​I originally wrote this article to be published on the Bad Redhead Media Blog in April 2014. I reference this article all of the time, and have found it to be a very helpful resource for authors looking for information before they have a book cover designed. So here it is. I hope you find it helpful as well.

The subject of book covers is a hot one, especially in the indie publishing world.

All the time I hear arguments like:

People should give all books a fair chance…

Just because an author can’t afford a professionally designed cover, doesn’t mean the book is bad..

The cover makes perfect sense to me and I love it, so my readers will too…

The problem is, people DO judge books by their covers. They WON’T usually give a book with a poorly designed cover a chance.

Your cover is the face of your work, so if the cover isn’t good or is all wrong for your target audience, potential readers will never get far enough to know your book isn’t bad.

You are attached to your story and the picture you have in your mind, and that’s great, who you really need to impress is your target audience because ultimately you want your book to sell.

So, what do you do? Let’s go through some steps you can take to ensure the best possible cover for your book. After all, you put a lot of time and effort into your book. You want the face of that labor to be spectacular, not mediocre.

1. Start saving your pennies.

This one is pretty simple. While you are busy writing your book, start putting a little money aside here and there, so when it comes time to pay for all those things you will need as an author to publish a great book, you will already have a fund started to get you going. This step not only applies to your cover, but also for editing services, (I cannot stress enough how important it is to have your book properly edited), and also for formatting and marketing. If you really want to make a go of being a published author you should be putting your best effort into it. Maybe you don’t have the money to publish the moment you would like to, but ask yourself what you want to present to your potential readers. Why waste all of the blood, sweat, and tears you spent writing this book by rushing it out of the gate and not presenting it in the best way possible? Would you go to college for years to be a professor and then show up to teach your first class unprepared? No! You would be planning from the moment you knew the job was yours. The same goes for your book. Make a plan, have a timeline that works in your budget, save your money, and get it done right!

2. Research your options.

Start looking around for cover designers. Ask your author friends if they have recommendations, and then follow up. No offense to any of your author friends, but don’t just take their word for it. Be sure to check out portfolios, and ask other authors how their experience with a designer was. Ultimately you want to find a designer that does professional work, works well with clients, and delivers on time. Take note of what types of covers the designer does. If they have 100 covers completed and they are all romance, that’s great if you write romance, but if you don’t, well they probably aren’t the designer for you. Or maybe they do many genres of covers, but specialize in a certain area. That is also something to be aware of. The point is, just because you like their work doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right designer for your cover. Do your homework!

3. Ask Questions!

So now you’ve found a few designers you think will work for you. What’s next?

Look over their FAQ and contact them to ask any other questions. Ask them about their process, fees, turn around, etc. Does it sound good to you? Do they communicate well? Did they respond back quickly? Doing this can weed some out right off the bat, so it’s a good idea to send a message just to see how they deal with potential clients and if they answer their email regularly.

4. Plan ahead…..way ahead.

Many cover designers are booked out 1-6 months. Make sure you do all the above steps with that in mind. It would be really unfortunate for you to do all that, find the perfect designer for you, only to have them be booked way past your launch date. Don’t expect them to be able to squeeze you in at the last minute. Planning ahead is essential. Plus, it gives you the necessary time to get whatever funds you may need to pay for services.

5. Be available and on time.

So now you have your designer picked and you are ready to get started. Make sure you get them all the information, payment, links, documents, etc, that they need by the date that they ask for it. If you are late with any of that material, you are delaying their schedule, which could in turn delay the process and amount of time it will take them to get you a finished cover. The same can be said for responding to them during the process. You know when your date for start is set, and you should know the window of time they gave you for the process. So, when those dates come and they send a question or concept, be sure to respond back quickly. If you don’t get back to them for several days, you again may have just inadvertently backed up the completion of your cover.

6. Speak up if you have something important to say.

Cover designers are not mind readers! (I know, crazy right?) If you have any extremely important preferences about anything related to the creation of your book’s cover, tell them about it before you set anything up. Maybe you hate the color red….the sight of it makes you ill. Tell your designer before they make you a concept with a bold red title. If you have to have a character on the cover, be sure to be extremely thorough with the physical description. Brown eyes, brown hair, petite, and curvy won’t cut it. How long is their hair? What color brown is it? Is it curly? Do they always wear it in a ponytail? Are they fair skinned? Do they wear make-up? How old are they? Do they have any scars? Do they wear jewelry? etc Every aspect of the character’s appearance should be covered, or you will most likely find yourself either going back and forth in emails a lot adding more of these details in one by one, or getting a concept back that has a model who is completely wrong for your character.

7. Listen to what your designer has to say.

A good designer knows the market. Part of what you are paying for is their expertise of the book cover market and trends in the genres they work, and overall. So, if they are telling you something isn’t working, or could impact the appeal of the cover to your target audience, or may work better another way….consider what they have told you. A good designer doesn’t make these things up just to have it their way. They want to help you get the best possible cover for your book which will help to sell it. Now, not all designers have a great working knowledge of the market, but this is something you can find out when you are asking questions of designers before you pick one out. (That’s #3 on our list here.)

8. Don’t ask your mom, dad, sister, cousins, neighbors, co-workers, and best friends for all their technical feedback.

It’s great to have a person or two to show your cover to and get a reaction from them. If something is glaringly wrong you want confirmation after all, right? That is wonderful and fine; however, asking everyone you know for their full run down on everything to do with the cover….. not the greatest idea. Everyone has an opinion. They are entitled to it, but do you really want the technical aspects of your cover dictated, and possibly ruined, by your mom whose profession is elementary school teaching, your brother the mechanic, and your neighbor the lawyer? Definitely not. Again, you are paying a professional designer for a reason. Make sure you get your money’s worth. Ask your mom for advice on your sons schooling, your brother to fix your car, and the neighbor for legal advice.

If you are really worried about this aspect, ask ahead of time if your designer works on and completes all design work with or without ever consulting with another designer. Some designers will bounce pieces of work off a trusted friend or two in the same profession, making sure to catch technical inconsistencies before sending it out. This can make a big difference!

9. Triple check your cover

Once the cover is ready to be finalized, be sure to check it over, and then over again and again. Too many times authors find out months down the road, after the book is already in the hands of many readers, that there is a spelling error on the front cover or a watermark left behind. Have someone else check the text, too, because just like inside the front cover, typos slip by all too easily and having one on the front cover is not the first impression you want to give. It can ruin an otherwise perfect cover.

10. Go forth and sell your book

You now have the perfect cover for your book! Go sell the crap out of it and remember to give credit to your designer and show them some love!