Guest post by Bronwyn Green
Authors need to foster a lot of relationships—relationships with their readers, book bloggers, their editorial staff, and their cover artist to name a few. Working well with your cover artist is hugely important, because after all, your cover is the first thing potential readers see.
So, assuming you don’t already have a cover artist you love and adore *bats eyes at my ridiculously patient cover artist* let’s look at how to find a cover artist.
First off, are you going the traditional or indie route?
If you’re going for traditional publication, you don’t need to worry about finding your own cover artist. Your publishing house, whether large or small, will have their own artist(s) on staff or contracted.
If you’re looking at indie publication, you’re gonna need a cover artist. Unless you’re already a Photoshop master. Those authors exist. I can think of three great ones off the top of my head. But, most of us don’t have that skill set.
So, how do you find a cover artist? First of all, get thee to Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or iBooks and start looking at book covers. Make a note of indie book covers you love. You can use the “look inside” function to scan the copyright page. Often, you can find the cover artist info right there. See if you can find at least 5-10 artists’ names you’d like to investigate a little further.
If you really love an artist’s work, but can’t find their name, you could always send the author a polite inquiry. Most people are more than happy to share that info since they’re eager to keep their artist in business.
You can also do social media callouts asking for artist recommendations or ask your author friends who they recommend.
Once you have your dream list of artists assembled, visit their business webpage, blog, and/or social media pages. If they have their rates listed, you can find out who’s in your budget and narrow your list accordingly. I’ve seen prices from $50 to $500 and everything in between. Some charge an hourly rate. If prices aren’t listed, you can always email them and ask.
After you know who you can afford, the next step would be to find out if the artist has the interest and room on their roster for another client, if their schedule meshes with yours, and what their preferred work structure is.
Unless the answers to these questions are outlined on an FAQ page or on a cover art request form, here are some things you might want to ask while you’re trying to figure out who would be the best fit for you.
What are your rates?
Obviously, it’s best for both parties to know upfront if it’s financially feasible to work together.
Do you charge by the finished image or do you charge by the hour?
This is important to know up front, especially since the search for cover models can be a lengthy and tiresome one. And covers that incorporate a lot of layers to get the desired effect can also be time consuming.
Do you also make print flats, audiobook covers, 3-D images, banners, ads, social media graphics, etc.?
Sometimes, all you need is an ebook cover, but you may discover that you need additional images later on. You can ask if the artist has package prices for any of the above or if it’s more of an ala carte situation. It would also be a good idea to find out if they’d be willing to do any of the following in the future and if it would cost more to make it later than it would to make it now.
How many versions/tweaks of the cover do you allow before there’s an additional charge?
We’ll go into this in more depth a bit later, but authors that constantly want tweaks or complete do-overs can be a giant pain in the ass for cover artists to work with. And it’s important for both of you to know if there’s a limit for these things before beginning the cover art creation process.
Do you have an intake or cover art request form for clients to fill out?
Some cover artists have forms for authors to fill out that include things like genre, mood of the story, physical descriptions of the main characters, setting, important elements in the story that could be used on the cover, positioning of models (facing the camera, profile, torsos only, etc.) elements you’d rather not see on a cover, heat level (if it’s a romance) and a brief story synopsis.
Are you offended if authors share examples of other covers they like to give you an idea of what they’re looking for?
Sometimes, other covers are a great use of shorthand, particularly if authors doesn’t necessarily have the art-related vocabulary to describe what they want or the feeling they’d like their final cover image to evoke. I think over all, most cover artists are pretty receptive to this. However, every once in a while, you may come across one who feels this stifles their creativity.
Are you bothered if authors already have models chosen for their covers?
Some artists appreciate not having to slog through hundreds of thousands of pages of model images. And you guys, I don’t know if you’ve ever perused a stock art site, but there is some super messed up stuff over there. This can be especially helpful to the author if the artist charges by the hour. However, some artists may feel this stifles their artistic flow. It’s best to know that before beginning.
Even if the artist is open it, it should be noted that while you feel you’ve found the perfect model image(s), they may be unusable for your cover art for a variety of reasons, such as: the image has already been used a number of times on other books, the photograph is landscape oriented and can’t be edited in a way that looks good on a book cover (note: some can, but not all), the photo you like for your heroine was taken outside in bright sunlight, but the photo you like for your hero was taken inside at night, and the light they were photographed in is too disparate to use together, and a host of other reasons.
Is the artist comfortable with and able to effectively brand series?
This isn’t a question you want to ask directly, unless you can come up with a far less offensive way of phrasing it. The easiest way to find out this information is to ask to see any series in their portfolio. Do the book covers look like they belong together? Are there visual cues like fonts, mood, style poses that make the different books look like a cohesive whole? Though, keep in mind, that could be due to the author’s choice. Sometimes, authors will insist on design elements that aren’t in the best interest of their cover.
If you feel that you’d like them, is the artist willing to provide references?
Often, you can tell by your communication with the artist and their body of work whether or not you’d like to work with them. But if you do want references, and the artist is unwilling to provide them, that may be a red flag you want to consider.
I’d like to take a minute to talk about talk about a few cover art related things you may not be aware of when you’re envisioning what you’d like to see on your cover.
Speaking of my most recent cover, I’d like to use it to tell you a cautionary tale and give you a list of do’s and don’ts when working with your cover artist.
Do get your vision straight before commissioning your cover artist so you don’t run into issues and a higher bill—you know, the whole tweaks and do-over thing I mentioned above.
I’d like to preface this cautionary tale by telling you that if my cover artist, Kris Norris, wants to murder me, she’s really good at hiding it. This example is also the story of how I am the literal worst.
My last release, Rewritten, is part of the Bound series that I share with author, Jessica Jarman. It’s about an author who’s five years past deadline for the final book in his immensely popular sci-fi series (basically like George R. R. Martin—only super-hot, Scottish, crabby, and looks like Aidan Turner—go with me, here) and the editor/author assistant his publishing house assigned to him who’s supposed to browbeat him into finishing the book.
They…don’t start off on the best foot. In fact, their relationship is pretty acrimonious in the beginning. So when I found some stock art of a couple sitting back to back, both of them on their laptops, I thought, “OMG, this is PERFECT for Angus and Eliza!”
And Norris was like, “Are you sure? It’s a lot different than the other books in the series.” The art was, of course, landscape and difficult to work with, but she’s a wizard, and made it into the cutest cover! I mean look at that ripped and erased paper! And it had the rope around the bottom like the rest of the books in this series.
And eventually, I realized that as freaking adorable as this cover is, it really didn’t go with the rest of the series. And more importantly, it really didn’t look like an erotic romance with BDSM elements. I mean, this cover doesn’t really say wax play, does it?
So, Norris tried again. And this was better—definitely looked more like a steamy romance. And it’s really pretty and has the whole ripped paper thing going for it. But it still didn’t feel quite right.
I was talking over cover art ideas with my series partner, Jess, and we realized that what we really need to do was rebrand the whole series. And St. Norris created the perfect cover for Rewritten (with a very hot Aidan Turner stand-in) and redid the entire series to go with it.
So, save yourself some money and your cover artist some time and frustration, and figure out exactly what you want and need before you start. And maybe listen to your artist when she tells you why something is a bad idea.
Do follow your cover artist’s guidelines and make sure she has all of the information needed to create an awesome cover for you.
For example, let’s say you’ve described your heroine as a full-figured curvy woman and your hero as a man with a muscular build and dark hair. And your artist sends you a cover draft of a gorgeous dark-haired couple, almost kissing, as cover models are wont to do. And you love it, except…your heroine is blonde.
This is not the time to tell your cover artist that.
And when your cover artist slaves for hours in Photoshop, trying to lighten the model’s hair to make it look like a realistic shade of blonde (it’s much easier to go darker than lighter, BTW), it’s really not the time to ask your artist if your heroine’s hair can be put into in a bun.
If a cover without a blonde heroine with her hair in a bun is going to be a deal breaker for you, your cover artist needs to know that at the beginning of the process. Not after she’s already put in several hours’ worth of work.
Don’t micromanage your artist’s process.
Yes, this is your cover, and it’s important that you’re happy with it. But if your artist tells you that the cover will be too busy if you have a winter skating scene, an ambulance, the hero and heroine, Chinese lanterns, a hedgehog, and the series logo, you need to understand that this cover is going to be a train wreck and look amateurish.
Give your artist some room to work and to exercise her creativity. She’s a professional. She knows what elements will work together and how to blend them to create an attractive image.
Don’t publicly drag your cover artist.
Honestly, this should go without saying, but after the tomdouchery the book community witnesses on a regular basis, I feel like I might be remiss if I don’t mention it.
Now, when authors write for publishing houses—both large and small—they have very little to zero say about cover art. Sure, you can share your hopes and your vision by filling out a cover art form, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get the cover of your dreams. Often, you may hate it. Small presses tend to allow a little more author input than larger presses do. In a larger press, it’s usually the marketing team who tells the artist what they want to see in a cover.
When I was writing for small presses, I loathed a lot, well, most of my cover art. But, the general attitude of marketing and management was, “you get what you get, and you don’t pitch a fit”. And while privately I may have hated certain covers, I didn’t bitch about them publicly. Ultimately, if you’re working with a publisher, you’re working together to sell your book. Complaining about cover art isn’t going to get you very far with management, and it can turn off even longtime readers.
Look at, popular fantasy author, Terry Goodkind. He’s got over twenty books published—fifteen in one series alone. On February 23, 2018, Goodkind openly mocked the cover art for his new book, Shroud of Eternity, on his Facebook page, calling it “laughably bad” and invited readers to join him in mocking the art and even set up a poll to that effect.
This…did not go well for him. Thousands upon thousands of people came out in support of the artist, Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme, far more than have spoken up for Goodkind. There are many, many readers who, after this little display of tomdouchery, have dropped Goodkind altogether. I watched that happen in real time when my husband was reading the story. He said, “Welp…guess I’m not finishing the Shannara series. What a knob.”
There’s that old adage: all publicity is good publicity, but I’m not sure that’s true. Especially, when bad publicity is bound to affect not only his bottom line, but his publisher’s, too.
There are a lot of great cover artists out there, and with a little time spent researching and chatting, I’m positive you’ll find the one who’s perfect for you. But I’d like to take a minute to give a shout out to three of my faves. Not only are they talented, but they’re also all wonderful people, so if you’re in the market for cover art, I highly recommend:
If you’d really like to see some of the lunacy available on stock art sites, you may enjoy this post: WTF Stock Art?!?!?!?!
Here are some stock art resources if the afore mentioned blog post didn’t scare you away from art sites altogether.