Book Cover Design, Part One

Of all the important, fun, and frustrating parts of self-publishing books, the process of choosing a cover design took me the most by surprise.

It took much longer than I expected. It cost a lost more than I thought it would to get something I was happy to use. The design I love the most may not be the best fit for what my reader will like. There is way too much information to put all in one post, so I’ve decided to split it up in parts. Hindsight is 20/20, so here’s what I learned after I started with literally no idea what I was doing:

A Genre-specific Frustration

A good fantasy book cover design is an elusive creature. It took me a long time, and a lot of research to realize that there are far fewer book cover design companies that provide beautiful fantasy covers. I can see why in retrospect; the covers of many traditionally published and popular fantasy series often involve commissions by famous artists, elaborate scenes with multiple characters and beautifully rendered effects, and take a long time to create – all these things cost a great deal of money, which publishing houses are happy to pay. One of the best examples I could give would be any Wheel of Time book by Robert Jordan, or any Fantasy book by Robin Hobb simply because they’re both genre-specific competitors for where I would love my own series to be.

The Take Away:

Part of being self-published is knowing that unless you have a very cushy budget, achieving that look-alike custom artwork quality of work simply won’t happen with most book cover design companies. I’ll write a separate post on some good alternatives to book cover design companies, but, if you’re just getting started, let’s focus on a few basics.

How Do I Begin?

Devote time to search for two things: similar book cover styles to what you would like, and book cover design websites that have examples of their past fiction or fantasy covers. That got me a long way, and gave me a list. Lists are important. Make lists.

Now, you may feel silly – I’m not a huge user of websites like Pinterest – but saved lists can be an invaluable resource for finding and saving styles you like all in one place. Then, when an artist wants to know the style of clothing or illustration you would like to see in your book cover design, you can send them a link to what you like. Here’s one I made as an example:

https://www.pinterest.com/jrm7017/book-cover-inspiration/

I would also recommend going onto a site like Amazon. Search for book covers you like within your genre. Find your competition and save a list of all the links in one place. Please do this. One place. It will make your life so much easier and save a ton of time.

Okay, I’ve Got My Lists

Great. You have a list of artists or companies that may work, you have a list of book cover designs you like, and a list of similar books in your genre that you would love to squeeze next to on a bestseller list.

Now, I have to admit, I contacted a few companies and artists that did fiction simply because they made beautiful covers, but most of them didn’t do fantasy. Many websites that didn’t have a lot of fantasy covers had a few – they did try- but most were not a pretty sight or to my taste.

I worked with a few companies that were decent (I’ll do a separate post on this soon), and we parted ways. Their designs were not a good fit for my fantasy book, but that didn’t make them bad companies. I realized something even more important in the process. If the artist isn’t familiar with your genre, it will show. Your readers will either recognize it as a fantasy book, or they won’t – and that spells trouble.

This is also why it’s so important to find out who your target audience is!!

Remember your lists?

While you’re making them, pay attention to what the websites are telling you about the artists. Their portfolios showcase not only their past work, but what they do well. If their style is paranormal romance and young adult, believe them. Your time will be best spent by not only looking for good artists, but also focusing on those who are fans of fantasy (or insert your genre here) themselves, and have a portfolio that reflects it.

Happy hunting, and stay tuned for Book Cover Design, Part Two!