The moment has arrived; your book is ready for its debutante ball. But no matter how finely honed its grace and manners, formatting and prose, it still needs to be dressed in an eye-catching cover that lets the readers of the world know exactly what genre and subgenre she is, and what promises are being made that will be revealed if they can take her home…
And if you’re like me, you’re not an artist. (Really; I just feed them.) So you have to get someone else to do that.
So where do you find your cover art and cover designer? Well, you can search the premade options put together by artists and designers, so you know exactly what it’ll look like when you get the “Your Title” swapped out for your actual title, and “Author Name” swapped for your pen name or real name.
Or you can get one designed for you. If you have no idea what you want or need, this can involve writing up a short description of the book or sending the book to the designer. Be aware that a busy professional designer probably will not read your entire book, but is skimming for worldfeel, character descriptions, possibly an iconic scene.
Or, if you’re a little more artistically inclined, you’ll send the designer / artist basically three sets of URLs.
First, links to bestselling books in the same subgenre that have covers similar to what you want. (send 3, so they can get a feel for what’s standard to that subgenre vs. particular to that single cover.)
Second, Send them URLs from stock photo sites that say “models like this”
Third, URLs from stock photo sites saying “backgrounds like this”
Artists think in pictures, not words, so communicate in visuals as much as possible. You’re going to use and abuse the English language and mangle it while searching for the precise technical terms artists use to talk to each other. If you don’t understand saturation, hue, rimlighting, filters… then just say “the soft painting-not-photo look” or “the kinda glowy visual effects” because your artist will understand.
But make sure to start off with current books in subgenre, or your artist will build a cover with what they interpret from your words, and it can deviate and drift.
Which brings us to… the artist sent a sketch, a thumbnail, or a low-res render. And you don’t like it. What do you do now?
First, take a deep breath, get some chocolate, and let the emotion pass. Then try to analyze why you don’t like it. Go back to the bestsellers and hot new releases lists, and compare the book to those, to see where it’s different. If you just try to fix it and tinker without really understanding what drives the problem, you’re more likely to end up with an unholy mess and a lot of frustration and time wasted than a good cover.
Once you have a handle on the problem, then go back to the artist. Find something you liked in it and compliment it – because this person just did a lot of work for you! Also, because that lets them know what they might want to keep. Then explain the issue.
On the most recent cover I commissioned, I was drawing a total blank on cover art, so I sent the book instead. (She likes the genre, so this wasn’t a great hardship.) The artist took the concept of a skyline that included alien ruins and built up a really neat alien ruin. But it took up the whole background, leaving no hint of city there. When I asked her to put the city in, it had to squeeze faintly around the edges, and the alien ruins were abstract enough that… although fairly true to book description… they didn’t signal subgenre at all, nor trigger “alien ruin.” When I ran the cover past a friend, they said, “Oh, you’re writing steampunk?”
And I realized that was the problem… the ruins really looked like steampunk embellishment. Wrong subgenre signaling! What I really needed to emphasize wasn’t the alien bit for science fiction, the action/adventure/thriller needed the city to be emphasized.
And the model herself, well, she had the right hair colour, but she had this dreamy expression that would look at home on a romance, and wasn’t nearly hunted enough for this book. Which makes sense, because the last cover she designed for me had a hefty romance subplot, so when she did a quick skim on this one, she might have missed the genre shift.
So I went back to the artist, saying thank you very much for all the work you’ve done, but I really need you to scrap the entire cover and start over. And here’s some of the covers I’m looking at, and here’s some of the models, and some of the cities…
And she came back with “How about this?” Of course, gal with city backdrop has gotten common enough in urban fantasy/paranormal romance that throwing an odd-coloured sky might not be enough to signal science fiction adventure instead, and throwing in a moon or two is Right Out. But the artist tried a planet with rings, and we could do that!
And the cover, lo, it was awesome. Much, much closer to genre and subgenre, and felt right.
However, she couldn’t find a redhead model. I found a perfect model that was redheaded, but she was also wearing a BDSM collar and that was most definitely wrong genre signaling entirely! So we ran with a brunette. And I shrugged, and noted that sometimes you don’t get the perfect model unless you shoot your own covers, and besides, she dyes her hair brown at one point in the story anyway, so it’s still plausible.
And the artist was happy, because they really do want to create beautiful, functional art that helps your story be the best it can be. And the customer was happy, and soon, I hope readers will be happy!
What do you think?