For authors, both newbie and veteran alike, those two words bring with them some of the most complex emotions one can imagine. Relief that it's finally over; all the blood, sweat, and tears you have poured out onto those pages have finally paid off. Accomplishment; Holy crap! I just wrote an ENTIRE book, start to finish. How huge is that? Then, of course, comes the fear. What if my editor tears it to shreds and I have to start over? What if this book is total garbage and no one likes it? Or worse, what if everyone likes it and I can't live up to my own standards? What if....Oh my god, what do I do now?
First things first, BREATHE. Have a glass of wine and celebrate the fact that you just created an entire world full of living, breathing, honest-to-god beings. Readers will love them, hate them, root for them and cry for them. Bask in that for just a moment and realize there is no greater feeling than being able to touch another person with your words. Better? Okay, good because the real fun is just beginning.
First, a reality check...Regardless of what your grandma told you growing up, people will ABSOLUTELY judge a book by its cover. Your book's cover is perhaps the most powerful tool in your marketing arsenal, so choose your weapon (and the one who creates it) wisely. When I first started out, I had no idea what I was doing, but I got lucky. I landed an amazing artist who was kind enough to show me the ropes (thank you Kari Ayasha). With that in mind, I reached out into the virtual world of cover designers, graphic artists, and visual specialists to give you a leg up in this perilous journey. These tips come to you from industry leaders, talented artists, and some of the absolute coolest people I have ever had the privilege of working with. So, here it is...
Things you should know about book covers and the geniuses who create them.
There are literally THOUSANDS of artists out there. Some only do pre-fabricated covers while others will customize every option. Regardless of which route you go, you don't want to pick at random. This is an important decision. Your artist will play a major role in the success or failure of your project, so choose carefully. Search through book markets and social media to find covers you like and find out who created them. Reach out to other authors for recommendations. Once you find an artist whose work "speaks" to you, read their client reviews, check their satisfaction ratings, and find their rates (no sense reaching out to someone you will never be able to afford). Then, and this is important, have a conversation with them. You need to know that you and your artist are on the same page, that you can communicate effectively and that you understand each other. Communication can make or break your design process.
Have your proverbial ducks in a row (or at least a small cluster) BEFORE you reach out to potential artists. Write your synopsis or blurb, have your title (series/volume names), and be ready to provide a general idea of what you are envisioning. You do not have to create the cover for them, but you DO need to provide them with enough information to do their job. If you don't, you might as well ask them to nail Jello to a tree.
Will your special little word-baby be available exclusively through Amazon, or will you diversify? Perhaps you want it up on iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, etc? Each platform will have different specifications for the cover art. It helps to know your trim size, resolution, and whether you will be needing a full wrap (for paperbacks and hard copy), as well. Be sure to let your artist know if you would like any additional promotional art such as Facebook banners, cover reveal images, or bookmark designs. Things will go much smoother (and probably save you money in the long-run) if you give your artist all requests up front. This way you get everything you need and the rights that go along with it.
The more information you provide them with now, the less time, the two of you spend chasing your tails later.
This is book marketing 101 and vital to the survival of your creation in the market. Whether it's adult contemporary, science fiction, high fantasy, or even young adult dystopian, it is vital that you hone in on your genre. The more specific you can be the better. The focus of your imagery shifts based on your categories and your artist needs this information in order to best represent your story.
Is your story dark and mysterious or light-hearted and up-lifting? Is there a message of hope or an overall feeling of doom? This is vital information. Everything from the tint and clarity of your image to the color and style of your fonts will be affected by the mood of your novel. Your finished product will vary greatly based on this information so be sure to include this in your communications with your artist.
Close your eyes and imagine your ideal reader. Is it a middle-aged working mom desperate for a touch of romance? Maybe your reader will be a a vibrant young businessman hell-bent on success. Is your picture-perfect fan a love-struck teenager in search of their next ugly cry? Whatever your target demographic, know that each and every one of them is searching for something specific. Your choice of image will either pull them in or push them away (no pressure, right). Your cover image is your first line of defense in assuring your potential readers that you can offer them what they seek....the perfect escape.
When readers are scrolling through online markets for their next great read, the often do so from a mobile device. Remember, your book's cover will appear to them in THUMBNAIL size. Often times, what looks great in a 6" x 9" inch paperback format simply does not translate in a smaller scale. As is so often the case, less is more. Keep your cover simple and concise with appropriate levels of contrast. Too much detail will clog the image, and confuse your reader...or worse, they will simply scroll right past it. If it doesn't grab you in thumbnail, it may be time to reconfigure and simplify.
You can describe what you want until you are blue in the face (and you likely will), but try to remember that artists are visual people. In addition to an explanation of your ideal cover, try to provide your artist with images. Show AND tell them what you want. Send pics of covers that you love so that together you determine the individual elements that grabbed you in the first place. Perhaps you like the font from one cover, and the layout of another. Maybe this one has the abstract feel that you are going for, but that one has the perfect cover model. If you find a stock image that suits your needs, send the link and explain what it is you like about it. If there is a pivotal scene in the story that would serve as the perfect cover image, send it to your artist (provided it that one scene wouldn't spoil the entire book for your reader). If you want models on your cover, be sure to provide your artist with the character descriptions. Don't just tell your artist you want a brunette with blue eyes on the cover, send them a picture of a the celebrity you imagined when you wrote that character. Show AND tell...one without the other is not nearly as powerful.
You have written your masterpiece and handed it off to your editor, you rest a bed of nails desperate to hear back from your beta readers, and you just can't WAIT to finally wrap it all up in a pretty little bow and get your baby out into the universe. Everything feels urgent. EVERYTHING.
The problem is, you are not your artist's only client. There are people in line in front of you, who are paying their hard-earned cash for the same services you are. As important as your novel is to you (and your new artist), please understand that they have a professional obligation to create the highest quality products for ALL of their clients. One of the most important ingredients in this recipe is time. As devoted to the project as they likely are, your artist is not at your beck and call. They have a life, a family, and often times a day-job. They want nothing more than to provide you with your dream cover image and they will do everything in their power to do so, but you must allow them the time it takes to do so. Find out what their waiting list looks like, determine if that fits your publication schedule, agree on a timeline and hold each other accountable.
Provided you have done your due diligence (i.e. all of the tips above) there should be little for you to stress about. At this stage you know that your artist is not only the best fit for your project, but that they have everything they need to create the perfect visual representation of your story. Do yourself and your cover artist a favor and take a step back to let them do their thing. You have given your chef all the ingredients they need and they have a recipe, so take a breath and let those cookies bake. Your artist will send you preliminary mock-ups once they have made some progress on the design and you will be able to provide feedback or suggest changes when they do. In the mean time, pour yourself another glass of wine, binge-watch The Walking Dead on Netflix and sleep well knowing that your baby is in good hands. This is going to be EPIC.