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Blog > Book Design – Posted on June 25, 2015

What to expect from your book cover designer

You’ve written a brief and commissioned a designer. What’s next? In this guest post, bestselling book cover designer Simon Avery explains the process of working with a cover designer, from the first concepts up to the final payment. 

Professional cover design is part of what makes a bestselling title. So it’s no wonder that successful indie authors are serious about the process. Once you’ve found the right book cover designer, the first thing you’ll need is a good brief (which you can learn how to do with this guide). But after you've come to an agreement to work together, what comes next?

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Round One – The concept stage

The first and longest part of the process is the concept stage. In a nutshell, your book cover designer will take your brief and produce several potential ideas for a cover.

Behind the scenes

For me, the concept stage takes between 1-2 weeks. In this time I create 10 or so designs, many of which will never see the light of day. The best 3-5 will be sent as concepts to the author to give a feel for how the final cover could look.

In the concept stage I’m also doing a number of things:

Consulting image libraries

A good designer will subscribe to a big selection of image libraries. This ranges from well-known libraries like iStock and Shutterstock to smaller specialist outlets. For example, I might consult a library that stocks edgy urban images. This also means my clients get pictures that are not in wide circulation. Image libraries charge for picture downloads. Some designers charge extra for this but I personally include it as part of my fee.

Image libraries are fantastic for accessing a wide range of pictures. But you are limited to what exists already. Designers can play around with images to an extent – eye colour for example, or adding a set of vampire teeth. The same goes for sole rights. In theory, other people could use the same image as you. In practice, I’ve never seen this happen. Image libraries are a very cost-effective way to access a wealth of professional images. The catch is that low price doesn’t buy you sole rights.

If you want something really specific with sole rights, you’re looking at commissioning a photo-shoot. If you have the budget for this (£500-£1000) it can be a great option. But it’s more common, even for large publishers, to use existing images. Since you can get such great results with stock pictures, it makes sense to tally up how many extra books you might sell with something bespoke.

Another option is to use images you’ve shot yourself. Unless you’re a professional photographer (and even then) I wouldn’t advise supplying a book cover designer with suggested images. It tends to hinder, rather than help the creative process.


Illustrations can be an extra cost and will usually be discussed at the briefing stage. If a book really suits a commissioned illustration I’ll talk to the author and decide whether this is something they’re comfortable paying for. I have several excellent illustrators who I use and have had great results with. For Brighton Maverick by Scott Chadwick, for example, I used existing artwork by local illustrator Myfanwy Tristram. For the DogStar trilogy by Jez Campbell, I commissioned illustrator Nye Wright. For the most part, though, my covers aren’t illustrated.

Simon Avery Cover Designs


Fonts are a graphic designer’s secret weapon. Outside of the hundred or so fonts available on publishing software, there are thousands of other fonts and every good designer has a big collection. Professional fonts cost anywhere from $10-$50 and I like to buy at least one new font for every book cover (this cost is included in my pricing). A good font can even appear hand-illustrated – such as on my cover for The Modigliani Girl by Jacqui Lofthouse.


The first concept round

After this research, I’ll come up with a range of concept covers. The concept stage looks like this:

Simon Avery Cover Designs

Or like this:

Simon Avery Cover Designs

The author then chooses their favourite design to move forward. This is the stage where they may also suggest some tweaks – colour variants, slight changes etc. But at least half the time they choose to keep the cover exactly as it is.

Some authors might air the concepts on social media and ask their readers to choose a favourite. This is a great idea. Not only does it drums up interest and engagement, but it also helps authors ‘depersonalise’ from their cover. It’s easy for authors to become wedded to an idea of how they think their book should look, and asking a second opinion of readers is a fantastic way to step back from this personal involvement and test what the market really wants.

Killed covers

For every concept stage, there are covers which don’t make the cut. These might even include the designer’s favourite. Here are some examples of some of my covers which were rejected at the concept stage.

Killed Covers

The final concept stage

Armed with the favourite concept, I then tidy up and polish. This is my favourite part of the process. I add any suggested changes. For example, an author might ask to change the eye colour of a character or make some element more or less prominent. For the most part, however, I’m just finalising the chosen concept ready to publish.

The big finish!

The cover is done and the author might use it to Tweet and gain social media prior to publication. When authors are happy with their cover they ‘sign it off’, meaning I forward them all the artwork and they pay me.

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