Writing

The Indie Author Cover Design Process

With my recent cover reveal for The Reanimator’s Heart, I have had a few people reach out to ask me about the cover design process, and I thought this might be easier than trying to string together several Twitter posts.

So far, I have worked with two different cover designers, both of whom I love (Cover Affairs and Crowglass Design), but they each have different processes. Before I get into this, I want to be upfront that I don’t think either process is better or worse than the other. They are just what works best for the artist. Also, I will not be showing the mock-ups and such that I’m going to talk about here. It’s like showing someone your first draft, and without permission from my designers, it would be very rude.

The General Process

  1. Go online and find a cover designer– sounds simple, but you have to keep in mind that you should find someone who jives with your genre, does good work, is within your budget, and can work with you during the time period needed for your book. This can take time, so I suggest doing your research ahead of your book being ready for publication. I found Cover Affairs by looking at books within my genre whose covers I liked. I asked the author who designed their cover (and/or checked inside the book for the cover designer info) and reached out to the cover designer. Sometimes you run into the problem of your cover designer being very popular and having openings 6 months out. You may have to wait to put your book out, or you might opt to find someone else to do your cover. This is why I seriously suggest reaching out months before you’re ready.
  2. Book your cover designer and settle on a deadline– Contact the cover artist, find out their lead times, settle on when you want to schedule it, and then go back to working on your book.
  3. Your cover designer will send you a form to fill out- Both cover designers I’ve worked with have sent me a Google Form to fill out, and the questions were fairly standard between both, so I will summarize the gist of it. Name, email, book title/subtitle/series (#), genre and subgenres, time period of the book, settings or specific imagery or objects that are important in the story, other covers you like or other book covers in your series, stock photos you might use for characters or elements you might want to include in the cover, general vibe of the book, back of cover blurb for the book, anything you do not want at all on the cover. Basically, your cover designer is trying to feel out what you want and the overall feel of what they’re going to create. This is also where you should probably tell your cover designer if you want an ebook, paperback, audiobook, hardcover version, etc. Tell them upfront, so they can find what they need (and so you can get an accurate bill/idea of cost). You can always add a paperback or audiobook cover later, but you will probably pay more as most cover artists would prefer to do everything in one shot.
    1. For my one cover designer, she worked off the Google Form and that’s it. For my other cover designer, he wanted to read the book to get the feel for the work. *Cue panicking as I wasn’t done and wasn’t expecting him to ask for it* Now, I know. It worked out though as he was fine with me sending chunks of it as he was working on the cover along with my Pinterest board and music playlist for the book.
  4. First draft mock up– this will probably be rough, so don’t panic. Your cover artist can do this several ways. They might send sketches, stock photos for your approval (Lou at Cover Affairs and I usually send stock photos back and forth until we find someone who works), or even rough cover concepts that are a patchwork of styles or ideas. You should send your cover designer feedback. Don’t just say it looks great to be nice if you don’t like the idea or it doesn’t jive with your book. At the same time, do not be a pain in the ass and shoot things down without looking for stock or giving direction. Sometimes you cannot find exactly what you want, and you need to compromise and pivot to a new idea. It can also be your wording in your Google Form that is throwing off your cover designer, and you may need to explain further what you mean. If you absolutely feel like you and your cover designer are not figuring things out, this may be the point to call it quits and find someone else. You might lose your deposit, but it’s better than paying in full for a cover you don’t like or that doesn’t fit your book.
    1. Things to keep in mind with the first draft mock-up: does it fit your genre? Does it fit the vibe of your story? Does it make sense? I air on the side of your cover should be unique and pretty but still fit the general conventions of your genre. I do not like the naked people romance covers, but they do sell. If you’re trying to be very commercial, I’d say follow the trend to a T. If you’re in a looser, more niche genre, you generally have more wiggle room for what can/will be successful online. Look at your genre’s Amazon top 100 section to see what styles are popular. Your cover should make sense among those other books. Standing out like a sore thumb isn’t great because people might assume your book is a different/wrong genre and skip it.
  5. Second draft/real draft– you have locked in a design with your cover artist, so now it is time to sit back and see what they come up with. At this point, major changes should be done. You and your cover artist might have some back and forth conversations about minute details like font, flourishes, weapon/item options, dress color, etc. But the design should not undergo major changes at this point. Once your cover designer comes back with the second draft cover mock-up, you should be happy with it. You picked the first draft idea, you approved the smaller details, and generally when this is done, you should be looking at a nearly completed book cover. Don’t hesitate to ask for small changes, most cover designers are more than willing to tweak, but we are past big picture issues.
  6. Optional paperback cover– if you have a paperback cover, your cover designer will generally make the ebook, then extend out to make the paperback. Once the main design is locked in, they will then work on the back half. Please send them the most updated back blurb because if you are like me, you have messed with it substantially since they first started working on it and now what they have in their Google Form is outdated. Also, they will probably want a guestimate of the size your paperback will be in pages and inches (6×9 or 5×8), so they can format the spine and covers correctly. When you get closer to releasing your paperback, generally you reach out and tell them the exact page count, so they can tweak the cover perfectly to fit the size.
  7. Optional audiobook cover– your cover designer will make an abbreviated or truncated version of your front cover for the audiobook since it’s square instead of rectangular.
  8. Optional hard cover– I have not done this, but if you decide to you, you will need to tell them if it’s an Amazon hard cover (no flaps/wrap) or an Ingram hard cover (has flaps/wrap), and you will have to decide what goes inside the wrap part versus the back.
  9. Sizing problems– this happens without fail no matter how fantastic your cover designer is because the printing/ebook companies are a pain. Files are too large, the cover doesn’t fit right, something isn’t bright/is too bright. Reach out to your cover designer and tell them the specific error. Mine reply quickly, and the crisis is averted without issue.
  10. Set up your preorders, buy your author copy, profit (maybe)- remember that your book cover is what is going to help sell your book. It should be something you love and are proud of, and this is where the vast majority of my budget goes. Put your best foot forward, and lure in readers with your cover for preorders.