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Adventures in Indie #2: Choosing Covers

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Jan. 12th, 2017 | 07:58 am

Originally published at J. Kathleen Cheney. You can comment here or there.

Now that I’m talking about my indie publishing experience (so far), I have to decide how to divide this up into digestible bits.  And the first area that I’ll talk about is my covers.


One of the frightening things about a traditionally published book is having little or no control over the cover. If you’re not a big name, then you’re going to have to hope that your editor is actually reading your books and has a good eye.  My covers at ACE/ROC were AMAZING!


No thanks to me. It was all my editor at the time: D or J. Both of them did a great job of communicating cover ideas to the art department and got beautiful work done.


But when it came time for me to start publishing my related novellas, I had to wade into the world of cover art with no one to hold my hand. Back in 2011, cover art was pretty simple. Now it’s a multi-million dollar industry with a gazillion practitioners and jarringly different styles available everywhere.


So what did I do?


For my first cover (The Seer’s Choice), I had some simple needs:



  1. I wanted the cover to look similar to (but not copy) my Golden City covers.

  2. I wanted the model on the front to look somewhat like what I pictured for my character.

  3. I wanted the cover clothing to be moderately period-appropriate.


Those aren’t huge demands. But when I went to engage a cover artist, I made sure that she knew those three things up front.


I chose my cover artist (Rachel A. Marks) for The Seer’s Choice because I’d seen her work on another writers’ books where she did #1.  So I knew that 1/3 of my wishes were taken care of.


But for #2 and #3, I had some work yet to do.  She got back with me with a list of questions that would give her information about the series, plus a couple of sites that she preferred for stock imagery so I could look at pictures to give her a visual idea what I wanted.


Luckily for me, I found a model that I liked pretty quickly. Her clothing didn’t match anything in my story, but that was an easy fix–I just wrote it into the final scene. She needed a hair change, and the setting had to be picked out, but once Rachel and I made those decisions, I stepped back and let her do her magic.


This is probably a good thing to remind others looking for cover artists about: the artist has to work within certain limitations. For example, the setting, the model, and her hair came from three different photographs. That means that my artist had to pay for use of 3 pictures.


Could I have made a dozen more changes, found more exact details? Yes. But every little thing costs money. Keep that in mind.


Rachel got back to me with some mockups just to check composition and text.


I made a few suggestions for changes.


She got back to me with the next version.


We agreed on some final changes.


And a few days later, I had my various covers. (I had covers for the ebook and for the print version*.)



(Rachel also did some drawing on the cover to pull everything together, plus some lovely effects to make the final cover more…magical.)


I also used this same artist (and process) for After the War, my other novella set in the Golden City world, so you know I’m super happy with her work.



So here are some simple guidelines that I’ll suggest for using a cover artist.



  1. Ask around and see who your friends have used, or alternately, look at other books and pick an artist you like. Usually the artist is listed on the same front page that the copyright and author are listed on.

  2. Be prepared for it to take a while. If an artist is good, they’ll probably have a waiting list. Also, it simply takes time to go through all those steps, communicating back and forth. (And they have lives outside doing your cover. Seriously.)

  3. Pay your cover artist for their work. You expect to be paid for your writing, so they should be paid for their design work. If you can’t afford your cover artist, then you probably should find another way to get a cover.

  4. Remember that it’s NEVER going to be exactly what you have in your mind. The artist has to work with photos that are available.

  5. Don’t forget to credit your cover artist in your work.


Next time, I’ll talk about some other cover art I’ve had done: getting a very specific cover is harder than it looks!



*Print covers have to be pdfs and meet very specific width rules, so adding the print cover often costs quite a bit more.


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Comments {4}

marycatelli

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from: marycatelli
date: Jan. 13th, 2017 02:02 am (UTC)
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One notes that a cover artist (rather than an artist in general) brings advantages to the table, such as knowing the importance of (relatively) neutral space to slap the title and byline on.

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J. Kathleen Cheney

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from: j_cheney
date: Jan. 13th, 2017 12:23 pm (UTC)
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True. I can put together aspects of a cover myself, but I don't truly understand the design principles that drive what works and what doesn't.

(One of my cover artists is planning on offering a cover design class, and I may take it so that I'll have a better grasp of what I don't know...)

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marycatelli

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from: marycatelli
date: Jan. 13th, 2017 11:48 pm (UTC)
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Do you always have the title for the artist when you ask for the cover? (As a visual element, it has to fit too.)

And do you choose the font? (Useful rule of thumb: either the font or the art can be detailed. Not both.)

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J. Kathleen Cheney

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from: j_cheney
date: Jan. 14th, 2017 04:02 pm (UTC)
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For me, usually by the time I'm far enough along to request a piece of art, I have the title. Yesterday I did tell one my my other artists that I would be booking three covers with her in the fall of 2017...and I don't have those titles yet. But by the time she actually starts working on it (July? Sep?), I should have the series titles ready to go.

For this art above, the font was chosen to match the Golden City series.

On all the others, I didn't chose the font. I've note that I don't have a lot of design sense, so I trust the designer to pick it out.

For the premade covers where I just put in the text myself, I actually have stuck with what the cover artist suggests. Even my covers that were done on Canva, I simply changed the words without changing font.

If I had my way, everything everywhere would be in Doves.

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