Your book’s cover provides a reader with a first impression of your work, and despite all advice to the contrary, people will judge your book by its cover. Our testing has shown that a cover alone can account for a30% difference in clicks on a BookBub listing, and other sources have reportedsimilar results.
Since your cover design is such a huge factor in a book’s success, it’s worth the cost to hire a seasoned professional to create or redesign the cover. While you might have an ambitious do-it-yourself or in-house approach, a polished cover from a professional designer can make a book much more appealing to readers scrolling through retailer sites or BookBub’s daily deals email.
Before you commit to a cover designer, you should know what questions to ask him or her first. With so much at stake, you want to be sure you’re hiring the right person for the job! Remember, not every designer works the same way, but it’s important to find someone whose expertise and working style best fit you and your books. Here are some questions both independent authors and publishers should ask a potential cover designer and why they matter:
1. What covers have you designed in my genre?
It’s important to get a sense of the designer’s track record in your specific sub-genre. Once you’veidentified a target market for your book, you may want to hire a cover designer who has experience with that genre. This way, they’ll know what styles are trending and perform well, what tone readers expect, and what images and fonts resonate best with your audience.
If they don’t have experience in your sub-genre, they should be willing to do research and become familiar with trending tropes in your genre so they know how to convey your book’s premise and make your book stand out. So make sure they have a thorough process for researching and brainstorming concept art before getting too far into the design work.
2. What is your process for developing a concept for a design?
Get an idea for your potential designer’s approach to brainstorming concepts for their cover designs. Here are some ways they might dive into the research process:
Consider your creative brief. Whether you provide a written creative brief or discuss your requirements over the phone, be sure they take your ideas and suggestions seriously. While they are the design experts and will likely have other ideas in mind, you’re most familiar with the content of your book, so they should at least be willing to listen to what you have in mind.
Research your genre. How do they research what covers are successful in your genre? If they take a thorough approach, they should look through retailer site sub-genres and see what covers are selling well in your area. For example, if you write dystopian science fiction and they only suggest browsing through other sci-fi covers to see what’s trending, you might want to dig deeper here and make sure they know to look at dystopian sci-fi covers specifically.
Access image libraries. An experienced designer should have access to image libraries such as Shutterstock, Getty Images, or iStockPhoto. This will give them a wide selection of images to get inspiration from or choose from if they’re not doing custom photography or artwork for your cover.
3. Are you available to create custom images for which I’d have sole rights?
Choosing from image libraries is a cost-effective way to get a high-quality image for your cover, but it means you wouldn’t have sole rights to that image. While rare, it’s possible to find the same image used on other books or marketing collateral out there. If this isn’t something you want to risk, you may want to commission your designer for a photoshoot or to create custom artwork for you. Keep in mind that this can significantly increase the price of your cover design. Also, not all cover designers offer these services, so if it’s important to you, you should discuss this up front.
4. Can I see your complete portfolio?
This question might seem obvious, but in your enthusiasm to publish your book, you might be tempted to rush into an agreement with the first designer one of your friends refers you to. Don’t do this. Make sure you have the chance to review the designer’s work so you can see if you even like the designs they’ve created before.
5. What are your fees and payment structure?
Some cover designers list their pricing packages on their websites. Others provide custom quotes based on exact specifications.
Some designers require a deposit prior to beginning any research or design work to make sure you are committed and will be good for the money — they’ll be spending their valuable time working on your project, so this is to be expected, especially for more expensive designers. The deposit can be anything from 20% – 50% of the overall quote. Whatever their payment structure, be sure it’s something you’re comfortable with toward the beginning of your conversation.
6. Do you offer a no-risk money back guarantee?
Some cover designers are of such a high caliber that they’re confident enough in their work to offer a 100% money-back guarantee in case you’re not satisfied with the final product. Not all designers offer this, but you may personally want to choose someone who does.
7. What will the design process look like?
Professional designers will have an effective process they follow for each of their clients. It may look something like this (though every designer may have a different process):
Step #1: Schedule an initial consultation call. The designer will ask about your genre, what your book is about, and get some ideas from you regarding what you hope the cover will look like. You should also discuss things like timeline and communication expectations, and make sure the designer’s working style seems like a good fit for you.
Step #2: Discuss payment. The designer will deliver a quote based on what you’ve discussed, or finalize the pricing based on the pre-defined design package you choose.
Step #3: First concept round. The designer will send you some mock-ups of what they’re thinking the cover will look like. These usually won’t be polished, since they’ll want your feedback before putting on the finishing touches. Some designers will even provide you with multiple first-concept covers, and you can choose which one you’d like them to run with.
While not every book designer does this, this is great for authors who are interested in A/B testing different cover designs or asking their existing audience which design they prefer before the designer moves forward with the final design.
Step #4: Final concept round. The designer will send you a final version of the front cover, back cover, spine, and any other elements you discussed in your consulting call. Some designers also offer a final fine-tuning round to make sure you’re happy with the final cover.
Since you’re paying for your cover design, you should be happy with the final result. While it is perfectly reasonable for a designer to set a limit on the amount of rounds of revision you go through, you want to be sure your designer will be flexible in terms of accepting your feedback and working it into the revisions.
8. How will you deliver the final product?
At the very least, your cover designer should send you a high-resolution JPEG and/or PDF file of your final design — the front cover, the back cover, and the spine (unless you’re only hiring them for the ebook front cover).
But this isn’t enough for some authors. If you want to be able to make tweaks to your own cover in the future (for example, if you’re not 100% set on the title), make sure you also ask for the Photoshop or InDesign file — depending on the program the designer will be using. Not all designers are comfortable providing these files, but if it’s important to you, discuss this ahead of time.
9. What is your average turnaround time?
If you have a tight deadline to stick to for sending out advanced reader copies, locking in a pre-order, or a preset publication date, you should make sure the designer you’re considering has the bandwidth to complete your project well before your own deadline.
At the same time, you want to make sure the designer puts enough time into your project to deliver high-quality output. If they’re turning around covers in a day or two, maybe they’re not putting the necessary effort into making your book stand out in its genre.
10. Will you also be available for additional projects?
If you want the design of all of your marketing elements to be consistent, make sure up front that your designer will be available for follow-up work. Some things you may want design help with in the future may include:
Covers for a sequel or subsequent series books
Box set 3D covers
Online display ads
Twitter header photos
Facebook cover photos
11. What is your communication style?
Just like if you’re working with any other publishing professional (an agent, an editor, etc.), it’s important to set your communication expectations up front. While it may not be realistic to expect anyone to respond to your email within five minutes, 48-hour response times is a reasonable request to make. You might also want your designer to be proactive in letting you know if they will be unavailable for an extended period of time, whether for vacation, a conference, etc. These are all things you should talk about up front so there aren’t panicked moments or resentment along the way.
12. Do you have any references?
Even if the designer has a testimonials page on his or her website, it’s a good idea to speak to or exchange emails with one or two of the designer’s past clients. This will give you a better idea for what to expect from the working relationship (as you can review the designer’s portfolio for yourself).
It can be well worth the additional cost of hiring a professional designer to create a custom design for your book, especially if you want your book to stand out in its genre or are trying to get your book selected for a BookBub Featured Deal. With the additional appeal it will lend to your book, the design could end up paying for itself in short order!
Do you have any cover designers you’d recommend? Give them a shout-out in the comments below!
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About Diana Urban
Diana Urban is the Industry Marketing Manager at BookBub, and was previously the Head of Conversion Marketing at HubSpot. She's an expert in inbound marketing, content marketing, and lead generation. Diana is also the author of two Young Adult thrillers, and is writing her third novel. Follow her on Twitter at @DianaUrban.