This post was originally published in 2011
Some information may be outdated.
I’ve been doing a lot of back-and-forth with independent authors recently regarding how we can work together to to provide design services that are both affordable and effective for them. I’m a huge supporter of authors taking more control over their work and I support it personally by having a Kindle full of indie novels.
As a consumer, I’m glad to do my little bit to help – but as a business person I have to be pragmatic. I have to balance my personal interests with the boring reality of making a living. I’m interested in finding out what indie authors on tight budgets need and devising design solutions that fill those needs in a way that works for all of us.
One way I do that is by participating in various relevant online forums, communities, etc. but I really try to keep self -promotion to a minimum. There are forums that allow people to self promote, but those are usually so full of aggressive self promotion that the value of the discussions is lost. Since I do have a service to offer, forums are great research tool but they do not really give me a vehicle to provide any real solutions to those who may need them. For that, I rely on people who contact me via this website.
People tend to mostly contact us once they have made a decision to buy something and they may feel that asking a general question will result in a mindless hardsell rant from some hyped up sales drone. We aren’t like that, and anyone who takes the time to read our site and compare it to others will see that.
Fortunately, a few authors (mostly referred by existing clients) have been willing to take the plunge and talk to me about not only what they specifically need, but also what the indie author community in general may need. Here is a summary of tips and suggestions we have come up with so far, our policies regarding those ideas and also a few things that I’m currently working on based on authors’ input. Yes, I’m promoting my services here, but there is also information that could be useful to anyone who has an interest in indie publishing, book covers and promotion.
Treat your digital book covers as if they will be used for print. Even if you don’t currently plan a print edition, it could happen in the future and this saves you from having to get the cover designed twice.
Raster format graphics are best for photo based covers, photo-realistic covers, and “3D” renderings, but low resolution raster graphics (frequently created by inexperienced amateurs) don’t work well with print and are usually unusable. If you use raster format graphics for your cover, be sure to get it done in the highest resolution possible.
Vector format is industry standard for most non-photo/raster based print graphics and they convert very well to raster format for web and digital use. They are also non resolution dependent and can be used at any size (even very large) with no quality loss. Raster graphics can’t be increased in size without significant quality loss – but can be reduced in size with no problems. Ideally, your cover designer should provide a complete package with the cover in in all appropriate formats.
We create all of our book covers in the appropriate formats for both digital (web) and print use. We also can include promotional graphics such as book mock-ups, DVD (audiobook) mock-ups and advertising graphics for both web and print.
If you use photos in your cover design, your best option (which is not usually possible unless you are a photographer) is to use photos in which you own the copyright. If you choose to use stock photos, be sure that the license allows use in book covers. Some standard royalty free licenses do not – and that can come back to haunt you in the future. Also, if people are used in the photo, be sure there is a model release.
Most photo-based book covers are photo enhancements (a single photo photo enhanced/edited with digital painting and other photo editing techniques) or photo manipulations (two or more photos combined to create a single piece of digital artwork).
Unless the designer creating your cover owns copyright on any photos used, permission must be obtained from the copyright holders of every photo used in the artwork for that specific use. This can be a simple or complex process depending on the licensing policies and availability of the copyright holder(s). It is also standard industry practice to fully credit all photo manipulations and photo enhancements – so it should be a very serious red flag if you are browsing a “book cover designer’s” website and find a lot of uncredited photo manipulation or photo enhancement work . For an example of how this type of artwork should be credited have a look at my digital art website.
Keep in mind that if a stock photo (or graphic) is used as part of a book cover, the copyright holder still retains all copyright to that photo (or graphic). However, if we create a book cover using only original graphics and/or illustrations custom designed by us, it is done as work-for-hire and all IP rights go to you. That means that you’d own full copyright on your cover.
Make sure you own the copyright on all original graphics used for your cover. Your best option for this is to have the design work done as work-for-hire. That means that copyright of the work transfers to you upon full payment and you won’t have to worry about someone else owning the copyright to the graphic elements used in your book cover.
If stock graphics or photos are used – be sure they have the correct licenses. As mentioned above, the copyright holder retains copyright on all stock photos and graphics used.
All of our original cover design work is done as work-for-hire. Any third-party elements we use are properly licensed.
DIY (or DIY software) for commercial graphic design of any kind is a really really bad idea. That is common knowledge and I don’t need to expand on the topic. Amateur graphic design might be an enjoyable hobby, but promoting your book is not a hobby (is it?). The same holds true for having the neighbor who designed that great garage sale flyer take care of it for you.
We are experienced professionals and have been in business since 1998. We know what the heck we are doing.
Book covers can be very complex. The example that first comes to mind is a fantasy cover in which the author wants to use convincing looking characters and/or scenes from the book. Something like that takes a great deal of time (dozens of hours) to conceive and create. Even mass market publishers sometimes don’t have that kind of budget. There are many alternatives that take much less time that can be equally effective – or even more so – since it is debatable if giving readers a preconceived visual of characters (as opposed to letting them use their imagination) is an effective approach.
Non-designers tend to be very optimistic in regard to what can realistically be done within any given budget and a good designer will give you options that will actually work within that budget. You probably won’t get a good designer to lower minimum rates, but every good designer will offer less expensive alternatives to meet lower budgets and those alternatives might even work out better than what you had originally planned.
Our policy is to always provide alternative ideas to try to meet any reasonable budget.
Be sure your designer fully understands your language and culture. Understanding the subtleties of a book (or book summary) is critical to being able to design an effective cover. If your designer is having a hard time understanding a bit of email back-and-forth discussing the design details, there is no chance whatsoever that designer will fully understand your book .
Popular culture also plays a big role in design and to targeting it to a specific market – and popular culture is (obviously) quite different in various parts of the world. People are often lured by low prices to get critical design work done by people who have no understanding at all of their market or of popular trends that will appeal to that market. This only results in one thing: getting the cover designed twice. Once really cheap by someone who has no idea what he is doing when it comes to your market – and then again at standard western prices (or whatever prices are standard where you are) by someone who does. No matter how tempting the price may be, that cheap cover won’t help sell your book if it is made by someone with no understanding of your book or your market.
We only design covers and other promotional graphics for English language books. If your book is in another language, we strongly suggest you look for a designer who speaks that language and fully understands that culture (since that culture is your target market). Ever wonder why translations of popular novels often have completely different covers from the original versions? One reason is that the target market is different – and what is effective for one may not be effective for another.
Another topic that often comes up is blogging to support your book(s). Even with a great book and and a great cover, doing everything you can to get the word out is critical. Few things help book sales more than the author having a blog with an active community of readers (and potential readers). WordPress is the best blogging platform out there and you could start of with a free open-source WordPress theme and upgrade to a custom designed theme once your blog gains in popularity. WordPress is free and excellent WordPress hosting is very reasonably priced – so there is nothing standing in your way to getting started on that aspect of your book marketing efforts right now.
We do a lot of custom WordPress theme design work and more information on that can be found here. I’ll be glad to discuss options with you on creating a custom WordPress theme that will match your book cover designs perfectly – or a design that focuses on you as an author rather than on a specific book.
We will also be glad to discuss design options for your next book cover with you any time and you don’t have to worry about any hard sell tactics when you contact us.