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Monday, August 11, 2014

Cover Design: Behind the Scenes

Since Barbara Wright asked, today's post will be about what goes on behind the scenes when designing a cover. It's actually very similar to how publishers deal with their authors--only with me you deal directly with the artist.

When someone expresses interest in getting some work done, the first thing I do is send him a cover art questionnaire. I ask only for a brief synopsis where I look for keywords that will help me pinpoint what's important in the story, and what's saleable.

After I've emailed the client with my thoughts or questions (to make sure we're both on the same page), I toy with various pieces of art and fonts to see what clicks.

Why does it cost as much as it does?
There's a common adage that says, you get what you pay for. I think that's true for the most part.

I don't make as much as when I worked for 'da man' doing the same sort of work, but there are other perks for me. Like working on what interests me and creating visuals for an industry I love. A book cover or poster is so much more exciting than doing a plumber's full page ad.

Most of my expenses come from two things. Looking for art. And paying for it. Since I usually charge a flat fee, every hour I spend hunting for the right model is an hour I'm not getting paid for putting the final art together.

Maria's 3 Rules for Hard-working Art
Whether it's a cover, a Facebook banner, or a printed poster, I try to make sure the graphic obeys three rules.

Rule #1 
It's gotta stop traffic. Good cover art is a selling tool. It should convey genre and subject matter to the intended audience. It must trigger an emotional response to stop and look deeper.

Rule #2
Make it memorable. I want it to haunt the viewer so that it becomes instantly recognizable when they see it again on someone's Goodreads bookshelf.

Rule #3
It should be unique. Especially with romance, if all you have are two people in a desperate clench, it loses its impact because that visual has become cliche.

Instead I try to design something subtler and more evocative.  It's a psychological ploy. Your brain will catch the nuance, but it doesn't register except perhaps on a subconscious level. It's like planting a seed in someone's mind. 

And because Barbara asked:
How do you deal with a client who thinks they're an artist (when they're really not) and uses words like, "this needs more zazz!" or "I love it. Change everything."? 

You mean aside from swallowing dangerous amounts of aspirin? It happens, but fortunately not very often. I try to be gentle and steer them in the right direction. 

Too much input diminishes the creative process to grunt work. You end up making compromises to please a client rather than producing a piece of art that will be a selling tool.

Sometimes I'll give them what they want and say goodbye. But, if what they want is utter trash, I walk away. I don't want my name associated with it.

That's the beauty of freelancing. I can work with who I want.

By the way, Barbara, great questions!

This was fun! If you guys have any other ideas for future posts, leave me a comment. Does anyone have any questions about the process?

I'll leave you with a few jobs I've done recently. If you need some art, this is where you can find more information

Book Cover
Bookmark, side 1

Post Card

Blog header


Stacy McKitrick said...

Oh cool! You showed my postcard. I really LOVE how it turned out, too. :)

I would think this kind of job requires TONS of patience. And while I have more patience than my hubby, graphic work just frustrates me.

Angela Brown said...

You've done some awesome work. As someone who has requested cover art work, I'm glad to report my experiences have been very positive. One cover artist I worked with was kind enough to help me understand various aspects of the design process as well so it was as much a learning experience as it was a chance to get something I wanted.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

That is really terrific work. My romance publisher requires a three page questionnaire for each book. I've only had one cover that I didn't really like but otherwise they really get it right and usually better than I can imagine.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Holy shit!! That bookmark is AH-MAZING!

Have you ever done some website design - i mean, like a design for someone to then use as the background of their website?

Sandra Almazan said...

Gotta love that book cover!

Barbara Ann Wright said...

Woo! Thanks for answering my questions. Those projects look great. As the cover artist, do you talk directly to the author's printer about the final product, or would that be between the author and the printer?

Your post had just the right amount of zazz, btw. In case you were wondering.

Anna Soliveres said...

Maria, I think you're right in walking away from clients whose vision would lead to unenjoyable grunt work and might turn out to be utter trash. Great work you've got there! :D I am definitely digging that blog header and bookmark!

Maria Zannini said...

Stacy: Believe it or not, I find it very relaxing. One night trying to figure out what should go with what and I feel invigorated.

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: I think it's important to understand why something has to work a certain way. I know for myself, I'm not shy about asking. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Susan: Thank you! I've had covers I didn't like, but what can you do?

Only once--for my first book--did the publisher allow me to talk to the artist. They won't do that anymore. I understand why, but it really shows up in the art. You get what you get.

Maria Zannini said...

Sarah: I used to design web sites years ago, but I've scaled back to only web site headers and stand alone graphics.

This way the author can place the art where she wants.

Maria Zannini said...

Sandra: Worked well, didn't it? :o)

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: For print jobs, all I need is the template for whatever company you're using.

I rather the author get this so I'm assured the template is set to exactly the number of pages the author needs.

Once I have the template, I'll change the color profile to CMYK (necessary for print) then move all the layers for the flat into place.

Maria Zannini said...

Anna: As they say in The Godfather: It's not personal. Its strictly business.

We all can't be on the same wavelength, so better that they find someone closer to their vision. We'll all be happier in the end.

Jenny Schwartz said...

Great advice! Thanks, Maria :)

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: Thanks, Jenny!

Gwen Gardner said...

Oh gosh, you're so right about the desperate clench cliché. I don't even stop to look at those anymore. I absolutely love the work you've done. Seasons' Beginnings is one of the better covers I've seen recently. Really, really good. I love how you go beneath the surface.

Mike Keyton said...

What I'm getting from this is how much you enjoy what you're doing. I wont say money doesn't come in to it. It has to. But not at the expense of enjoyment and pride in work

Maria Zannini said...

Gwen: Most publishers opt for the clench. It's easy. It's recognizable. And it's quick. It frees the artist to go on to other stuff.

But I think adding even a little something extra could bring another layer of involvement from the prospective buyer.

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: I do enjoy it. Dare I say? I enjoy it even more than writing.

It's deeply satisfying.

Stephanie Faris said...

This is SO cool! I've been on the author's side of it but never the designer's side. I always wondered what they did with that questionnaire I provided!

Maria Zannini said...

Stephanie: I imagine sometimes it's frustrating because what you get back doesn't seem to reflect what you gave them--especially with bigger publishers, but it gets discussed a lot. The end goal is to make the book sell.

Rula Sinara said...

Nice work, Maria! You definitely have a talent for this. It's always great to be doing something you enjoy.

Maria Zannini said...

Rula: Thanks, Rula!

Sandra Cox said...

Stacy's postcards look great!