Although you can’t judge a book by its cover, publishers have long known that readers actually do. In fact, cover design can increase a book’s visibility by 50 percent or more. Major publishers have sales and marketing departments that specialize in ensuring a book’s title and cover design are eye-catching enough to appeal to their target audience. Whether readers are browsing a bookstore or scanning book recommendations on Amazon or Goodreads, every cover competes for attention, just as products on a shelf do.
If you’re a self-published author, standing out can be especially difficult. You don’t have a full marketing team at your disposal, so you won’t have access to the data those teams employ. You may not, for instance, know that simple covers with subtle teasers sell better than cluttered covers without. But there is one thing you can do to give your book a chance to stand out in an overcrowded marketplace: finding a great cover designer to work with. Here’s how!
Get your details straight
Before you can even think about your book cover, you need to log some research hours. You likely know your book better than anyone else, so you’ll be the best person to decide what the cover concept should be. A good designer can help with that, but the more information you can give, the better. A traditional publisher often uses a cover design questionnaire that asks the author some important details, including the main character’s hair and eye color and possibly any pivotal scenes that might make a good cover image.
Research what’s out there
Now that you have all of those things in mind, head over to Amazon or, better yet, take a field trip to your favorite local bookstore. Look at covers for books similar to yours and note details that stand out. If you plan an online-only book, shop for new books to download and notice what stands out to you. What looks good on a bookstore shelf may not be ideal for an Amazon Kindle screen.
Finding a designer
Consider your options
Although you could try to design the book cover yourself, unless you’re a professional designer, it isn’t a wise idea. Lots of graphic designers specialize in book covers, thanks to the large number of self-published authors looking for them. The best way to find the perfect designer is to search book cover designs and find a designer whose style works with your own concept. It can also help to choose someone who has experience designing books in your own genre. If you write dark horror novels, you might choose a different designer than someone who writes lighthearted romantic comedies.
Another option is to host a design contest on a site like 99designs, where designers will pitch you their concepts. This is a great way to choose the best concept out of different options and working with multiple designers to find the one that fits your book perfectly.
Chances are, one of your top concerns is pricing. You likely don’t have a fortune to pour into your cover design, especially since you need to get your book out there so you can start making money. The good news is, you can usually find a designer for a few hundred dollars. If you try to push the cost down much further, your cover may not be the quality it needs to be to convince readers to see what’s inside.
Get clear on the terms
During your search, avoid becoming so dazzled by a designer’s talent that you forget to settle business matters. In addition to talent, your designer should also be responsive and reliable. There’s nothing worse than having your book launch delayed while you try to track down a cover designer who has disappeared. Ask the designer questions on how the work will be done. Will you be presented a rough sketch to get a general idea first or will the designer do a full design, then be open to revisions as needed? Will there be time to get feedback from beta readers or your writing friends before finalizing the design? How open are they to your own input throughout the process?
Working with a designer
Once you’ve hired a designer, the real work begins. Be open with the designer about the concept from the start. The more detail you can provide on the front end, the more time you’ll save both of you on later edits. If you have samples of covers you like, feel free to send links over and even sketch a rough outline of what you’re hoping to see.
It can help, from the start, to understand how cover design works to get a feel for what exactly your book needs. A good designer won’t just jump in and start working. Your designer may ask to see sample chapters, try to determine what you want your author brand to be, or ask questions like in the above-mentioned questionnaire to help clarify details of your book. If you find you aren’t seeing this, put the information together yourself and send it over. It may help to request a phone call to expedite a conversation that would span hours or days over email.
Ask for feedback
If you’re torn between two concepts or you feel like the cover design is missing something, send it over to a few trusted friends. They don’t have to be writers—you’ll likely find that some of the best people to offer feedback are friends who simply love to read. Even the smallest detail can make a book cover pop, and someone who isn’t directly connected to your book or its cover design may be the best person to ask.
The right designer will have you covered
Good cover design sells books, whether they’re on bookstore shelves or an Amazon search page. By hiring a designer that has experience in designing for readers in your genre, you’ll up your chances of getting a cover that works well for your book. Once you start working, make sure you’re closely involved in the design process so that the end result is better than you imagine.