Skip to content

8 Essential Tips for Working With Cover Artists

Self Publishing Week, Day 3

It’s Day 3 and the final instalment of The B2W Self Publishing Week blogs on this fascinating subject … I love indie publishing! I think it’s fab the barriers are coming down at last and we’re hearing from previously marginalised voices more and more.

Today it’s author Graeme Maughan’s turn on working with cover artists … I totally endorse Graeme’s points here. I’m very happy with ALL the covers for my books, but especially the ones for my novels.


Everyone judges a book by its cover, especially when it comes to unknown authors. So how do you get a high quality cover that will attract attention and encourage people to buy your book? I asked a variety of cover artists and self-published authors and here are their essential tips:

 1) Set your budget

Commercial artists can charge £500-£5000 or more. But what if you’re a self-published author with no money? With a little effort, you can find artists who will produce high quality work. Be open about your budget from the start and ask what you can expect in return. MORE: Making Connections, Self Promotion, Building Relationships

2) Research different artists

Commercial artists are named in books they illustrate or you can internet search “book cover artist agency” to view their portfolios. Look for styles that suit your book. Have you written a fantasy? Find an artist with a style like other fantasy book covers.

If you have a small budget put out a call on G+, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook and ask for retweets / shares. Or ask other self-published authors who produced their covers.

I found the cover artist for Sympathy for the Devil with this: “I’m looking for a book cover artist and I have no budget.” My tweet brought forward 5 artists. I researched their work before replying, picking one whose work suited the style I was looking for. MORE: Connecting With Writers, Filmmakers & Agents Online

3) Respect the artist

This is fundamental. Respect the artist’s skill and vision. You can ask for changes and come up with ideas, but don’t expect the artist to use your advice. Having said that, if you’re really not getting something that inspires you, you must make it clear, and have break points in your relationship where you can both walk away with no recriminations. You may still need to make some payment for any work completed to this point. MORE: 5 Ways Writers Kill Their Credibility Online

4) Inspire the artist!

Though they’re visualising your novel, they still need to be inspired by it. Let them read it, or at least selected chapters so they can find a connection. If they can’t, it’s not a judgement on your novel, it simply means that artistically they didn’t connect with it. That’s OK, but it does mean you’ll need to find another artist.

Prepare mood boards: Pinterest is great for this, or you can put images into a Powerpoint file. Share imagery that helped you during the writing process: book covers, artistic styles, photos or images that somehow capture a character, a scene, a tone or mood. The artist will use these to inspire their first drafts. MORE: 4 Indispensable Social Media Platforms For Writers  

5) Write a vision statement

A vision statement describes your vision of the cover. For example:

“I see a minimalist cover, with a limited palette. It has a cheerful font which is part of the design, rather than functional. I like the opening titles of 1960s sitcom “Bewitched”, which inspired the book’s tone. I want the cover to make people feel happy and nostalgic for their childhood.”

This sets useful parameters for your artist but it doesn’t tell them what to design. Let’s look at a bad example.

“I want a picture of a man and woman dressed in brown 1930s Depression-era clothing. They’re miserable. My name must be at least half the page. The man and woman are 30-40 years old. He wears a waistcoat and she a pinafore. Over her shoulder is a farm house…”

Where is the room for the artist’s vision? MORE: All About Relationships & Teamwork

6) Communicate

Agree together how often you will communicate, and timescales and deadlines. Video calls are your friend. Set up an initial meeting on Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime or whatever app you prefer. Email is great for quick messages and files, but it’s rubbish for conveying what you really mean. Establish a personal connection. MORE: How Not To *Do* Social Media

7) Pay and pay forward

Commercial artists may want to be paid in stages. They might use a standard contract and payment terms, though you can ask for minor changes. Remember a commercial artist will also charge VAT, but may not include that in their quote.

If you have no budget, find a way to promote the artist’s work. And if you can, buy them a bottle of wine or case of beer or scrape together £50. Include the artist’s contact details in the book, and on the Amazon Kindle page. Retweet their work or online shops to your followers on social media.

If you need to terminate the relationship, don’t disparage them on social media. Sometimes artistic relationships just don’t work. Keep your dignity and let them keep theirs. MORE6 Things To Remember When Dealing With Writing Feedback

8) General cover advice

Look at successful books in your genre and see what elements those covers include. Generally, strong contrasting colours work well. Faces and figures are good, but not a full one (check out The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo book covers). Less is more: concentrate on a single image. MORE: Why So Alike? 8 Book Cover Twins


In summary…

  • Set your budget and be open about it from the start.
  • Use social media to find artists if you don’t have a budget.
  • Research – know what book covers in your genre look like and look for artists who produce similar styles.
  • Have a vision for your cover and inspire your artist, but don’t dictate the image. Respect their talent and ability.
  • Communicate!
  • Pay if you’re paying, or promote them if you can’t.

Credits: Graeme Maughan is the author of Sympathy for the Devil, an urban fantasy/comedy about the Antichrist being scared of Margaret Thatcher.

Contributors: Tara Basi (author, Masterminders and Blocks); Rob Ellis (artist, @moviessimple for commissions) and Bodil Juline – contact for commissions).

Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *