Not sure where to start with cover design? Read on for Natasha Snow’s fantastic Q & A and find answers to the things you always wanted to know about working with designers, selecting a cover concept, and industry trends.
How did you become a designer? What led you to specialize in designing book covers?
When I was younger, I dreamed of finding something to do with my life that was creative, but still… strict. I’ve always liked rules, deadlines, plans. And then I discovered design. It’s creative, fun, and visually enthralling, but with rules. Sure, you can bend those rules, but design isn’t entirely opinion-based. There is good design, and there is bad design. And of course, all those little spaces in between.
I went to college for design with a major in print and illustration. After that, it was really my love of reading that escalated my career as a book cover designer.
What are some design influences that impact your work?
I like to go on to Pinterest and see what other cover designers are doing! I also spend a lot of my time on Goodreads so I’m basically looking at book covers all day. I find it really helpful for inspiration, but also because designing book covers is actually quite different from designing other things. You have to taken into account how it will look in thumbnail size, how it’ll look next to other book covers of the same genre, etc.
Do you have a favorite book cover?
Of mine? Oh, no. But if we’re talking about other covers, then yes! I have a few!
The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp (The typography, the color palette, the weight, the balance: perfect)
The Diviners by Libba Bray (The version with just the hands and forearms in the darkness. Stark, striking, represents the genre perfectly, great typography)
Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat (Striking, minimal, create colors, and the use of negative space is fantastic)
When authors start their search for a cover designer, what kinds of things should they be thinking about?
- Style. Make absolutely sure you like the artists style. Every designer has a different style, so make sure you like the majority of their portfolio.
- Typography. If you yourself can’t tell the difference between good typography and bad typography, hire a designer who does. Typography is one of those areas of design without a lot of wiggle room. There is good typography and bad typography. There are good fonts and bad fonts, and some authors and designers will have a personal taste that affects their likes. But the actual typography work isn’t negotiable. It’s one of the biggest issues I see with some book covers. If your cover is amazing but your typography is lacking, people will notice.
- Price. Look around at portfolios and find one a design in your budget. Look for pre-mades if your budget is lower. If you’re looking to have covers designed for an entire series, send the designer an email and see if they offer any kind of discount for a series.
- Genre (sort of). I personally think a good designer can design an amazing cover in almost any genre. Before starting a project, I do research on the genre and what’s selling, what big publishing houses are putting out in that genre in regards to the cover, what’s popular, etc. But make sure the designer you’ve selected is comfortable designing in other genres. If you love a designer’s work but don’t see the genre of cover you’re looking for in their portfolio, shoot them an email and ask.
How much about a book do you need to know when you start the cover design process? Should an author send you a synopsis?
I love getting a synopsis! It’s definitely helpful and an integral part of the design process. Sometimes a brief passage of the book is also provided, which can be very helpful.
Also, I need to know the genre, overall feel, about the setting(s), and the characters, including visuals on how they look and their persona. I need to know if it’s a series cover as well. Knowing if there are any vital elements that the author thinks should be on the cover also helps a lot. And if the author has any suggestions in regards to visuals, I’ll definitely take those into consideration as well.
Describe your ideal collaboration process with an author when creating a cover design.
To start, I love having all the information about the book(s) before starting. Usually, the author will fill in the order form on my website and from there, if I have any questions, I’ll email them to touch base, discuss when I’ll be starting the project, when we’re likely to be finished, and if we can meet all the deadlines.
From there, I start working on some concepts and send them to the author. Ideally, I do like getting feedback. Good types of feedback are things like “Oh, I like the blue, but remembered that the landscape is more green. How would a green palette look?” or “Can you try other fonts for the title and author name? I’m not sold on this one.” Or letting me know if some of the visuals need changing in general. I find my best work comes from feedback and usually after a handful of rounds of revisions.
I’d say the most important part of the relationship between author and designer is communication. If both parties are able to communicate well, I think you’ll end up with a great design.
What kinds of things should authors avoid doing?
Authors should probably avoid giving too much feedback or going through a lot of rounds of revisions. Not only will this delay the process but sometimes it’s easy to get hung up on the small details that are only opinion-based.
I would also suggest avoiding getting too literal. If the character on the cover doesn’t look exactly like how you picture the character in the story, that’s okay. It should look similar, but I would always suggest going for something that looks good over something that looks accurate. Good will get potential readers to click the thumbnail and read the blurb.
I always say that it’s best to lure readers in with a great (but as accurate as possible) cover, and then hook them with the blurb.
What trends do you see in cover design?
In Romance right now (Contemporary, Erotic, and New Adult), black and white images with neon text is super popular – usually with a shirtless and tattooed model, and a script font! Urban Fantasy is also really popular. A lot of bestselling covers in this genre have neon or bright colors and a model on the cover, holding something that looks magical.
Silhouettes are very popular in mystery/thrillers, as they have been for awhile. Double exposure is also becoming more popular in mystery/thriller covers.
Any final words of advice?
Trust your designer. Above all else, trust your designer and their opinion, their taste, and their style.
As a cover designer, it’s my job to make the author happy and give them a cover they love, but it’s also my job to tell them what works, what doesn’t work, and what I believe will sell.
Sometimes an author wants a cover that, unfortunately, won’t sell. Or won’t sell as well as it could with a different cover! My best advice would be to trust the designer you’ve hired, trust when they tell you one font is working more, one layout is working more, or one color palette is working more. Nine times out of ten, you’ll get a much better cover by listening to your designer’s recommendations.