Looking to commission a book cover for your novel? Here’s everything you need to know about finding an artist, writing a brief, and what you should expect from the process of commissioning artwork!
Despite the age-old advice, many people judge books by their covers. The cover of your book is the difference between someone glancing over your book on the shelf and the same person grabbing it. You may have an idea of what you want your book cover to look like while writing your novel but lack the drawing talent to pull it off. You will probably need to hire an artist. This article will show you how to make your book’s cover match what’s inside. It will also offer hints about you and your artist seeing eye to eye.
Before We Start…
Most of this advice applies to authors who plan to self-publish. If you send your work to a publisher, chances are they have artists lined up who already fit their brand. They have more money and marketing knowledge than you do. The amount of input you have on your book’s cover will vary depending on the house.
Once you pick the right artist for your book, expect to become a repeat customer. Your books should look similar if they are in the same genre. This will let potential readers know to expect the same kind of work.
Know What You Want
You might have a specific vision for your book’s cover. Maybe there’s a certain scene you want to hit your readers with—without spoiling, of course! Maybe your name is big enough to make books move, or maybe you want to create a certain feeling from your book. Narrow your priorities to one or two things.
But it might be more important to know what your audience wants. Remember, once you publish your book, it’s not just yours anymore. You have made something to sell to other people. What do you want them to take from it?
Remember to keep your pitches vague. Don’t pummel your artist with details! Have a vague idea. Let the artist do most of the work.
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Don’t Ask the Artist to Read Your Book
The biggest mistake authors make is expecting the artist to read your book. Yes, you put a ton of effort into making sure your dragons looked unique enough in your head to be distinct. Maybe you have a few specific details in mind that cannot be left out, but that doesn’t mean you should expect a professional artist to read your mind.
Let’s think about how images and writing are different for a second. I can go online, look at a neat bit of art, and think, “yeah, that looks nice.” This is the same mindset someone in a bookstore will have when buying a book. Sometimes, they will not have time to look at the blurb on the back. They might see the title, author, and cover, then have to catch a flight.
Deciding what you want on your book’s cover is almost like creating another hook. What do you want to grab your reader’s attention? Hit the artist with that and that alone.
Some of us are speed readers, but most people are not. If the artist wants to read your book, by all means, let them. But it’s not fair to demand that they plow through 300+ pages, expect them to get every detail of your character or scene right, and do all of that in a certain timeframe.
In some ways, asking the artist to recreate a scene or cover exactly as you envision it does both of you a disservice. Your description should be enough to let the artist imagine what you want. And, if you choose the right artist, it will be enough to stimulate your readers’ imaginations, too.
Have Realistic Expectations
Here is something that every freelance illustrator hates to hear: “Hi, my book is being published next month. I’d like you to read my book and make a cover for it based on X scene. It’s due in a month and I’ll be looking at many different artists’ work, so please make reasonable offers. My email address is here…”
If you expect someone to work for pennies for a book that comes out in a month, you probably won’t get a good piece of art. Most illustrators will either ignore you or say “no.” It’s not realistic to expect an artist to produce high-quality work on a massive time crunch for very little money. Art is a business.
The rules for commissioning art (of almost any kind) are often summarized as “good, cheap, fast. Pick no more than two.” If an illustrator says they can do all three, that’s a red flag; you probably should not commission them! They may be making promises they cannot keep—or worse, using AI to do the work for them. Avoid these artists like the plague.
Breaking that down a bit: you can get a piece cheap and high-quality, but don’t expect it to be fast; you can get art fast and cheap but it will probably come at the expense of quality; and you can get a piece of high-quality art in a flash, but expect it to be expensive. Something has to give between those three things.
If that seems like a lot, here’s a tip: illustrators hate “cheap.” Like all professionals, they want to be paid well for their time. Illustrators will want more money if they have to do their usual amount of work, only faster. Ideally, you commission them within a reasonable timeframe so that you can get your book cover design relatively cheaply.
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Look for Freelancers
Now that you know what you should expect (or not) from your artist, it’s time to start with a basic search. There are a few sites that help freelancers of all stripes find work:
Social networking sites like Twitter, DeviantArt, TikTok, and Instagram can also be good ways to find artists. No matter where you go, make sure to keep the communication channels open! Not every artist will be a good fit for your project, but they should be willing to communicate with you. “No” is better than being ghosted.
Ideally, your hunt for freelance artists will take you to their website. Yes, even in these days of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, most artists should still attempt a professional website. A good website should show the artist’s portfolio in a way that will let you determine if they are right for your book.
Seek a Specialist
Some places specialize in book cover design. Here’s a quick list of some sites:
These sites employ artists who already know how to make amazing book covers that sell. If you’ve ever browsed your favorite bookshelf and wondered why all covers looked weirdly similar, it’s because publishers have the graphic design of book covers down to a science. The designers at these websites have a few tricks up their sleeves that you might not have thought about.
Do It Yourself
Of course, there’s always the option of crafting your book cover yourself. Many effective book covers have been made by editing stock images or fooling around with text. But that isn’t going to work for everybody. It probably won’t work for most people!
If you do wind up going it alone, here are a few things to consider:
- What do you like most about your book?
- What do you want the audience to get from your book?
- Specifically, focus on priorities. What do you want to emphasize the most?
- Hunt a few covers that stand out to you. Pinterest is great for this. Do some introspection; why do they stand out to you? Are there any common threads?
- What do other books in your genre look like? Most of the time, genres have an aesthetic you should not break unless you know what you’re doing.
- Practice, practice, practice. Don’t expect pro-level quality after just one how-to post.
A graphic designer or illustrator will have the right tools and know-how to make your book cover come to life. They’ll be able to catch stray pixels and make the font look better than someone who just YouTubed how to manipulate text in GIMP.
With so much competition for eyeballs on bookshelves and Amazon, everybody will judge your book by its cover. That means you should put a lot of thought into who will design that cover. Look for an artist who fits your genre and budget. Most importantly, they should make the soul of your book the first thing people see. Hopefully, this guide has helped you find the picture-perfect cover for your work!