So, About That Cover: An Interview With an Author and His Cover Artist
We sat down with author Kyle West and cover artist Luke Atkinson to learn more about the adventure of getting a book cover designed. Here’s how it went:
Why do you think having a great book cover is so important when it comes to eBooks?
KW – After your story, your cover is probably the most important part of your book. It’s the first thing readers see, so it has to be downright amazing.
LA –You know the saying: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Unfortunately we live in a digital age that doesn’t allow that luxury. A great cover can give the visual edge your book needs to stand out in a sea of thumbnails.
How can I find a book cover artist? How can I tell if the artist is right for my books?
KW – Finding a decent cover artist is fairly easy with the Internet. Most (if not all) have sites displaying their portfolios that you can peruse, which you should definitely check out. If you browse the cover artist’s catalogue, you’ll know what kind of work to expect. Quite a few hang out in places like Kboards Writer’s Café. Usually, they’ll have lots of excellent pre-made covers to choose from, some of which can cost as little as $50 (or even less).
LA – Make sure you pick a graphic designer who can work with what you want. Designers have strengths and weaknesses, too. Try to pick one with a taste for art you are comfortable with displaying on your cover.
How did you find your cover artist?
KW – I was incredibly lucky to already know a cover artist. I met Luke Atkinson my freshman year of college, and we’ve kept in touch. When I was writing Apocalypse, the first book in my series, I remembered that Luke was pretty good at the whole graphic design thing. I asked if he was interesting in doing a cover for Apocalypse. We settled on a price and he got to work.
LA – Kyle and I had a unique situation since we’d known each other for so long which helped us be more open with our design direction.
What’s it like to work with a cover artist? What if I don’t like what the artist comes up with?
KW – The first cover he made completely blew me away. It was hard to imagine that he’d made that cover from the stock images he’d shown me. The cover captured the dark mood of the series perfectly, and we continued to incorporate quite a few of the ideas from that cover to establish a brand. For all the following books, we used a similar typeface, silhouettes, along with images that convey the genre in an eerily beautiful way (the desert in Apocalypse, the contaminated tower in Origins, or the dragons and the sunset in Evolution).
LA – Kyle was willing to let me show my strengths while depicting a world he created. We branded the series to look alike, yet be different and interesting on their own.
KW – As we’ve worked from book to book, our process has evolved. It starts off with me hunting down a lot of cool stock images, always keeping in mind the plot of my story. Then, I paste the links of whatever grabs my attention in an email, shooting off a few potential ideas to get him running. Depending on the book, I’ll send anywhere from 10-20 stock images. I’m not sure whether other cover artists work in a similar fashion, but I think that’s helpful, in that it gives Luke an idea of what I’m looking for right off the bat – and of course, he’s free to do his own hunt for stock photos.
Luke then looks at the images, telling me what can and can’t work while adding his own ideas. Depending on the book, the cover gets sent back and forth a few times – sometimes I have exactly what I’m looking for on the first go, but usually it takes three or four amendments, mostly minor details. I can be very picky, and a good cover artist will patiently make the changes you request.
Good covers have to strike the balance of being simple, yet conveying exactly what the story is about. If you try to do too much, the cover will appear busy and unprofessional. Luke had to remind me of that a few times when my ideas became too grandiose. Of course, the title should always be big and it must be clear what the genre is from the images used. And, as I said before, it’s important that the cover is beautiful.
LA – Don’t be afraid to tell a designer they are way off. Just remember: Be willing to accept a designer’s direction, too. They are the professional at this, after all.
Isn’t hiring a cover artist really expensive? Should I go with a pre-made cover, since they’re cheaper?
KW – The best artists are often quite expensive, but you should never skimp on a good cover. It’s the most visible part of your book, and without a good cover, your chances of selling well are extremely low. I feel like all too often indie authors try to cut corners on costs, which is one of the biggest mistakes that they can make when you’re talking about building a career.
Pre-made covers are excellent, and some can be as cheap as $25 or $35. Don’t limit yourself to that price tag, though. If you’re working on a series, pre-mades are not the way to go, since pre-mades mostly cater to standalone titles.
I don’t know anything about designing book covers. How can I give the artist the feedback he/she needs when I don’t even know what I want?
KW – Go look at the top twenty books in your main genre and subgenre on Amazon, and that should give you a benchmark. Most cover artists, assuming you hire an experienced one, already know the ins and outs. But even with a professional cover artist, sometimes you might not get what you’re looking for. In that case, don’t be shy about graciously asking them to fix the aspects you don’t like.
LA – There is always a sort of “meta-game” associated with graphic design. Sometimes simplicity says it all. Other times big and flashy wins. Find a style that works for you and your designer. Together you’ll create something great.
Can’t I just design my own book cover?
KW – Don’t design your own covers unless your work is indistinguishable from a professional’s.
Any last tips?
KW – The key to a great partnership with a cover artist is lots of communication, professionalism, and knowing ahead of time what kind of covers the artist specializes in. And if the process goes well and you get a rocking cover, you’ll have an artist to turn to whenever you write your next book.
LA – Word.
Kyle West is the author of The Wasteland Chronicles. From a young age he has always been a voracious reader of sci-fi and fantasy. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in Professional Writing. He writes full-time and resides in the bustling metropolis of Oklahoma City. He blogs at kylewestwriter.wordpress.com
Luke Atkinson is a graphic designer from Oklahoma City. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2010. He has been designing in print and web media for 7 years. His work can be found at lukeatkinson.me