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Blog > Book Design – Posted on May 12, 2015

6 Tips for Briefing your Book Designer

Last week, we revealed through a survey on social networks how much importance indie authors place on working with a professional book designer for their covers. After all, big part of the what makes self-publishing so attractive is that authors retain all creative freedom over their work. This means it is up to you, and you only, to choose your cover designer and brief them properly.

As in any other creative business relationship, the briefing process is the most important part of the collaboration. A good brief will save you and your book designer both time and money. To help you refine your future design briefs, we’ve asked some of our brilliant designers on Reedsy what their main advice is for authors. Here are their answers!

1- Know your audience

Your cover design will be your most powerful marketing tool. It will influence your discoverability as well as your buyer-to-reader conversion. Therefore, it must follow the #1 rule in marketing: know your target market and focus on them.

“Different colors and fonts appeal to different readers. Different genres have different looks that you would want to utilize in your cover. Marketing to everyone is the same thing as marketing to no one. Your cover design should be a marketing tool to find readers who will like your book”. — Ellie Bockert Augsburger

2. Give the designer an idea of your tastes and expectations

Of course, this is not a requirement if you want to leave your designer with full creative freedom. But make sure that is really what you want. “Don’t say ‘I’m open, be creative!’ as your only instruction if you are not willing to give the designer free reign over your concept”, says Dane Low.

If you do want to help steer the creative process, here are 3 simple questions that you should answer in your brief, according to book designer Lizzie Gardiner:

  • What are the books you would like your book to be placed next to in the same genre?
  • What cover designs really get you going?
  • What are the main elements in the book that could be used on the cover?

3. Trust in your book designer’s judgment

You are paying good money for professional work, so you should try to benefit as much as possible from the designer’s expertise, creativity and experience. Nuno Moreira, who we previously interviewed on the blog, is adamant about “leaving a cover artist enough free range to come up with their own ideas”.

This definitely resonates with most of Reedsy’s other graphic designers:

“Remember that designers are there to design, and you should respect that. That’s our role, and we wouldn’t tell authors what to write.” — Mark Ecob

“My #1 piece of advice by far would be to ask authors to ask their designers for input and trust in their designer’s judgement - even if they think their “idea” might be better… Ideas are good by way of suggestion, but a decent designer will already have a good reason for everything in their design.” — Jennifer Cant

“Authors may have general or specific ideas about the kind of cover they envision, which is fine, but they should want to see what a book designer will come up with on their own. Authors should welcome being surprised.” — Michael Kellner


4. Distill your book into a few ideas and elements

Of course, ideally, you’d have your designer read the book before starting to work on the cover. But this is often impossible because of time and money constraints. So you have to be able to transmit your book’s essence to the designer — without entering into too much detail, of course.

“It is really helpful if the author can pinpoint important/pertinent parts in the text”, says Jason Anscomb from Rawshock Design. “Books cover designs can derive from one sentence or crystallized moment in a book. So the book needs to be boiled down and distilled to its basic elements. The main central theme of the book is what you are searching for. This is what should be represented on the cover.”

5. On pricing and budget: prioritize your goals

This is where price comes in. Independent authors don’t often have the resources to invest in graphic design as a major publisher would. That’s ok, experienced designers know this.

What they’ll ask of you, however, is that you are clear with your goals. Or, in Annie Ericsson’s words: “There’s a classic project management saying that goes, ‘We have three kinds of services: fast, good and cheap. Pick two.’ When arranging the brief, consider which goals you’d like to prioritize, because one cannot work under all three constraints.

6. Communicate

This might sound obvious, but communication is the best way to speed up the process and make sure you end up with the perfect book cover. This doesn’t just mean briefing your book designer accordingly, it also means staying in touch, giving feedback on the early comps and sharing ideas as they come along.

“The #1 way to avoid miscommunications in the design process is to speak in person”, says designer Brian LaRossa. “If that is not an option—which is often the case—a video chat or phone call is still much better than an email.”

If you don’t know much about the design process and are unsure about what your artist wants or needs, just follow the tips above and let them take the lead. After all, as Michael Kellner puts it: “experienced designers will know what questions to ask an author about their book: it’s subject, themes and spirit. It’s style, plot and characters. Where the story takes place, and so on.”

If you trust your book designer, communication will be easy.

Click the following links to learn more about professional book cover design, illustration, or book layout design on Reedsy.