by Savannah C at Reedsy
A picture may be worth a thousand words — but a cover design can be worth 50,000. You want the cover of your book to be just as thoughtfully constructed as its contents, and for that you need an excellent book cover designer with whom you have a strong collaborative relationship.
To help you get the most value out of this partnership, we turned to some of the top professional cover designers for their across-the-aisle tips on how authors can build and maintain such successful working relationships. Here they are, straight from the source.
1. Know your project
By the time you approach a cover designer, you should already know some details relevant to your book’s cover, such as word count (for spine width) and target audience (for design). But there are many other technical aspects that your designer will need to know, such as font size, trim size, page thickness, binding, and whether your book will be hardcover or paperback (if you are printing it). It is vital that you determine and inform professional designers of these details and dimensions as early as possible.
“The more information up front the better. Do you plan to print-on-demand or publish an eBook? If printing-on-demand, prior to even hiring a designer, take the time to explore the cover template generator form of your printer.” – Teresa Bonaddio
“If you are planning to print your book, find out the technical specifications from your printing service provider. For example, the designer needs to know the spine width of your book’s cover, and that will depend on the number of pages and the type of paper you will print your book on. Also, when printing a hardcover book, the dimensions of the cover can be much larger than those of the interior pages.” – Tuire Siiriainen
2. Understand the cost
They say do what you love and money will follow, but the catch-22 is that you often need money to do what you love. No writer likes to imagine their prize project weighed down by budgetary constraints, but setting a budget for your publishing process is an absolute necessity — as is knowing how much of it will go toward your cover design.
Just as writers might want to fork up for a developmental editor or book writing software such as Scrivener to get the content of the book right, a cover design is a book’s all-important selling point. Remember that high-quality work takes time and effort to create, and understand that your designer will charge accordingly.
“Many writers I have met during my career have underestimated the costs for design and illustration, which has often led to a delay [in] production. I recommend always asking a creator whether they agree with a currently available budget and how much [work] they would be willing to do for it. [...] Sometimes an exception can be made, but I would highly recommend having at least 300 to 500 Euro or USD put aside for a project.” – David Schmelling
3. Clarify your vision
Establish a strong dialogue with your designer by sharing your inspiration and vision with them right from the get-go. Ideally you’ve chosen a cover designer whose work and aesthetic you love, but even so, you should clarify exactly what you want your cover to look like. If it’s hard for you to describe, use examples — point to one of their samples that really wowed you, or send them pictures of visually striking covers in the bookstore. Take the time to specify what you want before you sign a contract: it’s very important to get this right.
“If you have strong opinions on how you’d like your cover to look, including tangible cover attributes such as style, tone, color, composition, typography, and photography, then clearly communicate as much as you can to the designer with descriptions and sample imagery.” – David Provolo
“[It’s] very helpful to be able to discuss the cover needs before the offer is put in. In fact, the majority of authors seem fine with this, just some seem to completely ignore it as if it's not important. But authors don't always give you enough info in their briefs, so even a brief discussion can help to work out what's expected and therefore how to pitch the offer.” – Patrick Knowles
4. Stay positive and flexible
All that being said, you don’t have to share a brain with your designer; indeed, some of their ideas will probably clash with your own. Don’t just reflexively reject these ideas — your designer is pitching them not to sabotage your creative vision, but because they have years of industry experience and know what works. Maybe the font you want is overused or your color scheme won’t be as eye-catching you think. Remain amenable to their suggestions and they will design you a cover that looks beautiful to everyone, not just you.
“Describe your ideas in a way that focuses on what you do wish to see, as opposed to listing things to avoid, and be open to the creative process. I've often found that my happiest authors are the ones that I've been able to present with an idea that came slightly out of left field by synthesizing their vision, a strong knowledge of competitive titles, and my own personal flair.” – Laura Boyle
5. Be honest about your experience
Again: you don’t have to share a brain with your designer. Luckily, that also means you don’t have to pretend to know as much as they do. If you’ve worked with a cover designer before and you’re already familiar with the process, that’s great! But if not, it’s best to tell them that, and request that they explain the more complicated aspects. Otherwise production will be endlessly confusing for you and frustrating for your designer.
“From my experience, it is essential that a writer is transparent about their knowledge of how the production works. I have had an easier time with clients who openly admitted to being inexperienced with the entire process [than those who didn’t]. This makes it easier to address the steps during the collaboration according to the writer's knowledge. I communicate ideas differently to a client who doesn't know how the process works, than to a client who has knowledge about the terminology and knows how the visual design process functions.”– David Schmelling
6. Communicate effectively
Clarifying your vision and being honest with your designer also fall under this umbrella, but this is more a tip for your entire collaboration rather than its early stages. Even as you and your designer settle into a working rhythm, you should still make a conscious effort to communicate with them.
This may sound like obvious advice, but according to designers, many authors clam up or fail to respond in a timely manner after the initial conversation. To avoid this, give feedback, ask questions, and simply be available to discuss the project at all stages — not just the early ones.
“The designer’s first round of concepts will serve as concrete points of discussion and revision. Collaboration with your designer should include open communication, patience, and mutual flexibility to arrive at a cover solution that encapsulates the aspirations you have for your book.” – David Provolo
7. Trust your designer
The last (and by far most important) tip for a successful relationship with your cover designer is pretty simple: trust them. It can be difficult for some authors to do this, and understandably so — you’re letting a near-stranger have major jurisdiction over a cherished project. It’s like handing your child over to a babysitter, but instead of putting them to bed, the sitter gets to decide what the child’s face should look like. Forever.
Yes, it may be hard to trust your designer. But in the secret sauce of any good relationship, personal or professional, trust is the ingredient that brings all the others together. And as they turn their attention to the canvas (or tablet, as it were), your designer has to know that you trust in their knowledge and abilities. Only this can truly secure your relationship’s success, both for your current project and any future collaborations with your designer.
“My number one tip for a successful relationship with your cover designer is the same one you need to build successful relationships in life: trust. Cover designers are uniquely placed individuals. We can take an author's thoughts and direction about a cover and approach it with the mindset of both designer and potential consumer. But the only way to get the best of both those worlds is to put your trust in your designer and their insights.” – Jake Clark
“The best books are made in great collaborations and with great trust. While we are all professional, we are also all human. Get to know the people who you are working with and trust that the objective is always to create the best book possible in any given amount of time.” – Teresa Bonaddio
No matter how you choose to publish, your book’s cover is your reader’s first glimpse into the world you’ve created, and your cover designer facilitates that glimpse. With that in mind, remember to always communicate, be positive, and above all, keep calm and trust your designer. If you foster a strong relationship with them, your cover designer will manifest your best ideas and contribute all their expertise to make your book cover a beautiful success.
This content was contributed by Reedsy and includes one or more affiliate links for their products and/or services. Writer’s Digest participates in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products and services purchased through our links to retailer and partner sites.