Top 5 Tips for Becoming a Book Cover Artist

I often get asked by digital and natural media artists what it takes to break into book cover design – so I thought I’d put together my advice for you guys in the form of this ‘Top 5 Listicle’…

Are you becoming a big shot on DeviantArt or Instagram? Are your friends and family saying you’re getting pretty good at this art malarkey? Are you looking for a way to supplement your day-job income, or replace it completely by doing art fulltime?

In this guide I share my top 5 tips for breaking into the incredible world of publishing – and create a part time or fulltime income producing cover art for authors and publishers.

Ready to break some eggs? Read on for the skinny…

1. Learn Typography & Layout

In Indie Publishing (where you’ll most likely start), most cover artists (90 – 95 %) are expected to offer an ‘all-in-one’ package that provides the illustration / typography / full wrap layout. Think of the service as a one stop shop where the client can get everything they need from a single professional handling the cover art job.

Further up the chain (Big 5 Publishers / Larger Indies), a cover art project may be handled by a team – Art Director, Illustrator, Designer (for layout and typography). If you’re able to jump in at this higher tier and work with a production team (and focus purely on art) – then more power to you!!

9 times out of 10 though, you’ll have to fight your way through the ranks – by offering an all-in cover art service that includes layout and typography.

I used to be a big player on DeviantArt in the photomanipulation galleries (the artist formerly known as ‘Conzpiracy’) and I’ve seen many photomanipulators transition from the social art world to that of professional commissions / publishing.

The NUMBER ONE sticking point for the majority of artists coming over to publishing has always been TYPOGRAPHY AND LAYOUT. Typography / Layout is the arrangement of visual and typographic elements to communicate a message and create a pleasing package that lures readers to the ‘blurb’ of a story.

Typography. The secret-sauce of high impact cover design.

These skillsets are fiercely under-estimated by many of the talented artists who make the jump to cover art – and it’s a shame, because a lack in this skillset reduces the value of the work DRAMATICALLY. Your illustrative work could be world-class, but if the type and layout is sloppy – you could be relegated to the little leagues ($100 – $200 USD commissions).

Typography and Layout is an art in itself and requires just as much practice / energy (if not more) as you dedicate to your artwork. There’s really no way of winging it – any discerning viewer can tell immediately if a composition is unbalanced / illegible.

I was lucky when it came to learning the basics of design, as I produced very type-heavy work from the age 14, up until my mid 20s: event flyers, gig posters, record sleeves, fight posters etc. Typography really didn’t come naturally to me though – it took dedicated focus and determination to sharpen up these integral skillsets!!

So how do you learn the mysterious and dark arts of Typography and Layout? Here’s a look at some of the things you can immediately do to sharpen your design game:

1. Practice Like a BEAST

Yup, it’s the un-glamorous / practical answer right here, the number one thing that will yield the greatest results. Produce mock up covers on a weekly basis, and put the covers out into the world for your peers / audience to judge. You’ll soon learn what hits the right chords, and what doesn’t. This daily repetition will sharpen your skillset like nothing else.

2. Read LOTS of Design Books

Another common-sense strategy, but an action that will quickly bring you up to scratch on the most important design conventions. It’s essential that you become fully competent in playing by ‘the rules’, before mixing things up a bit and becoming more daring with your layout ideas.

This step has the potential to be expensive when buying hard-copies, but the investment will yield massive results down the line – allowing you to charge a much higher premium for your flawless design work.

3. Take a Course or Two

Another super-fast way to elevate your skillset, is to invest in a course or two that can elevate your design skillset… or even just binge watch relevant YouTube tutorials (of which there are PLENTY). To succeed in a fiercely competitive marketplace you’ve got to bring your A-game; and these are the investments you’ll need to make in order to stand a chance!!

By having an excellent mastery of Typography and Layout, you’ll be able to increase the rate you charge. Doing so will dramatically improve your chances for earning a liveable part time or full time income from cover art.

2. Drop the Ego / Learn to be Flexible

When you produce commercial art – the project focus isn’t about you, it’s about selling your client’s product. We’re no longer in the ‘Kool Art’ business, we’re now in the book selling business. So what does this mean exactly?

When you’re doing personal art you can focus on the motifs / themes / styles that YOU’RE good at – the crowd-pleasers that generate all those glorious ‘Likes’ and comments… When you’re working on professional commissions however, the game changes A LOT.

Your clients are going to be making all kinds of weird and wonderful requests, many of which will take you out of your comfort zone!!

“Oh sweet baby jebus… I’m really out of my depth with this one…”

This is one of the most difficult aspects of transitioning from personal art to commercial. Undertaking LOTS of commission work is pretty much the only way to learn how to accomodate client requests. The stuff they get you to do might not play to your natural strengths, and the resulting work may be a lot less impactful than you usually do – this is one of those mental barriers that all of us have to overcome.

Of course, you can pitch your services to clients who are a good match for your style – but you’ll still encounter those situations where you’re asked to produce concepts that you’re not even sure you can do – it happened to me, a LOT!!

Play to your strengths where you can, but keep pushing yourself with increasingly elaborate commissions. Ultimately client satisfaction trumps your own happiness with the work – so if the client is happy, then it’s a job well done!! Learning to disengage emotionally is a skillset that will be essential in your cover art career.

3. Sell to Your Market, Not to Your Peers

This faux pas isn’t limited to visual artists, I see this happen in many sectors of the creative industry…

When marketing / promoting your work – you want to focus on channels where your ‘market’ spends their time or congregates. Again, this could take you way out of your comfort zone. This could be Facebook Groups, Forum Communities, LinkedIn, or Twitter etc. It’s all well and good getting ‘Likes’ or comments from your usual networks for your awesome work, but if these marketing activities don’t result in sales or commissions then it’s pretty much wasted energy.

To sell effectively in the world of publishing, you have to become a KNOWN ENTITY. This means interacting, befriending authors / editors / cover artists / publishers, participating in Groups or Forums, and developing a GENUINE interest in publishing and all its machinations.

The artists who successfully ingratiate themselves into the world of publishing and become genuine contributors have a massive headstart on those who don’t. As a personal brand and service provider, interpersonal skills will play an integral role in your career as a cover artist.

The Publishing Community. Not a bad bunch at all!!

FORTUNATELY, the publishing world is populated with wonderful clients!! The vast majority of players are thoroughly decent and are a joy to work with 🙂 Of course, there’s one or two maniacs amongst them – but that’s just par for the course!!

Marketing and Branding are two HUGE aspects of the cover art game – so integral in fact, that we wrote TWO behemoth guides. Be sure to check them out after you’ve read this post:

• The Marketing Masterclass for Creatives

• The Branding Masterclass for Creatives

4. Learn the Laws / Create Your Systems

As a professional service provider, you’re going to have to learn (in full) the legalities involved when producing commercial art. Of utmost importance is understanding the basics of intellectual property (IP) and licensed properties.

For instance, if you’re a photomanipulator – you can’t just grab any image you want off the internet willy-nilly, you need to license commercial stock photography from providers such as Adobe Stock, NeoStock etc., or at a push certain free stock providers (NOT ideal). Failure to adhere to these strict guidelines could be catastrophic for you and your client if a lawsuit gets thrown your way by Disney or a disgruntled photographer. INSTANT RUIN.

As it’s so critically important to understand this aspect of the game, we put together a full guide for you. Essential reading, be sure to check it out:

• The Indie Authors Guide to Stock Photography

“Help!! Disney sued me!! Now I need to borrow $250,000…”

When we refer to ‘Creating Systems’, these are the protocols you implement for your entire design process – from the initial consultation, right through to getting paid (project completion).

Every artist has their own way of doing things – but if you’re an absolute newbie / beginner with commercial art, you may want to check out the guide we wrote that outlines the cover art process:

• The Indie Authors Guide to Hiring a Cover Artist

When your conscientous of the law, and offer your client a streamlined design process – you increase your professionalism, and in turn the premium you can charge for your services. Getting these aspects of your game down early is absolutely essential for success in publishing.

5. Understand That Art will Become ‘Work’

It’s a shame that our wonderful guide has to end on a sour note, but this is a MAHOOSIVE point that needs to be made…

Your relationship with art will change when your rent money depends on it.

When you invest your most powerful / productive hours of the day into art for your clients, it doesn’t leave much ‘creative juice’ for your own projects. It’s pretty difficult to crank out the Wacom after doing 8 – 10 solid hours of illustrative work for other people. All you’ll want to do after your work day is detach for a while, and take in some ‘life’.

This can have a powerful impact on your own creative voice, and is a sacrifice that many of us make when we pursue commercial art.

Your own ideas, stories, and narratives will take a back seat whilst you focus on producing work for others – it’s the nature of the beast. After a while your overall desire to produce (anything) may be dampened, and could even be perceived as a chore. They sing from the rooftops “Do what you love for a living!!” – but the realities of doing so isn’t always peaches and cream.

“Lord, why have you forsaken me?”

I really don’t want to scare you off with this notion… This is just a gentle warning from one friend to another, that there’s a possibility you could ‘lose a little something’ when you work commercially (especially fulltime).

Closing Notes

Plenty to think about right there!! I hope this guide has given you enough fodder to consider, when it comes to pursuing a career in book cover design. If you have any questions, please feel free to drop by our Focus Group, and I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction 🙂

All the best with your creative adventures!!

Dean

 

About the Author:

Dean Samed is a professional cover artist, and Photoshop instructor.

He now dedicates his fulltime attention to producing ‘the best goddamn stock photography on the planet!!

 

You May Also Enjoy:

• The Branding Masterclass for Creatives

• The Indie Authors Guide to Hiring a Cover Artist

• Earn With Your Art – An Insiders Guide Part 1

Shoot 21 – Future Cop Stock Photography

For Nisha’s second concept, we went full Sci-Fi – with a tactical / futuristic street-cop getup. As with all of our recent sets, there are 200+ poses to choose from in this collection!!

Sci-Fi stocks like you’ve never seen before…

Here’s a look at some of the images from the set:

NeoStock - Nisha Future Cop V - Stock Photography

Dramatic Profile

NeoStock - Nisha Future Cop IV - Stock Photography

Dual Pistols

NeoStock - Nisha Future Cop III - Stock Photography

Calm and Poised

NeoStock - Nisha Future Cop II - Stock Photography

Space Cannon

NeoStock - Nisha Future Cop I - Stock Photography

Fighting Stance

View the full gallery for this set at:

Nisha Future Cop Stock Photography Gallery

Our next shoot will be male ‘Mystery Thriller’ and ‘Action’… We have a GREAT model lined up for this one, so watch this space for some incredible high-octane shots!!

To stay up to date / have a say in what we create, come jump onboard at our NeoStock Focus Group.

Shoot 021 Credits:

Photography: Tom Parsons, Hair & Makeup by Suzanna Forrister-Beer (Makeupps by Suzanna), Model: Nisha Aaliya. Shot at Fire Eye Land studios, Margate.

— Team NeoStock

Shoot 21 – Fantasy Assassin Stock Photography

Our recent set with Nisha is by far our most ambitious Fantasy Assassin set to date We commissioned hand-made custom bracers and gaiters – so this is a look that you won’t find ANYWHERE else!!

There’s a mind-boggling 228 poses in this collection, plenty to choose from!!

Here’s a look at some of the images from the set:

NeoStock - Nisha Fantasy Assassin V - Stock Photography

Vampire Stakes!!

NeoStock - Nisha Fantasy Assassin IV - Stock Photography

Walk of Defiance

NeoStock - Nisha Fantasy Assassin III - Stock Photography

Dramatic From Behind

NeoStock - Nisha Fantasy Assassin II - Stock Photography

Prowling the Perimeter

NeoStock - Nisha Fantasy Assassin I - Stock Photography

Dual Blades

View the full gallery for this set at:

Nisha Fantasy Assassin Stock Photography Gallery

Nisha’s second shoot is a Sci-Fi affair, titled ‘Future Cop’ – images for that set will be uploaded to the blog… TODAY!!

To stay up to date / have a say in what we create, come jump onboard at our NeoStock Focus Group.

Shoot 021 Credits:

Photography: Tom Parsons, Hair & Makeup by Suzanna Forrister-Beer (Makeupps by Suzanna), Model: Nisha Aaliya. Shot at Fire Eye Land studios, Margate.

— Team NeoStock

The Indie Author’s Guide to Hiring a Cover Artist

The hallowed day has come!! After rigorous re-writes, edits, and a final layer of polish – your manuscript is as good as it’s ever going to be. It’s time to unleash this beast into the wild…

To complete the project however, there’s a final piece of the puzzle left to tackle: THE COVER ART.

Bajillions of words have been written on the importance of cover art, so I won’t wax lyrical on the topic here – any professional worth their salt KNOWS the book cover can make or break a release. To put things into context I’ve personally worked on projects where a re-brand (new book cover) has resulted in 5 – 20 X more sales for the author’s title. I bet you’d like some of that action too 😮

So we’re all in agreement: A powerful / high impact cover that screams intrigue and excitement is the way to go. But how do we procure such visual delights at a fair price… without being burned in the process?

With this guide you’ll learn how to sell MORE books by hiring the perfect cover artist for your project. We’ll discuss where to find the artists, essential things to look out for when making a buying decision, and how to have a smooth / pain-free working relationship with your collaborator.

Sounds like win? Read on for the skinny:

First Things First

I should let you guys know why I have a lot to say on this subject…

I’ve produced artwork professionally for 20 years. The bulk of my work has been in the indie sphere, but I’ve also worked for a range of A-Listers / BIG-5 publishing houses too.

I’ve been around the block, and learned through the fire of experience many of the best practices of commissioning book cover art. Whether it was working for Stephen King (what a blast!!), or an indie’s first release – the fundamentals remain largely the same.

Whether you’re a grizzled veteran, or fresh-faced new fish – the principles in this guide will build your confidence when it comes to commissioning book cover art.

The Art That SELLS Books

Before we get the gears moving, let’s take a moment to REALLY think about what sells books. Believe it or not, it’s not just a case of choosing what you think is ‘pretty’ when commissioning cover art. There’s a helluva lot more to it than that…

Selling the Sizzle

My mantra when it comes to putting out ANY kind of genre-product is SELL THE SIZZLE. Think back to the glory days of VHS video stores, when your younger (prettier) self browsed the rows upon rows of seductively packaged titles. The artwork on those covers had a profound impact on your buying decision – especially if you were a horror-hound like me!!

The movie itself could have been absolute TOILET, but with that big badass monster on the cover – what 15 year old could say no to that??

So how does this relate to selling books in the 21st century? The psychology is largely the same when selling books, however the modern buying environment is a LOT more competitive… The aim of the game is to make your customer STOP SCROLLING (on Amazon / FB / Twitter etc.) and whisper:

“Holy S**T, what IS THAT!?”

J Caleb Design Cover Art

J Caleb Design – Selling the DAMN SIZZLE

As an author of genre fiction – you need to SELL THE SIZZLE of your given genre. If you’re writing Horror, feature your monster / antagonist front and centre. If you’re writing Fantasy, play upon the exciting visual motifs of your story (warriors, dragons, creatures etc.)

I like to call these ‘Genre Motifs’, and just like the VHS covers of olde – they get your readers excited by serving them up EXACTLY what they like, on a visual platter of awesomeness.

Now I may be detecting some eye-rolls here, and mutterings of Well duh, captain obvious!! – but over my career, I’ve worked with many clients that miss this fact.

High Concept / Simple Covers

Some authors will want to take a hyper-minimal / high-design approach, when creating book covers. Whilst this can work brilliantly for non-fiction titles, I’d advise against it for genre fiction authors – especially if you’re still in the process of building your name.

Yes, it worked for E.L. James’ Fifty Shades series, or those snazzy Penguin rebrands of popular titles – but for the rest of us, our biggest weapon is still SELLING THE SIZZLE.

fifty shades books

Fanfic Smut, Artfully Packaged

The titans of publishing can get away with it because the author / title has a huge amount of BRAND EQUITY – gained via massive global PR, or because they’re Stephen King. The brand sells the title, and the cover art becomes pretty much secondary to the power of the name.

Regardless of where your own brand equity stands, eye-popping cover art will be your biggest weapon for rising above the noise.

How ‘Accurate’ Should the Cover Art Be?

Now this is the age-old question… When it comes to your cover art, how ACCURATE should it be, in relation to your narrative?

Throughout my career, this particular issue has been the NUMBER ONE CAUSE of poor cover art. I’ve spoken to many of my artist peers in publishing, and the same issue plagues projects across the board. It’s a universal killer of sales.

When you have a choice of being 100% ‘accurate’ to the narrative, or going with something ‘badass’: ALWAYS CHOOSE ‘BADASS’!!

Obviously, you’d want something representative of the story – and your cover artist wants that too… but when you’re drilling them over multiple finnicky details to get it ‘just right’, that can have a seriously detrimental effect on the overall cover. I’ve seen it hundreds of times.

Choose the right cover artist, give them your instructions, and let them run wild!! It’s a delicate balance between getting exactly what you want, and allowing a certain amount of wriggle-room for the project. The more freedom you allow your cover artist, the better your cover art will be. I 100% guarantee it.

Yes, there are caveats to this… you don’t want your cover-art character to be blonde, when in your book the guy has black hair. This point has more to do with your artwork getting incrementally WORSE, as a result of forcing pointless narrative details into the composition, that the customer would never even notice at the thumbnail level.

Give your artist (a fair amount of) freedom. Always choose BADASS over accuracy.

What Makes a Good Cover Artist?

Aside from the fact that your artist produces great artwork and typography, there are other factors at play when working on a collaborative project.

Here are the main attributes a cover artist should have, that will ensure your project goes without a hitch:

1. Communication

The artist should respond to your enquiries in a timely manner. Acceptable is within 24 hours, ideal is within 2 – 5 hours. This keeps the project moving, and stops the creativity from stagnating.

With the above in mind, do take into consideration whether your artist is at the opposite end of the planet – time differences can increase the ‘wait time’ for responses!! Artists gotta sleep too you know.

If you go days without a response, then you have a definite issue.

2. ‘Amiability’

If the artist is polite / courteous / upbeat… that’s going to help the creative process A LOT!! Offering creative services is a ‘people game’, and how your artist treats you will affect the overall project.

Of course, this is a two way street – you’ve got to play nice too – to get the most out of your artist 😉 If you’re a prima donna / douchey, then the artist will be less inclined to give their best – or may stall when replying to your messages.

3. Confidence

Even though your artist may be the nicest guy / gal in the world, they need more than that to give you the cover art you deserve.

The confident artist will (diplomatically) tell you when you’re getting it wrong. The confident artist will tell you why stretching the title to the full width of the book cover isn’t the greatest idea… OR why that photo your cousin took shouldn’t be let anywhere near the cover art!!

Serious cover art pros know how to gently guide the author / publisher into the ‘correct’ direction, using diplomacy and finesse… without tempers rising, or creative friction occuring.

The relationship between client and artist is synergistic, and to work well – requires a certain amount of ‘give and take’.

Choosing Your Cover Artist

With such a low barrier to entry, it’s safe to say it’s pretty much a buyers market out there. We’re blessed to have fiercely talented cover artists across the globe offering their services, at a wide range of budgets.

There are many artists out there who will give you MAJOR bang for your buck, providing a world-class service AND sales results… Unfortunately there are also shysters who view the artform as a quick payday, who operate with less than ideal ethical standards.

Working with these cheapsters can actually result in MAJOR legal troubles for you later down the line, as we explored in our previous post. Don’t be the author that gets burned.

With such a mind-boggling range of options, and a crowded marketplace – where the hell do you start with all this?

Here are some of the top tips to keep in mind when choosing your cover artist:

1. The Artist has been Referred

If you have a buddy that’s successfully worked with a cover artist, and the resulting artwork was awesome – then that’s possibly the best indicator to have that the cover artist is legit.

Ensure their style is the right fit for your genre, and double check they’re working at the budget range you can afford. Ask your colleague how they got on with the artist, and if there were any issues with the creative process.

By doing the above, you could potentially save yourself A LOT of back and forth choosing the right artist for your project!!

Cursed Book Cover by Christian Bentulan

The Filipino Phenom (Christian Bentulan) demonstrates his cover-art prowess…

2. The Artist Has a Branded Website

The first thing you can do to check how serious an artist is, is find out whether they have a branded website. NOT a website with a .WIX or .WORDPRESS subdomain – but a professional website, with a branded domain.

To me, this is the first indicator of how professional a particular artist is. If they’ve taken the time to build the website, and pay out for a personalised domain – that puts them a cut above the rest of the players. The artist has INVESTED in their pursuit, and they know the game is much much bigger than social media promotion alone.

Rebecca Frank Cover Art Website

Rebecca Frank, this gal does it RIGHT

I’ve actually received a fair amount of flak for making this point in interviews previously, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one:

Any cover artist worth their salt has a branded website.

3. The Artist Posts New Art FREQUENTLY

The professional artists who get the JOB DONE are oversubscribed. As a result, they post new artwork online on a regular basis. They’re active and visible – you see them popping up everywhere, sharing quality work with high frequency.

Of course, being in demand means the premium for such artists goes up – however NOT always, as we’ll discover later in this guide…

4. The Artist Has Great Typography / Layout Skills

This game isn’t just pretty art – it’s visual communication.

Book cover art is a beautiful unison of illustration, layout, and typography. It is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE that your cover artist has mastery of both illustration AND graphic design / typography / layout.

The artist must be able to effectively communicate the ‘feel‘ of your story with the illustration, alongside the essential copy (book title, author name, sub-title etc.). All of the elements must work together as cohesive whole, with a sense of balance and unity.

I know MANY awesome digital artists who decided to jump in on the book cover game – but they were sorely lacking in the design / typography department. Visual communication is an artform in itself, and requires AS MUCH (if not more) practice than the artwork itself. It is not to be under-estimated by any stretch.

Of course, there are instances where you can commission an illustrator to produce the artwork – and then hire a talented designer to provide the typography / layout. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, if you have the budget to cover the cost!!

Shawn King STK Creations Cover Art

My favourite genre-fiction designer Shawn King (STK Creations) often provides typography / layout for illustrated covers

Most book cover artists offer an ‘all-in’ solution, providing both the illustration AND typography / layout – so it’s imperative that they are proficient in ALL aspects of the game.

5. You LOVE Their Work

Choosing a cover artist can literally be as simple as seeing an awesome book cover, and contacting the artist (direct through their branded website!!) to find out their rates.

The speed in which the artist gets back to you is also a good indicator of their professionalism and dedication to the craft. This is another reason why I urge Authors / Publishers to work with fulltime cover artists.

6. They’re a ‘Specialist’

You really can’t go wrong when it comes to working with a cover-art specialist in your chosen genre. These artists dedicate their life and soul to a narrow sub-niche, and develop a world-class prowess for creating cover art for a very particular audience.

I used to be a hyper-specialist (horror!!), and loved every minute of it.

You Get What You Pay For

So here we are… the real meat and bones of the guide. How much should I be paying these guys for cover art?

The first major point I’m going to make here, is avoid any cover artist that is BELOW $100 USD. I can already see the various comment sections flare up in rage:

“How DARE you say that I shouldn’t spend less than $100 on cover art!! You don’t know what I have to deal with, I can barely afford to eat!!” (etc.)

Again, I’m going to stand by my (potentially unpopular) point.

Here’s the rub… You spend X-amount of months toiling over your manuscript, undergoing the relevant work to craft something beautiful – then you slap a FUGLY $25 cover onto it, immediately cheapening your product and obliterating any chance you had to make sales. It beggars belief.

If you want to operate within a FIERCELY competitive marketplace (and find success), then you’ve got to pay to play, it’s as simple as that.

The same could be arguably said, for trying to ‘wing it’ – and attempting to design the cover yourself (spoiler alert: NO)

As with any business, you gotta spend a little to make a little. If it means going without lattes for a month, then so be it… nobody ever said it was going to be easy 😉

“But this is just a hobby, I don’t want to spend $100s on cover art!!” – If that’s the case – absolutely fine. Ignore this section if you’re not fussed about sales.

Just because your immediate friends and family say it’s a great cover, doesn’t mean it is so. The litmus test is whether COMPLETE STRANGERS take a short moment out of their day, to comment “Damn, that’s a fine cover!!” Of course, a powerful cover and a great blurb will result in sales also.

There is no greater marker of success, than strangers voting with their dollar.

The next part of this guide is written with the understanding that you’re a professional (or aspiring professional) looking to sell as many books as possible. Let’s take a look at some of the price ranges commonly encountered within the Indie sphere:

$0 – $100 USD

I call this the ‘bargain bucket’ range, and is populated by newbie designers, artists from developing countries, and individuals not fully confident in their abilities.

Ok… there is a possibility that you could find a sub-$100 cover that’s pretty decent out there – but it’s not as likely as finding a vastly superior $100+ cover.

For cripes-sake, go ALL-IN!! Get the absolute best you can afford!! If it means saving up for a while, go ahead and do that. I personally know we’re not all starting on equal footing when it comes to money – just do the best you can, with the hand you’re dealt.

I’d argue anyone within a developed nation could raise $100 USD within 3 months, if they really put their mind to it. This is your dream, make it happen.

If you’re a $0 – $100 artist reading this, and are angered by these comments – up your skillset, and CHARGE MORE. You are in the realm of COMMODOTISATION, where the only thing the client cares about is price. Please read my free guide for digital artists to learn how to up your pricing. As soon as you’re out of this arena, your professional life will IMMEDIATELY improve.

$100 – $250

At this pricing range, cover art gets a little more refined, with the artists demonstrating higher levels of prowess – particularly with typography and layout (which can REALLY make or break the overall cover…)

If you’re on a serious budget or starting out, this domain may be your initial stomping ground. Around the $250 mark you can definitely get something pretty decent… but maybe not the BEST.

$250 – $500

This price range represents the mid-level tier, and the majority of the artists in this arena will be pretty decent. There are a lot of AWESOME artists from developing countries operating at this tier, as well as ‘niche-specialists’ who focus on specific genres.

A large number of my Facebook peers are within this range, and it does seem to be the ‘sweet spot’ for a large number of indie authors.

This may be the price range you operate at, if you have a steady(ish) income from prior book sales – but not enough to fund more extravagant covers.

$500 – $1000

The $500 to $1000 bracket is where things start getting REALLY sleek… If you’re an author that does pretty well with book sales, then this may be the domain where you commission work.

Cover artists that are in very high demand, may command fees between $500 to $1000, as they know there’s a steady stream of clients with cash in hand, ready to pay. Many competent ‘niche-specialists’ also operate at this range.

At this point, part of the price is tied in with the artist’s branding – they’re a proven entity, are highly professional in their operations – and are much more likely to be ‘full-timers’.

$1000 +

At this price point, the artist tends to be globally renowned for their cover art work. They’ve delivered many projects for A-List authors / BIG-5 publishers, or they have an art-style that no-one out there has come close to replicating. This is the opposite of ‘commoditisation’ (that you’ll find at the lower tiers of pricing.)

You’ll find upper-tier natural media illustrators or painters operate at this level, or world-class composite artists and designers.

‘Exclusive’ photo-shoot projects may fall into this category also, where the stock provider / artist shoots exactly what you need, then pulls it all together as a cover art package.

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme artwork

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme, in my opinion a WORLD CLASS illustrator

Places to AVOID

Ok, it’s time for me to start bleating about micro-service, and crowd-talent platforms again…

I personally don’t believe in platforms such as Fiverr, or 99Designs.

You may have had a well-meaning (but fiercely mis-informed) friend advise “Get your cover from Fiverr!!” IGNORE their advice. Possibly remove them from your christmas card list. Fiverr is the cess-pool of creative services, and the chances of not only being burned / but also SUED is much much higher than commissioning services from anywhere else. This is where the chancers and shysters operate.

Why am I so vehemently opposed to this platform? Because the service providers are NOT professionals – more often than not, they steal the resources they need to create the cover art. So not only are you starting on the wrong foot by having sub-standard cover art, but you’re also liable for litigation if the IP owners catch the breach and decide to pursue for damages.

As this is is such a major issue with ‘cheap’ cover art, I wrote an entire article on it.

99Designs is another platform I’d avoid… not so much because the work on there is no good, but because the business model isn’t ethical. Artists ‘compete’ by submitting artworks to commission briefs. If they’re unsuccessful in their bids, they don’t get paid at all. There ARE options for commissioning a single artist direct, but 99Designs still take their cut – pushing the price up. Nope, I don’t like it.

I’m not going to be too mean to 99Designs, as I know a couple of GREAT cover artists who got their start there – but I don’t approve of the platform at all. As with Fiverr, there are also multiple issues of IP theft on there also. As there are SO MANY great artists outside of these arenas, there really isn’t any reason to support them.

If your ethos is just to buy as cheap as humanly possible, you will be burned badly in every respect.

The Cover Art Process

Now I don’t profess to knowing how EVERY cover artist operates, as every individual will have their own systems for working with clients… From what I’ve gathered across the board however, the following blueprint is a pretty accurate example of a typical workflow.

One thing to keep in mind, before you start – is to view the artist’s portfolio, and be aware of the limitations of their skillset. Understand that what you get, will probably be similar to what they’ve done before.

In this section of the guide we’ll examine an example process that artists and clients go through – to get a projected completed, from start to finish:

1. Introduction / Deposit

Once you’ve made the introductions with your cover artist, and you have an agreed budget in place – in most instances you’d put down a deposit to secure your slot / get work underway (although not always, every artist is different.)

When I was producing cover art, there was a 50% deposit before we moved to the next phase (consultation). For some artists it may be 25% or some other figure.

At this point, it’s worth finding out what your artist’s preferred payment is, and whether you can accomodate it. More often than not it will be Paypal, but it’s worth asking anyway!!

2. Consultation

At this stage of the project, you discuss with your artist the kind of artwork you’d like for your cover. This is an incredibly important stage of the process, the better your artist is at understanding / interpreting your instructions, the better the final work will be.

You can help by highlighting existing covers that you like “I want something like THAT” – or by sharing a Pinterest Board / Moodboard showing the ‘vibe’ or tone you’d like for your project. Many artists are highly visual in nature (go figure!!), so sometimes images work better than words to convey what you’d like:

Dark Fantasy Warriors Moodboard

Over the years I’ve produced hundreds of moodboards, as part of my cover art services…

You can cherry-pick / mix and match various elements from other covers, be it aesthetics / content / typography style – to create something  new, unique and representative of your story.

If your artist is creating cover art using photographic resources (compositing / photomanipulation), then this may be the stage that the artist gives you suggestions for WHICH stock photo elements could be used for the project.

If you can both be in agreement as to what elements will be used for the cover, before the serious heavy-lifting takes place, then that can save a LOT of heartache down the road – for BOTH parties!!

3. Rough Mockups

Once the consultation is complete, the artist goes forth and beavers away with your shiny new cover art.

Some artists may pull together a ‘rough’ or ‘first draft’ version for you to check that they’re on the right track. This could be as simple as a crude placement of elements, or thumbnail sketches. The work at this stage will be un-polished and not indicative of the final art.

4. First Draft

At this stage, the artist may present to you the ‘First Draft’ – an ALMOST finished cover, but not quite there yet. The artist will ask you for feedback, and any possible tweaks or amendments that you’d like made to the cover art.

There may be typographical placement also, to show how the illustration sits with the title / author name etc.

5. Revisions

After feedback from the first draft, the artist goes through a series of revisions, as per your instructions…

This is a delicate phase of the project, where creative tensions / disagreements may flare up. Part of the friction may be the artist’s frustration that they’re unable to articulate EXACTLY what you want… or requests are being made that are beyond the remit of the artist’s skillset.

Unfortunately there are instances where clients demand a Marvel / Disney level of production value, but for a grand project budget of $75 bucks. Please don’t be that guy 🙂

client budget client expectation

Please don’t be that guy…

Fortunately, most issues can be resolved amicably!! Through a process of tweaking, and improving, your artist can incrementally amend the cover so it matches what you had in mind.

NOTE: Some cover artists may have a ‘Revision Fee’ system in place, to ensure the revision process isn’t abused by indecisive clients. There may be ‘X’ amount of free revisions, with all amendments thereafter being charged at a specified rate.

6. Final Draft

This is the beautiful stage, where artist and client are in agreement that the cover art is finished.

The artist may put together the ‘full wrap’ (book cover template, for printed copies), Audible cover, or marketing materials at this stage also.

You’re happy, they’re happy. Everyone’s happy!! (I hope…)

7. Payment / Finish

With the project complete, you pay the artist using their preferred payment method.

With payment received, the artist releases all the files (eg. Kindle Cover, Audible Cover, Full Wrap layout) – and you can move forward with the TRULY difficult part of your release. The marketing!!

Let the artist know whether it’s ok to share the work on their social platforms / websites, or whether you’d like them to hold-off for a while if you want to keep the artwork fresh for a specifically timed release. As professionals, they’ll understand!!

Closing Notes

Now THAT was pretty hefty for a blog post, I appreciate you tuning in!!

It’s my aim to save both you and your artist a lot of creative heartache with this guide, and to give your release the best possible head-start when it comes to making sales.

The greatest cover-artists out there, KNOW that this is the book-selling business, and not the personal-ego business – and will have your best interests at heart. It’s a tough market out there, but fortune favours the brave 😉

All the best with your literary adventures!!

Dean

 

About the Author:

Dean Samed is a professional cover artist, and Photoshop instructor.

He now dedicates his fulltime attention to producing ‘the best goddamn stock photography on the planet!!

 

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Shoot 16 — Natalia Adventure Hero Stock Photography

This was a really exciting high-action shoot!!

For this particular concept, we were inspired by the world-famous ass-kicker Lara Croft. Whilst this is billed as an ‘Adventure’ concept, these shots would work equally well for Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic projects also…

Here’s a look at some of the images from the set:

NeoStock - Pippa Urban Fantasy V, Stock Photography

Stoic in victory

NeoStock - Pippa Urban Fantasy IV, Stock Photography

Dynamic Crouching Pose

NeoStock - Pippa Urban Fantasy III, Stock Photography

From behind, a layer of mystery

NeoStock - Pippa Urban Fantasy II, Stock Photography

Striding

NeoStock - Pippa Urban Fantasy I, Stock Photography

Leaping into action

View the full gallery for this set at:

Natalia Adventure Hero Stock Photography Gallery

Next up, is our Lara Croft inspired Adventure Hero set!!

To stay up to date / have a say in what we create, come jump onboard at our NeoStock Focus Group.

Shoot 016 Credits:

Photography: Tom Parsons, Hair & Makeup by Suzanna Forrister-Beer (Makeupps by Suzanna), Model: Natalia Jeziolkowska. Shot at Fire Eye Land studios, Margate.

— Team NeoStock

Shoot 16 — Natalia Urban Fantasy Stock Photography

We’re really starting to find our footing with the Urban Fantasy genre now!!

After receiving a tonne of feedback, we’ve moved into a more casual / Jessica Jones look – featuring blue jeans and a charcoal grey tanktop. A high-attitude leather jacket completes the look 🙂

Here’s a look at some of the images from our brand new set:

NeoStock - Pippa Urban Fantasy V, Stock Photography

Magic Hands

NeoStock - Pippa Urban Fantasy IV, Stock Photography

Swinging for the fences

NeoStock - Pippa Urban Fantasy III, Stock Photography

Profile shot with Pistols

NeoStock - Pippa Urban Fantasy II, Stock Photography

A NeoStock Classic

NeoStock - Pippa Urban Fantasy I, Stock Photography

Conjuring the Spirits

View the full gallery for this set at:

Natalia Urban Fantasy Stock Photography Gallery

Next up, is our Lara Croft inspired Adventure Hero set!!

To stay up to date / have a say in what we create, come jump onboard at our NeoStock Focus Group.

Shoot 016 Credits:

Photography: Tom Parsons, Hair & Makeup by Suzanna Forrister-Beer (Makeupps by Suzanna), Model: Natalia Jeziolkowska. Shot at Fire Eye Land studios, Margate.

— Team NeoStock

Shoot 14 — Cyberpunk Detective Stock Photography

Shoot 014 was a Sci-Fi extravaganza!! Our first concept was ‘Cyberpunk Detective’, a gritty aesthetic inspired by the works of William Gibson, and the Blade Runner franchise.

There is a desperate lack of DECENT sci-fi resources in the stockosphere, so it’s our aim to remedy that.

Here’s a look at some of the shots from the set:

Cyberpunk Detective:

NeoStock - Cyberpunk Detective V, Stock Photography

Dramatic Stance

NeoStock - Cyberpunk Detective IV, Stock Photography

Space Cannon

NeoStock - Cyberpunk Detective III, Stock Photography

Daggers at Dawn

NeoStock - Cyberpunk Detective II, Stock Photography

Tools of the Trade

NeoStock - Cyberpunk Detective I, Stock Photography

Poised for Action

View the full gallery for this set at:

Danny Cyberpunk Detective NeoStock Gallery

Our second set from this shoot, is Galactic Cadet. Head on over to the next post to check out the images we got!!

To stay up to date / have a say in what we create, come jump onboard at our NeoStock Focus Group.

Shoot 014 Credits:

Photography: Tom Parsons, Hair & Makeup by Suzanna Forrister-Beer (Makeupps by Suzanna), Model: Danny Andrew Coakley. Shot at Fire Eye Land studios, Margate.

— Team NeoStock

Shoot 13 — Demon / Vampire Hunter & Urban Fantasy

For shoot 013, we decided to go for a tough ‘Van-Helsing’ style character, armed with all the tools of the Demon-Hunting trade; crossbow, vampire stakes, and even machetes / axes!!

For the second segment of the shoot, we went for a classic Urban Fantasy set with a ‘biker’ vibe, which resulted in some incredibly versatile shots. We’re carving out a bit of a niche now, as Urban Fantasy specialists 😮

Here’s a look at some of the teasers from both sets:

Demon-Hunter:

NeoStock - Mandy V, Vampire / Demon Hunter / Van Helsing, Stock Photography

Kicking Ass, Taking Names

NeoStock - Mandy IV, Vampire / Demon Hunter / Van Helsing, Stock Photography

On Today’s Menu: PAIN

NeoStock - Mandy III, Vampire / Demon Hunter / Van Helsing, Stock Photography

Ready for Battle

NeoStock - Mandy II, Vampire / Demon Hunter / Van Helsing, Stock Photography

Tools of the Trade

NeoStock - Mandy I, Vampire / Demon Hunter / Van Helsing, Stock Photography

Stake for Dinner

Urban Fantasy:

NeoStock - Mandy V, Urban Fantasy, Stock Photography

Confident Stride

NeoStock - Mandy IV, Urban Fantasy, Stock Photography

Woman Scorned

NeoStock - Mandy III, Urban Fantasy, Stock Photography

Dual Wield Swords

NeoStock - Mandy II, Urban Fantasy, Stock Photography

Good ol’ Magic Hands

NeoStock - Mandy I, Urban Fantasy, Stock Photography

Elegant Daggers

View the full galleries for both of these sets at:

Mandy Demon Hunter NeoStock Gallery

Mandy Urban Fantasy NeoStock Gallery

Our next shoot will be focused on Sci-Fi… we have some great models, costumes and props in the pipeline for this much needed concept!!

To stay up to date / have a say in what we create, come jump onboard at our NeoStock Focus Group.

Shoot 013 Credits:

Photography: Tom Parsons, Hair & Makeup by Suzanna Forrister-Beer (Makeupps by Suzanna), Model: Mandy Horsefield. Shot at Fire Eye Land studios, Margate.

— Team NeoStock

Shoot 12 — Old West Cowboy, Steampunk Adventurer & Urban Fantasy

Here’s the blog rundown showcasing part-two of our epic ‘Dark Historical’ shoot, that spanned two days!!

Our concepts for Shoot 012 are: Old West Cowboy, Steampunk Adventurer, and Urban Fantasy — once again starring Mike Garrett and Karlos Moir…

Here’s a look at the sets from our second day shooting:

Old West Cowboy:

NeoStock - Mike V, Old West Cowboy, Stock Photography

Outlaw

NeoStock - Mike IV, Old West Cowboy, Stock Photography

Something wicked this way comes…

NeoStock - Mike III, Old West Cowboy, Stock Photography

The Siege

NeoStock - Mike II, Old West Cowboy, Stock Photography

Defending the town

 

NeoStock - Mike I, Old West Cowboy, Stock Photography

Kickin Back

Steampunk Adventurer:

NeoStock - Karlos V, Steampunk Adventurer, Stock Photography

Pistols at Dawn

NeoStock - Karlos IV, Steampunk Adventurer, Stock Photography

Bowler Hat

NeoStock - Karlos III, Steampunk Adventurer, Stock Photography

Rapier Action

NeoStock - Karlos II, Steampunk Adventurer, Stock Photography

We sail at dawn

NeoStock - Karlos I, Steampunk Adventurer, Stock Photography

Sullen

Urban Fantasy:

NeoStock - Karlos V, Urban Fantasy, Stock Photography

Dual Swords

NeoStock - Karlos IV, Urban Fantasy, Stock Photography

Taking Stock

NeoStock - Karlos III, Urban Fantasy, Stock Photography

Dual Pistols

NeoStock - Karlos II, Urban Fantasy, Stock Photography

Over the Shoulder

NeoStock - Karlos I, Urban Fantasy, Stock Photography

Magic Hands

View the full galleries for these three sets at:

Mike G Old West Cowboy NeoStock Gallery

Karlos Steampunk Adventurer NeoStock Gallery

Karlos Urban Fantasy NeoStock Gallery

A great weekend, we look forward to producing a lot more historical stocks in the near future… including  Female Gunslinger, Medieval Ranger, and more!!

To stay up to date / have a say in what we create, come jump onboard at our NeoStock Focus Group.

Shoot 012 Credits:

Photography: Tom Parsons, Hair & Makeup by Suzanna Forrister-Beer (Makeupps by Suzanna), Models: Karlos Moir, and Mike Garrett. Shot at Fire Eye Land studios, Margate.

— Team NeoStock