Book Cover Design: How to avoid disappointment in the early stages

You’ve hired a designer, you’ve sent them what felt like a butt-load of information and the date is approaching for when you will receive the first concepts. You’re nervous, excited and your expectations are through the roof. You’ve seen the amazing covers on the designer’s website thus you’re expecting one of the concepts that they are about to send is going to be perfect and exactly what you envision. Your email dings and it’s finally here! You open it up, your heart sinks and you go, “What in the world?”

The first cover concepts are rarely perfect, unless you’ve been so precise on your wants and needs that the designer and you are so in tune you don’t have to change a thing. However, designing a cover is all about collaboration between the designer and the author, even if you’re allowing the designer to take the lead.

Here are some common things that lead to disappointment, lack of confidence along with other not very happy feelings and how to prepare for them.

Your expectations are too high

It is usually one of two scenarios:

Scenario number one: You can see in your mind exactly what you want for the cover – even those impossible ideas that your designer said wouldn’t work – and you’re holding onto that hope. You think your designer is going to be able to work his/her magic and send you exactly what you picture but ten thousand times better.

Scenario number two: You have no idea what you want on your cover, so you’re expecting the designer to come up with the most amazing design in the world and just blow your mind away.

Both of those would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? But all you’re doing is setting yourself up for disappointment because designers aren’t magicians (even though it may seem like we are).

How to prepare yourself

Go into the process knowing it’s just that: a process. Think about it like your book – you wrote how many drafts before you sent it off to the editor who changed how many things? Now you have a polished story that you can be proud of. Designing a book cover is the same way because it requires time, patience and, most importantly, quality feedback. Revisions are normal.

You are losing trust in your designer

You start feeling disappointed because the perfect cover didn’t happen right away. So you start to second guess yourself and lose trust or confidence in your designer. You start wondering:

“How did the designer come up with these ideas?” (Maybe there was a lack of communication and more communication is needed. Or maybe the designer sees something that you may have overlooked and the designs are actually right on track.)

“Should I have gone with someone else?” (No, you and the designer just need to talk about the initial designs).

“What do I do now?” (Talk with your designer and be respectful.)

How to prepare yourself

If you start to get that feeling of losing trust or confidence, remember that this is all part of the process. Your designer has to start somewhere, so this is where you’re starting. Now you can take it in any direction you see fit. If the covers are close, but not perfect, tell the designer what you like about the designs and what you don’t like. If you have suggestions on how to make it better, then tell them. This back and forth is normal and this is how you’ll end up with the perfect cover.

There’s been a lack in communication

There’s a possibility that you didn’t want people on your cover, yet all of the concepts have people. Or you did want people, but all of the concepts are more symbolic and lack people. Was this communicated to the designer? Did you say “I want people” or “I don’t want people”? Maybe the designer misread something or thought it was a recommendation not a requirement.

How to prepare yourself

If you get back concepts that seem way off base and not even close to what you had thought, then before you destroy your town with a ball of fury, start by asking your designer why they chose the direction they did. Maybe they are onto something that you had never considered. Or maybe they are just off track and more information is needed to get back on track. Don’t instantly jump to “you’re wrong, I hate you” because that will cause unnecessary tension between you two. If they are off base start by saying “I appreciate your time and work, however I feel like we mis-communicated something along the way. I really wanted ____ however the designs show ____” (You fill in the blanks).
Designers aren’t out to get you (at least none that I know of) so most are willing to design all new concepts based on the new input. Typically they’ll ask a few more questions and there will be a few email exchanges before they will send new concepts.

Note – Make sure you read the designer’s terms and conditions prior to know if they are willing to redesign concepts or if you have to pay extra. Some designers charge per revision while others offer unlimited.

You were expecting high quality images for the first round

Some designers are able to use the high quality images in the first round of concepts. It depends on the subscription plan and how many downloads the designers gets in a day/month. It can also depend on whether you’ve asked them to use images from another site that they don’t have a subscription to. All of this plays a factor into whether or not the first round of concepts will be high resolution or low resolution photos. If they are low res, then they typically have a watermark on the photo and can appear blurry.

How to prepare yourself

If the first round has blurry or low res images, the designer will typically tell you why or explain that after the concept is chosen he/she will purchase the images. So you can take comfort in knowing that those blurry or watermarked images are not the quality that will be on your final cover design. If the designer doesn’t make note of it in the email, it doesn’t hurt to ask nicely if the images will be high quality for the final cover.

Now I’m not saying it’s impossible to get your first concepts back and love one of them instantly. Or to only have one or two changes to make the cover perfect. More often then not, when I send out first concepts my clients love at least one of the designs. But, then there are times that they don’t and we work together to get them the perfect cover. As long as you go into the cover design knowing that it will most likely be a process, you keep your expectations at a normal level, and you’re willing to provide quality feedback, then you’re going to get an amazing cover.


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