News room: How to brief a book cover designer - for authors

How to brief a book cover designer - for authors by Sarah Juckes

Thinking of working with a professional book cover designer on your book? We spoke to business coach Alison Jones to get her advice on what authors can do to ensure their eye-catching cover ideas make it onto the final draft. Although Alison works primarily with business authors, there are some really great tips here for authors writing in all genres.

If a client tells me they’ve thought about writing a book, no matter how little they know about the publishing process there are two things I can be pretty sure they’ve already considered: the title and the cover.

Briefing your cover is simultaneously one of the most thrilling and terrifying parts of the publishing journey. Finally, your vision will be realized! But what if it doesn’t match the image in your head? Some authors are tempted to design their cover themselves, ‘I know exactly what I want’. Sadly, however, nothing screams ‘Amateur job!’ like an author-designed cover.

If you’re using a publisher partner they will work with you to make sure you get a polished, professional-looking cover that not only reflects your vision for the book but surpasses your expectations. But if you’re going it alone, here are 4 essential steps to help you achieve the same result:

1. Use a professional

Just as friends who consider themselves good at spelling may offer to copy-edit your book, you may find the artistically inclined offer to create your book cover. In both cases you should treasure these people and give them jobs to do (the grammar geek can check your web copy, the artist could create a poster, maybe?) but don’t let them near your book. They simply don’t know what they don’t know about the complex mechanics of preparing a manuscript for the typesetter or creating a print-ready cover. If you don’t know any book cover designers and you haven’t had any recommended to you, simply do your research: there are plenty on Elance, 99designs or more specialist sites such as Look through the work they’ve done – is their style a good match for your vision? Check the reviews – are they reliable, responsive, professional?

2. Create a brief

This is not the same as writing an email explaining what you want. A cover brief is a document that covers key questions such as who the book is for, its style and tone, any relevant brand colours (with CYMK values) or branding guidelines, along with more technical issues such as format and pagination. (The format is crucial: make sure your designer knows where the book will be printed so he or she can use the right specification.) Its aim is to help the designer understand WHAT the book’s about, WHO it’s for, and HOW you want them to feel when they look at it.

3. Think visually

Cover briefs are wordy, and authors are all about words. Most designers, however, are visual creatures. This can make communication tricky. One way of getting over the problem is to collect examples of covers you love, just as interior designers create mood boards of fabric swatches. Start looking at books in your area – which covers really speak to you? What elements do you particularly love? Copying a single cover is a dreadful idea for all sorts of reasons: collating ideas and elements from five or six will give your designer a clear idea of what floats your boat and how you want your book to sit alongside its peers on the shelf.

Include images and links in your cover brief, and – as far as you can – let your designer know what it is you love about them.

4. Give them space

This matters to you, I get that. You’re a self-publishing author, of course there’s a bit of control-freakery going on, I understand. But you need to trust your designer enough to give them some creative space, to synthesize everything you’ve told them about what you want this cover to achieve and to come up with a their own unique design. You’re using a professional precisely because of their ability to do this, so let them get on with it.

A great way of mitigating the fear of losing control is to ask them to produce 3 or 4 sketches and run them past you: that way you can have some input into the direction they’re taking before they’ve invested too much time and energy on it. And if your immediate reaction is negative but you can’t immediately articulate why, take some time and get some input. It might simply be that you need to let go of the attachment to the vision in your head to appreciate fully the design in front of you. Test it out on the kind of people you want to buy the book, and be open to the possibility that the designer has in fact nailed it.

Finally, use the resources on Completley Novel! There are some great design tips, some recommended resources, and a whole community of people willing to give feedback. You’re not alone.

Alison Jones is an experienced editor, publisher and business coach, who specialises in helping entrepreneurs, businesses and organisations plan, structure and write books as part of an overall business and content strategy.

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Written by
Sarah Juckes
Published on
Cover design and Business books