Book Cover Design: All Designers Are Not Created Equal

We can’t help it. We look at the outer packaging and assess a number of things – is it a quality product? Does the information tell us what we need to know about what’s inside? How do we feel when we look at it? Does its outer packaging make us want to see what’s under the wrapping?

In the case of book covers, this is even more true. We know from numerous book buying surveys that a book’s cover design is an important influencer in purchasing decisions.

I know I’m a huge fan of book cover art and design. Not just from an esthetic sense, but for how well it reflects the author’s voice, and the key elements of the story inside. And how do marketing elements (support quotes, testimonials, etc.) contribute to (or detract from) the overall look and feel, and the urge to make me open the book and read more?

How do you choose the right designer for your book?

Book design is both a science and an art, and the best book designers can take your breath away–not just with amazing cover design, but also by how that design carries itself throughout the interior design of the book (which interests me even more).

Calgary designer Natalie Olsen ( rendered a fabulous cover, and interior design, for this Indie Ink book.

I’ve had great and not-so-great experience with book designers. But I have have come to appreciate a few things about them and their work that help me make better decisions about who to select for any given project.

  • All designers are not created equal. Designers are as much artists as technicians, and each has their own particular style or “eye.” Some designers are great with contemporary, minimalist designs. Some are great with very complex designs. To me, it all has to do with how they view the world and how that translates to how they create book design. This doesn’t mean they can’t do other things, but this is where their natural tendency goes. Instead of asking someone to do something that’s not their strength, I like to find the one whose it is.This is the “match-making” part of the production process for me. I look at the book and say, “Hmmm…who are the designers whose styles best  connect with this subject matter, voice and feel?” Usually one or two names will pop up immediately.
  • All graphic designers are not book designers. I’ve had only two occasions where I was in a situation where I used a general graphic designer rather than a book designer to create a cover. Even though our printer was awesome at helping them understand the file preparation needs and parameters for the cover, the products were underwhelming. (However, to be fair, in a third case, the results were outstanding; but I believe it was because the artist who created it and designed the interior was a superior designer and thinker, and he knew the author very well before the project.)I believe that there are people within the art and graphic design professions who also become or are enamored with books, and study them as an art form. They come to deeply understand how their design must illustrate not just the surface elements of title, subtitle and author name, but how it must mirror and elucidate the core of the book’s subject matter and the author’s voice. And they must use all of their creativity and knowledge of book design and printing elements and features to do this. A great example  is the first book on the link I give you below.

    There are many great examples…I believe that is the case with most of the titles produced by Indie Ink, and continually produced for my FreshVoice author clients. (And we’ve won two PubWest book design awards, a Gold in 2012 and a Bronze this year!)
  • pic of ASL book cover

    This book, designed by Terry Corrigan ( won this year’s Bronze medal in the Biography/History category at the PubWest Awards.

  • The best book designers love books. This may seem ridiculously obvious, but I’ve observed the difference. The best ones are avid book readers, study book design, and are fascinated with the challenges they bring. Book design will never be the same as annual report design, or social media design, or any other form of graphic design work.
  • Book design is not the place to cheap out. For the record, neither is editing, but we’re talking here about design. The idea that you entrust your primary visual marketing tool (your book’s cover and design) to someone who has no experience with book design in order to save money is absolutely counter-productive. What you save up front will cost you potentially all hope of success in selling your book. If your book looks like crap, people assume it reads that way, or the content is about as valuable. Especially in this day and age of indie and self-produced books, these distinctions become even more important. I never wanted to make an indie book that looked self-published. My goal was to have books that could sit in their spot in any New York bookstore and compete favorably with the other books in their category for attention from browsers.

    And the good news is, the best designers are not necessarily the most expensive. My experience is that you shouldn’t have to pay any more than $300-800 for a cover design, and this is from those I consider to be the best designers. The true book designers are more interested in the project than the money. Sure, if it’s a book from a best-selling author produced by a major house that is expected to sell in the millions, you will charge more: That’s a lot of pressure to perform! But for indie books with small  budgets, the best designers will charge what you can afford if they are intrigued with your project, and feel it has the potential to fit well with their style and to add favorably to their portfolio.
  • These are the things I keep in mind when I’m looking to match a book project with a designer…it’s an utter joy to find the right designer for your book, and see the results of that careful choosing in the end product.

    Check out this interesting listicle from today’s Book Baby blog about favorite current book covers, and see if you agree with the reviewer’s choices and rationale.  What are your favorite book cover designs and why? If you share, please include an image of the cover you’re referring to!

    Also, there’s a really good course on book titles and covers in the Author Branding course of the Find Your Fresh Voice book development program at the FreshVoice Academy…check it out!




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