Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Authors, How To Get The Most From Your Cover Artist

It’s no big secret that as an author for a small press publisher, you get far more leeway regarding what goes on your cover that you would at a giant publishing house. That said however….

A good cover artist likes to tell stories. We tell them visually, with images. A good cover tells a story at a glance. Or enough of one to make a reader pick up a book and ask, “What’s going on here?” and then care enough to buy the book and find out. A good cover is compelling, dynamic, poignant, heart wrenching. It’s what separates your book from the thousands of other books next to it on the shelves. Let’s face it; unless you are Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark, your cover is what will sell your book so it better be a good one.

So how do you, the author, help to make sure your cover is the best it could possibly be? Well let’s go over some basics.

Wiggle room
Give the artist breathing room; don’t be too set on your vision. If your guidelines and descriptions are too strict you’re going to squash their creative drive and you might just lose out on a truly great cover you never even thought of. The creative process works best when there’s a good 50/50 split between author and artist. It’s always a bad idea to create your own cover to “give them inspiration”. You’re the author, your words should be their inspiration.

Chances are if the publisher wants your input you will be given some form of questionnaire to fill out to provide information. Take your time. This is going to be your primary communication with your cover artist. If you rush, leave things out or don’t put the necessary effort into it it will most likely result in miscommunication and you will be unhappy with your cover. We aren’t mind readers. If you don’t mention the length or color of your heroine’s hair do not be surprised if the hair we choose doesn’t match your vision.

This goes along with number two. When we ask you for your character’s characteristics we want physical attributes. Her hair, her eyes, the type of clothing she wears, height, weight. Her mental state, moral standards and psychological state, unless they have some bearing on her outward appearance, don’t really help us much.

Please feel free to be as detailed as you’d like, however, kindly remember that these are books, not Italian wall frescoes. Sure it’d be great if you could fit the entire civil war battle scene of Gone With the Wind on your cover…but do you really want to? The smaller you get the less detail will be seen so it’s best to decide what the important elements of your cover are before asking us to depict your heroine in the middle of Times Square at rush hour on a Friday afternoon, and oh by the way her blue eyes are VERY important. Rule of thumb would be that three people is the upward limit of what can sensibly fit on a cover.
Take a look around at other books as well. There are a lot of beautiful covers coming out today that don’t depict people on them at all. The Twilight series, for example, has covers are very striking and memorable and quite simple. It’s not always necessary to recreate entire scenes for your cover.

Lack of focus
It’s ok to be vague. Give your artist several pieces of imagery you’d like to see on the cover and we can work with that. Don’t give us an idea and then when you see it decide you’d like something different. None of us are in this to get rich but we do have to keep our work versus time cost effective. Redoing your cover four times because you keep changing your mind is NOT cost effective and it will not endear you to us.

Trust your cover artist
Or at the very least your Art Director. We are the experts. If we come back and tell you that an idea won’t work for a cover, has no hook, isn’t dynamic enough, it’s not because we want to run roughshod over your vision. It’s because your cover won’t work. If you persist in clinging stubbornly to your vision even after you’ve been told repeatedly that it won’t help sell your book, don’t be surprised when the Art Director tells you that she has the final say and runs roughshod over your vision anyway and the cover artist refuses to work with you again. It’s really much easier to be open to ideas and work WITH your artist than it is to force them into something they are unhappy with.

Remember, we want the books with our covers to sell just as much as you do.


  1. Nice post, Skye. I agree with everything -- except (there's always an exception, eh?) that I *do* like to see an author's mock-up of their vision.

    In addition to the physical characteristics of the protagonists, I also want to know a font "flavor" so that the text -- which adds soooo much to the feel of a cover -- isn't at odds with the book's tone.

  2. Oh...font is a whole 'nother blog post...I've even got a tutorial to go with it. LOL I'll do that one next.