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What to expect when working with a cover designer

We’re well into Self-Publishing Month here at Jericho Writers. So, in the spirit of celebrating all parts of the process, we're closing the book and taking a look at the cover. Today, experienced book cover designer Patrick Knowles gives you some great tips on working with a designer to get the best possible result.   

What to expect when working with a cover designer | Patrick Knowles Takeover  

So you’ve completed your book and now you're considering commissioning a cover designer. But what sort of designer do you look for and what is the best way to brief them? 

I've been working in the industry for over thirty years - I’ve worked in major publishing houses as well as freelancing, and have worked in many different genres. So I have a pretty good idea how creating a commercially strong cover works. Yet each new cover has its own unique challenges.  

Excellent designers can be found on sites like Reedsy, and there are agencies who specialise in complete book production, including cover design. But generally the latter won't have the same cutting-edge experience as individuals who are working with major publishers, though they may cost less. My advice would be to find someone who has good experience with publishing houses, works in the genre you're publishing into, and whose work you admire – even if that means paying a little more. 

A good brief can make all the difference. A book cover is primarily a sales tool, not an explanation of the narrative. That might seem obvious, but as an author it's sometimes hard to stand back from the book and see it from the angle of sales and as a product that needs to appeal to a target audience. 

A good start in briefing is to provide a short outline of the plot – most designers don't have time to read a manuscript – bringing out the most important aspects. It's helpful to pull out events, images, or even metaphors from the narrative that might be useful. You can also be more general, and sometimes creating a 'mood board' that has inspirational images, colours and other references can be helpful.  

It is important to show examples of book covers that you think have the sort of feel you're looking for. Our first response to a book cover is always visceral, so it's important to brief the designer by showing them covers in that genre and that appeal to you. The designer may choose to take it in a different direction, but it's very helpful to have a strong initial focus to narrow the options down at the beginning.  

This is particularly important if you want an illustration as part of the cover as that can increase the costs and influence the style of image. A designer should be happy to discuss budget with you, and many, like myself, also create the illustrations for the cover. But if you want something that's highly illustrated – a fantasy fight scene for example – then that will probably involve commissioning an illustrator separately which can be expensive. 

As the author you'll have your expectations for the cover, but by far the best approach is to be as hands-off as possible. Let the designer come to you with ideas and concepts rather than trying to pre-design the cover for them. They'll have ideas that feel unexpected because they will be thinking about the cover from a design/sales standpoint, and experience will show them how to best present your product within the market. It's important not to put too much weight on a cover design though – they do help sell a book, but if the actual product is not good then no amount of design will improve sales. 

Very rarely things don't work out – and this can happen for a variety of reasons - perhaps the author doesn't really know what they want, or the designer just doesn't hit the right tone. But make sure you're clear at the outset what would happen if you come to a point where you feel it's not working for you – most designers will have a clause that covers this so that in the event of having to cancel you're both happy with the outcome. Overall, you’ll achieve the best result by being as non-controlling as possible, but open to new ideas. 

Ultimately working with a designer should be a positive and creative experience for you and one where hopefully you'll see your book come to life in ways you probably couldn't have imagined and which will, hopefully, get the sales rolling. 

Patrick Knowles 

Patrick has worked as a cover designer for over thirty years working with the UK's top publishers and self-publishing authors. He is also an experienced speaker and workshop teacher. 

You can look at his website here and follow him on Instragram at @patrick_knowles_design 

Patrick will be running two workshops at this year's Festival of Writing - on Cover Design for Self-Published Authors, and Using Fonts and Photography when Designing Covers. Come along and say hi, and join your fellow writers for over 70 other workshops across an action-packed weekend in York, England. Tickets are going fast - book yours here.

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