Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Finding a cover artist

No book cover, or a poorly drawn one screams amateur. People do buy books by their covers - many of the best sellers on kindle, be they indie or not, have well done covers. Some of us might be lucky enough to have the skills to make our own (in which case, this post probably isn't for you). The rest of us have to find our own cover artist.

This brings with it a whole host of issues:

·         Who do we hire?

·         Where do we find them?

·         How much should we pay them?

·         How long will it take?

·         Do I own the cover, or am I just licensing it?

·         How many revisions should I get?

·         How do I know what to ask for?

·         Do I have to hire a cover artist, or just any artist?

·         What format should the image be?

·         What should be in a contract? Do I even need one?

There are a huge number of artists around. All you have to do to see that is a quick Google. My own personal approach was to look on the http://www.deviantart.com/ website - they have literally millions of artists, illustrators, sketchers, inkers, painters and cartoonists registered.

More importantly, they have a great jobs board: http://forum.deviantart.com/jobs/offers/

We posted up there, and between public replies to the thread and personal messages we had over 40 interested artists in less than a day. We then looked through their portfolios of previous work (from their deviant art profile, or web links in their messages) to see if any fitted the style we wanted.

It's a good idea to be specific with your advert: Do say you want something that conforms to KDP guidelines (height/width ratio 1.6, 2500 pixels+ on longest side, tiff or jpeg format etc), do explain what you want in terms of rights (Is it a licence where you pay for the right to use the cover in a specific manner, or a work for hire where you own the copyright?). We put up a budget as well - but this wasn't too clever as a large number simply priced themselves at the top end of this range even without any experience. We also had a large number of replies from people who clearly didn't read the advert (We wrote "not looking for a 'cartoony' design" but still got a zillion anime/manga artists replying). It takes some sift, but previous work should speak for itself. Be sure to include any deadlines you have in mind.

If no-one there proves suitable, you could try again at a different time, or try looking at covers you like and finding out who made them.

Prices - Again, this is very variable. Depending on the complexity of the work, the need to purchase stock images or fonts, and the rules on tax in both your jurisdiction and that of the artist you'll be looking somewhere from $100-$400 for a reasonable quality artist. Pre-made covers, or non-exclusive work costs less, but you really don't want that. Professional cover artists doing wrap around for print cost more, and can be anywhere as high as $1500 for the very best designers.

Pricing will also affect your licence. My own deal is a work for hire - so once it's done I own the image, and can use it as I see fit. The copyright is mine so I can use it for the cover, put it on my website, and create print materials out of it. I can also modify it (which a licence may or may not permit).

Most reasonable artists are happy with minor revisions - a good one will send you work in progress updates to show how the cover is developing, and ask for your input on colour, font, placement etc. Ideally you'll know what you want, but if not an artist should be able to translate vague concepts. We gave a brief description of what we wanted in the foreground, mid-ground and background, along with our colour preferences, and were then presented with a choice of initial sketches - which let us combine the best elements from our ideas with our artists ideas to create a final sketch that has since been digitally painted.

Any artist is potentially a cover artist. The art is the main point, but you also want someone who can integrate text (i.e. your title, and author name(s)). Plonking text on top of art looks awful - you want it melded in somehow so it's part of the art. Some illustrators just don't have any experience on this aspect so ask. If they've got a portfolio examine in closely. Get opinions from friends - and don't rush the choice as once you've signed a contract you'll be stuck with them.

The contract you sign should specify timeframes - for sketches, colours and final design as well as payment. It's not uncommon to pay a deposit up front (think a third max) but never pay completely until you are happy - and be sure to get the full details of who you are dealing with. Beware of those who want payment by western union up front - it's an old scam, but still tricks a few.

At the very least your contract should contain the following elements:

1. That it is a contract for provision or artistic services, and when it was made.

2. Your full contact details (i.e. all parties to the contract. You need to be able to enforce it.)

3.  That the work should meet KDP guidelines/ smashwords guidelines etc as appropriate.

4. What you want - give as full a description as possible.

5. The fee - how much, when, and by what payment method (Paypal, cheque, bank transfer, western union, skrill). Escrow is useful for protecting both parties - skrill is quite good here.

6. IP Rights: Are you buying the copyright. If not add ALL the licence terms.

7. Sign the contact.

I hope that covers the basics of finding your artist, and how to deal with them when you have. Good luck, and I hope you all end up with some fantastic covers.



  1. Great article Dan. So very few people have more than a hazy idea of copyrights for images, and licensing agreements for those rights involves.

    I am and know a number of cover illustrators in the UK, but none of us use Deviantart.com because their upload agreement includes some rather broad clauses giving them copyrights to the images uploaded. This may also be a consideration for authors buying 'off the shelf' images from such sites.

    However, it undeniably holds the biggest concentration of illustrators out there.

  2. Thanks for your comments Simon.

    I just re-read the Ts and Cs for deviantART (at http://about.deviantart.com/policy/service/) and found, at section 4 on copyright, the statement that
    "deviantART does not claim ownership rights in your works or other materials posted by you to deviantART "

    The part in their terms I would be worried a little about is
    "16. Copyright in Your Content

    deviantART does not claim ownership rights in Your Content. For the sole purpose of enabling us to make your Content available through the Service, you grant to deviantART a non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, distribute, re-format, store, prepare derivative works based on, and publicly display and perform Your Content. Please note that when you upload Content, third parties will be able to copy, distribute and display your Content using readily available tools on their computers for this purpose although other than by linking to your Content on deviantART any use by a third party of your Content could violate paragraph 4 of these Terms and Conditions unless the third party receives permission from you by license."

    Clearly, there is a risk in putting anything online, but it doesn't look like deviantART currently attempt to snaffle any more than is standard par for the course (though, I appreciate from a number of news articles on google that this wasn't always the case).

    Clause 16 is probably more of a concern for illustrators than writers for custom work - but it's well worth ensuring the contract covers not putting it on deviantART if you are at all concerned. If you've bought the copyright then they shouldn't be uploading it there anyway, and if you sensibly put in an exclusivity clause in the contract, again you should be OK. They do have adequete infringement procedures in place to remove violations.

    I appreciate the point that not everyone is on there - but it is a good start when looking. Simply googling 'cover illustrator' gives such a wide variety on pricing and ability that it's not easy to sort the wheat from the chaf so to speak. There are other directories (e.g. World Literary Cafe's author toolbox) but many of them charge, and thus are again only representative of a tiny part of the indsutry.

    Another good free directory is the KindleBoards.com list - which is free for all parties. Beyond that, I would go back to looking at covers you like and searching out the illustrator that way.

    Perhaps there is space in the market for a cover design specific marketplace to be created, supported by ads rather than payments by the users?

  3. Very interesting article. I'll be bookmarking this one for future reference.

    I've browsed through Deviantart in the past quite a bit and it does seem like an ideal community to turn to in searching for a cover artist, as users on there cover a wide variety of disciplines.

    It is surprising to see how many books out there (especially self-published ones) have very sub-par covers. It seems like a waste after they've put so much effort into the writing. Out of everything involved in the publishing process, a high-quality cover is something most worth paying for. Especially with the likes of Amazon and people browsing the best selling list, the cover can make or break whether someone clicks on your book to even read your description.

  4. the cover is definitely one of the most important part of the book. There's no point saying 'you shouldn't judge a book by its cover' because everyone does. If we see a book with a bad cover, we won't buy it. Maybe that's wrong, but if you've gone to all the effort to get the book to a publishable standard, why let the book down with a substandard cover?
    When we were thinking of GDR's cover, we went through the horror, paranormal, fantasy sections of Amazon just to look at the covers and sadly, we could usually spot the indie covers immediately. They were hard to read, had standard templates or were just plain awful.
    We were lucky because our best mate wanted to do our cover and he just put something together in Paint. Fortunately, it turned out great. For our fairytale collection, we've again been lucky 'cos anther friend is an amazing artist. We've seen plenty of samples of her work and they're incredible. When we were talking about the cover, she immediately had an image in her head that fitted ours, so we asked her to do the cover.
    As for Soul Asylum, we're using our own photo of the asylum and will just use photo editing software to put an effect on it.

  5. Having someone else on hand is very handy - but one major point to remember is that fonts are intellectual property too. Using a font for commercial purposes requires a licence to use that font - and if someone has knocked it up for you ad hoc, you might well be using it illegally.

    Fonts are very commonly pirated - we just don't think about the fact that someone had design them, and therefore owns the copyright in them. They are, in and of themselves, highly skilled design work for which the creator deserves to be paid.

    A good article on font use is http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/13239 provided by the British Computer Society.

    http://www.smashingapps.com/2011/02/15/50-hand-picked-yet-free-to-use-fonts-for-designers.html provides a list of free fonts that can be used under general licences.