Thursday, 11 July 2013

Jane Dixon-Smith talks about cover design.

This week I am fortunate enough to have Jane Dixon-Smith as my guest. Welcome, Jane. Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions. 
I know there are dozens of people who wish they could have been at your talk the other day. I'm hoping we can give them a taste of what you told us
Could you tell us how to find a good cover designer?
Using recommendations from other authors is the best way to find a good and reliable designer. Check how happy other authors were with the process, timescale and look extensively at a designer’s portfolio. Remember that not all book cover designers are suitable for all genres – some can design across the board, in multiple genres, successfully, but others excel in certain areas. As in many things in life, cheap is not always good, but expensive is not always necessary.
One other, very important point to make, is that a graphic designer is not the same thing as an artist or an illustrator. Many times I’ve seen or heard of people use an illustrator to ‘design’ a cover, flyer, etc. Illustration is the same as photography. They create the imagery, but the layout and composition and typography come under the umbrella of Graphic Design, and rarely will an artist, illustrator, or photographer be able to successfully and fully maximise the potential of the imagery they create in realising your cover design. Usually, and essentially, a graphic designer will work with (a) stock illustration and photography, which is readily available and royalty free – this is usually the cheaper option, and therefore most common practice when it comes to self-published authors and small press. Or (b) your designer will work together either with an illustrator or photographer that you wish to work with, or with one they have sourced and recommend.
What happens when you do find someone you can work with?
When you find a graphic designer that you think may be a good fit for your book, be clear with them about what type of cover you want and what your budget is, not least because they can then recommend whether to use affordable imagery or commission photography or illustration.
Most cover designers working with small press or self-published authors won’t read your book. Technically speaking it isn’t necessary, and the small budgets won’t allow for the time it takes. But it’s not essential. Them asking the right questions and you providing the relevant information, they will have all they need.
A designer should ask you for the following things when working with you:
Ideas and blurb from client.
A blurb and or outline to give them an idea of the story, suggestions from yourself as to elements from the book that might be used, and sample covers that are both in the genre of your book and that you like.
The last point is key. People have said to me a few times that there is either ‘nothing they like’, or that ‘there’s no books out there like mine’. Both of which are rubbish. It’s laziness and, as the author, you know your book best and it’s important to reflect where it will sit in the marketplace – this is the same information agents ask you when you submit to them. This is the most straightforward, efficient, and ultimately cost effective way to ensure you get something that both reflects the genre you’re writing in and will work in YOUR marketplace.
Could you tell us if you trade secrets about how you produce the perfect cover for your clients?
Images sourced and sent to client.
The client firstly supplies the initial brief, including blurb, rough synopsis, any ideas they have in mind, plus elements from the book which they feel symbolise or distil the story and would work well on the cover.
 From here I source images from stock libraries, including Shutterstock, istockphoto and 123RF to name but a few. Images range from around £3 - £30 per image, depending on which site you source them from, but they are royalty free and have favourable usage terms. The alternative is to commission photography or illustration, but of course this is much more expensive.
Narrowed down images from client
Narrowed down images from client.
From here the client narrows down the image, choosing those which resonate with them.
I then mock up initial visuals based on those images to fit both in the market and to the client’s taste. They have to work for both. It’s important the author loves their cover and also that it works for those browsing books.
The client from there feeds back to me, and we discuss the parts they like, which they don’t, their preferences for typefaces and so on, and from there I create a new set of visuals.

Final cover design.

Once the author or publisher is happy with the front cover, I move on to designing the back cover and spine. For this of course I calculate the spine width based on overall page count, leaving space for the barcode placement by the publisher, adding blurb, and finally exporting files suitable for both print and ebook upload.

Thank you so much, Jane, but taking the time to share with us some of your expertise. I hope you can come back and answer any questions you might arise from this fascinating and informative post.


  1. This is a very informative article on cover design and from the designer's point of view rather than the author's. I have experience of a few of these points from uploading ten of my backlist but I would know how to go about things more professionally if I do any more. Thank you.

  2. Gwen
    Her talk was even better. She is great person to work with and worth every penny.

  3. This is an exceptionally instructive article on spread plan and from the fashioner's perspective as opposed to the author's. I have understanding of a couple of these focuses from transferring ten of my archive however I would realize how to go about things all the more expertly on the off chance that I do any more. Much obliged to you.
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