In Search of the Perfect Cover Design

Just over a year ago, I wrote a couple of posts about my ideas for the cover of The Bluebell Informant. In those posts, I talked a little bit about the vision I had for the book and how I wanted my cover to stand out amongst all the other authors out there who are vying to find a place in the market.

Shortly after one of those posts, I was asked the following question and – at the time – I was a little stumped about how to answer it:

Why do you bother spending so much time working on your cover? Surely, if you just get a decent designer to make it for you, you don’t need to bother with all that? Why don’t you just focus on writing?

It’s a good question (well three questions really), and there are many authors asking the same thing. To my lasting regret, I wasn’t able to give this person a particularly great answer. I rambled on about how I had a set vision and I wanted everything to be just so, but in truth I wasn’t really sure why I was doing it. As the writer had suggested, I was planning on approaching a professional cover designer anyway, and – if they were any good – they really should be able to take my ideas and create something worthy of the story I wrote…

And therein lies the problem.

Finding that right designer is incredibly difficult. Just as there are thousands of authors desperately trying to get readers to read, there are thousands of cover designers trying to get authors to hire them to make their book cover. And, as with authors, some are good, some are bad and some are awful…

And now, in hindsight, I have the answer to these three questions. I have gone through quite a varied process with designing the cover for The Bluebell Informant and I am immensely thankful for the fact that I took the time a year ago to make some rather crude drawings so that I could get my ideas down on paper. Because – if I hadn’t done that – I’m not sure I would have ended up with the right cover now.

I approached a cover designer a few months ago to design the cover for The Bluebell Informant. He was a lovely chap, very helpful and very keen to make everything right for me – but he had the awful habit of calling me “sir”, which – despite my best efforts – is a habit he continues to do to this day.

I gave him a lot of reference material and sent him the sketches and crude photoshop version that I made of the cover, but I never felt like he really got it. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the cover, it just didn’t ever feel quite right and – despite trying to explain it to him – I eventually settled for a cover that I wasn’t entirely happy with.

Roll a few months later. I approached the same designer to create a cover for the Giles novelette that I will be giving away for free with The Bluebell InformantGotcha. I think I wanted there to be a continuity in the designs of my books. I wanted people to instantly recognise them as mine and using the same designer seemed like the best way of ensuring that. However, after a couple of drafts it seemed that I wasn’t quite going to get what I wanted for Gotcha either…

And then luck stepped in.

For some reason, and I’m not entirely sure why, the designer dropped out of the project for personal reasons. I took the opportunity to present the Gotcha project to another designer and the results I got were fantastic. Not only did she understand it from the off, but she also was able to replicate the tone of the piece and provide me with three different alternatives to pursue. Even though she was offering unlimited revisions, I ended up going for one of her designs with very little changes.

And then the idea struck me.

I invested a little bit more money and asked her to have a crack at designing the cover for The Bluebell Informant. And I think you’ll agree, the results are amazing. Again – she gets the tone right, the style right – and she even inadvertently built a subtle visual hint to the story into it as well.

But what has this got to do with my initial designs? If I line them up one by one, there is barely anything that links my first design to the final design except the presence of bluebells (and let’s be honest, with a name like The Bluebell Informant that can hardly be a surprise). And yet, if I hadn’t made those initial drawings, I wouldn’t have quite been able to put my finger on what was wrong with the first cover I had commissioned.

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-21-35-51So, yes, I would always say use a professional. And I would also say try one or two people as well because individual skills and styles play a huge amount into the production of a successful cover design. But most importantly, have a clear idea of what you want the design to look like, and use the designer who is able to show you that you were wrong, whilst still keeping the essence of your idea…

Because those are the ones who are worth their weight in gold…

The Bluebell Informant will be available to download for free from 7th April, 2017. Those who do grab a copy will get Gotcha for free as well!

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