If you're an Indie author, you have to read this!

Yes, I made that subject heading directed right at you.  Too many times I have been asked similar questions to the following blog post by India Drummond -- for the page link:  http://thewritersguidetoepublishing.com/how-to-make-a-cover-designer-cry

I have posted her blog post here because you need to be informed when it comes to cover art.  I cannot stress the importance of proper behavior.  If you are ignorant to cover art, then please read this.  Even if you think you are a seasoned Indie author who has purchased several covers, you still need to read this.

The following was written by India Drummond.  Please take her words to heart and understand why some of the things asked are wrong.

As some of you may know, when I first started indie publishing, I also worked as a cover designer. It’s something I enjoyed doing, and I thought it would be a good way to supplement my income until my book sales got going. I no longer do it (too busy with writing and am fortunately making enough on my books that I don’t have to take in extra work to make ends meet), but I still keep in touch with a group of cover artists I met along the way.
What might surprise you is some of the things that go on behind the scenes, the things authors say that make designers cry, the hideous, awful things authors ask (or force) designers to do that ruin a lovely design, or the outrageous requests/demands that occasionally cross a designer’s desk.
Last January I wrote an article about trusting your cover designer. Because I tell you, I never understood before why publisher didn’t let authors have more input into their covers. Now I do. Many authors have a wonderful sense of design, but many really, really don’t. The tough part is, it seems that everyone thinks they have a good sense of design.
I asked my cover designer friends to tell me about the worst / strangest requests they’d ever gotten or conversations with clients that made them want to cry. (I know you guys would probably never do any of this… if that’s you, just sit back and prepare to cringe!)
Q: “I’ve taken pictures of my neighbour’s kids with my iPhone. Can we have their heads floating around the outside of the image?”
Why this made a designer cry: First, to use an image commercially, a designer would need a model release form for every person, including your neighbour’s kids. In this case, it wasn’t entirely clear if the neighbour even knew what the author had in mind to do with the children’s pictures. This is a huge no-no. Second, mobile telephone images usually don’t have sufficient resolution for a commercial graphics art project. I saw the images the author wanted the designer to use, and some of the images were very grainy, one was too blurry, and one was tiny and would look terrible when the picture was blown up to a sufficient size. Third, well, this is just my opinion, but six floating heads around the outside of a cover isn’t going to look as nifty as the author thinks.
Q: “I found this picture I just love via google images. I want to use it for my cover.”
Why this made a designer cry: It’s surprising to me how often this comes up. Authors are incredibly protective of their book’s copyright (and rightly so), but often don’t have any understanding or appreciation of photographers’ and designers’ copyright. I can think of three distinct cases in the past couple of months where this was a difficult issue between an author and a designer, and this is just in the small circle of designers that I’m friends with. A double-whammy came when a designer tried to explain that images are copyrighted, and the designer must buy (in most cases) a specific license to use an image as part of a cover, and the author replied: “If it’s online, it’s fair use. You can use anything you find online for free.” Umm, no. This isn’t true. After all, the author’s book is online! I’ll bet she doesn’t feel the same about that!
Q: “I really like the cover. Can I see it redone with the title and author font in Papyrus?”
Why this made a designer cry: Again, you’d be surprised how often this comes up! Many people have favourite fonts, but some are overused, out of fashion, tired, difficult to read, boring, or just not appropriate for the job. A good designer will understand typography and how to use the fonts to enhance a design and draw attention where needed. There are websites devoted to designers loathing of fonts such as Papyrus and Comic Sans, which are frequently requested for book covers. The website “I heart Papyrus” has the tagline: “Celebrating the ubiquitous overuse of every amateur’s favorite font.” When a font is so overused they have their own tumblr blog mocking designers who use them, it’s time to move on.
Q: “I’ve writing a Star Trek novel. I need you to find a picture of Patrick Stewart to do a photo-manipulation like on the official ones. I want my book to fit in.”
Why this made a designer cry: There are two issues here. #1 The book is basically fan-fiction if it’s not authorised by the license holders. #2 A designer can’t just take a picture of a celebrity and slap it on a novel. Most celebrities have agents that oversee the use of their image on merchandise, and some protect their image fiercely. In order to use Patrick Stewart’s image, one would have to contact his management and acquire permission and arrange for compensation. Oh, and that trademarked Star Trek logo the author wants to use? Yeah, same thing. But here’s a hint: there’s no way permission would be granted. Even celebrities who are deceased often have their images protected by their estate.
By the way, same goes with trademarked logos of corporations. No, your designer can’t put a McDonald’s double-arches (or draw one herself that looks “close to the real thing”) for your murder mystery that takes place in a fast food restaurant. Not without permission from the McDonald’s Corporation. (Not likely!)
Q: “I’m not sure what I want. Here’s my novel. Read it and tell me what you think would be good.” OR: “I’m not sure what I want. I have about five different ideas. Do them all up and I’ll decide which one I like best.”
Why this made a designer cry: First, your designer won’t have time to read your novel, not unless you want to pay her by the hour (I’d estimate at least $50/hour) for the 8-10 hours it might take. Remember, yours isn’t the only project on her books. Same problem with the second statement. It’s only fair to ask a designer to do that if you’re willing to pay for five designs. Otherwise, you’re asking for four free ones. The “rejects” likely couldn’t be used for anything else, so she’d be out all that time on useless covers she wasn’t getting paid to produce, when she could have been doing five paid covers in that same amount of time.
Q: “I love this design! But first, I’ll show this to my friends, neighbours, dogs, cats, children, and the guy behind me in the grocery line to get their thoughts, and then I’ll get back to you.”
Why this made a designer cry: Most designers have this problem with clients at one time or another. We call it “design by committee.” An author might just love something, but they feel insecure about it and want the approval of the friends. Why is this a problem? Nine times out of ten, design by committee will make the cover look as unfocused and gaudy as a myspace page. More sparkles! More light! Add the cat from the story! Add excitement! Change the fonts! Change the colours! I’m not saying don’t show the design around. I am saying trust your designer and be mindful of what you’re asking when you send a list of changes from other people. Nothing makes an artist cringe like a letter that begins with “I showed your artwork around my writing critique group, and here are the changes they suggested…”
Q: “What do you mean I can’t put my own cover art on t-shirts, bookmarks, banners, book-bags, etc? I paid for it!”
Why this made a designer cry: Read the designer’s terms of service. Back when I was doing cover art for others, I did original artwork and I allowed my clients to use the images however they wanted. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes a designer has used licensed stock art (likely if they’ve used photography) that has specific uses permitted. If you want to use it in other ways, a more expanded license (read: a more expensive one) may be required. Also, hiring a cover artist to create a design doesn’t automatically mean the copyright for the design belongs to you. Read the fine print and ask questions!
This can also be a problem if you need a slight change to an existing cover, but for some reason you want to change designers (this can happen if you are leaving a publisher, for example, and self-publishing the same book). You cannot simply have a designer copy an image someone else created. Designs, like photographs and books, are copyrighted. Make sure you understand the rights you have before using the images in ways other than for the specific book cover you requested. Each designer should have a TOS statement (and they can vary widely), and all of them should welcome discussion on any points you don’t understand.
Q: “I like this design, but can you make the model’s face turn toward the camera a little more?”
Why this made a designer cry: Photoshop can do a lot, but it isn’t a 3D CGI program. ^-^ (Sometimes a designer can find a stock image with the same model in a different pose, but the choices are usually limited.)
Q: “The main character wears a black leather jacket and pants with a yellow design in the shape of a tiger on one arm. She has black tennis shoes with yellow soles and a yellow mask that covers her eyes and half her cheek where she has horrific burn scars, and has long, curly blond hair. She should be holding a trident in one hand, and she wears a key around her neck. Here’s a sketch of the key. It’s got a very specific shape, so it’s important to get it right.” (Note: This was a request for a photo-manipulation cover, not an original artwork piece.)
Why this made a designer cry: Basically the author was asking for a photo shoot, because this is way too specific for the stock images. If you want this, you might be able to get it. But be prepared to pay a photographer by the hour and pay someone to create these specialized props you want. If you need something this specific, it might be better to hire an illustrator. But be aware and expect to pay a lot more for original artwork than for a cover that uses stock photography.
Q: “Can I have a fireman and an American flag on there? Oh, no reason. I just like firemen, and I’m an American.” And another similar one: “My book has spies, so I want a submarine, and it’s set in Alaska, so I want a moose. And the two main characters. Plus my grandma’s cat just died, so I told her I’d memorialise the cat on my book cover.”
Why this made a designer cry: You think I’m kidding. You’re sitting there reading this, and you think I’m kidding. There’s no way a designer has gotten requests like these. Think again. If there’s one thing I wish I could tell every author who is hiring a designer, I would simply remind them that the purpose of a book cover is to sell books. It’s not to tell your entire story, reveal your characters’ inner motivation, or recreate an exact scene in the book. A book cover should reveal the genre, present the title and author name, and attract/intrigue the reader enough to click. That’s it. If you want to honour your grandma’s cat, build a shrine in your spare room, but do not make your cover designer put it on an image with a submarine and a moose, not unless you want the cover to end up on lousybookcovers.com.
Q: “You have a six week waiting list? But I want to release my book next week!”
Why this made a designer cry: I think every designer gets this one. Yes, there are circumstances which might call for a rush job, but too many authors wait until they’ve finished the book to evenlook for a designer. Most good ones will be booked up for weeks if not many months in advance, and the process takes time. There will be discussions, proofs, revisions, and then final approval. Plan ahead and give the designer time and space to work. While I’m at it, don’t yell at them if you’ve heard they’ve gone on vacation during the time you wanted your cover done, especially if you waited till the last minute to request a slot. (Yes, I’ve seen this happen.)
I have a whole lot more. Seriously. A lot more. I could probably devote an entire blog to what we call “headdesk” statements and requests, some much ruder (like: “The designer I really wanted is too expensive, so I guess you’ll do.”) I know a lot of the folks here on WG2E are pros and likely would never make some of these mistakes, but if this article helps even one author think twice before making their designer cry, this article will not have been written in vain. ^-^


  1. Thank you for posting this article. I'm an author who has just signed up with a cover designer and will wait patiently for the proofs. I made many mistakes with the cover designer for my first book and have learned the hard way to trust the artist.

    1. As my parents always said, "The best way to learn is to make mistakes" :-) I've made plenty in my lifetime and intend to keep learning from them! LOL I'm glad you found this post informative. That is my goal. Authors, artists, and photographers need to understand each other so we can work better together. When great minds come together, great things can happen! Have a wonderful weekend, Karen!

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