One of the things I’m most intrigued about when I talk to writers about self-publishing is the unique relationship they have with their cover designer. Almost always there seems to be this cool give and take of ideas and creativity between author and artist. A synergy that builds as the two develop and create the right tone and mood for a writer’s work.
Today I’ve asked Cover Designer, Ashley Ruggirello to share a “Behind The Curtain” look at what happens when an author and artist collaborate on a book cover. For any of you considering jumping into the world of self-publishing, I think her honest and open comments will help give you an idea of what it takes to have a successful experience with a designer.
Amy: How does a writer usually approach you to work on a cover?
Ashley: It varies per project. I work with a handful of publishers, so many times it’s the project manager that approaches me, though the questions tend to be the same whether it’s a publisher or direct author. Many are curious of three things: cost, timeline, and portfolio. Since many get ahold of me through my website, the portfolio is often taken care of through that. Cost tends to be more important to an author/publisher than timeline, which is why I do my best to work within someone’s specific budget, or offer payment plans to make the cost more manageable. That’s not to say timeline isn’t important, either. I’ve been able to complete a full cover within on days time, but others have taken much longer, dependent on inspiration, stock photography, etc…
It’s important, with any cover artist, to make sure expectations are laid out and we’re both on the same page. It’s a working relationship, after all.
Amy: Are there certain categories/genres you prefer to work on?
Ashley: I tend to be approached by authors who write within the genres I write, myself—paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi, etc… And so I have the most experience with designing for those genres. Recently I’ve been branching into more of the contemporary genre, which is a fun contrast to all the sparkles and magic I’m used to.
Amy: How does the collaboration process work? Do you read an excerpt of the book or a synopsis to get a feel for the story?
Ashley: I always start with one, seemingly simple question: If you could have your ideal cover, no limitations, what would it be? And, like I said, it seems like it might be simple, but it’s a great way to open up the dialogue about what an author is looking for, what styles they’re attracted to, etc… That’s why I always follow-up requesting published examples of covers they love, love, love or they hate with a passion burning hotter than one thousand suns. These two requests, coupled together, give me more of a well-rounded picture of what they’re looking for.
Many times I don’t have an opportunity to read a full synopsis or even excerpt of the book, so the design relies on the author being able to convey enough for me to properly capture their story. A short summary or blurb sometimes works.
Amy: How much back and forth happens between you and the author before the original design?
Ashley: This honestly varies so much. Like I said, I’ve nailed a cover on the first go around, with just small color or font tweaks to reach a final cover concept. Other times, I’ve sent five+ unique concepts, with none quite hitting the nail on the head, and so we work through it together, picking elements that work and those that don’t.
Amy: How many cover examples do you usually create for a client to select from?
Ashley: Right off the bat, I tend to send one or two. You don’t want to overwhelm the author with too many options, because realistically you can’t put everything into one cover, and I’ve had instances where an author wants to incorporate multiple elements from all the cover options. I stand by my motto that simplicity is key, otherwise known as less is more. Sending one or two cover concepts, or a few variations of one concept, is usually my preferred route to start. If I need to make multiple unique concept from there, it’s just part of the process, and we’ll keep playing around with designs until we land on something with potential.
Amy: What happens if an author does not like any of the presented designs?
Ashley: This is an unfortunate scenario, but since art is so subjective, it’s bound to happen once in a while. I never like feeling as if I’ve failed the author or the project, but in the end I understand the importance of a compelling cover to sell your book, so I will always advocate in favor of the book. If I end up not being the right designer, we come to a mutual agreement to terminate the contract, and I’ll suggest some other designers who might be a better fit.
If the designer prefers to stick with me, I tend to ask for a little more author participation, by either pulling a previous concept into Microsoft Paint and physically moving elements around.
Amy: On average, how much time would you say it takes from origin of project to final design?
Ashley: Average tends to be within about a week or two of project start. Of course I always have to factor in other projects in my queue. But, just to be on the safe side, an author should approach their designer while they’re still in the process of editing their manuscript. Flukes can happen, and you want to be on the safe side. Also, authors tend to be anxious to publish their stories once edits are completed, and I’d have to be the factor holding that up if a cover art project doesn’t go as smoothly as intended.
Amy: What are some important things authors need to keep in mind when working with a cover designer?
Ashley: One thing I stress to any author/publisher who’s seeking a cover artist, is to make sure the designer’s aesthetic matches yours. A designer might technically be very talented, and capable of making a fantastic cover, but if the style doesn’t match what you’re looking for, the designer isn’t likely to make you as happy as you could be.
All artist are different, and have their own set of strengths and weaknesses, so research, research, research is important.
Beyond that, I actually have a blog post of the 5 Essentials to Prepare for your Book Cover Artist.
Ashley “A.M.” Ruggirello is an author, designer and doting wife living in beer and cheese land, WI. When not lost in the fictional world of Skyrim, she can be found exploring typography, manipulating responsive DIVS, or with pen & paper in hand (figuratively though, as she uses Google Docs much more often), writing her novels. She considers herself a designer by nature and writing at heart, though she always wanted to make video game walk-throughs as a child. Ashley’s favorite color is chartreuse, and she has an undeniable attraction to moss (not of the Kate variety).