Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The ABCs of Book Cover Art

Ever wonder about book cover designs?  
I never spent too much time worrying about it because the grand plan included being a bestselling author published by a traditional publisher.  I'd been told--repeatedly--that once I sold a book, I'd have no control over it--which was kind of fine with me, because though I'm a very creative person, when it comes to covers for my own women fiction works, I totally lack inspiration.

Well, now the "grand plan" has changed and I've decided to make the plunge and self-publish.  Hmm, now, my ignorance is a problem.  I know absolutely nothing about cover art--except that it's really really important and that I want a great cover.  So I found three great cover designers who were willing to share their expertise with us.  Oh, and, they'll be stopping by, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask away!  So say hello to Kim, Nick and Viola.

Kim Killion of the Killion Group    Kimberly has 20+ years of experience in marketing, communications and design. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts, a Certificate in Web Design, and she is an ACE--An Adobe Certified Expert. In addition to the paperwork, she also taught Graphic/Web Design at a technical college in St. Louis and the majority of our designers were trained by Kimberly. They are the cream of the crop and the top of their class.

Nick Zelinger of NZ Graphics.   Nick has been in business in the Denver metro area for over 20 years, producing superior graphic design for numerous clients (such as KOA Radio and Clear Channel’s sports marketing materials for the Denver Broncos and the Colorado Rockies.)  He has developed a reputation for excellent work, fast turnarounds, and affordable pricing.

Viola Estrella of Estrella Cover Design.
Viola , an award-nominated author and 2010 RITA® finalist, loves a story with humor, flawed characters, paranormal elements, and romance. She tries to include these aspects in all that she writes and loves every minute of it. When she's not reading, writing, or designing cover art, she's spending quality time with her husband and sons in their Colorado home.

Do you have an art degree?
NZ-- I have a Commercial Art Degree (in Technical Art) from Colorado Institute of Art (Denver) and that played a role in starting a career in Graphic Design. (Also have a BA in Liberal Arts)

KK--Yes, I have several J I have a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts, a Chancellor Certificate in Web Design and I'm an A.C.E. (Adobe Certified Expert) in Photoshop. And I taught Graphic Design for 15  years.
VE-- I don’t have an art degree...just a creative passion. In fact, I never thought I was an “artistic” person, outside of writing, until I began this journey.

How did you get involved in this?
NZ— I had an art background and started out doing illustrations — but developing overall graphic design skills provided me with a career. I worked at design studios and print shops — eventually going freelance and book cover and interior design starting being my “specialty.” Networking and good references and some awards gave me better exposure to more clients.

KK--The standard stock photo sites really lacked this type of imagery. I needed more…So I hired a photographer and we've been shooting ever since. I never thought within a 2 year period we'd have 10,000+ images for sale. It's really quite tremendous! 

VE-- I began to design my own covers and found that I really enjoyed manipulating images and coming up with the overall cover design. I learned more about the nuts and bolts of Photoshop and started to design cover art for friends. I grew my clientele from there and now have a steady stream of business!

What is your process like?
NZ— First, consultation(s) with client, then research, investigating who their competition is, who their target audience is and producing initial front cover concepts. Then, further rounds if necessary with whatever changes in direction or other edits.

KK--Once the client returns the Questionnaire, I begin the design. Then I send the client the comp to approve or tweak. Most times it's a simple fix of "scooting" something over/up/down and once approved, we send out the final jpgs to the client.

VE— For custom cover art, I have my client fill out a cover request form that has numerous questions regarding their story. I ask about the tone/mood, the genre, the characters, the setting, what they’d like to see on their cover, etc. It helps so much when they can give me examples of cover art that they like and feel is similar to their story. I then look over the form. Sometimes I know exactly what the client has in mind. And sometimes it takes some pondering. To help, I scour through certain royalty-free stock photo sites. I’ll find anywhere from one to several images that I can use, then I purchase them and begin to pull it all together, including what font works best for this type of story. I send the mockup cover to the client and wait to hear back. I’m thrilled when I get it right the first try. But that doesn’t always happen, and that’s why I allow up to three alteration requests. Thankfully, I have yet to have a client who isn’t pleased with the overall end result.

Do you work exclusively for one publisher or do freelance as well?
NZ— I work with many publishers, individual authors, so I guess in that respect, I freelance.

KK--We work for several NYC Publishing houses and Agencies as well as for Indie Authors.

VE-- I’m completely freelance at this time. Anyone can contact me to purchase cover art—that includes both independent authors and publishers.

Do you actually read every book you design a cover for?
NZ— No — would never get any work done! I do request a sample chapter or synopsis.

KK--If I did, I'd get no designing done. LOL *see number of covers designed and you'll understand why.

VE— I wish I had the time! I depend on the author to include a brief blurb of their story in the cover form so I can get a good feel of the story.

How much input do editors and author have?
NZ— I regard working with authors as a collaborative venture. While editors (and publishers) do have input into the substance of direction and copy, there is much back and forth with both.

KK--We send each client an extensive Cover Questionnaire. It has places for links to images the author likes, a place for the blurb so I can get a feel for the book, H/h description areas…the list goes on. By the time the author fills that out, I should have everything I need to design a cover that will match their story and the genre.

VE--100% input. That’s what the cover form is for. I want to give the author and/or publisher the exact cover they have in their minds, something they can be proud to promote. Their “dream” cover.

Which covers are you most proud of?

NZ— That’s hard to answer – I work in all genres. I recently did the sequel to Andrew Valentine’s “Bitter Things” entitled “Bitter Consequences” (an erotic vampire series) which really captures the brand they were looking for. I also am proud of Lynn McLeod’s “From Simms to Zanzibar” which won best cover design in last year’s USA Book News awards.

KK--Oh, wow! Super hard question! We've done over 1,500 covers. There are so many I like in so many different genres, but I will select the covers I did for Lila DiPasqua because they received rave reviews. I had a lot of time involved in creating those and they became like children to me. I think the images to the right tell the rest of the story. 

VE— I’m proud of them all. But I’m  proud when I hear how much the author LOVES the design. That’s always my goal. (Viola's titles below)

Do editors request your work?
NZ— Yes – and I’ve established relationships with publishers who provide me steady work.

KK--Yes, editors and/or (if the house allows) the author will request me.

VE-- I currently have one small press that regularly contacts me for work. I’ve had two authors who’ve requested covers for their publisher to approve and use. But most of my clients are self-published authors.

What inspires you the most when coming up with covers?
NZ--Other covers. And of course, the authors themselves – sometimes they have great vision into what they want. And if they don’t, that’s where I earn my money: problem solving.

VE— A few things... Getting a good grasp of what the author wants from how he/she filled out the form. Knowing the genre and having a feel for the tone of the story. Also, finding fabulous images on stock photo sites can be very inspiring.

Is there a trendiness to what the covers should look like?
NZ— There can be at times, in regards to colors, font styles. Font can really dictate the style of covers, making them either trendy or dated. And there are some PhotoShop effects that can pigeon-hole a style.

KK--I think what most people don't realize is that there is a certain look each genre should have. Readers look for that. A lot of that has to do with typography. Typography is a skill that is very much under-appreciated. There are skilled illustrators out there who can give you an awesome graphic but if the type fails, then you do not have a marketable product. There are certain fonts that stand out better than others and certain fonts that are used for certain genres. That's where I would recommend a new designer start the learning process. Anyone can learn how to use Photoshop, but knowing how to use the tools is just the beginning.

VE-- To a point, if I’m understanding the question. Readers see that XYZ Best-selling Author has this particular cover and if they become a fan, they might search out other types of books that look similar. This is what I think causes trends and I have no problem with authors and publishers who want to play along. Why not make it easy for the reader to find your books?

Are there any awards –nationally –to recognize wonderful covers or is it SOOOOO subjective that this isn’t possible?
NZ— There are more and more awards nationally that engage self publishers with traditional publishers – so the competition is stiff: USA Book News, The Indie Awards,

KK--There is! I think it's called the JABBIC (Judge A Book By Its Cover)

VE-- I’ve heard of cover contests here and there, but I can’t think of any particular one at the moment. I don’t think it’s impossible to judge a cover. Everyone has an opinion. But yes, I feel that cover art is as subjective as the story inside.

Have you won any awards for your covers?
NZ— Yes. I won the USA Book News 2011 Best Cover Design. USA Book News is one a several national book awards that features thousands of entrants including major publishers.  My covers (and interior layouts) have won numerous awards from USA Book News, Colorado CIPA’a EVVY Awards, the Indie Book Awards, and more.

KK--I normally have several authors enter their covers I've done in the JABBIC and I think *not sure* that my designs have won more than once. But honestly, I don't keep up with that. I truly stay in "the designing cave" about 15-18 per day.

VE— Not yet. Of course, I haven’t entered any either. It hasn’t been a goal of mine...yet.

How are cover artists paid and if it’s not too nosey, may I ask how much per cover is typical.
NZ--Usually by the project (not the hour.) It may go to an hourly rate if numerous changes/edits are taking place – but my estimate is given with a range of changes included. While I won’t talk about my fees here – I have seen covers (full cover: front, back, spine) in ranges of $100 to $1000. Both are a bit extreme – I’ve never been paid $1000 for a cover but I know of some designers who have.  I consider my fees to be very affordable and in line with the competition.

VE-- Not too nosey! I have all my pricing available on my website, so it’s not a secret. Currently, I charge $85.00 for custom cover art (front cover only), $125.00 for both front and full cover (including spine and back) and $40-$60.00 for pre-made cover art.

How many titles do you typically design a cover for a year?
NZ— This past year, close to 40-50, in past years, about 20 average.

KK--About 1000 or more.

VE-- Last year was my first year of designing cover art and I designed about 100 covers. It was enough to keep me busy. LOL

If you were interviewing cover artists, what would you want to know?  What would help you make your decision?
NZ— Their experience in book design, references, samples of their work and of course, what they charge.

KK--Seeing samples of their work and seeing if these coves have made any lists. We almost consistently have a cover or covers on the Amazon Best Sellers list or Top 100 lists. Though we've been told we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, let's face it, everyone does.

VE-- If I were interviewing cover artists to design my book cover, I’d want to know how much input I had, how much it costs, how many alteration requests I would have after the initial mockup, and—a biggie—I’d want to see their portfolio to find out if their designs match the type of aesthetic that I find appealing.

What else would you like people to know about you and/or your work?
NZ— I love what I do – working with authors is rewarding and challenging. It’s that fine balance between art and marketing. If a cover is beautiful but doesn’t help sell the book – it’s a failure. The challenge is to produce the right cover for the right market.

KK--That we strive to be a one-stop shop for authors while maintaining quality. If you just need an eBook cover, we've got you covered. If you'd like a POD cover and some Romance Trading Cards. We can do it! If you're like some of our clients and want to focus on writing, we can design your cover, format your story for Print and/or eBook, upload for you and now (!!) turn it into an Audio Book for you.
Do you have a Traditional Print Book that you'd like to get back out there to your readers? We can scan it, format it, put a new cover on it, narrate it... We are truly the ala carte menu of author's needs. From branding to websites to covers to formatting…AND…beginning in 2013, we hope to offer authors a brand new service. Keep an eye on us for that announcement. Here's a link to everything that we do: http://thekilliongroupinc.com/services/

VE-- I’m an author as well. I know what it feels like to wait for my book cover to arrive and to see it for the first time. I know what if feels like to love it...and to HATE it. So that’s why I work so hard to get it right for the author. I want them to be proud to promote their books, cover design included.
You can see my portfolio, pricing info, testimonials, and pre-made cover art at www.EstrellaCoverArt.com


Viola Estrella said...

Thanks for having me on, Theresa! I'm open for any questions.

kaki warner said...

What a great post! Thanks to all of you for sharing this information.

I write western historical romance and I’m currently with a traditional publisher. My trade covers are usually scenic, buy my mass market covers have had men on them—fully dressed, only half a face showing. I understand that a book cover is a genre-specific marketing tool, and not a perfect reflection of the story inside. But I’m always surprised at the art department’s vision of my characters, and I rarely get to effect changes once the cover is done. I’ve been told they use whatever live model is available at the time (and at the right price), regardless if he matches the character description I’ve provided.

Do you use live models? What about period clothing, hairstyles, etc? Is all that photo-shopped on later?

I have to say that as more and more self-pubbed books hit the market, I find much of the cover work vastly superior to the traditionally pubbed books. But don’t quote me on that.

JM said...

I don't actually have a question, but I have to say that I love Viola's work. She's done four covers for me now and I just love them all. She hears what I say and I think understands from a writer's point of view what's needed.
Even her pre-made covers are stunning!

Theresa said...

Welcome, Viola, and thanks so much for answering all my questions!
JM--I agree, Viola's covers are lovely! She's very talented.
Kaki, thanks for stopping by! And what good questions. I'm sure VIola, Kim or Nick will be by to answer them.

Viola Estrella said...

JM, thank you! Always such a pleasure to work with you!

Hi Kaki,
Great questions! I purchase images from stock photo sites. I've also purchased images from a wonderfully talented local photographer (Jenn LeBlanc) and will most likely purchase images from Kim in the future (she's amazing!). So I have the ability to search out a model that might more closely resemble what the author has in mind. As far as period clothing, etc, yep, Photoshop is my friend on many occasions! The only bad thing about stock photos is that everyone else can use them as well (unless you buy an exclusive), so I try my best to make it look as original as possible.

#Debi said...

This is all very useful information! I am a graphic designer getting into cover art design. I did 9 covers last year, and hope to build my business even more this year! I am interested in what sort of questions the questionnaires contain. A good questionnaire would help immensely in getting in tune with my authors. Fortunately the ones I've worked with so far have been very explicit in their desires.

Kimberly Killion said...

I just wanted to stop by and thank Theresa for posting such a wealth of information. To add bit to some of the questions...we charge $135-$150 for a cover. This includes all the images. Also, the Undone cover by Lila Dipasqua is mine and remains my favorite but the other two Lila covers are not mine. :-) I don't want to claim someone else's work.
to answer Kaki's question...we also do photoshoot and dress models in period appropriate costumes. You can see all of our images at www.HotDamnStock.com

Leslie Ann aka LA said...

Welcome Nick, Kim and Viola,

What do you think pros and cons of faces on covers?

I'm not a fan, only because it sets a visual expectation and I think most readers want the characters to form in their minds as they read, not be predetermined.

LA of the scribes.

Viola Estrella said...

Debi, I can email you my questionnaire, if you like. I've had to update it a few times and will probably change it again. Good luck to you. viola @ violaestrella . com (no spaces)

Hi LA,
I think the answer to that is subjective. I've had authors who've asked for obscured faces or models cut off at the torso for the reason you're mentioning. I've also had authors request full face because they either like the look of a model or they think the cut off heads look odd. And some don't want models on their cover at all. As a reader, I do agree it can be jarring when the cover models look nothing like the description in the book.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Hi, Viola, hi Kim, This is awesome information. I also have to speak to something Viola said about cover models not looking anything like the author's physical description. Boy, is this not the truth. Kaki Warner can attest. She often shows a cover and says does this look like my hero to you?

The one that really strikes out is a friend who writes multicultural and the house got the characters' races backwards on the cover... It was released as is... Because the house was only concerned about the deadline and the bottom line.

So this is a long way of saying, Brava for you, brava for your clients, and what a service you perform!

ML Guida said...

I have used both Kim and Viola on book covers. They are both very talented ladies. I have purchased RTC and bookmarks from Kim which were also excellent quality!

Theresa said...

Hi Debi, Good luck with your budding business. I'm glad Viola could help you.
Hi LA, Interesting question about the faces . . . the only time I find faces on covers jarring is if the coloring doesn't match the inside, otherwise I tend to like them when they help convey a mood.
Donnell what happened with your friend is a very sad nightmare, what makes it worse is that I bet you only writers realize the author had no control over that and they probably thought it reflected poorly on the author.
ML--thanks for stopping by! It's great to hear you appreciated both these talented ladies' efforts!
Kim and Viola, thanks again for stopping by!

Lisa Potocar said...

A terrific post! I hope I'm not too late to the party.

Thanks, Kim, Viola, and Nick, for all of the great intelligence.

Kim, you mentioned that there is a certain look each genre should have. I had a librarian tell me that the trend in YA books is the profile of a face. She said this after reading my historical novel, so she was quite capable of judging the content to cover art. Can you say that this is true for YA novels, especially historical fiction?