting your pen to paper, so to speak, you talk with them. You tell them your ideas, you tell them why they are wrong and you are right. You suggest. You cajole. You get your own way! You use all your feminine wiles (read: designers experience). But if they’re unmoveable – you know you’ve got a pain-of-a-job on your hands.

That’s why designing options are always good – do their version and do your own version of how you think it should look – then at least they can pick the wrong one and you’ve created something of beauty that they stupidly have ignored. You as the designer comes away from it all happy. Some integrity left.

But these are the two extremes and most people fell somewhere in-between. Do don’t worry.

When I get commissioned to do a cover – I do something utterly simple and important. I ask the client a series of questions about their book. I say to them – answer as many or a little of the questions (no pressure is important) – the more info you give me the better – but I’m just as happy working from a blank canvas. When put in a list of questions, clients will be happy to answer. If you just ask them, what do you want your cover to be like? You’re not prompting them in the right way. Clients like prompts. Things that spur their own imagination to give you the info you need.

This set of questions can be refined over time if you feel as though you’re got getting the right info – learn from your mistakes. Re-steer the ship.

4) What is the normal turn-around time for a cover (from proposal to finished cover)?

This is like ‘how long is a piece of string’ – how busy are you? Realistic times are always good for clients – they like to know what’s going on. But when you give them that time frame always add about 3-4 days. If you do it earlier they’ll be happier – if something crops up or the inspiration is not coming then you’ve given yourself some breathing space. If you go over the deadline – just email them and tell them honestly the reason why – don’t worry – as long as talk with them – have good dialogue they’re always … I mean always … ok about it.

In fact, this is my other piece of advice to end with.

“Always be honest, with the client, with yourself, and where you feel as though you are in path.”

Drawing pictures for a living is a pretty good and easy way to live – so a path way well worth treading.

Good luck to your friend and all other designer out there.

 

Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. Nice advice. Yet, you really undervalue yourself as pricing goes. With the skills you got you should charge 1,5 more than now. :) Impressive portfolio too. As a fellow book cover designer I see that I got tons to improve in my designs.

    Reply
  2. Good advice, I’m just starting so it’s good to see some other people succeeding. You do underprice yourself with Illustration skills like that tho. You should charge 1.5 times the rates even now.. More later.. :)

    Reply

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