Questions Authors Ask Designers – Part One – Book Covers

I’ve served as a panelist at quite a few book conferences, so I’ve heard many of the questions authors have about design topics.  In part one of this series, we look at book covers.

questions-authors-ask-designers-275px“How can you make my cover stick out from the crowd so that it’s memorable, but in a good way?”

First, we explore what the book is about, and who it is meant to serve. What is the topic/genre, and what has been done before? Were those books successful and whether yes or no, why? The cover is about advertising what’s inside. It cannot give everything away, but must have striking imagery or a compelling typographic treatment to attract the eye of someone across the room.

The cover must be appropriate and reflect the content, yet it’s an advertisement. For a designer, each book project is a fresh opportunity to solve a problem – a problem that many authors, being so close to their creations, don’t perceive. Most authors don’t realize how much conceptualization is involved in getting a cover just right so their work is positioned for success. And for every manuscript, the approach is different.

“Should a cover be designed for retail shelves, like B & N… or should it be designed for electronic display (like Amazon)? Does it make a difference?”

The cover needs to work large and small so that it is attractive no matter the format. Depending on the cover design, we may need to create two different versions. The cover art for the printed version needs to be high resolution (300+ dpi at actual size) and CMYK, and the artwork for online needs to 72 dpi and RGB. But, let’s say your cover uses very thin elongated type. It may look great as a printed cover, but when you try to use it on Amazon as a small graphic, no one can read it. So the web version might need to be altered with the type thickened. You also need to consider what cover and interior pages will be displayed in the online pop-up sample (the “see inside”) version.

“Where do you get your ideas?”

My inspiration comes from the book itself, as well as the author. I send a questionnaire for my clients to fill out.

Some things are instinctive, like knowing and feeling the right color palettes and typography. Sometimes, I’ll also look for inspiration (online and/or offline) to conceptualize what I believe will work. I then play with a few ideas in my head, sketching them on paper, until things are more focused. Then I develop those ideas on the computer.

“Why does it cost so much? Why do some designers charge $150 and others $2,000?”

The pricing of book covers and interior design can vary greatly. First, it depends on the book design experience someone has, and it can also depend on whether the project is coming from a self-publishing author or a large book publishing company. The assigned budgets can vary from company to company as well. If a designer is well-known with years of experience, the cost will be higher. It’s also a good idea when receiving estimates to look closely at the stated terms. Focus on how many initial concepts will be created, and how many rounds of edits or redesigns  does the designer offer without additional costs.

With cover design, the more complex the project, the higher the price. For example, does the cover require an original illustration or photograph? If the cover requires a photograph, does it need a location, stylist, make-up artist, etc.

“Should I put a portrait of myself on the cover, or not?”

Having your photo on the cover and its location depends on the type of book it is and your public profile.  If we’re talking about a book of New York photography, it needs a photo on the cover, but on the back (or flap) the photographer’s photo should be there with their biography. If the book is YOUR own recipes, then the cover probably needs you in your kitchen showing off some fabulous food. If you are a well-known speaker and entrepreneur, the cover design will be based on the content you’re selling and not necessarily on your image.

“What is the most difficult book to design? The easiest? Textbook, fiction, non-fiction, cookbook, etc.?”

When it comes to difficulty, I will say there are two scenarios that are the most difficult. A cookbook where the cover needs the chef, the kitchen location and the food preparation is complicated. This involves hiring talented photographers, food stylists, location scouts, hair and make-up stylists, clothing stylists and lighting equipment. (The same goes for a celebrity, sports or gardening book cover.)

The second “most difficult” type is a novel or mystery, because the book must be read by both the designer and illustrator/photographer (if one is required) and the cover has to have just the right image, evoke the just right feeling and capture the imagination of the prospective reader. The author may know what’s inside, but the prospective buyer doesn’t, and they do judge books by their covers!

Have more questions about book cover design? Just write them in below!