Today we hear from award-winning book designer Tami Dever of TLC Graphics, speaking on the importance of a well-designed book cover.
Q. Tami, what do you consider the required elements for an effective cover?
A. A professional, effective cover is cohesive and grabs your attention. The type needs to be readable, but not necessarily large. The colors need to be appropriate for the genre and work well together, whether bold or subtle. The elements must work well together and be dynamic, leading your eye through the design and begging you to desire more — all in a matter of seconds. A cover is a simple billboard for your book. It’s a snapshot in time that gives an overall impression or feeling of what’s inside. It must represent the style of writing and topic well without looking like every other cover in the genre.Check designers’ web sites for before and after samples of covers to see what works and why. It’s a wonderful way to experience what works and what doesn’t in an instant. It tends to be a gut reaction of “wow” or “oh, what an improvement” when you can see them together.
Q. How long should an author allow for the cover design process?
A. Ideally, we like to have about eight weeks to develop the entire cover. This includes both a phone interview and a PDF questionnaire, 3-5 initial front cover layouts, revisions to the favorite(s), finalizing the front cover, developing the back and spine to match the front, and preparing the full cover for press.
Q. Is there anything wrong with letting your publisher design your cover?
A. Some publishers have in-house design departments, not giving you a choice. Many times these publishers also give you little to no input on your cover’s design. A better solution is working with a publisher who at least allows your input on how your cover looks. Each party needs to remember that the designer knows design and marketing better than the author, but the author knows her book better than the designer. Great things come from collaborations when each party does what he/she does best.When it comes to vanity publishers or all-in-one, “self-publishing assistance houses,” don’t do it! They rarely (if ever) have your best interest in mind and the quality of their cover and interior designs are nearly always less than professional. Most do, however, allow you to submit files designed elsewhere.
Q. What if the author is also an artist?
A. If the author has proper book design training and knows how to produce a fool-proof, press-ready file, there’s no reason not to. If, however, the author is good at painting, drawing, or photography but has no experience in book design, he should give his artwork to an experienced book designer and let each do what they do best.
Q. What’s the best way for an author to shop for a book designer?
A. There are several good ways, including checking member listings of publishing associations such as The Writers’ League of Texas or IBPA (formerly Publishers Marketing Association). If you see a book cover that appeals to you, check the title page to find the designer. If one isn’t listed, contact the publisher and ask. Word of mouth is a powerful tool when it comes time to put your team together. Check out small publishers online. If you like the covers of their books, call or write to ask about their designer. Many of the smaller houses use freelancers who would be available to you as well.Doing a web search can be fruitful, but can also send you to less-than-desirable designers. Always view the designer’s portfolio to see if they have a specific style or can do many. Perhaps your book seems as though it just belongs there. See if they’ve won any awards. They’re an indication of talent, but won’t let you know about the designer’s personality. Talk with the designer on the phone. If you don’t mesh quickly, move on. You’re putting together a publishing team and the process should be fun, so hire someone you get along with and trust. Lastly, NEVER work without a contract.
Q. How much does a custom cover cost?
A. Good designers generally charge between $1,200 and $5,000 for a full cover design. Most are around $2,000. It’s very rare to find a talented, reliable designer for under $800 who also knows how to properly produce a file for press. Many of these low-cost firms are new to the business or don’t specialize in book design.Don’t scrimp when it comes to cover design. If a potential buyer, reader, wholesaler, distributor, or reviewer sees a poorly-designed cover, it’s highly likely they’ll come to the conclusion that it’s also poorly written and will pass it over for your competition.
Q. When is the best time to hire a book designer?
A. Don’t wait until you’re done writing. A book designer can help in many ways, including helping you find a good printer. If you’re also hiring to design the interior of your book, a designer can assist in estimating your final page count, which will help develop your budget before going to press. A good design firm is usually booked up a few months in advance, so you want to begin your research early and get on their schedule before you’re ready. If you’re already done writing, don’t fret. Just get started on your search, trust your gut feeling, and know that a great design is worth the wait.
For more information on book design, visit http://www.tlcgraphics.com/.
-Stephanie Barko, Literary Publicist