I was invited by the Naughty Ninjas website to take part in interviews with romance cover designers recently, and ended up writing quite an informative post about cover design and cover designers that may be of assistance to especially new authors. I am reposting the article here on my website in case it may help newcomers to ebook publishing:
Thank you very much for inviting me to a discussion about topics of great interest to me – romance and chick lit ebook covers and the cover design process!
- Do you have any tips for authors when working with a cover designer?
Traditional publishing houses have their various departments – their art department, editing department, marketing section…but usually an independent author has to fulfil all these roles or at least be the general manager of all of them. It is a good idea to have a little knowledge about each department.
If you are thinking of getting a book cover, I would suggest doing the following research:
Determine in which genre and sub-genre your book will be listed – romance, for example, may include the following sub-genres:
|Historical Romance – further sub-divided into Regency, Medieval, Victorian, Civil War, Western, Highlander and more…Paranormal Romance – Shape Shifter, Magic, Supernatural, Vampire…Fantasy Romance – Fantasy with Elements of Romance, Urban FantasySciFi RomanceRomantic SuspenseErotic Romance – Menage, M/M, F/F, Straight, Erotic Paranormal, Erotic ShapeshifterContemporary Romance
MM and FF Romance
The list is not exhaustive and more can be added. The main categories can be further sub-divided. If you have written a Paranormal Romance that is specifically about a shapeshifter, and more specifically about wolves – then search the major ebook stores like Amazon.com for THAT genre. Look at all the books that come up if you enter “paranormal romance shapeshifter wolves” into the search box. It is most important that a cover should fit in with its genre as regular readers of that genre will look for similar traits in covers to select books.
I Once asked flourishing Kindle author S M Reine to comment on what makes a book cover successful, and this was the answer:
“Personally, I think it’s more important that your cover look like the genre you’re selling than communicate anything specific about the book. My covers are more or less interchangeable with any other urban fantasy novels. You know, chicks in leather holding swords and guns in front of a big spooky moon.”
I could not agree more! A cover needs to fit with its genre and be visually attractive. That is more important than having lots of details to accurately illustrate scenes from the story.
Once you have an idea of what your book cover should look like, search for a cover designer with those types of covers on their site and in their portfolio. Make sure the cover designer understands your genre and does the type of style that you want to have before approaching them. Send them links to other covers you admire and ask if they can do something similar (but unique).
The most important thing is to establish whether a cover designer will be able to deliver what you are looking for, which means at least having some idea of what you need for a cover.
- What should authors look for when selecting a cover designer to work with?
As I have mentioned, study their other work and decide if it is the style you require. There are various types of covers – photographic, typographic, composite and hand-painted digital art. See which type of cover is used in your genre and select someone who does those types of covers and if they are familiar with your genre. Chick Lit books often require vector art designs, but may also have realistic photographs. Romance covers usually do well with couple and people images, excluding a few sweet romances that may have cottage scenes on the front. To have a unique cover it is always best to go for a composite cover style, where a stock image is changed or combined with a different background, to ensure no one else has a cover exactly like yours.
Apart from checking out a designer’s skills, it is also best to work with someone who does book cover design full-time for a living, and who has been doing so for a period of time. Such a person will be well-informed and updated regarding image licensing and trending book cover styles. This will also safeguard against the designer disappearing at some point…
- How much should authors spend on cover design?
That is entirely up to the individual! I once read a comment by an author that her husband’s hobby is golf and that he spends thousands on his hobby, so she also spends approximately a thousand dollars on one cover (which is quite middle-range if you are doing custom model shoots or getting handpainted digital art) – but generally authors do not spend that much. Custom cover design ranges from $50 – $600. Just make sure you check out the designer’s portfolio well to know what quality of work you will be getting. Many designers have displays of premade covers too – these are not templates – they are pre-designed covers that are sold only once. They usually range from $30 – $70, and make a very affordable option for a great cover.
For a new author I would suggest spending no more than $200 on a cover and publishing a few books first before deciding to order more covers. Unless of course you don’t mind since it is your golf-replacement hobby…
- If authors are unhappy with a cover, when and how should they communicate this?
This is the advantage of a premade cover – you know beforehand what you are getting. However, for a custom order my procedure is to make two different sample covers. If the author likes neither, I make another set. If those too are way off the mark, I cancel the deal and refund the deposit as by this time it will be clear that my design style is not what the author wants. This does not happen very often though, as we discuss the cover details and style beforehand. I have learnt with experience that this is the best procedure to follow. So if after about four sample covers you are totally unhappy and it is not nearly what you had in mind, and none of the covers will work even with changes made, rather move on to another designer – it will save both parties a lot of frustration.
- What are the mistakes you often see in cover design?
I must say this – when I compare the covers on ebooks today and those that were around two years ago – I see a marked difference! I actually ascribe this to the rise of premade cover sites that have made professional-looking covers really affordable, and also to the increasing knowledge of authors about which covers sell and look good.
One still sees a few oddball covers out there though – especially when an author tries to combine images without having the skills to do so properly, and then tries to add in numerous elements to a cover. I was asked to add one cover design to this interview, and with the permission of the paranormal romance author Melanie Ray I am displaying this one –
However just to illustrate my point I made a version of the cover to show how it would have looked if I had made several mistakes – not using a well-blended colour scheme, cutting out the images badly, using a very amateur font style with those huge glows, not altering hues or using blend modes to create a better effect. You better believe it – I very often see covers that actually look like this!
All I can say is – if you do not have the skills and designer eye, and if you have absolutely no money to pay someone for the job, rather use just a single photograph with a title than try to create a cover and end up with something that spells amateur.
- What’s the worst cover you’ve seen for a romance novel? (Just a rough description without mentioning the title.)
I’m a very visual person and would like to show samples. I can refer you to this page with good examples of bad romance covers:
Most of the really bad ones have badly-cut out images placed on a background that is not integrated with the images and that makes it look like a photo-montage. There has to be a harmony in colour hues, exposure, textures and all elements – including the title and font – for it to look professional.
I could talk about book cover design forever. Let me end with a few other useful tips:
- Stock images are not always available in multitudes – sometimes it can be difficult to get a character that remotely matches with the description in your book. A great idea that some authors follow is to look for a character image before writing the book. That way you can save hours of frustration trying to find an image that fits your story, and you can write the story to fit with the character image you have, making the cover a perfect match for the book.
- To save money visit all the premade galleries of cover designers– I know authors who have published whole series of books with premade covers and even won cover competitions with them. If you ask the designer they will make the fonts on all the books the same, so it looks like a matching series. Often premade covers are really beautiful since the designer made the cover based on visual attractiveness rather than on the basis of trying to illustrate a specific theme.
- Never ever use images pulled from a Google search or Flickr for a cover – there are copyright laws for images just as there are for the written word – purchase images from a reputable stock site, or use a cover designer that purchases from reputable stock sites and photographers. Perhaps this point has been made redundantly on writers’ forums, but I still get authors who send me images from somewhere on the web that turn out to be copyrighted when I do research. This article should warn one of the dangers of using images without permission:
- Once a cover designer is working on your cover, the faster you can give feedback the better. They have made time to work on your project and if you delay in giving feedback to samples they may go on to other projects which will further delay yours.
- Your immediate priority may be your ebook cover – but also plan for the future. Many authors later decide to print paperback versions of the book and to get a website banner, boxed set image or book trailer. When purchasing a cover think about these aspects – will the particular cover site provide those other extra services if need be or can you find someone else to do what you require? Be fully informed of the services available to you from the designer, as it may often be difficult to get things done elsewhere.
- Another point about planning for the future is to consider if you will possibly make the book into a series. Think of how to brand your series i.e. to make your covers match and be easily recognisable as belonging together. Various means can be used to accomplish this – the colour scheme, style, a distinctive logo or element, similar fonts, same models in different poses, similar backgrounds or a coloured strip behind the sub-title. Check in advance if there will be more images of the models available if need be.
- On a larger scale you can think of branding all your books by using the same font for your author name on all the books, which means you should choose a font that you really like and that will work with all your books right from the start. If you study top-selling authors’ books you will see they always have a specific font and style for writing their name. Start with this from the beginning and you will look more professional.
- Also use a large size for your author name. None of the topselling authors have tiny author names on their books. I often hear the argument, “But I am not famous yet so I cannot use a large name. Large names are for the great folks.” Well – if you use a small name that is exactly the message you are giving out – “I am a small and unfamiliar novice author.” And who really wants to buy a book from a small, timid, unfamiliar author? Use a large name and your book appears confident and professional. If you want to become famous, act like you already are.
Since I was asked to only submit one example from my own work, I will use an example I just took randomly from Amazon’s top 100 paranormal romance book list:
Here we can see how the author has used the same type of style, same model but in different poses and same font type for both these novels. This makes the books more attractive and easily recognisable:
Melody Simmons from eBookindiecovers.com