How To Get Under The Covers With Your Cover Designer

artistOne of the most important parts of a book is the cover, in fact it is THE most important part. Somewhere between 80-90% of the buying decision is based on the look of the cover. As a writer I spend a load of time concentrating on the words on the inside and yet it hurts me to say that the way it’s wrapped up is, at least initially, the most influential aspect to the reader.

This annoys me somewhat because I find it impossible to explain what it is that I want as a cover, to my illustrator. I’m fortunate that he is one of my longest and dearest friends, so I know that my continually changing brief will not damage our relationship, but one must be careful. I think there are a number of steps you must go through to achieve the cover that you desire.

What do you want?

  1. Look at a lot of other covers and pick out the ones you like
  2. Look at the genre you’ll be in and pick out the ones you like
  3. Think of your target market
  4. After all of this, pick a style that you like and collect together as many examples of this style as you can find

Now you’re ready to prepare the brief. I’ve learnt that if it’s someone you know who’s doing it for you then the brief is even more important. It will separate the professional request from the general chit chat. Know what you want in your head before even talking to someone else, then get what you want down on paper and then communicate it.

The Brief

  1. What style? (include the examples of other covers with the style that you’re after)
  2. What emotions do you want to convey? (e.g. Scary, tense, funny, light, heavy)
  3. What features of the story do you want displayed? Think of your target market and where they might read it. (a chick lit book will probably have a handbag and some shoes on it – a cliche but clearly definable)
  4. Include a synopsis of the story so the illustrator/designer knows where you’re coming from
  5. Any other ideas you’ve had but don’t tell them exactly what to do. You’re a writer and a crap designer otherwise you’d be doing it yourself so you’ll have to trust them.


  1. I think it’s fair to initially ask for at least 3 different types of idea/sketches based on the brief. 
  2. Don’t ask your illustrator/designer to spend a lot of time up front because it may well be wasted effort.
  3. Regular meetings.
  4. Timings. The expectations should be set at the beginning for when the final cover needs to be finalised and then, working back, when the initial drafts need to be presented. (Professional illustrators take between 2-4 weeks to finalise a project, first drafts are expected after 4-5 working days)
  5. There will be an iterative process between the sketches and the finalised cover that must be as streamlined as possible. Both of you need to be aware of this.


If you’re not lucky enough to have a best friend that’s good with his pencils then you will need to pay for this service. The going rate for a paperback is about £125-£200, eBook only – £100. Anything more than that and question what else are you getting. You’re looking for an effective design not a work of art.

So, I hope this all helps. I’ve cocked up massively in this department because I’m using a mate to do it. I’ve not been clear, I didn’t know what I wanted up front and I feel as though I’ve mucked him around. But I have to remember; the cover is more important than the words. Ouch. If the book is likened to your baby, and you spend all of that time making it from the inside, it’s like trusting someone else to give it a face.

Everybody judges a book by its cover. FACT. 

Have you had any good learnings from designing covers for your books? Please share them with me.


3 responses to “How To Get Under The Covers With Your Cover Designer

  1. Yes/and No………….to judging a book by it’s cover. The few words about the story on the back/flyleaf helps me as well.
    I don’t think, in my limited cyber-experience, that there’s much difference between real books, (those you hold) and cyber-books in respect of the cover.
    I know that covers can really turn me off a book…..if they’re too blood curdling/too corny/too text-book looking……… then the few well chosen words in the synopsis help overcome that.
    I’m into key words at the moment, so how about the odd key word, relating to the book, appearing within the cover design? That’s why I think the words great….corporate and escape will still work for whatever the first novel ends up being.
    Might also be another way of helping with the early planning stage……….key words relating to the potential story, or even a whole number of potential book titles for future use? Sort of thing you could do whilst soaking in the bath.
    Now as to the use of a good illustrator…………….what can I say? Probably everything YOU have!

  2. This seems to be in keeping with other things I have read. I am graphically awful and used Fiverr to get a place holder cover for my ebook. What that taught me is that a five dollar cover looks like a five dollar cover. I’m nervous about writing my brief but have already started looking for covers I like.

    • Good for you. Writers aren’t meant to be designers, if you’re both then great, but most of us aren’t. Some self-published authors think that they are good at designing though, and therein lies the problem. The fact that you are aware of your shortfalls means you’ll be alright. I think it’s a question of how seriously you take the writing career; if it’s serious then it’s worth paying £100 for it to look good because that’s the only thing that people will see when you’re talking about your book.

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