Today I’m very pleased to introduce you to cover designer Laura Duffy. Laura and I have been working on a book together, and I took the opportunity to ask her some questions about her own career; how a professional goes about designing book covers; and how self-publishers can use the amazing talents of cover designers like Laura to help them reach their own publishing goals.
Laura, tell us a little bit about how you came to be a book cover designer, was it something you grew up dreaming of doing since you were young?
I’d become an artist at a very early age, and set out to find a profession in which I could earn a living and be in a creative environment as well. The first job that I landed after graduating from school, where I studied Art & Advertising, was in the art department at Simon & Schuster.
At that point, I’d realized my goal of being around artists—I was working with talented art directors, designers, illustrators, and photographers—and was pretty happy. Many of them were well known and it was exciting. I started taking over work that the AD’s didn’t want to handle, like mechanicals and gradually moved on to designing covers.
Most authors are mystified about how designers work. What goes into your process when you sit down to design a book cover?
My process varies depending on the type of book I’m working on.
For novels I read as much of the book as I can and keep notes as I go along. I look for moments in the story that lend themselves to being tableaus that will be beautiful, colorful, and intriguing. I think about the style of the type as well—modern, old fashioned, bold, sweet? It needs to be decided who the market is, and what needs to be conveyed. Do we want to give the prospective reader an idea of the story inside, or do something bold and exciting to grab their attention? Or both?
For non-fiction, the decision needs to be made by the editor and author as to whether or not there’s going to be imagery. If so, I search for the perfect image, trying to find something that’s unique and eye-catching. Again, color is very important. If it’s a situation where there’s really no imagery that will work, I do an all type design, which can be straightforward, or hopefully interesting and I can have fun with it.
In both cases a lot depends on what kind of feel the book is supposed to have. This is part of the early discussion I have with authors and editors. For non-fiction a book can look authoritative, or fun and approachable or perhaps a combination. Will there be descriptive copy? A photo of the author?
Sometimes authors have a good idea of how they want their cover to look. I give them what they’re asking for, and then give them other directions that they might not have considered, based on my experience with what works and gets attention.
The balancing act is to have a happy author—this is their ‘baby’ after all—and to give them a selling cover that stands out from the crowd—that’s why they’ve hired me.
Have you always designed covers for indie authors, or did you previously only work for traditional publishers?
Although I’ve spent most of my publishing career working on staff, or freelance for the larger houses, I sporadically worked with indie authors over the years. The past few years has really picked up in terms of working with indie clients. It feels like the place to be these days!
Are there specific rewards for you that come from working directly with authors? Or specific difficulties in the process?
I’d say there are more rewards than difficulties. After working for so long in a large house, where there are many people (editorial, marketing etc.) between you and the authors, it’s been a wonderful experience to work directly with authors. I feel that I’m part of helping someone fulfill a life long dream, and I take that very seriously. I truly believe that a selling cover is crucial to a book’s success and that’s my responsibility.
The experience I’ve had over the years working with editors, publicists, and marketers now lends itself to the conversations I have with my clients regarding publicity and marketing. I love this brainstorming process as well as the design process.
In some cases an author has been working so hard on a book, in isolation, and I have to encourage them to “get out there” and publicize the book, whether it’s additional marketing material that I put together, finding an actual publicist, or navigating social media. It’s exciting for me to be part of this process, especially now, when it’s still very new for many people.
What do authors need to know to have the best outcome when working with a professional cover designer?
They need to know that when they hire me, they’re in good hands, and that they should trust me. The most successful experiences are when an author lets me do my ‘thing’: meaning an author might have an idea of what they want on the cover, but if I tell you that that won’t lend itself to a selling cover, you have to trust that I’m right. I don’t totally disregard what a client is asking for, but I’m not doing them any favors if I completely cave to their ideas. And, I don’t work in a vacuum, welcoming the input of other industry professionals.
It’s important for authors to realize when they’re too close to something they’ve been engrossed in for a long time, and to let go a little. This arises with indie authors as well as those who’ve chosen the larger houses. The goal of a book cover is to sell the book first and foremost, which means having a cover that stands out and gets someone’s attention.
What’s your take on typographic covers versus the illustration or photo-centered cover?
It depends on the project. I love them all, as long as they’re unique and eye-catching.
All type covers can be easier and quicker since there’s no photo researching to be done. But it’s important to make sure that the copy is good, says what it needs to and the cover isn’t too cluttered. I love it when I can do a creative all type cover and get to really play with type.
There are lots of stock illustrations to choose from, but hiring an illustrator is also an option. Before commissioning a piece of art you have to have a solid idea of what you want and be able to communicate it to the artist. Over the years I’ve gotten to art direct some wonderful artists who are easy to work with due to their ability to adjust their paintings as needed which takes a lot of stress out of the process.
Regarding photography, I’m always on the lookout for images that are bright, colorful and tell a story in a unique way. Since most of my clients have budget considerations, we use a lot of stock photography. Photoshop is an incredible tool for pumping up, and combining imagery to create something far more interesting than the original image.
It’s important to be able to see the potential in a photo and know what you can do to get the best out of it and make it work. But, there are times when I hire photographers to do a specific kind of photo, perhaps a still life, landscape or spec shot of an object.
Laura, for the last couple of years I’ve been trying to get cover designers to “think different” about eBook covers, and not just shrink their book covers down to a barely distinguishable blob. What’s your take on eBook covers, and do you think cover designers like yourself will start to see them as distinct but different expressions of the print book covers?
Occasionally I have to make adjustments on a cover so that it will read at a smaller size—like changing a script, or making important copy bolder. I think it’s important to have a cover consistent with the other formats you’re doing so as not to confuse customers. I’d like to hear your ideas on it though.
Do you have any tips for authors who are self-publishing when it comes time for them to start thinking about their book covers, hiring designers, or any other part of the process?
I realize that there are many sources for book cover design, but I’d like people to know that when they hire an experienced cover designer they’re getting a lot more for their money—not just three cover ideas. The cover design process can be a long one, and you need a designer who can offer patience as well as creativity. There’s a lot of back and forth that goes on until a cover is perfected. And many times my role goes well beyond just the cover design.
Here are some things for authors to think about and plan before they begin the cover design process:
- Have the tightest possible cover copy ready; include any quotes that will go on front cover. I’m big on getting descriptive quotes from people who have gotten to read an early draft. I think quotes are a great selling tool, whether used on the front cover or on the back.
- Do research on other books in the genre you’re working in and find covers that appeal to you so you can share them with your designer.
- To save time and money, gather any photos or illustrations that you have whether it’s family photos, or photos you’ve taken. If you decide to gather imagery on your own from the internet or any other published source it’s crucial that you know origins and can get permissions for usage.
- Early on in the process think about back cover copy, an author photo, and author bio. Also, think about the book description that will go next to the cover on Amazon or any other online situation where the copy will be doing as much work as the cover.
- In addition to the cover design, will you need your cover designer to work on printed marketing material, web design and a logo?
- Do you have publicity lined up? This will affect deadlines for the cover.
- Get the interior going as soon as you can. The page count of the FINAL book affects the spine size, and waiting on the interior can hold up printing the entire cover. Many times the interior designer will want to use elements of the cover design. It’s a good idea to put them both in contact with each other.
“The goal of a book cover is to sell the book … which means having a cover that stands out and gets someone’s attention.”—Click to Tweet
Laura Duffy has spent the last 19 years working in the publishing world and has had the opportunity to work with many exciting authors including Barack Obama, Jillian Michaels, Tim Ferris, Suzanne Somers, Deepak Chopra, Jean Auel, and Mindy Kaling. She now enjoys devoting her time to working primarily with individuals around the country who are publishing their own books. In addition to the design and art direction of the cover material, she also assists with marketing and publicity material. You can see more of Laura’s work at her site LauraDuffyDesign.com.