Choosing Your Cover Artist

Authors-only post follows, but y’all may like it anyway. Many cover artists are good, but the crucial thing I’ve found is how well they gel with you. Choosing your preferred artist should be one of your principle business relationships. It’s all about the fit, and I’ve developed a set of five criteria for assessing this relationship that should save you time and money.

I had an opportunity to give my covert artist a testimonial for her site today, and it got me thinking: how should authors choose a cover artist? You might think it’s an easy decision to grab an artist from the web, maybe hunt around by price, and viola! Job done. If your goal is to not sell books, that’s a great approach. If you want to get your stories into readers hands, you need to refine a little.

Back in the day, I used to do my own covers. They weren’t horrible:

…but they didn’t necessarily get books out to people (“conversion” is the magic term). The general way people cruise for books is titles, rating, and blurb – and then they’ll make a purchasing decision. Each of those is a “nope” point, and if your cover gets more nopes than it should, it doesn’t really matter about your killer title, how many 5-star reviews you’ve got, or how tuned your blurb is.

1: Do they do good work?

This is pretty important! Remember the cover’s a significant nope-out point, so you need to be aware of the impact of their product.

  • Do other authors recommend them, with tangible benefits like increased store page conversion?
  • Do your readers like samples when you present their work to your list, blog, or website? Your existing fans are your best audience.
  • Can you empirically measure the work output, like its pop as a thumbnail, and font legibility? You might think “pop” is subjective, but I assure you it is not. Artists with a good eye for vibrance and balance will create a cover that shines amid others.

2: Do they speak your language?

If you want a smooth, corporate robospeak experience, you’re shopping for a different person that one who’s honest about your ambitions to the point of bluntness. Neither’s good or bad, but recognise what you want before you continue. I far, far prefer honesty – it cuts through layers of bullshit in 1% of the time – but many people who claim to love honest actually like being lied to. You may find the dissonance with an artist is simply around communication styles, and part of your vetting process should be to find one who can speak at your level (whatever that may be).

3: Can they work within your timelines?

My first foray into pro covers was with a talented artist who wasn’t able to work to my timelines. In this instance, it was a basic inability to stick to them, but your requirements might be more stringent. If you’re producing a rapid-release trilogy in August, September, and October windows, your artist should be able to commit to those days/dates in plenty of time for things like pre-orders (if that’s your jam), ARC team, and so on.

This isn’t a wholesale pass to be a dick to artists about unreasonable timeframes. Communicate (see 2, above) with them about what you’re after. If you want a 3-book spread with full wraps inna week, you’re a delusional narcissist, although some artists can deliver this at a price premium. Clarify your delivery timeframes. As a bare minimum, your artist should have some sort of booking system (even if it’s good ol’ Outlook Calendar) to give you the assurance that time is a factor.

4: Can they offer a well-defined process?

Contracts differ. Some artists do one-and-done. Others are far more flexible, offering five or more drafts before a final proof.

Much of this is based on whether the artist could resell the work as a premade or similar. Custom art (painted by hand, yo) is less likely to be flexible once you’ve finalised drafts/proofs/concepts, so you need to be sure the artist can give you confidence in the output before you pull the handle.

You want this because you need to be certain your cover fits the brand of your product, and that it’ll resonate with your readers and sit comfortably in your catalogue. If you are uncertain about the artist because they can’t provide a guided path from “zero idea” to “finalised product” you should find one that works for you. Uncertainty leads to buyer’s remorse, wasted cash, and possibly a shitty cover.

5: Do they have a passion for your story?

I considered putting this first. Honest.

If your prospective artist isn’t enthused about your story (not your cover concept), find one that is. The end product will ooze emotion if they back you. This doesn’t mean they need to read your book, because ain’t nobody got time for that. It just means they understand your characters enough to put the right expressions on their faces. You don’t want a generic cover; your story has heart, and your cover must have soul.

When I had the cover for Tyche’s Angels done, it was perfect. Rebekah had done a zillion covers by then. A few people suggested it was more superhero than space opera, and this was perfect – because Tyche’s Angels is the culmination of Grace Gushiken’s superhero origin story. I didn’t explain that to Rebekah – she knew, because she loved the characters and the concept.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention price. You can shop around yourself, but most artists fit within a similar spectrum – they know each other, and their relative merits (trust me on this). If something’s wildly out of whack, walk away. Too cheap might mean they’re skimping on stock fees. Too expensive might mean they’re prospecting on desperate authors (…or, they’re really fucken good and can charge WTF they like).

If you want some artist recommendations – people I think are professionals with heart – then I’ve got a list for you. Just six, including Vivid. They all have slightly different ways of working, with slightly different genre focuses. This should give you a head-start in a high-quality, professional cover.

If you’re price-sensitive, check out their pre-mades (many do them). But stick with quality artists: every cheap cover is another nope point for your prospective buyer. Here are some of mine – click to embiggen!

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