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June 17, 2014
By Jennifer McCartney
Indie authors may be tempted to go it alone, but hiring a professional designer can be a great investment.

Finding the right cover and jacket design for a book can be one of the most exciting parts of the publishing process—and one of the most challenging.

Indie authors will want to give some serious thought to the jacket design of their print editions, including the front cover, spine, back cover, and flaps. If done right, a smart design can have a bit impact on book sales; almost nothing will turn off a reader more than a jacket that looks amateurish. Many authors may be tempted to go it alone—and there are lots of tools available for those who choose to do so—but hiring a professional designer who has experience creating book jackets can be a great investment.

Conduct Research

Before hiring a designer, an author should conduct some research so she can communicate her needs and expectations to the designer. Natalie Olsen, the founder of Kisscut Design, suggests that authors begin by browsing the shelves at their local bookstore and noting which titles catch their eye. Next, Olsen advises checking out some online resources like The Book Cover Archive, The Casual Optimist, FaceOut Books, and Design Observer's 50 Books/50 Covers for more ideas. “Your cover should look like it belongs alongside these creative, polished, professional examples—but it should also stand apart, commanding attention," she says.

Once an author has an idea of what she wants her jacket to look like, she can start searching for a designer.

Choose a Designer

"There are many excellent options out there, so it’s worth it for an author to take the time to find the right person for the project."
“It’s important to not only hire an experienced designer, but an experienced book cover designer,” says Sophia Feddersen of the Scarlett Rutgers Book Design Agency. She notes that first time authors “may not know about cover genre conventions, design specifications, and other best-practices.” Authors should start by looking at a few designers’ websites in search of a good match. There are many excellent options out there, so it’s worth it for an author to take the time to find the right person for the project. Questions an author should consider:

  • Does the designer have experience creating book covers? Are the designs appealing?
  • Are the prices reasonable and in line with what other designers are charging? Keep in mind a full jacket design will be more expensive than just a front cover.
  • Has the designer designed books in a similar category? A science fiction book cover specialist may not be the best choice for a romance novel.
  • Does the designer respond quickly to inquiries and seem enthusiastic and professional?
  • Is it clear who will be doing the design work, and is the author able to communicate directly with them?

Maximize the Design

Some important factors to carefully consider when designing a book are:

  • Blurbs: A book jacket usually includes a number of blurbs from other authors or reviewers. Pick the best blurb from the most prominent author or outlet and include it on the front cover. Additional blurbs can go on the back cover.
  • Image Size: Look at a thumbnail-sized image of the potential cover. Is the title readable and the image clear? Most readers browsing online won’t take the time to click on the image to see it full size, so make sure the design looks sharp and clear for someone browsing on a mobile phone.
  • Updates: Jackets should be updated accordingly. If an author’s work wins an award or hits a bestseller list, that should be added to the front cover. Additional blurbs and reviews can be added to the back.

"Remember that the cover of your book isn't for you; it's for your audience,” Olsen says. She cautions that while feedback from friends and family is important, authors should work to get more objective input from outsiders who are not as familiar with the project. “[Your audience] includes a lot of people you've never met, but who you are about to influence with your work. So make it for them."

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