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!!



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

The Marketing Masterclass for Creatives

For many in the creative sphere, the dreaded ‘M’ word can be the source of all kinds of anguish…

Some of you may glide through marketing pursuits like a duck to water – whereas some of you may view the pursuit as a necessary evil; that annoying ‘thing’ that really should be tackled (at some point, but maybe not today).

Producing the work is the easy part. Convincing the world of your value in a fiercely crowded / global marketplace? Now that’s a different kettle of fish altogether!! It’s the frequently overlooked secret-sauce that WILL make or break your venture. Get the marketing right, and you can explode your income, profile, and success EXPONENTIALLY.

In this Masterclass, we’ll the examine the various marketing strategies that will enable you to reach a greater audience, connect with more clients, and sell more creative products. We’ll be focusing on free or low-cost channels, including social media, your website, and blogging – all things you can do right away, with very little technical expertise. Unlike most technical guides, we’ll also spend some time examining the ‘whys’ behind the marketing activities we roll out.

Ready to get the gears moving to take a slice of the action? Read on for the skinny…

The People Game

Whether you’re a photographer, author, cover-artist, retoucher, or artisan, you’ll find the principles of marketing / selling your wares are pretty much universal.

Marketing ISN’T about SEO tricks, algorithms, or the number of followers you have on Instagram – it’s about broadcasting value, creating desire, building relationships, and gaining the trust of your customers. At its core, it’s a ‘people’ game, with the ultimate aim of selling your product or venture.

“But I’m not a ‘People Person’ – people suck!!”

If that’s your current outlook, it’s probably be wise to consider an attitude re-adjustment. Perceive the act of marketing / selling as a joy. Be grateful to have the opportunity to connect and engage with your customers. Be grateful that it’s YOU who can help solve their problems. By following those actions, your attitude will re-align, and your reality will change.

You can STILL do phenomenally well, EVEN IF you are a cantankerous miserable git!! It’s just a case of leveraging that schtick, and maybe deriving some humour from your unique outlook. There’s plenty of fun to be had in that respect.

You Cannot Outsource Marketing

(at the beginning)

I’ve heard MANY creators state the following:

“I think I’ll just outsource this stuff, I don’t have the time for marketing…”

This is a gargantuan error, especially in the early years of your venture. Noone else on the planet will know (as well as you) the problems faced by your clients or customers, and how you’re uniquely positioned to help them. At the start, YOU must be the driving force of your marketing efforts. This is absolutely essential.

“Why is that?” they cry…

First off, you need to learn firsthand what’s working, and what isn’t. By pulling your sleeves up, and getting your hands dirty – you’ll gain a powerful understanding of what strategies are effective, what your market responds to, and the pros / cons of each platform.

We don’t need your services quite yet, Brand Manager Maisey…

This learning process is CRITICALLY invaluable – it can’t be gained via a training course, or passed onto you as secondhand knowledge. You need try things, iterate / improve, and change strategy when needed. Only you can go through these initial trials and tribulations, and learn from your experiences.

Once you’ve figured out effective marketing activities – THEN you may draft in outside help, to assist with daily and repetitive tasks, but not before then.

If you skip this step, you could potentially flush thousands of dollars down the toilet – by hiring marketing e-workers to handle your most important business operation (marketing). How will you know if they’re doing a good job? How will you know if your budget is being spent effectively? How will you know they’re charging a fair price for what they’re delivering?

From your time in the trenches you’ll have half a clue on many different aspects of the game. This will be incredibly valuable when you decide to hire marketing professionals later down the line.

If you seek success, you cannot avoid marketing.

Connecting With Your Tribe

That thing you do? That thing you sell? There’s a tribe out there, eager to be a part of it. Your tribe will be there to support and buy, regardless of how niche or obscure your venture may be. (Shoutout to the Seth Godin school of marketing, clever guy – look him up!!)

Of course some niches will be bigger than others. Your goat apparel brand may have a much smaller market than say, a boutique jewellery store… HOWEVER, if you can absolutely dominate this obscure niche, then there’s great potential to create a very lucrative venture.

You just need to find and connect with the people who like to dress up goats. THAT is marketing.

(Arguably the most obscure sentence I’ve written in my life…)

vêtements pour chèvres. Collection 2018.

We’re incredibly fortunate to be part of the digital revolution, because our audience is now GLOBAL as opposed to regional. With a sound marketing strategy you can connect with the (tens of thousands) of people out there who share your vision, or desperately need what you’re offering.

The Hard Sell

Believe it or not, you don’t have to be ‘salesy’ like a used-car salesman to roll out effective marketing. This is the fear that most people have, when faced with ‘selling’. If anything, a hyper-aggressive pitch is often the worst thing you can do.

Screeching out the following (from every platform imaginable) IS NOT marketing, it’s ugly and annoying noise that will make people hate you:


Indiscriminately throwing promotional messages (like the above) into the ether WILL NOT get you very far. The same goes for constantly hawking 10% off promotions. Every single day, we’re bombarded with a bajillion promotional messages – and as humans we’re evolving to filter out / ignore advertising messages. It’s a recognised phenomena known as ‘ad-blindness (or banner blindness)‘ – look it up!!

Our collective bullshit detectors are dialled up to ’11’, and we’re all experts in filtering out (unuseful) digital noise. So how do we break through all this detritus, to share our genuinely useful products or services?

First off, you need to become a LOT more sophisticated than: “BUY MY SH*T” or “MY SH*T COSTS ‘X’, YOU CAN BUY IT HERE”.


If you’re selling a very basic commodity, like an ice cream on a hot day – then the above will pretty much do the business for you. You have a captive audience who want’s an ice cream (there and then), it’s just a case of your customer finding out whether it’s affordable or not.

Unfortunately – for more complex products or services, the game changes A LOT.

As modern consumers, we have a staggering range of ‘choice’ at our disposal when it comes to choosing any kind of product or service. A three second Google search can present us with more purchasing options than we could ever process – we’re truly spoiled for choice. This factor alone makes selling in the digital marketplace extremely difficult.

So how do we reach our audience, without the hyper-aggressive sales pitch?

Educate & Entertain

Throwing out dry / salesy promotional posts isn’t the only way to approach marketing. Think about how you could educate or entertain with your content. Educating or Entertaining brings VALUE to your prospects in some way. It builds rapport and trust – it’s a delicate slow-dance that brings interested parties into your world (without the hard sell).

Here’s some examples:

Suzy has an Etsy store, selling hand-made props and costume elements. As opposed to just throwing out a post that says “Cyberpunk Goggles, $10 OFF Today” (BORING) – she could create a post that contains a ‘How it Was Done’ guide, with pictures and a write up showing the process she uses for creating the goggles. Which post will get the most ‘Likes’ and comments (AND sales)? The ‘How it Was Done’  guide by a country mile!! It’s educational, it’s informative, and we get to learn a bit about Suzy’s story and her creative process.

People love to peek behind the curtain, to learn the magic behind an awesome product.

Wilf Mackerel has a new sea monster book out. Like most other authors, he could spam a couple of groups with a two sentence blurb and an Amazon link – OR he could do the following… Wilf could write a heart-felt Facebook or Blog post, about the time he encountered a basking shark when he was swimming as a teenager. Even though the creature is benign (unbeknown to young Wilf), he was struck with a primordial terror and the memory was scorched into his psyche. THIS was his inspiration, for writing the book. By sharing a genuine life experience, Wilf has entertained his followers – and piqued their interest in his story. No hard-selling involved.

Genuine personal stories and anecdotes can go a LONG way when it comes to promoting a personal brand.

Wilf’s personal story. A lot more engaging than an Amazon link!!

Mike is getting pretty good at beauty retouching, and would like to drum up some business in the field. His first idea is to hit a load of prospects with cold emails, linking to his website – HOWEVER, he could also do the following… Mike could create an awesome time-lapse video series showing his creative process from beginning to end. With a big enough following, prospective clients will seek HIM out, as opposed to the other way round. Mike is both educating and informing with his content, whilst building authority within the field of retouching.

Demonstrations of your technical ability / prowess shows the world what you’re capable of – and builds niche authority in the process.

CONTENT IS KING. There’s literally a thousand and one ways to educate or inform with your content, it doesn’t always have to be about the hard-sell, or being ‘salesy’. Of course you can throw out more straightforward sales posts – but they SHOULDN’T be the backbone of your strategy!!

“Well DAMN… that seems like a lot more work than I want to do!!”

It’s a viper-pit out there, and the folks who CAN be bothered to go that extra mile – well THEY’RE getting your customers (even if they have an inferior product) Weave a narrative, tell a story!!

You see, it’s not about your product, it’s about the market’s PERCEPTION of your product. That’s why there’s a lot of ‘sub-standard’ stuff selling like gangbusters – the creators have found a way to effectively sell their wares.

The Fundamentals of Social Posting

Putting out content is an ART in itself… Here’s a list of some marketing fundamentals – many of these strategies actually go right back to the birth of print media and developed over the years for different media platforms.

Let’s take a look at some of the fundamentals of social posting:

1. Consistency

Whatever you do, be CONSISTENT. If you’re going to share artwork across social media platforms, do it on a consistent basis. Same goes for video content, blog posts, or tweets.

The more predictable you are with your posting schedule, the greater success you’ll have with building a following and increasing engagement (‘Likes’, comments, subscriptions, sign-ups etc.)

It’s a devastatingly simple premise, but carries MUCH more clout than any other ‘trick’ or strategy. Even if your posting volume isn’t particularly high, your audience will be conditioned to anticipate your content.

Facebook Pages are being largely written-off, because engagement has dipped so low across the board. This is particularly true for brand new pages, where it can seem IMPOSSIBLE to gain any traction. A consistent posting schedule will increase your follower count faster than any other approach.

2. Respond to ALL Comments

What’s the number one thing you can do, that will instantly increase engagement with your content?

Again, another criminally simple strategy: simply respond to EVERY social comment as fast as you can. That’s literally it, no rocket-science involved for this one!! This is especially important when you’re new, and building trust / authority for your brand.

As you grow, it will become increasingly difficult to keep up with this – as social media comments can grow exponentially with your success… but DO endeavour to answer any questions or enquiries within a maximum of 24 hours.

Yes, it’s hard work – but noone said this was going to be easy 😉

It’s not rocket science…

3. Call to Action

After you’ve educated or informed with your awesome content, you need to ASK for some kind of action from your prospect – marketing professionals call this the ‘Call to Action’, and is absolutely essential when you do any kind of marketing online. If you don’t ask for the sale, you’re pretty much pissing in the wind!!

Here’s a look at a few examples:

Suzy selling Cyberpunk goggles: “I hope you enjoyed this walkthrough guys, if you’d like to score a pair of these goggles for yourself – head on over to X. Only 4 left – so don’t miss out :)”

(Suzy also employed a ‘scarcity’ tactic here, we’ll look into that in a later article)

Wilf selling his sea monster book: “Well that was my tale of woe, me hearties!! My story which was inspired by this fiasco can be found at X, where it’s available for FREE download via Kindle Unlimited. Have a read, and tell me what you think!!”

(Wilf came in with a double-whammy with his Call to Action – not only asking for the sale, but a review too!!)

Mike selling retouching services: “For more beauty retouch timelapses, be sure to hit ‘Subscribe’ to be notified of new uploads. Need some work done? You can reach me via my website, link in the comments!! Thanks for tuning in, see you at the next video.”

(Mikes video outro Call to Action asks for a subscription, and also gives interested clients an easy way to get in touch)

Beware the Vanity Metrics

Now before we move onto the next chunk of this Masterclass, I want to give you a heads up on ‘Vanity Metrics’. Vanity Metrics are intangibles such as ‘Likes’, page views / website visits, Instagram followers etc. – things that make you look good, but aren’t necessarily a marker of success.

“Look at me!! I have 30K followers on Instagram!! *ahem* Could you lend me $5 till tuesday?”

What matters is SALES or COMMISSIONS… and even though Trudy the IG model has 25K followers – that traffic may not be converting into an income. I see it very often, with talented artisans and creatives – HUGE social followings, poorly monetised.

(“But Dean, not everything is about money!!” Of course not, but this guide written for those with the goal of quitting the day job or earning more from their creative business.)

Having beefy social stats can be good for social proof / building authority, but if you’re not properly monetising or marketing that traffic – then you’re pretty much just spinning your wheels.

A highly engaged community of 1000 who will buy absolutely anything that you put out, is much more powerful than 35,000 non-buying followers. Of course, it’s much more preferable to have 35K followers on any platform, but ensuring that traffic is leveraged / monetised properly is paramount.

Do not be fooled by Vanity Metrics. Social media ‘success’, and net income are two very different things. Exercise a level head, and don’t fall for your own hype.

Benefits VS Features

Now this is another age-old marketing tenet that’s as true today as it ever was…

When writing any kind of copy about your product / service / widget – try not to get bogged down by excessively listing all the features. This is dry. This is ‘salesy’. By nature we’re all incredibly selfish beings – and the What’s in it for me?‘ factor is EVERYTHING when it comes to selling.

We’re not buying a hammer (product) – we’re buying a nail in the wall (benefit / result). Always keep this in mind when promoting anything. This is massive.

As opposed to listing features, discuss how your product will improve or benefit your customer’s life. As humans we have many needs – and a basic understanding of desire and motivation can be a supremely powerful tool in your marketing endeavours.

‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ gives a very quick and decent overview of our basic, psychological, and self-fulfillment needs:

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Getting a bit too technical here? Let’s simplify, and take a look at some real world examples:

Jim wants to sell book cover art to authors and publishers. Instead of just posting up his artwork and dropping a link to his website – he may do a post talking about how a cover re-brand for a prior project increased his client’s sales 10 fold (this happens a LOT.) A massive benefit of using his services!! What do authors want? Prestige amongst their peers, to entertain their readers, to be perceived as professional and capable, and to sell LOTS of books. Tap into these desires as opposed to talking about yourself and magic will happen.

Marie wants to sell quirky gothic hand-made jewellery. As opposed just posting a BUY NOW link with a crummy 10% discount, Marie could post a customer submitted photo (with a small testimonial) – showing the jewellery being worn by a (real-life) beautiful person, really enjoying the product. Social proof in action. We want to be desired, we want to be liked. People aren’t buying Marie’s jewellery, they’re buying compliments from their friends, family, and admiration from strangers.

Nadja wants to sell her portrait photography services. Instead of linking to her Instagram profile and saying ‘I’m available for hire’ (BORING) – Nadja could write a case study (with accompanying images) about how a prior client’s image portrait  helped them to gain a modelling contract or movie role. The benefits are totally there without any need for the hard-sell: book in a shoot with Nadja, her photography gets people noticed!!

You’ll notice that all these examples are highly customer focused, and don’t whine on about all the features of your product or service. Always keep the ‘benefits’ in mind when you’re selling, and you’ll go far!!

Social Proof & Word of Mouth

Social Proof and Word of Mouth. The two POWER titans of sales and marketing – it would be a grave error to miss these badboys out from our Masterclass…

We’re pretty much sheep at the end of the day, no getting around that. We want to know if widget ‘X’ has worked for the other guy, and if it will work for us too. Why do you think Amazon Reviews are so powerful? We can find out from Joe Shmoe if the revolutionary new spatula design really does live up to the hype. Joe Shmoe’s review / testimonial will be infinitely more powerful than any marketing message we ever put out.

Champion your customer’s achievements and share their stories. When posting, leverage customer reviews, testimonials, submitted images etc. wherever possible. In a marketing sense, this is TWICE as valuable… Not only are you celebrating your customers, but you’re also proving to new prospects that what you offer is solving other people’s problems and making them happy. As herd mentality dictates, the new guys will also want a piece of the action.

“All my wildest dreams have come true!! Thankyou anusol!!”

Future sales are determined by the actions of past customers.

I don’t recall where I read that, but it’s a great piece of advice. The most beautiful place you can be, is where your product / service / widget sells purely on the recommendation of existing satisfied customers. This is the promised land, it really can’t be beat.

Your customers will put a lot more faith in what their colleagues / family / friends opinions, than whatever you (Mr Random Internet Marketing Man / Lady) ever has to say. If you think about it, a solid recommendation from someone you trust actually saves YOU a lot of hard work, shopping around and going through all the options.

“Well, my good buddy Joe Shmoe is a smart guy – and he rates this spatula. I think I’m gonna get the same one too.”

I’m very much into outdoorsy / bushcraft stuff, and watch a lot of videos on Youtube. A lot of the gear I buy is recommended by the presenters in the videos. I respect their opinions, and I’ve seen the gear in action. Off to Amazon I go to squander more of my cash!!

There’s literally no BETTER marketing than that ladies and gentleman.

Where’s the Technical Stuff?

“But Dean, you’ve not mentioned social media posting times, the latest Facebook updates, or Google algorithms??”

Listen… everyone and their nan harps on about the latest and greatest events in tech and social media – but these changes are ephemeral and fleeting. Not that important. The fundamentals listed in this guide are truly timeless, and are applicable to a wide range of channels. Every other day the tech giants will change the rules and trip you up in some way (anyway).

Don’t just rely on your social media profiles. You could be destroyed in an instant. Same goes for your Google position.

For whatever reason, your major social media channels could be annihillated overnight. It could be something as trivial as a breach of terms, or a technical glitch in the cloud. It is imperative that you also market via your own branded website AND a mailling list too. These platforms are entirely independent from your social media profiles, and Zuckerberg cannot get his hands on them!!

If you’re fully reliant on Social Media to generate your sales, then you have a problem. This needs rectified immediately. At the very least, beef up your mailling list to give you a solid independent sales channel.

Closing Notes

I sincerely hope the above helps you to sell your creative wares. At the very least it would be great if this post inspires you to learn more about marketing, and continue your studies even further.

There’s some brilliant books out there, that will explain these core concepts better than I ever could.

All the best with your creative adventures!!



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

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!!



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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Earn With Your Art – An Insiders Guide Part 1

Earn With Your Art Part 3 — Strengthening Product / Increasing Rates

Strength of your Product

The most valuable asset you can have, is a first rate product. Whilst this isn’t the most groundbreaking, or glamorous advice – the proof is in the pudding. If your work is jaw-droppingly sublime, or stamped with a fiercely unique narrative voice, stuff is going to happen for you. If your product is a regurgitated ‘me too’ variant of what’s already out there, you will be a commodity and will have to compete on price alongside the bargain-bucket crowd. Not a pleasant place to be.

Your personal branding can help separate you from the herd to a certain extent (we’ll discuss more on that, later…) , but it’s your product that is the core offering, the backbone of your market value. You should be striving to step up your game from the outset, to find your personal aesthetic / narrative voice, and deliver it in such a way that is truly REMARKABLE.

In the cover-art community where I spend the bulk my time, I notice that the up and comers post a lot of covers that look like they’ve spent an hour or two, putting them together. Whilst in the ‘Brass Tacks’ sense of posting frequently, this is good – it’s really not enough to break through to the next level. To professional eyes, a ‘lazy’ cover looks like a lazy cover, no matter how many of your immediate peers fawn over it, and say it’s ‘amazing’ in the comments section. Believe me, the clients worth knowing can tell the difference.

The first thing you can do, to instantly strengthen your product, is to SPEND MORE TIME on the work. Do not be in a rush to indiscriminately churn out slap-dash artwork. If you’re in a position where you’re getting little dribbles of work from here and there – invest A LOT more time into showcase pieces that really highlight the apex of what you’re capable of. You could consider these pieces ‘loss-leaders’. As work volume increases you can fine-tune the process, to make the time expenditure more cost effective. To get the proverbial foot in the door however, your art has to be more desirable, or sufficiently unique / different.

There are exceptions to this rule, and I know many prolific artists operating within the ‘budget-range’, producing an obscene volume of commission work (and probably earning pretty well, too.) This can be ok whilst you’re starting out, but I know that this model really isn’t sustainable for too long – it can actually send you mad!! Burnout is no joke, and neither is the longterm physical damage that can be caused by excessive stress, and computer useage.

Strive to become a Premium Artist, where you can invest a comfortable amount of time into each gig; have the leverage to produce only your best work; and be paid accordingly.

Increasing your Rates

There’s a timeless business adage, that goes something like this:

‘The cheaper the client, the bigger the problems…’

This is a universal truth, that cannot be denied. Cheap clients, or the bargain-bucket crowd as I like to call them (slightly derogatory, sorry cheapies), tend to be ‘amateur-level’ themselves in their respective fields. With this, often comes a set of production problems throughout the creative process. The client may not be aware of the limitations of your art-form, and make grand requests on par with Hollywood level production-values (and all for $50!!). It may be the case that they don’t fully understand how to articulate what they require, or have insufficient knowledge of file formats, templates, or output modes. The additional to-and-fro required to rectify these issues can be tremendously labour-intensive, and as we learned in Brass-Tacks – TIME is the most valuable commodity that exists.

This is unfortunate to say, but in some instances the client may be a prima donna, caught up in their own ego – and view you as a tool / subordinate, not a creative partner. Believe it or not, this issue is actually more prevalent with cheap / amateur clients, as opposed to seasoned professionals. These clients are the most challenging that you’ll meet throughout your career, and your skills in diplomacy will be pushed to the absolute limit. These are the cases where you will lose the most time and revenue, and feel the most anguish.

Now the preceding passages may have painted bargain-bucket clients in a bad light, however it’s not my goal to demean those working with limited budgets. Many are perfectly competent, and an absolute pleasure to work with. Producing art is an incredibly cerebral pursuit, when you add a third party to the equation, it can become very taxing emotionally.

I believe it’s essential for newcomers to become ‘battle-hardened’, by working with some truly challenging clients, early in their career. Through the fire of practice, you become sharper at articulating your ideas, identifying issues early, and optimising the entire consultation / review process. However, it’s advisable not to remain in this ‘high-stress’ zone for too long. Increase the quality of your product and your professionalism, to remove yourself from the -$200 price range as fast as possible. Employing this strategy will be infinitely better for your longterm enjoyment of the craft, and mental health.

Closing Comments:

The aim of the game, is to ensure that your service isn’t a ‘commodity’. What you offer is truly unique, and you can charge a premium rate for your one-of-a-kind narrative voice. Spending more time on your product can help you achieve this.

By working with more professional clients, you will save lots of unnecessary heartache and stress, allowing you to invest your (precious) mental energy into producing the best work possible.

In the fourth installment of Earn With Your Art we’ll be examining how you can transform your creative pursuit into a full-time career, with a focus on professionalism, and the age old question ‘how much to charge?’ The new article lands next week, watch this space!!

Enjoyed the article? Show us some love in the comments 🙂

Dean Samed is a horror cover-artist who has worked for the biggest names in the genre. He now produces cinematic stock photography for

Earn With Your Art Part 2 — Finding a Niche

For part 2 of the ‘Earn With Your Art’ series we’ll be exploring the notion of operating within a niche, and how to find success as a visual-specialist within a particular field.

Read on for the skinny…

The Sub-Niche

Generalists do not fare well, in this day and age. With your creative services, the worst thing you can do is offer something ‘generic’. Successful creatives offer something unique, a creative vision that cannot be easily replicated, or found elsewhere. The generalist who does everything and anything is a commodity. These people compete on price, which is the absolute worst thing that you can do. There’s always a guy or girl in a developing nation who will do an equally good job, at a fraction of the price.

A great way to develop a specialism, is to attach yourself to a ‘Sub-Niche’. A sub-niche is a small topic, group, or community. For instance, after producing flyers / posters for regional dance events in my youth, I finally had access to internet… so I transitioned to a sub-niche of the music genre I was already working in (Drum n Bass, to Darkstep Drum n Bass). I was ecstatic to be working in a more aggressive scene, which suited the macabre / horror aesthetic I preferred to work in with my personal art. These were the Myspace glory days, and I fully immersed myself into the scene – which wasn’t too difficult, as I enjoyed the music and attending the events!!

As a fan of the genre, I had a deep understanding of the aesthetic mood / style to complement the music. This allowed me to provide an incredibly laser-focused service to the event promoters and record labels in this micro-niche. The Darkstep Drum n Bass scene has a small, but very passionate following internationally, so I was able to dominate with relative ease. At one point in time, I believe I was one of the most prolific artists for the genre.

In short, I became known as the ‘Darkstep Drum n Bass Artwork Guy’. I looked the part, I talked the talk, and even though my skills weren’t so sharp back then, I did give it my all. Now imagine, if I tried to play this game in a wider niche, such as Dance Music, in general. I don’t think I would have stood a chance in hell (I would have been decimated), competing with fiercely competent Digital Artists and Designers worldwide, specialists in their respective fields.

I’ve seen this tactic played out, time and again – to great success. I have colleagues from university and industry that have carved out considerable names for themselves, by specialising in a particular scene / sub-niche. Some of my peers have done very well in skateboarding, church / christian groups, urban hip-hop / grime music, fantasy / romance publishing sub-genres, and many other specialised fields.

The e-publishing boom created a huge new market for digital artists, and I got in fairly early – transitioning from music (which really didn’t pay that well), to producing book cover art. Whilst producing flyers, posters, and cover art in music, I also produced personal horror / macabre artwork on a regular basis, and shared to the (then) popular art platform DeviantArt (Brass Tacks: SHARE WORK OFTEN!!) . It was this work that provided my ‘in’, to the publishing world.

My horror art was discovered by an up and coming author on DeviantArt, who asked if he could use one of my artworks to illustrate one of his free fan-fiction stories, online. As a fan of the subject matter (Lovecraftian tales), and pleased with the fact that he asked permission – I told him to go right ahead and use the artwork, with a small credit linking back to me.

Some time passed, and the author reconnected with me, this time with a paid commission to illustrate a character for a new story. We worked through the job, and all parties were happy. Again, the client returned once more – he was now signed to one of the leading horror publishers on the planet!! He had a full book cover commission for me to undertake. The gig went well, and acted as my introduction to the horror publisher, who was keen for me to tackle more covers for the authors on their roster. That was it, I was in.

Now imagine if I had been prissy, when the author had first contacted me, and asked for a nominal fee for useage of the artwork? It could have jeopardised the opportunity of a lifetime. As we said before, this is a people-game. Humility and small acts of kindness will increase opportunities exponentially. Now this doesn’t mean give everything away for free – it means leverage your personal work when you’re starting out. If you you can use your work to build genuine connections, then go ahead and do it!! More often than not, it leads to paid opportunities that can get you started.

With a firm footing in the horror genre, I drew a line in the sand. I was ‘The Horror Guy’, and everyone was gonna know about it. This is my sub-niche, and I know it implicitly. I read the books, I watch the films, and even wear the dorky horror t-shirts. Hell… I even look a bit scary!!

To push the notion even further, with all online art submissions I sign off with the following: ‘(YEAR), Dean Samed – the Horror Specialist.’

I still take commissions outside of the genre, but anyone that follows my work KNOWS that’s my particular area of expertise, there’s never any doubt about it.

Think about your own specialisms and areas of interest. Consider the communities you already belong to, and how you can help solve problems with your creative services. We are inherently attracted to those similar to us, so that rapport can help build relationships — enabling you to grow your practice at a much faster rate.

Closing Comments:

A large portion of this article has been anecdotal and everyone’s journey / story is different, that’s a given… It’s still worth noting however, the power of specialisation and the growth it can afford your professional practice.

As a proven specialist, you have greater authority within a given niche / alongside the trust of your peers, and higher brand recognition — attributes not so easily gained within wider markets.

It’s a matter of positioning, a powerful factor that can make or break a fledgling career.

In the third installment of Earn With Your Art, we’ll be examining how you can improve the quality of your product, and increase your rates. Absolutely essential, if you plan to take your practice ‘full-time’:

Earn With Your Art Part 3 — Strengthening Product / Increasing Rates

Enjoyed the article? Show us some love in the comments 🙂

Dean Samed is a horror cover-artist who has worked for the biggest names in the genre. He now produces cinematic stock photography for

Earn With Your Art – An Insiders Guide Part 1

The act of creation is a beautiful thing.

I’ve been a commercial artist for nearly 20 years now, and have reached a stage where I don’t rely on a (slave) job to get by. It’s a professional pay bracket that allows me to live in relative comfort, right here on the shores of sunny England. I spend my productive hours doing the things I love, building stories with awesome / creative people. I get up when I want, take days off at my leisure, and have the freedom to choose who I deal with, and when.

Whilst this sounds like paradise, it didn’t come without sacrifice or strife. To reach this stage took a considerable amount of practice, determination, and pig-headedness!! There’s great truth to the old adage that it takes 10,000 hours to reach ‘mastery’. Well it took that long and then some, but I got there in the end.

Alas, I sincerely believe I could have achieved my goals a LOT sooner if I had treated my pursuit with greater professionalism from the outset. There’s a great saying championed by the Network Marketing guys that captures this sentiment perfectly:

Treat your pursuit like a business and it will pay you like one… treat your pursuit like a hobby and it will pay you like one.”

It’s with this ethos, that I managed to quadruple my creative income within 3 short years – and I believe you can too.

I’m by no means a ‘Superstar’, and I don’t profess to being a guru of any description. However, I’m confident that you’ll find at least one or two nuggets of gold within this article series. Some information may be revelatory, some could even strike you as pure nonsense. The fact of the matter is, my approach has been dog-eared, and borderline ‘cowboy’ throughout most of my life. My trajectory was far from perfect. I believe, with enough grit – anyone can achieve their creative goals.

”So, what’s on the agenda Skip?”

This article series outlines the strategies I employed to reach self-sufficiency with Digital Art. Whilst the majority of the information is anecdotal, there’s also extensive insight from the (obscene amount) Personal Development / Business / Marketing books I’ve read over the years. Everything mentioned here has been field-tested, proven useful, and applied to my own practice.

Topics covered include Business, Customer Retention / Loyalty, Marketing, Branding, ‘Fast Money’, Posting Content, and a selection of Productivity Tips – to help you get the most out of your working day. There’s 10,000 ways to skin the proverbial cat, so the topics here have been narrowed down to those that pack the most punch.

The Social Media / Marketing content of this report is heavily weighted toward Facebook, particularly the amazing leverage of Personal Profiles and Groups, as opposed to long-form content (Blogging), or Microblogging platforms (Twitter). Commercial Art is a seriously interpersonal pursuit, TOTALLY a people-game. Rapport and communication are the two most important assets in your marketing arsenal. The platforms that allow your audience to see who you really are, usually come out tops.

To jazz things up a bit, I’m even going to throw in a few anecdotes from my youth. I’m hoping these stories will illustrate that no path is perfect, and the struggle is half the fun. Creative independence is the goal, but the real glory lies in the journey.

On a final note, everybody’s situation is different – I totally get that. As a single man with no dependents, I’m afforded certain freedoms that someone with a handful of kids, AND a gruelling day-job may not have. The content here is crafted with these factors in mind. Whatever your domestic situation, take what you can, and keep on trucking.

And now to quote the great King Théoden: So it begins!!


1999 – Newington Council Estate, England (THE GHETTO)

The stained computer lurched and whirred to keep up with the unreasonable demands. The CPU fan, coated in dust and nicotine, made a noise like a dentist’s drill as it struggled to maintain the system temperature. The desktop had been beaten like a rented mule, and on this sweaty summer night, both hardware and software ran at maximum capacity.

The awkward position I was sitting in wasn’t great for posture. I fidgeted in the crappy chair, in an attempt to try and ease the painful ache in my back and neck. I didn’t even care about payment anymore, whatever paltry amount that could be. I was tired, and my patience was wearing thin.

The two jokers sitting either side of me, were Mike and Wade, South-East promoters who had an event franchise that was going from strength to strength. We were gathered in my small bedroom to produce an event flyer in realtime, without internet resources or any serious sense of direction. They were making big names for themselves in the underground dance scene, and as an impressionable 15 year old kid I was eager to be part of it. However… working with these dudes was ALWAYS a royal pain in the ass.

The weed really wasn’t helping, either.

The duo barked out random demands, and I scurried onward with the task like a stoned Bob Cratchit.

“Stretch out the title so it’s bigger.”

“As far as it will go, but don’t forget the bleed!!”

“NO zombies today, we know you’re itching to sneak them in there.”

“We’ll have none of that nonsense on our flyers, Zombie-Boy,” Wade said, gesturing to the row of Hellraiser figurines on the shelf above the computer.

“Did you say we could put a lens flare in there?”

“Yes get that in there….”

“…Turd polishing Dean, turd polishing.”

That last quip never failed to get a smile out of me. Mike and Wade were obnoxious, demanding, and paid me peanuts for gruelling work – but they were ALWAYS funny. Their wit and likeability had a way of diffusing my frustration.

Things often went wrong, largely due to my very limited skill-set, and the subpar equipment in use. Back then, I had no internet connection for photographic resources, dodgy fonts with (MANY) essential symbols missing, and a computer that was prone to critical system crashes at the most inopportune moments. Hell, I didn’t even have a CD Burner, so the guys could take the files with them. We had to use crappy Zip Disks, an archaic post-floppy storage format that never really caught on.

With the end in sight, I pushed the tempo to get this beast finished. Even the comedic heckling from either side of me was starting to wear thin. There was a ‘£’ symbol missing from the font we were using, so I haphazardly tried to wedge a symbol from another font-set in there, without it looking too goofy. It DID look stupid, but I was willing to overlook it – I wanted them out, and I wanted to get away from this infernal machine.

As the final stretch drew near, the software crashed.

“Oh dear… When did you last save?” Wade said…


To many of you, the information in this section may be obvious, but these are powerful points, well worth reiterating.

Brass Tacks

Anyone that would like to be in the business of selling artwork, or creative services NEEDS to post work online frequently. Content is still king, there’s really no way of getting around it – the more prolific / consistent you are, the more opportunities arise. All of my successful colleagues are consistent with their output, I can’t stress the importance of this enough. This doesn’t mean churning out any old rubbish to keep the numbers up, it means putting out the best you are capable of, as often as possible. There is power in repetition.

You should have an easy to navigate online gallery, that can be shown to interested parties, instantly.

At a minimum, a Facebook Page is better than nothing. Beyond that, a gallery on an art platform (Behance, DeviantArt, ArtStation etc.) will suffice – but ideally you should have a website on a hosted domain.

A visible subdomain such as or proves to me (and your clients) that you don’t have the volition to organise a sufficient website – which doesn’t start things on the right foot. Are you a professional, or a hobbyist? You want to play the game, you need to speculate to accumulate. Just buy the damn domain for your official site!!

For art websites, I believe simplicity wins. Let the art do the talking. Convoluted magazine layouts, or sites with complex navigation increases friction. Why is the client there? They want to see if they like your work, and to send an enquiry. For that reason, ensure there’s a contact form on the site that’s easy to find. Build with those points in mind, and you’re onto a winner.

Adobe CC has a very decent site-builder / hosting package that is included free for all software subscribers (you do need to obtain your own domain though, cheap as chips). The site-builder is extremely user friendly, and you can have a professional site put together in no time at all.

If you decide against that, WordPress is probably the next best option, affording greater levels of customisation for your site. If that works for you, then go right ahead. The templates available these days, are positively sublime.

Another point to have in mind right from the outset, is the value of TIME.

Time is the most valuable commodity there is. Clients may be paying you for a product / net result, but what they’re really paying you for is your TIME. This seems like such a devastatingly simple notion, but it’s at absolute core of what we do. Your time has value. When you’re working on a commission, you’re not spending time with your kids, socialising with buddies, or playing your MMORPG.

As soon as you understand that time is the equity that we’re dealing with, you truly begin to understand your value. You can start to charge a rate that is fair to you, as well as your client. You may be starting out, lacking essential skills, and feel you don’t ‘deserve’ to be charging a professional rate. That’s ok, we’ve all been there. What you can do during your turbulent early days, is track how long an average gig is taking you to complete, and figure out how much (roughly) you have made per hour. If the figure is below your national minimum wage, adjustments need to be made. Right from the beginning, you should be aiming infinitely higher than ‘average’.

I often speak to hobbyist artists, who want to know how to break into commercial art / make an income from their passion. Usually, I ask some probing questions to gauge where they’re at, so I can advise accordingly. Some are already on the righteous path, and I can really help out – but many others don’t have the ‘Brass Tacks’ covered, the ABSOLUTE essentials you need to get started (work to view online, a fairly consistent posting frequency). The most heinous excuse I hear for why things aren’t already moving, is that they’re unable to dedicate any time to this pursuit, because they have a day job

Here’s the rub. None of us ever had it easy. 99.99% of the successful creative professionals I know had to fight, battle, and scrape to achieve creative self-sufficiency. We all had the shitty day-job. Many people pursuing these goals are also tackling a gruelling university schedule… or juggling three kids (managing a household) AND a part-time job. Psychos / heroes, whatever you want to call them, they make time to get things moving.

It’s a universal truth applicable to all pursuits: you get back what you put in.

Post your best work often, and make it easy for your prospective clients to locate, and send an enquiry. Understand the value of your time, and develop your sense of creative worth.

In the second installment of Earn With Your Art, we’ll be looking into the ‘Sub Niche’ and the benefits of narrowing your creative focus / client base:

Earn With Your Art Part 2 — Finding a Niche

Enjoyed the article? Show us some love in the comments 🙂

Dean Samed is a horror cover-artist who has worked for the biggest names in the genre. He now produces cinematic stock photography for