So you’ve finished the inside of your book and it’s time to start work on the outside. But how do you approach a cover artist? What’s the normal procedure? And how do you make sure your cover is unique, interesting, and legal? We spoke with author//graphic designer Peter Ingham about the cover design process from a graphic artist’s perspective.

      Hey Peter, thanks for taking the time to talk to us about ebook cover design. Let’s get right into it:

      What are the key pieces of information an author should include when soliciting cover design services?

      These are the main elements I look for:

  • Timeframe on the work (“I need this by next week.”)
  • The intended format (hardback vs ebook, as well as the target website like Amazon or Smashwords)
  • A general idea of what the client would like the cover to look like
  • Any images the author already has (stock images, personal photos, royalty-free images)
  • Any influences they have
  • Any thematic elements and a brief synopsis of the work

      What’s the most helpful piece of information a client can send to an ebook cover artist?


      A succinct paragraph of what they’re trying to achieve with a couple of reference images. That usually ensures both people are on board and the designer can explain how it is achievable.

      How long should a client wait for a reply?

      A couple of days at the most. Even if the designer is inundated with work, there’s no excuse for not sending a reply to say so. Times would differ over weekends and holidays as well, which is expected for anyone.

      How can a client guarantee the best representation of his vision for the ebook cover?

      Listening to the designer is a good place to start. Sometimes a client can have a clichéd idea of a cover that would not stand out. It’s a designer’s job to create powerful images, so it’s important to collaborate and figure out the best way to achieve an author’s vision.
      On the designer’s end, it’s important to explain the reasoning and design choices so a client is involved with the process. An author is not there to drive the car, but they are giving directions to the location.

      What are the steps involved in soliciting a freelance designer, from initial contact to final payment?

  1. Contact the designer, he’ll tell you if it’s doable and a general timeframe.
  2. Agree upon the price and sign a contract with payment before delivery (in some cases) of the final piece of work (low-res proofs are fine).
  3. Wait for the the designer to send several mock-ups of their idea. Before going further, the client will have an opportunity to approve or change the basic design.
  4. Keep in contact. The graphic artist will update the author with the cover’s development, and the author can request some minor changes. Since the client should approve the initial idea, there shouldn’t be a need for a complete redesign.
  5. Pay! When payment goes through, the designer will send them all relevant files in the agreed-upon formats. Any extra things can be charged as they come, and as outlined in the contract.

      What are the limitations of cover design?

      There aren’t too many limitations in cover design. You don’t want a piece that is too cluttered or that requires images that the designer can’t provide (like a personal photograph of a luxury car, scenic view, or even a space shuttle). Preparing those images would create exorbitant costs for both parties. That’s why stock images are helpful: the author can obtain the necessary image for a small licensing fee.
      Another limitation would be asking a graphic designer to venture into an area where he doesn’t usually work. I’m no illustrator, so asking me to draw your cover by hand, although possible, would look terrible.
      While influences are fine and encouraged, I personally would not simply copy a design, as it does neither me nor the author any favors.
      Finally, a client cannot expect a piece of work to be completed over night. The process does take time, so don’t be shocked when you see a bill for several hours’ worth of work.

      What are some things clients shouldn’t do?

  • Be too stubborn
  • Cancel work or refuse to pay after a contractual agreement has been signed
  • Say “Do whatever you want, you’re the designer, I’m sure I’ll like it.”
  • Fail to give feedback on likes and dislikes
  • Try to edit the images on their own
  • Hassle a designer and believe they can call whenever they please
  • Rush the designer. Again, understand that the process may take time

      Peter has worked as a freelance designer for several years. Prior to that, he worked for the TV, film, and video game industry both as a designer and writer. His design projects include book covers, treatments, websites, flyers, posters, and magazines. In addition to his design work, Peter also works as a journalist and developmental editor for screenplays and manuscripts. Find him at peteingham.com

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