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Designing Your Book Cover: Helpful Tips to Get You Started Before Hiring a Graphic Designer

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

Over the years, we've been honored to have been chosen by some fabulous authors to design their Book Covers. It is from this experience that we've compiled our list of helpful tips to guide you and to help you determine whether you need a Graphic Designer or an Illustrator.

1 - Graphic Designer or Illustrator?

Deciding whether you need a Graphic Designer or an Illustrator is almost as important as choosing whether you're going to use a Publisher or Self-Publish your book. The easiest way to know who you'll need is to decide whether your book is text-based or picture-based.

If your book is text-based with the potential for the occasional simple graphic or illustration dotted throughout, then chances are you'll be needing a Graphic Designer. Graphic Designers can help with creating the design and layout of the front cover, back cover, and spine of a book. In the case of self-publishing, they may even be able to help with the interior layout, but you'll want to double check as most often the formatting of the interior is done separately. Instructional books and novels are great examples. Graphic Designers will work with you and your publisher/self-publishing requirements for cover art.

If you know your book is going to be heavily image-based, then you'll most likely need an Illustrator to help bring your design ideas to life. Illustrators help with the front cover, back cover, spine, and interior artwork and layout of your book. Children's books and coffee table books are great examples.

Illustrators will work with you closely to bring your vision to life page-by-page, while also working to meet your publisher/self-publishing requirements for cover art and interior layouts.

With Illustrators being heavily involved in the layout of almost every page of your book, the process for working with them is a bit more involved. For detailed information on working with Illustrators, click here.

Once you've determined whether you need a Graphic Designer or Illustrator, narrowing down which Graphic Designer or Illustrator will come down to individual design styles and cost. For more on how to go about choosing a Graphic Designer, and even an Illustrator, view our article "Tips for Choosing a Graphic Designer."

2 - Publisher or Self-Publish?

Whether you use a Publisher or Self-publish is an important choice. Both options cost money and have their own benefits and disadvantages. To avoid the additional expense of rework, you'll want to have this decided before you begin the design process as your designer will need to design to publisher or self-publishing requirements. Many have templates they require designers to work within to ensure artwork is submitted correctly and to avoid publishing holdups for incorrectly set up designs.

Need guidance on using a Publisher vs. Self-Publishing? Click here for a handy resource to get you started!

3 - Have Your Book Title Ready

Having your book title ready and finalized is an important step to complete prior to beginning work with a designer, especially as book titles can change several times before the book is completed. Designers rely heavily on the title text and length to create design options, so even minor changes can result in additional costs associated with rework.

For example, if we swapped the word "Loves" from "Your Team Loves Mondays...Right?" for another word in the book image below, it would completely change the cover art. The broken heart would no longer be relevant and the designer would have to go back to the drawing board and begin another design resulting in more time and cost. Similarly, if the title to "5 Surprising Steps to Land a Job NOW!" was shortened or lengthened, it would result in significant design changes.

As you're working to develop your book title, it may be helpful to run title possibilities through the database and do Google searches for the title name and hashtag to ensure they're not already in use.

4 - Have Your Book Subtitle Ready

While your book title is used heavily by your designer to stylize in a way that grabs a potential buyers attention from a bookshelf at Barnes & Noble, or other retailer, your book can also have a subtitle that helps to clarify what the book is about and who it's for after it's been picked up off the shelf. Having the subtitle ready and finalized at the start of the design process helps your designer plan the cover layout and arrange design elements in a way that maximizes space for the most powerful design impact.

Just like with your book title, it's helpful to run possible subtitle options through the database and do a Google search to ensure it's not already in use.

5 - Have An Idea of Your Budget

Budget is important, especially with the costs associated with publishing a book. Knowing how much you can allocate to the cover design and illustrations can help you plan as well as choose a designer.

6 - Have Your Book Specifications & Design Ideas Ready

After finalizing your book title and subtitle, the next task is gathering your book specifications, including your design ideas. Items to consider include:

  • Book Dimensions: Tells the designer what size they're working within design-wise.

  • Page Count: Tells the designer whether the spine of your book can fit text for the book title, author name, and publisher logo.

  • Publisher Template: Publishers often have a template designers should work from. Be sure to ask your publisher and share it with your designer.

  • Design Ideas: Googling books on similar topics can guide your design as you'll want to ensure it's unique from competitors.

7 - Knowing When to Engage A Designer

Graphic Designers and Illustrators will have varying time frames for artwork completion and delivery. Reaching out to potential designers to inquire about typical design time requirements is helpful in planning for your book and deciding on a designer that works with your timing for book publication.

While researching designers can be done at any time, beginning the design process before your book is finished could result in rework associated costs as book titles tend to change several times before the final manuscript is complete.

8 - Gathering Quotes

After you've established the above, it's time to start narrowing down the list of potential Graphic Designers or Illustrators, reviewing portfolios, and gathering quotes. There can be quite a bit or variation from one Graphic Designer to another and from one Illustrator to another, so be sure to ask for details so you know exactly what you're getting for your money - every penny counts, especially when you're on a budget. Our article on "Tips for Choosing a Graphic Designer" also has additional helpful tips for choosing a designer.


Written by: Crystal Davies, Owner, Davies Designs Studio

Crystal Davies is a Brand Consultant and Owner of Davies Designs Studio. Her passion is using her 10+ years experience in corporate marketing and branding to help her clients design visions become reality. 


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