How much assistance should you give your book designer?

book cover designA graphic has been making the rounds on social media (again). You might have seen it. It’s a pricelist of fees, presumably for a graphic designer. The prices start at $100 for “I design everything” and increase to $200 for “I design, you watch.” The prices rise progressively as the client (you) get more and more involved in the design process, until ultimately the final fee is $3,400 for “You design everything!”

Naturally this graphic is popular with designers. It resonates with us because we’ve all been there. As trained professionals we bristle at the idea of being hired to create an original design only to have the client disregard our education and experience and tell us exactly how the design will look. While we aren’t exactly brain surgeons, in our circles we make the comparison to doctors: would a patient tell the brain surgeon how to perform the operation?

The impact of requesting design changes

OK, so we’re being a bit facetious, but there is an issue—a kernel of truth—that this graphic highlights. A design project will go much more smoothly the less a client gets involved, and be more cost effective as well. Designs where the client asks for more and more changes rather than going with the concepts as originally conceived by the designer will be charged for those changes. In addition—and this is of major concern for the design of book covers—there is a hidden cost as the design piece (or book cover) moves further and further away from what the designer determines will stand out among other professionally designed pieces. And I mean stand out for the right reasons, not because it looks like it was designed by an amateur!

It’s important to remember your book cover must appeal first to your buyers, not just to you! The hidden cost of bad book cover design is, after all, a book that doesn’t sell.

So how much assistance should you, the author, give to your book designer?

Clients should provide the most assistance, or input, at the beginning of the project when the designer is developing concepts. This is when you can give the designer some images that you think might work, but be prepared for the designer to return with reasons as to why they won’t work and to suggest alternatives. You can also provide the designer with some examples of book covers that you like and discuss with the designer your vision for the cover; after all, your book should be a reflection of you and your style, recognizing that the designer will make sure your book design will compete with best sellers in your genre. And of course, you will provide the designer with your book title, your back cover and book flap text, and your author photo.

And that’s it! The more input you can give up front, the more you discuss your vision with the designer at the outset of the project, and the less you make changes after the fact, the better it will go.

Avoid the vicious “tweak cycle”

Depend on your designer to know what fonts to use, the best type size, what colors will work, and how the image should be placed. When you review the cover concept(s), show it to your family, friends, colleagues and trusted clients. Compare it to books in your genre. Come back once with a list of constructive feedback and clear requests for revisions. Try to avoid the vicious cycle of tweaking (“Could you just make that a little bolder and let me see how that looks?”) as these minor tweaks will quickly add up to hours of expensive revisions for you, along with a frustrated designer watching their work slowly be tweaked to death.

Remember that you have hired a designer because you are an expert in being an author, not in designing a book cover. Have a clear discussion upfront with the designer as to their expectations of you, and your expectations of the designer. If you interview a designer and you don’t like the way they communicate with you or you just plain old have a hard time conversing with them, then choose someone else. Honest communication with clear expectations will go a long way to breaking the vicious tweak cycle and creating a cover that appeals to your buyers and sells books.

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