In my experiences with small, independent publishers, making a cover is a collaboration between the author and/or editor and artist.
With NineStar Press, I experienced the cover making process as an author for one book. With B Cubed Press, I was the cover artist for three books: two multi-author anthologies and one sing-author poetry collection.
Getting a Feel for the Book
In order to start designing, the artist needs to know a few things about the book.
At NineStar Press, the process started me with (the author) filling out an information form. I included my blurb and pitches for the book, which served a double purpose. They gave the artist a feel for the story, and they was also for their publisher to use on their website and on retailer sites.
The second part of the form was specifically for the cover artist. I was asked to describe the book’s physical setting and the time period it was set in (if it wasn’t a secondary world). I was asked to use three adjectives to describe the mood or tone of the book. Another set of questions focused on the main characters – their physical appearance, age, gender and orientation. The form asked if there were any significant symbols or images repeated throughout the book. All of these helped the artist come up with a concept that would accurately reflect the book and it’s characters.
But that wasn’t all. The form also allowed me to include links to three covers I liked and had a section at the end where I could write about additional characters or describe a concept I had in mind. Surprisingly, I didn’t have a specific idea of how I wanted the cover to look, but I did know what I didn’t want: lightening. My novel isn’t the only Power Surge and I wanted it to stand out among other search engine results. Since most of the other books bearing that title featured some kind of lightening, it was important that my book didn’t have lightening on the cover.
With B Cubed Press the process the process was less structured. They needed a new cover artist for their Alternative Theology anthology, so I used the description on the call for submissions to draft a cover to propose. After committing to that cover, I was asked to do one for After the Orange and a poetry collection.
With After the Orange, I did read the blurb that had accompanied the submission call to get started, but Bob Brown, the founder of B Cubed Press, sent me an email describing the tone of the anthology and sent me an image he wanted to use on the cover.
For the poetry collection, the author sent me a selection of photographs to choose from, a detailed description of the collection’s tone, and the title poem.
While one process was very structured and the other more open and free-flowing, at this stage, the cover artist’s job was to familiarize them with the book and the authors desire for the cover.
Drafts and Revisions
After reviewing the information provided about the book, the artist sends a draft cover. This wasn’t a polished product; it was more of a mock up to see if the artist is on the right track.
When I saw the first draft of my cover for Power Surge, I loved the color theme, the background, and the font, but the model just didn’t look right. She was too feminine, more like one of the minor characters than the main character, and looked more like someone in their mid-twenties than a high school senior. I replied saying so.
Later that day, I got a second version with a different model. This one had the right tom-boy appearance, but they looked even more mature than the first model. I sent some photos that I hoped would give the artist a better idea of what I was looking for, but they weren’t able to use those for legal reasons. While studying the draft, I saw a watermark. The pub don’t buy the photos until they know are going to use them – so I went on the sight they buy their photos from and found images I thought would be a better representation of my character. I sent those links, and the artist chose one of those. I may have overstepped my place a little there, but something had been miscommunicated in my info form, and I needed to make the artist had got the character right.
This time, when I saw the cover, it was almost perfect. Initially I asked for two more changes, but I was told one would make the cover to busy. I trusted the cover artist with that decision, and the other, a minor adjustment to proportions, was an easy change.
In the end, the model on the cover had the look I pictured for my character. The hair color was wrong, but they had a hat on, so it worked out. Erin, the main character in Power Surge, never wears a hat in the book, but neither does my favorite fiction wizard.
This back and forth process happened when I made covers for B Cubed Press, although I lost count of how many times I went back and forth. It wasn’t because the editors were picky but because I was a newer, less experienced artist.
With After the Orange, it took several attempts to get the tone right. Towards the end of the process, when the authors got a sneak peak of the cover, a few suggested the cover was too subdued and needed more cover to make it stand out on the shelves. I made more changes, and when I finally sent that version back, it was just what they were looking for. Afterwards, I had to fine tune the font size and layout to make sure it would all fit properly and not get cut off.
With Alternative Theology, I had a better grasp on the theme, but my original idea of having a stained glass background made the cover too busy, especially when trying to fit a snowflake on the cover. It’s part of B Cubed Press’ brand, especially where their “Alternative” titles are concerned. After a few back and forth with a more tame, purple background, we found something we were all happy with.
The poetry collection was the most straight forward. My first cover looked a little too much like a mystery novel, but I got the concept right on my next try, and from there, it was fine tuning the font, placement of the title, and layout of the back cover.
Once the covers were approved by editors and authors, they were ready to share with t
The processes at NineStar Press and B Cubed Press were similar at their core, but different on the surface. Since I’ve only worked with two publishers, I can’t comment on whether or not this is how it works other places. If you’ve worked with different publishers, feel free to comment on how your experiences were similar or different.