building your author team: part 3 – choosing the right book designer

In this series, we’re talking about how to build your author team and what kind of professionals, including book designers, to look for. Choosing the right designer can feel overwhelming, but your cover can make or break your book.

Art may be in the eye of the beholder, but books sure are judged by their covers.

We all know people do judge books by their cover, so it’s important that your visuals – from book cover to marketing materials – tell the right story.

why you need a professional book designer

Like an editor, a professional book designer is non-negotiable if you want to play the publishing game at a professional level. Cover design is a specialized form of graphic design that requires an understanding of book marketing, packaging, and publishing standards.

There are also unique format constraints that a book designer has to balance in order to express your book’s message through typography, illustration, and image-making. Your book’s cover and all of its accessories (like your author website and marketing visuals) are the window into your book.

Good book design is custom and unique design that expresses both what a reader can expect, like genre and story type, with hints of the unexpected.

The perfect cover will express your book’s genre and provoke the imagination of your reader
book design options that don’t work

Unless you are also a professional designer or illustrator, yourself, a DIY design tool is just not going to cut it. While the tool may feel easy enough to use, knowing how and why to make design decisions is what a designer brings to the table.

That DIY tool is great when wielded by someone who understands composition, shape, form, and color (the fundamentals of graphic design) in the context of book design.

Likewise, a pre-made cover is not going to help your book stand out on the bookshelf, literal or virtual. With a pre-made cover, you are signing up for stock cover images overlaid with your book’s information along with hundreds of other authors who’ve selected the same design.

The result will be a generic design because it looks like lots of other books, meaning readers will feel like they’ve already seen it. Or worse, they’ll confuse it with another book.

Let’s not even rehash design contests, and how they end up being more costly for bad design work.

If you’re looking for quality and custom design, then working one-on-one with a professional book designer as part of your author team is the way to go.
what your designer should do

When thinking about working with a graphic designer, it’s important to think beyond the book cover. You want to consider the interior design, digital conversion, website setup and marketing visuals like social media banners and business cards.

If you’re working on a series or looking to develop a branded look for your standalone titles, it is often faster and more economical to work with the same designer, so you want to choose the right designer the first time around.

There are few design projects that you’ll want to consider for your book.

types of design projects
book cover design

Books are beautiful objects to which we attach meaning from the story inside to our experience reading it; the cover encapsulates that attachment. So before a reader begins that journey, the cover should hint at it, ever so slightly, to whisper ‘hey… read me‘ so we, readers, can’t not find out more. A good book cover gets potential readers to flip the book over and read the back cover copy, or in the digital world: click on the thumbnail to read the description.

print interior design

We tend not to think about the interior of a book usually because there aren’t any issues or errors that draw our attention; that is the mark of a good interior design. The layout of the pages, typesetting of the text, and spacing between lines and in margins is meant to be almost invisible to the reader’s eye, so the focus is entirely on the story. A good print interior design is quietly flawless, drawing little attention to itself in neat perfection.

digital conversion

Like interior design, we readers often don’t think much of the digital design of an ebook until it disrupts our reading experience. But behind the screen of every device is a bevy of settings that allow the user to change the display from font type to font size, and background color to line spacing, essentially redesigning the entire look of the book. A good digital conversion anticipates these device settings and prepares for them, so the story looks good and reads well in every context.

advertising like facebook or amazon ads

Through advertising, you’re communicating about your book to provide information and persuade potential buyers. The ad image will convey the tone and context of your message packaged for the right people. When these elements align and your image resonates with a targeted audience, you’ll see success towards your campaign’s goals. A good advertisement will speak to one audience about one idea in one style.

social media banners and post images

Social media banners are a form of advertising and marketing material that serve as an extension of your author branding. They set the tone for your page/account while the posts themselves should maintain a branded look that consistently communicates your values and message. Whether promotional or personal in nature, your social media imagery should continue the themes found in your book covers and brand aesthetic. Good social media imagery shares an idea without drawing attention to itself.

website design

We’ve already talked about how folks judge books by their covers; they also judge websites. In this modern age, a website is a calling card for your company and brand. (yes, indie authors, you’re a business). A website should be clearly organized, intuitive to navigate, interesting to read, and enjoyable to look at. The technical components, like how fast your website loads, should always remain behind the scenes, because you only have a few seconds to make an impact. A good website design is beautiful and functional.

marketing bookmarks and flyers

The print materials that promote and support your book often come later in the publishing process, but are important to consider from the get-go. If you’ll be attending promotional events, doing book signings or even participating in networking meetings, having a well-designed tangible calling card is paramount. This calling card can range from business cards and post cards to bookmarks, flyers, and banners. Good print materials are reminders of you that soon-to-be readers take home.

where to look for book designers
Like other parts of the publishing process, professionals sometimes specialize in genres, so ask around. If you see a cover you love on the book of another author, ask who designed it. You can do this locally or in online communities.

If you come across a book design that you like, do a little sleuthing to see if you can find the design credit. You can do this by opening up the book to the copyright page and looking for the ‘cover design credit’. This will usually list a designer’s name or design firm. If you found the book online, but haven’t purchased it, try using Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature to view the copyright page.

Another great resource for finding book designers is cover design awards. Most showcase previous years’ winners, so you can look at the winning designs and designers. Here are a few well-regarded book cover awards to start your search:

8 questions to ask a book designer

When researching and vetting book designers, first find out if they have actual book experience and have worked in your genre before. There are many very accomplished and talented graphic designers that design wonderful logos and other products. Book design, however, is its own field and has its own process.

Logo designers are working to express several ideas, missions, and values into a single mark or symbol. Product designers are usually provided all of the information from which they organize it into a visually appealing layout that expresses a single idea or feeling. A book does both with more constraints.

A book designer is working in pre-set specifications with provided information (like title, author name, etc.) to express ideas, themes, and emotions from the book’s content into a visually appealing layout. This should look the same as all other books in format, but stand out from all other books in design.

Here are some questions to start the vetting process:
  • Where can I see your portfolio?
  • Do you also provide website design or marketing creative? Do you bundle?
  • Will you read my book before designing a cover?
  • How much creative input will I have?
  • Who will own the rights to the art?
  • What if I don’t like your design, can we make changes?
  • What are your rates? Do you have a kill fee?
  • Do we need a contract?
8 questions your book designer will ask you

Cover designers should also ask you questions to learn about what your design needs are and if you’ll be a good fit. Most designers love working with long-term clients. With that in mind, they’ll do a bit of interviewing to ensure you two will have an enjoyable working relationship.

Here are some questions you might be asked that you can prepare ahead of time:

  • What genre is this book?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What formats (print and digital) are you publishing?
  • What are the primary themes or concepts in your book?
  • Can you provide an excerpt or outline of your story?
  • Are there any covers and designs do you like?
  • What do you like about those designs?
  • Have you settled on a budget for this project?
  • Do you have a timeline for this project?
up next:

Next, we’ll be looking at editors, publishing assistants, and marketers.

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