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February 27, 2017
By Joel Friedlander
Joel Friedlander gives you his best practices for working with a cover designer.

Publishing professionals advise self-publishers to focus on editing and cover design to ensure that their books have the greatest chance of success. Knowing how to work with a professional designer will raise your odds of getting the cover you want without misunderstandings that can lead to unexpected costs and delays.

You want a cover for your book that is attractive to the readers in your niche, category, or genre—and one that does a good job of selling your book. That’s usually going to mean hiring a professional designer.

And you want a professional book cover designer, not just a good graphic artist, your nephew who took an art class in college, or your friend who loves to paint and draw. Book cover design is a specialty, and even skilled graphic designers who haven’t worked in book publishing may not be good choices for this crucial task.

Here are some tips on finding and working with a professional book cover designer. You should be prepared to provide your designer with:

✻ your manuscript, even if it isn’t finished;

✻ the final title and subtitle for your book;

✻ your name as you’d like it to appear on the cover;

✻ your publishing company logo, if you have one;

✻ a description of the readership for your book;

✻ book covers in your category that you like, and ones you don’t like.

"You want a professional book cover designer, not just a good graphic artist, your nephew who took an art class in college, or your friend who loves to paint and draw. "
Keep in mind that designers vary in their specialties. Some only do book covers, some only interiors, and some do both. Designers with a studio and a staff will also be able to create a website, handle your printing, and supply you with other graphics for your book promotion needs. If you find a designer who can do it all for you, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble coordinating the work of several different people.

Tips for Success

1) Check portfolios to make sure designers understand and have worked in your genre, category, or niche.

2) Make sure the designer’s fee is within your budget.

3) If you need to have the work completed by a specific date, communicate that at the beginning of the project—and ask the designer to agree to your schedule.

4) Review the designer’s contract or the agreement under which the work will be done.

5) Let your designer know exactly what you’ll need besides the front cover.

6) Review the formats that you would like to receive your cover in when it’s done: PDF for uploading to print-on-demand vendors, a JPG of the front cover for e-book retailers, a high-resolution file, and so on.

7) Supply the designer with necessary background material. (See the list above.)

8) Give the designer photos or drawings that you think will be useful as background or visual inspirations.

9) Don’t dictate what elements the designer should use—that’s why you hired a pro!

10) Talk over the various approaches to your cover when the designer provides you with samples.

11) Remember that you and your designer are collaborators trying to reach the best approach to packaging your book for sale.

Contracts and Agreements

Although many indie authors skip this step, it is wise to have a written agreement with your designer that addresses what exact work is to be done, how much it will cost, how payments will be made, how parties can cancel the contract if they wish, and who owns the artwork used to create the cover, as well as what files the designer will deliver. You may need access to these files later, so be sure your designer agrees to make them available.

Negotiating a contract may seem embarrassing at first, but it can save a lot of heartache and expense later if your project doesn’t turn out the way you expect. (This also applies to interior designers, formatters, photographers, models, and illustrators—in other words, you need a contract or a letter of agreement with anyone who is creating something to be used in your book.)

In short, as you are now a book publisher in addition to being an author, you’ll want to take a businesslike approach to hiring designers and other vendors. It will pay off for you as you continue to grow your publishing business.

Joel Friedlander is a book designer and author; he blogs about book design, marketing, and the future of the book at The Book Designer.