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8 Tips to Get the Absolute Best From Your Cover Designer (Guest Post)

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     (Hello again, ebook lovers! Due to personal and family issues in March, Lila has been on hiatus. Luckily, Westin Lee stepped up to the plate with this wonderful guest post on working with a cover designer. Look for the link to his site at the end of the post.)

    Graphic design is a medium that might be totally alien to you. However, it is a necessary part of creating a polished ebook. Don’t panic! There are tons of graphic designers and cover artists willing to work with self-publishing ebook authors. With the right approach, it can be a positive, exciting experience. And more importantly, the resulting cover will look great.

 1. Finish your book.

     If you’ve ever undertaken a massive project before, you know that siren call that comes to you way ahead of the finish lineThe voice says, “Let’s get the cover made!” even though there’s not a finished work to put inside that cover. It seems innocent enough, right?

     Don’t do it! That’s putting the cart before the horse. And besides what you may think about carts and horses and their relative position to each other, there’s another really good reason you should wait:

  •  You may not REALLY know what the book is about, and that might be the idea you want on the cover.

     I have a manuscript undergoing revision right now for a book, and I have done a bad job listening to my own advice – I have a couple dozen sketches of cover designs already. But sure enough, last week I had a revelation about a theme in the book that I had never thought about. And it’s so prevalent, I think it has to be on the cover somehow.

 Back to square one! 

2. Make sure your designer has the right information.

      A good designer will always sit down with you (electronically or otherwise) and ask you questions about your book. We will ask about important scenes or characters in your book, what the story is, and what the themes are. We might ask if you have a cover in mind, and if there are any covers that inspire you.

     Regardless if we ask, make sure we have the answer to the following question:

  •  What story do you want the cover to tell to a potential reader?

     The answer to the above is your mission statement. Whatever you know (or don’t know) about cover design won’t matter if you know what message your cover needs to convey. It’s easy to get lost in the details of a cover (no, that’s all wrong, her hair is shoulder length!!), but with this question answered at the very beginning of the process, you and your designer will be on the same page. Try answering these next two questions to flesh out your ideas:

  •  What do you want the reader to feel when they look at your cover?
  •  What questions do you want the reader to have when they look at your cover?

 

3. Be responsive!

     The normal process of working with a designer goes something like this:

  • Designer gets information.
  • Designer sends a proof design over to you.
  • You tell the designer what you think.
  • Repeat as needed. 

     The faster we hear back from you when we send a proof, the more quickly we can work for you. Cover work can drag on sometimes, especially as we’re refining the design, and we know you’re going to be busy. If at all possible, try to respond in one business day to any proofs or questions. If I can’t send an updated proof in that timeframe, then I get in touch and let you know when you’ll see the changes or revised proofs. 

4. Be specific!

    When you provide feedback, do your best to not only say whether you like or dislike something, but also why you like or dislike it.

     We know the visual language and the written language are different beasts. We’d never expect a client to start naming fonts or mentioning that they want an analogic color scheme. But it helps to know what you like and don’t like!

     On a recent design, my first round of feedback was ‘The back is fine, but I don’t like the cover.’ Um…Can…can you clarify that? Even saying, ‘I don’t like it but I’m not sure why,’ is helpful. A good designer will be able to listen and ask questions and figure out what’s not working.

     And a final note – it seems less necessary to point out why you like something in a design, but if you know why, please tell us! That information could help down the line. Maybe we know you’re not happy with a design overall, but we know that you liked the pattern and one specific element of it. That might be all we need to make your perfect cover!

 5. Collaborate.

     Let’s be honest – I’m a person that knows what I want most of the time. If I go into a project where I’m working with a freelancer, I can get very specific about what I want. Perhaps you do the same thing? ‘Okay, I want this.’ ‘Do this.’ ‘Move this here.’ That’s great! See tip #4.

    Regardless of your approach, think of the relationship as collaborative. That’s going to get you the most for your money and time. The best, most surprising results have been from work where a client has encouraged suggestions and improvisation.

     Whenever possible, ask your designer what they think, and more importantly, ask them to try things. I can build a specific cover if that’s what you want, but if I have the right information and the space to think, I might come up with something awesome that you’d never have thought of.

      And if you don’t like it, cool! We’ll try something else.

 6. Be a jerk.

      Okay,please don’t be an actual jerk. What I mean is, this is your money and your project, and even though I just said to think about it as collaboration, the designer is ultimately working for you.

     Speak your mind. Say if you don’t like something. Say if you do like something, even if it’s not feasible for your cover. If you’re feeling any doubts, say so!

     Maybe this is easy for you. Maybe you are a loud writer who hits tables a lot to make a point and told your friend just now that their hat is stupid. If so, this tip is not for you. My tip for you is, ‘Please do not yell at us.’

     This is a tip for those of you who might let something go by that you don’t actually like, because the conversation might be uncomfortable:

     We want you to tell the truth. We want happy clients. What we don’t want is to spend hours and days hammering out a design, and you secretly never really liked that butterfly image in the first place.

     Don’t let that happen! Be a jerk! We demand it! 

 7. Ask for fewer options.

     If a designer offers ‘unlimited’ revisions as part of his services, take advantage of that by limiting the number of proofs you get at one time.

     The idea of getting twelve proof covers at once may sound appealing, but there are two things to keep in mind. The first is that too many choices make your job harder. Looking at two or three designs at a time is going to let you really give your attention to each one.

      Here’s the other important part of this tip: By asking for just a few proofs at a time, you are asking us to cull the herd and take responsibility for the work we send. If we know we can only send one design, we’ll be extra focused on making it as good as we possibly can.

 8. Have faith!

     A good design takes time. And that’s if a book is about something relatively simple, like a man going on space adventures. Or a woman who is working for a terrible boss

   I’ve seen book descriptions that blew my mind. I read what the book was about and instead of that initial flood of colors and images and ideas, it’s like my mind opened its wallet and a fly buzzed out. Some book ideas are very, very hard to get across well in a cover design.

     But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We have the tools; we just need to work through the process. If you see something that you don’t like, make sure you use tips #3 and #4. If you have fears that this is all going south, politely be a jerk and use tip #6. Talk to your designer and keep working at it. Like a problem passage in a book, eventually you’ll get it right.

 

Westin Lee is a cover designer and author. Have any questions about cover design or design services? Head to westinbookcovers.com.

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How to Approach a Graphic Designer: Interview with Peter Ingham

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      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?

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Money Flows Toward the Writer? Not in Ebook Territory

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     If you’ve participated in any writing communities in the past decade, you’ve probably heard this saying: Money flows toward the writer. Once upon a time, this was nearly undeniably true. But in the ebook and self-publishing landscape, writers often have to spend money to make books.

      In traditional publishing, the saying still holds some merit. No writer should pay a publishing company upfront for basic publisher duties like editing, evaluating, reviewing, or reading the manuscript. And no writer should ever pay an agent upfront. Beyond that, though, things get murky. Certain publishers will want you to pay in order to have your book printed. This is called vanity publishing, and in some cases, it’s perfectly fine. If you need souvenirs for a family reunion, frat or sorority handbooks, or a few dozen books for a family business, vanity publishing might be your best bet. However, alarm bells should go offin your head if a vanity publisher promises to get your book in major stores for a fee of a few thousand dollars. It might be technically true, but it’s not going to happen the way you envision.  In the ebook world, most writers have to spend something in order to get a quality product. Whether it’s spending time learning to use Photoshop or a few hundred dollars for a freelance editor, these independent ebook services can be totally legit– and incredibly helpful. 

   If you already have some Photoshop experience, you may be able to make your own cover. If you don’t have the experience, and you’re not able to learn, paying for a cover will be your best option. Some ebook cover artists charge hundreds of dollars for a single cover. Others will charge rock-bottom prices and hope to make a profit through volume of sales. Many artists can make great covers. The trick is finding a skilled, dependable designer who is willing to work with you to make your vision a reality.

      Editing is the necessary evil of writing. Friends and family are often too forgiving or too inexperienced to point out the mistakes of a loved one’s draft. More and more writers are turning to freelance editors, both copy and developmental.

      Freelance editing is a business. It’s a profession. It’s not personal. Your feelings will probably get hurt. But with great editing, that short-term pain will lead to long-term gain in the form of more engaging storytelling. With mediocre editing, the process will lead to a bunch of headaches when astute readers point out basic or not-so-basic flaws in your ebook. And with terrible editing, the misguided editor might introduce errors, fail to correct major errors, forget to edit the story at all, or attempt to take control as if she were now the legal guardian of the ebook and not just a babysitter.

   In any case, vetting freelance designers, editors, and marketers is absolutely crucial. All freelance professionals should be able to offer you a personal history, references, examples of previous work, current contact information, pricing information and a clear timeline of the process.

      If any freelancer refuses to give a straight answer or can’t substantiate previous work claims, move on. Though it’s typical to get an estimate for a project and not an exact dollar figure, be extremely wary of any “professionals” who cannot give an hourly rate, a per-page rate, or a per-project rate. Also, be cautious of freelancers who oversell their services. No one can guarantee sales or fans.

      There are tons of amazing and experienced freelancers ready and willing to work with you on your ebook. Using the services of an outside professional can help you get a polished product ready for selling and downloading.

      ((One caveat: if you’re soliciting the expertise of a freelance editor, designer, or marketer, don’t offer to pay with the royalties from the future ebook or the opportunity to “get your name out there”. It’s simply unprofessional. In the same way that actors, camera operators, and prop directors get paid even if a movie tanks at the box office, your support team should be paid whether or not your book is a success. You’re the publisher now. And you can’t get all the reward if you don’t take some of the risks.))

Want to recommend your editor, designer, or marketer? Leave a comment with a link!

The Fourth Wave of Ebooks [OPINION]

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      PopularSoda hasn’t been around in its current form for too long, but we’ve had our eye on ebooks since the beginning. Right now is a great time to get into ebooks. Here’s how the ebook market got here, what’s going on now, and what’s happening next for self-published and ebook authors.

THE FIRST WAVE OF EBOOKS

An early version of the Sony Reader

      During the first wave, early adopters bought the first (and incredibly expensive!) ereaders. Everything was shiny and new, and this stage was mostly about figuring out the technology and capabilities. There was virtually no self-publishing: ebooks were nothing more than digital copies of already-printed books. Users could upload their own text files to the ereaders, but there wasn’t a place to share individual writings worldwide, or a way to make money off of them.

      Limited market meant limited choices. Limited technology meant that ebooks were really just text files. There was no interactivity and even the rendered images (when available) weren’t that great. Despite these hurdles, some people saw the potential and jumped on board (Lila is going to out herself as an ebook hipster here because she had a PRS-500 Sony Reader before they were available to the public). Most readers didn’t pay any attention to ebooks until the second wave.

THE SECOND WAVE OF EBOOKS
      At this point, the technology was solid and ereaders were being mass-produced. The price was still pretty high and preserved ereaders’ status as a novelty and not a necessity. Self-publishing options opened up,but confusing programs and pricing structures as well as a lack of customization initially kept some authors away. The DIY publishing technology expanded and evolved over the course of this wave, becoming more accessible with every update.

The cover of one of Amanda Hocking’s books

      In the second wave, we really started to see the first success stories in ebook self-publishing. Amanda Hocking immediately jumps to mind. This self-published twenty-something author sold millions of her ebooks, landed a traditional publishing deal, and sold the film rights for one of her series. She wasn’t the only one to find indie success: John Locke, Michael Prescott, Louise Voss, and J.A. Konrath are also among the top-selling self-published authors. These highly publicized outliers and newer, better self-pub technology and increased availability of ereaders led to the gold rush of the third wave of ebooks.

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The Four Fundamentals of Ebook Cover Design

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Designing an ebook cover is a daunting prospect. But underneath the font choices, stock photos, and editing tricks, there are four fundamental and interconnected rules for ebook cover design.

We’ll examine the four fundamental guidelines through ebook covers which break the rules. Our intent is not to embarrass the creators of these ebooks. Rather, we acknowledge their shared status as ebook pioneers and use these examples to assist other first-time or self-published authors.

Rule 1: Fit the allotted space.

Case 001a

Cases 001a & 001b: Too Big (or Small) For Their Britches

These two covers make the same basic mistake: they do not fit the required image dimensions of the selling website.

In Case 001a, the cover is nearly a perfect square. This would be fine for a printed book. Hard-copy books come in varying shapes and sizes.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule in the tangible world. However, in the online sphere, major ebook retailers do not make allowances for nonstandard image sizes. The automatic resizing from the Kindle site resulted in odd cropping with additional white space around the cover in our first example.

Case 001b

In Case 001b, the cover is far too tiny. It seems like the author wanted to use multiple pictures for the cover. But as a result of incorrect image size, none of the pictures are visible.

You have limited space. Make sure your cover uses every pixel possible. You’re going to need those extra dots!

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