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  • Writer's pictureColin Durrant

Top Tips For Authors When Working With A Cover Designer

Does it reflect the genre

To me, this is probably the most important point of a book cover. It has to clearly show the genre. After all, if someone is looking for a Psychological Thriller and stop upon your cover thinking that’s what they are going to get only to find that it’s an outright slasher horror, then they won’t thank you for misleading them or wasting their time.

There are many genres and niches and sub-genres and to make things difficult there are cross-overs from dystopian thriller and action adventures, supernatural, psychological and action horrors. Chances are that most reader search listings looking for a specific genre. They are into romance, or horror or thrillers and they will stop upon a cover only if it clearly conveys what they are looking for. With so many books to choose from, the potential reader will not waste time trying to figure out if your book cover fits with what the want to read when listings above and below yours clearly tells them, shouts at them, that they can provide them with the thrills they are in search of.

Sometimes Less Is More

One of the things I find with authors working with a designer is that they will often stress the importance of incorporating several story elements into the design. They absolutely need to have Dave the killer on there and the car he drives is important too…oh and the cat that belongs to the neighbour who becomes the victim is important too. And, what the heck, we may as well throw in the knife that the killer users as well.

It’s easy to get carried away with what you think you should have on the cover. But, an author needs to remember that the browser of your cover is approaching it for the first time and is not privy to the significance of those details and won’t be until ( if ) he buys and reads the book. To the potential reader it will look cluttered and will serve only to confuse and he will unlikely be able to clearly understand the relationship between those elements.

This moves in the realm of relationship dynamics. The more distinct elements you have on the cover the greater the dynamics of the relationship between those elements. For Example. You have two distinct images on your cover A and B. The relationship is fairly simple. The relationship is between A and B and B to A. But you introduce another C, then the relationship is between A and B, B and A, A and C, B and C, C and A, C and B…not sure I’ve missed anything here. But, you get the point. It could be confusing and with a potential reader scrolling through an Amazon book listing of thumbnail-sized images at a thousand miles an hour then they won’t even have the inclination to stop and work all that out. It will just seem crowded and confusing and they will move on.

Think In Terms of Abstractness Rather Than Literalness

Rather than thinking in literal terms that you must have that person, that car, that building or other aspects of your story on the cover, try to think in an abstract way. In other words, look more toward the tone and essence of the story and try to convey the feeling and emotion behind the story. Essentially, you need to pull at the heart of the reader. For example. If your story is about a serial killer who outwits the police week after week while killing his victims, don’t think so much in terms of having a killer on the cover or a police officer etc. but think about the abstract value of it – the tension, the arrogance of the killer, the chase and the deception and game that’s being played. The book cover is not designed to tell the story; it’s designed ultimately to attract the reader, to make him stop and think wow let’s take a closer look. Tease the potential reader with subtlety and mystery rather than try to convey everything in a literal way on the book cover.

4. Working With The Designer

This may sound obvious. If you have hired a designer to create your cover then you are of course working with that designer. But, so often I see authors who try to design the cover through the designer, rather than allowing the designer that artistic freedom to do what he or she does best. Understandably, an author has a very clear idea about what he would like on the cover but it’s important for the author not to attempt to design the cover through the designer but to allow the designer himself to use his knowledge and experience to work with you. It’s about compromise too. You’ve hired a designer to do a job so it’s important to allow him to do that and part of the designer’s remit is to understand what works on a cover and what doesn’t. So you need to be prepared to sacrifice elements that you think you may need on the cover.

What you want on a cover is not as important as what you need.

5. Good Communication

This of course works both ways. A brilliant cover designer does not necessarily equate to a proficient businessperson. By that I mean that there is no point having an excellent cover designer who has poor communication skills and takes weeks to get back to you with a one-liner email that tells you nothing, leaving you frustrated and disappointed. There must be good practices for both parties when entering into that designer-client relationship. What you should expect from the designer is a request for information about your story, a brief… especially if you’re having a cover custom designed. They should be asking for blurbs and synopsis and contacting you directory to ask about the protagonist, the antagonist, the location, setting, narrative etc.

Exploring Concepts

A good designer will also submit several concept for you to choose from, either one or a new concept based on those you have received. There may be a limited number of revisions that the designer offers before having to charge more for additional changes and it’s important for you to understand the costs up-front. There’s nothing worse (except perhaps pineapple on pizza) than being part way through a design and then realising it’s going to cost you twice as much because of tweaks and revisions etc.

Don’t be afraid to discuss costs right away and don’t be afraid to negotiate either. Custom work on covers is very much an evolutionary process for both the designer and author and every cover is different. If you have concerns about costing ect then feel comfortable enough to discuss this with your designer.

Lead By Example

Another point if conveying your ideas to your designer is to provides example book covers for those that are in the same genre. Search the best sellers on Amazon and provide links or send those cover images to your designer as guides. Guides! The reason I state that is that there is a fine line between emulation and outright copying and you need to be sure that your designer does not simply copy the design of another cover but creates a unique cover based upon structural elements of whatever cover images you have provided.

Another, effective way of communicating your ideas to your designer is to provide links to stock photos. If your designer users stock photos from Shutterstock or Depositphotos or another site then you can provide links to the exact image from the site they use to give your designer a clear idea of the kind of look you wish to explore.

Think about things such as the files you’ll receive. Do they include .jpg files or .png or 3Dmockups for promotional word. Would you get only the flat file – just the eBook image or would the designer send you the layered files .psd files from Photoshop etc. Don’t be afraid to ask about what exactly you will get for your money. Make sure you read the designer’s policies and small-print before entering into an kind of agreement and if you are unclear about anything then be clear before you proceed.

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