Dear Authors: Working with a Cover Artist

Hey, readers.

The Sneaky Kitty Critic here. This post may or may not interest you. It’s more to help other authors out there, but the blog is the best place for this information rather than the human’s preferred facebook. As a consolation prize, here’s a picture of me being majestic.

The magic rectangle box turned me onto my side, but it appears I have retained my cuteness, so this is acceptable.

The medicine the human female keeps giving me has helped some, so we went on a walk. I kept playing with my leash, and this translated to the human pulling out her glowy rectangle box.

Whatever. I got three walks the other day. I’ve reestablished my position as the dominant female.

Now, onto the show.

Before I begin, my human would like me to remind everyone that these are her opinions, which I’m sanitizing to be better suited to feline temperaments.

If your sensibilities require it, we request you add ‘in her opinion’ in front of everything. Typing this crap up is hard on a kitty, and Princess is being huffy today, so I have to do the work. Go figure.

Before I begin, take two, this post was done with the blessings of Rebecca Frank of Bewitching Book Covers. Normally, she doesn’t give out the draft material as public shares, but my human begged, and Rebecca kindly agreed to allow two drafts to be used in this post to help illustrate how some designers work. Every designer has a different method, so please be aware of this.

Now, that disclaimer aside, if your artist isn’t providing a concept or draft of your art, there is likely a problem.

Those of you familiar with Rebecca Frank are already aware that she books over a year in advance. Her art is amazing and worth it. Right now, the only way to get onto her client list is through purchasing a premade cover through one of her auctions. Rarely, she opens application for new series work. Some artists have long booking cycles. This is often due to a mixture of art quality, popularity, and price. Rebecca Frank, in the totally-biased opinion of the human, hits all three marks with top points.

Rebecca Frank has done work for all of the authors RJ Blain writes as with one exception. This exception is a critical element of the cover art world.

When you are picking a cover artist, you are picking them for their expertise in graphic design, marketing savvy for genre, and ability to create a product that will help you sell your book.

My human adores Rebecca Frank, but my human would never hire Rebecca Frank for a cover outside of certain fields of science fiction and fantasy. Rebecca Frank’s strengths lie in paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and various flavors of fantasy and science fiction.

Rebecca Frank isn’t a good choice for a contemporary romance cover of any stripe. For that, my human goes to Daqri Bernardo of Covers by Combs, who has also done many covers across all of my human’s brands.

Both have different strengths, and my human picks the project based on who would do the best job for the tone, appearance, and marketing needs she has for a specific cover.

For this post, however, I’m going to focus on my human’s work with Rebecca.

It begins with a concept. Now, here’s something of importance: when you purchase a premade from Rebecca Frank, the cover’s general concept will be predetermined by the premade; the branding elements are already in place. The process is easier on Rebecca because key elements are already finished. (For example, the font and text layout are generally predetermined.)

This post goes into the complete process, assuming you’re not working from a premade. But, it’s important to know that unless you’re on Rebecca’s new series client list, you’ll have restrictions on your series continuation. (You can’t buy a premade and launch a new series using the slot you’ve acquired as part of being a premade buyer.)

All of Rebecca’s design projects begin at the same place: with a form. The form asks for a variety of information, and this information is CRITICAL to get your cover made.

Nothing annoys a graphic designer quite like an unprepared client who doesn’t know what they need in a cover. Seriously, covers are critical. If you’re booking a cover with a designer, KNOW WHAT YOU NEED. Seriously people!!! Know what you need!

This requires work from you. Don’t be that person who, on the day of booking, has no idea what you want because you didn’t invest any time thinking about your cover. Your cover is CRITICAL, humans! SO CRITICAL.

Here’s what you need to get a design project rolling:

1: Title, Series, Author Name.

These are the basics, but you have no idea how often I hear various designers I work with wailing because their client, who has been booked with them for months, has put in zero thought into their title or series name.

We of the Furred & Finned Management understand this stuff is intimidating. Ask some trusted friends, who are making a lot of money with their books, for advice.

Don’t trust a marketer who is not making any money with their books OR their clients books for advice. Seriously.

Follow the money, sniff at it like it’s a delicious, tasty treat, and ask, “why does this work?”

Don’t have a trusted friend who is making money?

Go take a look at the USA Today Bestseller list and the top 100 books on Amazon. These novels are selling. They’re selling for a reason. This reason may be “good marketing” but it’s likely “This title, series, book cover, and description are doing its job of selling a book to a wide audience.”

Don’t be that person who has done zero market research. My human has said this before: unless you’re writing purely as a hobby, with Z E R O care you never make any money, you need to take the time to look into the market, understand where your books fit into it, and where you might be going wrong. While there are trailblazers in the industry, your book needs to stand high over the rest to have any hope of creating a successful niche.

In short, don’t go in expecting to be the next great new author. Realistically, it’s not happening.

Plan on busting your asses, humans. That’s what it takes to thrive in publishing. (And it’s a brutal, hard job.)

Understand your market. It helps. Really.

2: THE COVER NEED NOT PERFECTLY FIT YOUR BOOK.

Underline that. Add italics. Fling glitter. Your book cover IS A MARKETING TOOL.

It is not a “Perfectly match this one scene you really like self-indulgence” tool. And yes, when you cater a cover to perfectly match a scene or personal mental image, it becomes a tool of self-indulgence rather than a marketing tool.

That cover has one purpose in life: TO SELL YOUR BOOK.

If your cover is there to ‘perfectly match your book’s interior,’ you’re probably doing it wrong.

I’m not even sorry for being blunt about this opinion, humans.

Time and time again, we of the Furred & Finned Management have seen good covers be ruined by authors who didn’t understand that a cover’s job is to sell the book.

While Rebecca does do things differently depending on project, once you’ve given her the information she needs to begin work, the design typically begins with the typography. This is how the text will look on the finished cover. That Rebecca begins with the typography is, to my human, a huge advantage. A cover that’s made and has text slapped onto it will always be a cover made with text slapped onto it. My human prefers when the text is a cohesive part of the cover’s design, with the art married to the text from the very beginning.

The rebrand of my human’s Witch & Wolf series began with a black screen and white text. This shows the fonts to be used, the layout of the title text, and the basic concept.

In this specific case, my human picked the font, as she’d fallen in love with it on a site. Rebecca also liked the font, resulting in its use!

The human was very excited about this font. So excited she bought it for herself. I’m not really sure why, as she has the photoshopping skills of a blind rat, but whatever. It made her happy.

What my human liked about this text layout is that it’s different. It stands out. The font is wonderfully gritty and really represents the series well. It’s also elegant, which my human likes.

My human just likes it.

Once the text layout is set, it becomes a waiting game. My human? Soooo dying to see the beauty that would be her new covers.

In this specific case, Rebecca Frank was designing two covers at the same time because they’re the same character, so it made sense to do them at the same time. She doesn’t usually do this. (Bookings are staggered by a few weeks, but the cards fell in such a way where we started the rebrand on two days in the same week.)

Every designer is different and likes working on books in a different way, so talk with your designer about their method.

So, because Rebecca Frank did both at once, my human got to approve both images at one time. I’ll begin with Inquisitor.

Please note this is the DRAFT version.

Like, seriously. It looks great, but it’s a draft version.

It gets better.

So much better.

Why am I using so many short sentences on new lines?

I’m a cat, human. That’s why.

Well, being serious, I need to make space for the next cover, which is the final version of Inquisitor.

Yes, humans. The image takes space and things.

Reasons.

Also, I’m a cat.

So. Here’s the final cover in all its glory. The colors have been brightened. Magic has been added. The ornamental glyph has been brightened and made to stand out.

Hair has been painted. Clothing has been adjusted. Highlights added.

Persnickety things.

Now, you might ask why an old book like Inquisitor got a new cover. It’s a multi-part reason.

The original cover just wasn’t selling. My human really wants to be able to write more Witch & Wolf books, but in order for that to happen, they have to sell better.

She also wants to do audio books, which means she needs to have audio book covers for them. My human couldn’t affordably acquire the rights to get the audio covers; it was cheaper to have new covers done, and since the original covers weren’t selling well, it made sense to gamble and do a complete series rebranding.

(Yes, there’s a noticeable difference already. On November 4, Inquisitor will be a Bookbub Featured Deal, so keep an eye out if you don’t have the book already!)

Now, we’re not done yet.

There’s still the print spread to worry about. Yeah. Print covers. Print covers are complicated. If you use KDP, it’s a little less complicated, but… you need a cover artist you can trust, especially if you use Ingram Spark like my human does. My human wanted affordable distribution to libraries, and Ingram provides that much better than Amazon. Beyond that, it’s personal preference. My human feels the print quality is better at Ingram, but there are downsides, too. If you’re not in the Alliance of Independent Authors, there are a lot of fees at ingram. My human is a member. At current, my human estimates she has saved approximately $500 on fees from having a membership. She’s also making more money on print books with zero extra effort. Bonus: fans are no longer complaining books aren’t available because Amazon dropped the distribution ball after the Createspace to KDP switchover.

In short, my opinionated human claims you can take Ingram out of her cold, dead hands. And as people want more books, don’t take it from her. Who else is foolish enough to do my bidding?

So, back to the specifics. To build a print copy, you need a page count, trim size (physical size of book,) know if you’re using white or cream paper (they’re different thicknesses, which changes the spine size,) and have a description for the back of the book.

Ingram users also need the book’s print ISBN. You may need to know the price of your book as well.

Yeah. It’s complicated.

In good news, audiobook covers are not as complicated, humans! You just need to ask your designer for them, and they magically appear. After you pay them, of course. Because they do magic to make the covers look wonderful in all format sizes.

The Furred & Finned Management thinks it’s very pretty.

And yes, as soon as my human figures out the details, she’ll be working to get the main Witch & Wolf books into audio. It really depends on if she can find a good producer.

It’s complicated.

Publishing is very complicated.

At the end of the day, it’s worth while for my human. But it’s complicated.

The easiest thing you can do for yourself is to follow instructions. Designers ask questions for a reason. Give them an honest answer and let them do their job.

So often, an author’s worst enemy when it comes to covers? Themselves.

So, as a recap, here’s The Sneaky Kitty Critic’s Guide to Not Fucking Up Your Cover:

  1. Pick an artist who specializes in YOUR genre.
  2. Do not base your cover on a specific scene in the book. It rarely works well.
  3. Colors, tone, and ‘feel’ of the cover matter, and it should match the MAJORITY of your book. Your cover is how a reader decides if it matches their reading interests.
  4. Don’t nitpick the cover to death. Seriously. Nothing breaks a cover artist’s general enthusiasm for your project than beating them to death with nitpicks. Correct errors, yes. But don’t nag them about every little detail. It never helps you and does hurt you. An enthusiastic artist does better work. Don’t beat the enthusiasm out of your artist being nitpicky. You want quality work. But you want quality art that isn’t a battle. If your artist can’t provide high quality work without needing you to nitpick them to death… you picked the wrong artist. Pick a new one.
  5. BE ENTHUSIASTIC. An artist who sees you’re excited and happy with the work is more excited about your book, too. If you’re apathetic towards your own cover, can you really expect your artist to be enthusiastic? No. Bring a good attitude to the table. It really helps.
  6. Bring a good attitude to the table. Seriously. If you’re a jerk, your artist isn’t going to give you their best work. They’re going to save their heart and soul for a client who isn’t a jerk. Treat them well, and they will treat you well. (And yes, this is a complain that the Furred & Finned Management has heard directly from designer friends who have hell clients who suck the joy out of work. Don’t be on of those people.)
  7. To continue on to point 6: Just like an author can move on from a cover artist, cover artists can fire authors. If you like a cover artist’s work, treat them well. Pay them promptly. Respect their work and contracts. (Don’t be that person who hasn’t read the contract and becomes upset when the contract bites you in the butt. Contracts are legally binding, and you’re buying a complicated license for your art.)
  8. Last but not least, understand that you’re buying a license. Unless you provide *ALL IMAGES AND FONTS AND DESIGN TOOLS* you are purchasing licenses to use those images, fonts, and tools in specific ways. You do not have unlimited rights to these images. You do not own the art or original images. Even if you get exclusive image stock, unless YOU took that picture and YOU own the COMPLETE rights to the image… it’s not yours to do with as you please. Read your contracts and terms of licensing. The contracts for cover designers will make a lot more sense then. P.S.: You often license custom illustrations, too. Having an artist paint you a picture doesn’t necessarily mean YOU own that image. You just may ‘own’ a better license for that image. Know. What. You’re. Buying.

Good luck, human!

 

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