The Cover Design Process
Hi! Today, I'm writing this blog post as an editor and author. As many of you know, I'm publishing my debut novel, Seeking Shadows, in February. As I'm self-publishing, this means pulling the book together myself, with the help of my publishing team! In this post, I'll be talking about the process I went through to end up with the perfect cover!
Choosing a Designer
Designers have their own styles and they also range in experience and target market, which affects their price. Some designers offer extra services, such as cover research to help you create a cover that suits your market, and others create pre-made covers which tend to be cheaper but not as specific to your book.
Before setting out in search of a designer, have these things in mind:
What the focus of your cover will be: a scene, an object, a person, your title...
What style of art you prefer: hand-drawn, comic-book style, digital painting, composite image, photographic, illustrated...
What your budget is. (Prices can vary hugely, but if you're looking for anything hand drawn, expect to pay more.)
What your genre is. (Some designers specialise in certain genres.)
Once you've decided what you want, it's time to research. You can also find cover designers on Facebook and marketplaces like Etsy and Fiverr. Shop around and browse through portfolios until you find somebody who catches your eye.
And so I ended up at www.daniellefine.com! There, I looked through Dani's portfolio and was enamoured by how seamless her composite covers looked and also her beautiful use of light in pretty much all of her covers (I'm a complete sucker for pretty lights of any kind!). She has an extensive portfolio and through that I knew she would be the perfect designer to help me work on Seeking Shadows. And so I reached out, booked a slot with her, and paid a deposit!
At the time, I also mentioned Seeking Shadows is the first book in a duology, and she offered to take on my second cover at a discounted rate. So check with your designer to see if they offer special rates for books in a series if that applies to you!
Creating a Design Brief
Once you've chosen your designer, you need to provide them with a design brief. They will most likely have a form for you to fill out, but it can also be helpful for them to capture your vision if you have a mood board that you've put together.
If you feel that an extract from your book would be great for your cover, don't hesitate to copy and paste it into your brief for your designer to read!
Ever since I wrote a particular scene in Seeking Shadows, I've known that was the scene I wanted to inspire my cover. What's more, my editor also picked out that same scene without prompting as something visual, beautiful, and a great showcase of my world—so that only cemented my decision! I sent an extract from that scene to Dani in my design brief so she could feel the vibes herself.
I also knew that I didn't want my character's face on the cover. Personally, I'm not a fan of putting faces on covers, because I find they're never quite right. Instead, I like to look at my characters from behind so that the reader can visualise whatever they want.
Here's a segment of my design brief:
And here's a look at my mood board:
Now, you don't have to be a specific as I was with your design brief, and if you don't have any ideas at all, let your designer know and they'll help you come up with something (or surprise you with something!) based on their experience with your genre.
It helps if you read around your genre too. Take a look at what best sellers look like and the trends of the moment to make sure your cover blends in with traditionally published titles, but stands out all the same!
Before she could start, Dani also required some specific publishing details from me, so make sure you know:
What publishing platform you're using (e.g, Ingram Spark, Lulu, Amazon KDP).
And, if producing a print version...
What coloured paper your book will be composed of. (I chose cream.)
What size your book will be. (Mine is 9" by 5".)
Will your cover be matte or glossy? (Mine is matte.)
How many pages is your print version? (This is so your designer can calculate your spine width, so you'll need to have at least a first draft of your formatted novel ready.)
Let Your Designer Take the Wheel!
Dani surprised me really quickly with my cover one morning. I was happy with the first draft she'd created, but I wasn't quite in love just yet. And that's normal! So I let my thoughts stew for a few hours and showed it to other around my household and got their opinions too. And then I summarised my feedback in bullet points back to Dani and let her produce a second draft.
This is what my first round of comments looked like:
First, I spoke about what I loved...
"That’s amazing, thank you so much for getting the draft done so quickly! The way you’ve picked out Branwen with the sun is absolutely perfect, and I love the drifting feathers. Beautiful contrast. I think you’ve also captured the general feel of the shadows around the edges of the picture wonderfully—it truly looks like an epic fantasy. The necklace is great too and the wings and even her boots!"
Then I moved on to amendments...
"The figure feels too high up—there’s a big gap with nothing in it between the title and her feet. Could she be moved down just a bit?"
"This may sound really picky, but the figure’s hands feel too… godlike, like she’s presenting herself to the world, but her personality is more reserved than that. Would it be possible to change her hands so they’re more relaxed by her sides?"
"We tried the tagline as two separate chunks, but I’m not really feeling it. If we move Branwen down and there’s a space above her head, the tagline could go there. Can we try out also making “from you?” in bold?"
"Also a typography thing, the ’Seeking’ above ’Shadows’ isn’t quite centred between the two S’s below it. Can you move it to the right a bit?"
"The general colouring feels a little too neutral to me. Could you see if you can tint the shadows around the edges more purple? I’d like it to match a little better to the colour tones I’ve been using in my marketing material."
"The big feather over ’Seeking’ looked like a beetle at first glance 😅 I think the shape over the top is too sleek? Can you see if you can find another feather that’s more… fluffy or pointy? The feather itself is also a little obtrusive, so maybe move it somewhere less in the way of the title?"
"Also, the feathers aren’t quite the right colour. Can you fade the black to be more grey-ish so they’re closer in colour to the figure’s wings?"
And so we went from this...
Dani also kindly took progress shots while she was creating my cover. Scroll through the images below to check out exactly how she did it!
(Personally, I'm absolutely wow'ed by how she built Branwen—such creativity!)
And with my cover finished, Dani set to work on creating my print wrap. This meant I had to have my book description ready. And again, we went through the same process of a first draft, followed by my comments and then a second draft.
So we went from this...
(My feedback included: Removal of the back title, plus more emphasis on the rear hook line and addition of the Balance symbol (I chose to do this as few mainstream novels include the title on the back of the book); Changing the layout of the title on the spine so it was larger, plus adding the EC Editorial logo; And also changing the word spacing of the description to remove the orphan on the first paragraph.)
And by that point, my cover was done! To finish off, Dani sent me PNGs and JPEGs of my title in various forms for use on marketing materials as well as my inside cover. I also found some similar fonts to use for my chapter headings, and picked out the feathers and the Balance symbol—both of which feature on my cover—to decorate my interior pages. (If you'd like to learn more about how I did my interior formatting, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter through this link to be told when that blog post comes out!)
Reader or writer, I hope this post was enlightening for you to learn about the cover design process! And thank you again to Dani at Design by Definition for creating such a perfect cover. I can't wait to work with you again!