Pour yourself a cup of coffee or shake-up a cocktail, WG2E-Land, ’cause it’s time for another Ruth Harris Report!
Take it away, Ruth!
Because covers are the first thing a prospective buyer-reader sees, they are hugely important—I’ve read that 40% of the human brain is devoted to processing visual images. Consequently, covers require a substantial investment of time, thought, talent, and money.
In today’s Report on covers, designers will discuss how to choose a designer, estimates, and final costs.
Our talented and knowledgeable designers, half a dozen of the best cover designers in the epub world, are Kim Killion, Laura Morrigan, Stewart Williams, Nina Paules, Jen Talty, and Kim Van Meter.
Choosing a designer:
Nina Paules: Select a designer who understands the saleable trends in your specific genre.
Kim Killion: Check out their designs. Don’t assume paying $500-$1000 will get you a fabulous cover. Do consider paying an extra $50 to get a good designer over one who just doesn’t hit the mark. Make sure you have some idea of what you’d like your cover to look like. This can be as simple as: I want a man, or I want a couple. I like purple or I hate red. If you have certain things that you must have or must not have, make sure the designer knows it. And MOST importantly, listen to your designer. I design up to 5 or 6 covers every day. If I say something will look better or this certain font won’t compliment your genre, I’m probably right.
Stewart Williams: I always try to give the author more bang for their buck by giving them several samples to choose from. I think many authors (and book publishers as well) tend to look at what’s successful and then try to imitate that as a method of ensuring the success of their book. In general, it’s best to pick a designer who’s been doing it for years over someone fresh out of school who’ll work for nothing (unless they’re some kind of Wunderkind). A seasoned designer will often have ideas or perspectives learned through experience an author might not have thought or known about.
Jen Talty: I always tell people to ask other authors who did their covers and ask the authors to be honest about what it was like to work with the designer. Ask the designer for references and always get the costs up front. Find out their turnaround time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make sure you can be involved in the design of the cover. However, remember the designer is the expert, trust their judgment.
Kim Van Meter: You should select a designer after looking at their portfolio because you’ll have an idea of the quality of their work by thumbing through what they’ve already completed. A good cover is ESSENTIAL in your self-publishing arsenal. The competition is FIERCE out there. Sending a book out onto the web with a poorly conceived cover is like sending your child out into a forest teeming with wolves and armed only with a spoon.
Of course, a cover designer should be courteous, professional and timely in their response to your queries.
Laura Morrigan: The quality of their work!
Any advice for authors who want to design their own covers?
Nina Paules: Don’t. Spending a fortune on a cover is far from necessary (and doing so will guarantee you nothing), but you do need someone who can see “your forest” (as opposed to just the trees). A good cover doesn’t incorporate every nuance of the story. A good cover convinces a reader (who knows little to nothing at all about your story) to open the listing and find out.
Kim Killion: Honestly—don’t do it. Even if you don’t choose Hot Damn Designs, the hard truth is, professional looking covers sell better. You may not want to think about the fact that you are competing for reader’s attention alongside Nora and Eloisa and Sherilyn…but you are.
Stewart Williams: In this DIY world it’s hard to deter someone from taking on their own design — unless they come to the plate with some honest skill and talent to craft something that can compete in the market. Nobody wants to tell someone they did a poor job on their cover but one look at the sheer amount of book covers out there makes it easy to see who took short cuts.
Jen Talty: Make sure you understand the tools you are using. I’ve seen too many authors make covers where the images are distorted, or not blended properly. Its worth it in the long run, if you don’t know how to use professional tools to hire someone. Your cover is the first marketing tool your readers see. Make it count.
Kim Van Meter: Unless you are proficient with Photoshop, I don’t recommend it. There are plenty of people who will squawk at that statement but it’s how I feel because I’ve seen too many “homemade” covers that actually repel readers rather than draw them in. I have certainly been guilty of judging a book by its cover and I know I’m not alone. How many sales have been lost because of poorly crafted covers? Probably a lot.
Laura Morrigan: Unless you have a background in art and know your way around a program like photoshop, don’t. I’m saying this as a writer not as a cover artist. The time it takes you to find images you like and put them together in something that’s presentable—well, it just isn’t worth it. Work on your next WIP—it’s time better spent, trust me.
How much do you charge for a cover?
Nina Paules: Most of the covers I design are part of (or an upgrade to) an All-Inclusive print (or .doc)-to-finished-eBook design package.
Kim Killion: Our covers are $135 for a front cover (e-book only) or $195 for a full spread POD (print on demand). These can be done a different times—some authors like to put the e-book out first, then a few months later come back and do the full POD—and the price is just broken down: $135 now, $60 later.
Our prices are quoted up front and there is no variation in cost. But please don’t ask me to send your 6 different designs to choose from for that one low price. My time is valuable!
Stewart Williams: I always ask first what the budget is. Often times an author has a limited amount of money and at that point it’s good to hear from the author what the ideas are and the feasibility of what they want to spend vs. what they can practically expect. I provide an estimate and try to keep it close to what they want to spend.
Jen Talty: When I do contract work outside of my publishing company I charge a base rate of $300 for 3 mock-ups. From there, if more work is needed, I will negotiate with the author based on what they are asking me to do. General range is between $300 and $600.
Kim Van Meter: Generally speaking, I charge $75 for a cover, which includes the art within a certain price point. Historical covers tend to cost more because of the amount of artistic blending that goes into the cover. I always let the client know if the price has gone beyond the $75 point before we finalize so that the client has the opportunity to decide if they want to scale their look down to fit the budget.
Laura Morrigan: I used to give an estimate in the beginning (after discussing the concept with the author to determine the type of cover) with a basic cost and a nebulous “plus images purchased” tagline. But, I’m re-vamping my pricing to include a limited number of changes.
Some basic do’s & don’ts
Nina Paules: Don’t ask a designer to make cover for you that looks just like just [fill in the author’s name here]. If you do and the designer agrees, you have the wrong designer.
Do “come to the design table” with an open mind.
Don’t evaluate the finished cover based upon what you like or don’t like.
Do evaluate your finished cover based upon salability. A cover is a sales tool. The good ones do their job by luring potential buyers into your “buy button.”
Kim Killion: “Manchest” still sell very well as do series. Some authors are beginning to go for a certain “branding” look whether the books are connected or not.. We’re happy to work with you to develop a brand for all your books so that you are recognizable before the reader even sees your name. We’re also happy to carry your brand onto romance trading cards, Facebook timeline banners, Twitter backgrounds, bookmarks or even websites.
Kim Van Meter: DO find a cover artist with a portfolio of art that you enjoy
DO expect professionalism
DO expect to LOVE your finished product
DON’T write off the importance of a good cover.
DON’T expect to master Photoshop in one sitting. It takes years to learn graphic artistry and the process never ends. I’m constantly learning new skills.
DON’T look for shortcuts to success in self-publishing. It’s not the Holy Grail and money does not rain down from the sky just because you uploaded a title or two. It’s difficult to stand out among the crowd; don’t start the race at the back of the line with an ineffective cover.
I want to thank KimVM, Nina, Jen, Stewart, KimK and Laura for taking the time to share their insights and experience. You can see examples of their work and contact them at their websites:
Kim Van Meter: www.kimberlyvanmeter.com
Nina Paules: ebookprep
￼Jen Talty: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stewart Williams: www.stewartwilliamsdesign.com
Kimberly Killion: www.HotDamnDesigns.com
Laura Morrigan: Laura Morrigan
***Note: In case you missed Parts One and Two of this fabulous series, here are the links:
NYTimes bestselling author