You've finally done it! You've overcome writer's block, distractions and procrastinations and finished penning your first book. Well done. Choosing a cover should be easy in comparison, right?
I asked some of the lovely authors over at http://www.kboards.com/ to share their experiences of developing their first cover. Some decided to do it themselves, some worked with designers. All of them learned from the experience and have shared their thoughts here so you can learn from them too. Note: these cover designs are not my work (even the really good ones!).
Today were going to learn from a few more authors...
James R Wells – I started with an artist who is very talented but is not a book cover designer. That was a mistake, don't do that. We had to parts ways with respect to the book.
With time ticking down to a firmly scheduled first reading event, I bailed to a public domain NASA photo of a nebula. The image is beautiful but it was a bad book cover because (1) It did not convey genre (could have been a text book), and (2) It was impersonal. The failings of the cover were pointed out in no uncertain terms by my peers.
I then found my cover artist Jeff Brown on KBoards. I sent him text from several scenes that represented the best opportunities for a book cover visual, we chose one (the opening scene of the book, it was a no-brainer), then worked through a succession of drafts until we were both happy. I love my cover, it has definitely helped with sales and all aspects of marketing.
At a writers conference last fall, the moderator of a session on book covers (who actually was the organizer of the whole conference) held up my old and new covers to a room full of people, citing it as the Most Improved cover change.
Hugely helpful: being able to look through the artist's portfolio and see if I could visualize having a book cover like one or more of those images.
Jim Johnson (blog) – I knew exactly what I wanted for my covers and that's what my designer delivered. I wanted mostly text, with hieroglyphics in the background, and a grungy, western look to it. I knew I couldn't afford full illustrations, so tried to find something workable that reflected the weird western genre. They're also set up in a template that is super easy for me to change; when I started the series I knew I had enough content to release a lot of installments, and it didn't make financial sense to pay for a dozen+ illustrated covers.
Now that I have some experience under my belt, I would have done it all very differently. I'd have gone with longer novels than novellas, and I would have used illustrated covers from the start. As it is, I'm working with my sketch artist to develop an illustrated cover for the omnibus that will contain parts 1-3 and I'll see what happens with sales when that comes out.
It's a learning process. The UF series I'm working on now will have illustrated covers from the get-go.
DJ Bennett – My first book went out with a cover I thought was great. Then I cheekily asked a trad crime writer if he'd review my book on his blog (I didn't know any better back then).
He kindly replied and said he loved my blurb and the book looked great but the cover was s**t. Then he even more kindly recommended his designer to me and offered to help me.
So I got my hand held throughout the process. The three of us came up with the cover and tagline, and I've been using the same cover designer ever since.
Jaclyn Dolamore – I had an idea of what I wanted but I spent a long loooong time browsing on Deviant Art looking for artists until I found someone whose artistic style I really loved. I wanted something that suggested anime/manga but not blatantly so. I wanted romantic and a little dark. And I wanted something graphic that pops in a thumbnail. I spent some time pondering covers that had a simple, graphic, illustrated design like a lot of Maggie Stiefvater's covers and The Paper Magician.
Once I found an artist I also let her work inform my design to some extent as well. I drew a rough sketch for her as to what I wanted but I also pointed to pieces in her gallery and said, "I want the MC to look kind of like this girl" and "I want the vibe to be kind of like this piece..."
It is really different, though, so the jury is still out on whether it will sell. Doing something different goes against self-publishing wisdom and I know I might pay for that but... Worst case scenario, I'm out a few $ for really cool commissioned art and I'll dig up something typical for the next series...
[Editors note: Book Cover designers (including coverandlayout.com) should offer a discount if you already have artwork that you have commissioned]
Robert Dahlen – I've told this story before, but not in a while: I had originally asked an old friend to do the cover, but they were taking too long, and I realized that I needed someone who could turn things around quicker. The kind folks here had mentioned DeviantArt, so I did some browsing there and found a remarkable artist named Willow. I had a look in mind for the cover art I wanted, and her style fit it perfectly.
I had earlier posted on KBoards about getting someone to do the font and layout once I had the cover art, and several people jumped on that thread. One was Keri Knutson, and I've used Alchemy Book Covers since to add the design touches for Willow's wonderful art. And I've used the joke before: I have a whole lotta love for the font Keri picked out.