Friday, January 25, 2013

Hiring a Book or Cover Designer

Happy Friday! It's time for the weekend! I can hear you cheering. Today, I'm going to give you some tips on what to look for when hiring a designer for your manuscript and cover. I'll give you a list of questions you should ask, what you can expect from your designer, and what you should prepare in advance. So grab those pens and notebooks and let's get going!

First and foremost, you should prepare a creative brief. Your brief should include:
  • Your name and pen name
  • Your address and billing information
  • The book's title
  • Genre
  • Blurb
  • Any review matter you'd like included
  • Cover copy (the text that appears on the back or inside flap)
  • Your vision for your book
  • Other books in your genre (for reference)
  • Headshots, logos, or any other imagery that must be included (like awards the book has won)
Now that you have your brief, you should approach a designer. Before handing over your brief, you need to ask some questions to make sure you're hiring someone that knows their stuff. Ask things like:
  • Have you ever formatted for XYZ company's specs before?
  • Do you have a design degree? (While this isn't necessary, it doesn't hurt to know going in.)
  • What software do you use for design?
  • Can I see some of the other work you've done?
  • Explain bleed to me. Bleed is the area of the image that hangs over the edge and is cut away during production.
  • What is kerning? Kerning is adjusting the space between letters.
  • What is tracking? Tracking is adjusting the space between a whole line of letters.
  • What's the standard safety margin for live elements? Standard safety is .25" from the edge for books. Some production houses call for .125". Either answer is correct. However, CreateSpace wants .25".

If your designer nails all these questions, you've got someone that most likely knows their stuff.

What you can expect from your designer:
A good designer will give you three very different choices to start with. They'll ask you to narrow it down to one and give you up to two revisions on that one design. Once you decide on a cover, the interior should compliment fonts used and look and feel of the book. Again, I'll use The Bird as an example:

Note the font on the cover of the book and the design elements around the border.
Now note the font on the chapter heading and number and the design elements around the edges of the page.

Watch out for the designers that mix two script fonts, two serif fonts, or two sans serif fonts in their design. This is a basic Typography no-no because it always comes off looking like a mistake.

Your designer should provide you with all files:
  • Thumbnails
  • Cover sized and formatted for digital uploads
  • Cover sized and formatted for display on a website
  • Entire cover for production house, formatted properly and in proper color space (CMYK ONLY)
  • Cover in black & white
  • List of fonts used

They won't give you the original files they built. Don't ask. This is like you writing a story and someone else wanting to tinker with it and release it with your name on it without you approving the changes.

Your contract should include:
  • Statements saying the artwork is yours once the work is done and that you're free to use it in any way you see fit at no extra compensation for the designer or any third party.
  • Deadlines and penalties for not meeting them.
  • A guarantee clause stating all work is original and designed by them.
  • A clause stating all artwork contained in the design is free from copyright by third-party entities.
  • Number of revisions allowed at no extra charge.
  • Payment arrangements in detail.
  • Your name, their name, and all addresses associated with you both.
  • Number of files you'll receive and sizes/specs.

This is protection for both you and your designer. They should never ever balk at signing a contract.

I hope this helps many indie authors get the quality and professionalism they deserve in a designer. Over on Joel Friedlander's blog today, there's an interesting post about judging a book by it's cover. I beg you to go give it a read.

Any questions? Leave a comment and I'll get back with you ASAP.

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Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!



  1. These have been really helpful posts, Jo! I'm always getting approached by designers looking for work. I do my own covers now, but I'd be curious to know what questions to ask in the future if I do decide to hire one.

    1. Howdy, Heather! Designers are a breed of their own :) You should be good with the questions and answers listed above. If they nail those questions, they're the real deal. :) Thanks for popping by and commenting; always a pleasure!

  2. Great post. Another one I'll share. Covers are very overwhelming to me, because I know what I like (and don't like) once I see it, but I am not great with coming up with a concept.

    1. Thanks, Tia! Covers are overwhelming to a lot of people. But, hey, that's why you have ME :) LOL

  3. Designer here.

    Some of these questions seem extremely condescending, and additionally, as the client, I wouldn't expect you to know the answers (if you yourself don't know the answers to these questions, why are you asking me?)

    What software do I use for design? Why. Why can't I be just as good a designer in Gimp as I am in Photoshop; why can't my renders look just as professional in Blender as Maya? There are great designers out there who use less than mainstream software (especially with Adobe's recent change to the subscription model.) Software does not matter. In fact, particularly in the world of book covers, you work with a lot of traditional artists that know only basic formatting but do phenomenal artwork. They should not be overlooked.

    Explain Kerning? Tracking? Bleed? Standard Safety? These are all very patronizing. I know you're vetting someone to make sure they can do their job, but as a designer, I find these questions tedious. Why not instead ask things like:

    What is your vision for my book cover? What color scheme do you think is best? Why did you choose this font over that font, this text size over that size? What message are you trying to give to potential readers? And perhaps more importantly - what have you done in the past? Why? How have you failed; how have you succeeded?

    This is a great article; authors should be asking questions, designers should be asked questions. Contracts should be outlined. I just think that when seeking out a designer, you should focus on their work, their portfolio, and then their vision for your book. Not what software they use and if they know how to process files in Quark.

    1. Hi, Jackie. Welcome to the blog! I think you have some good points here. However, any designer worth their salt won't mind answering the questions above if it puts their client's mind at ease. I do know the answer to all those questions and a writer who's seeking a cover designer does, too, after reading this post.

      Why do I bother outlining this stuff? Because I've seen the fraud. I know of authors who did all you said above and got screwed because the portfolio of the "designer" was a false one. Those folks answered every vetting question without fail. Their portfolios were beautiful works of fiction.

      I have a degree in Graphic Design and have done a number of covers for other writers. Would I have balked if they took the time to make sure I knew what I was doing before hiring me? No. They should feel secure in placing their money in my hands. If I have to answer what color my eyes are, that's okay.

      And software is important. If your designer is a good one, who knows their stuff and has been through design school, they're using the industry standard software. Most obtained it in school.

      Every question is important if it's important to the customer. :)

      Thanks for the comment and I do hope you'll pop back by!


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