You’ve written a book! Congratulations! Now you’re probably wondering how to choose a book cover designer. That’s a great question, and I’ll explain why. There is no “best” book cover designer for all books in all genres. Most designers focus on a few genres at most. So Designer A might be the best for romance, Designer B might be the best for sci-fi, Designer C might be the best for literary fiction. Each designer within those genres is going to have a unique skill set and abilities.
So where do you start? The place to start is with your book. What genre and categories fit your book the best? Who is it written for? This is key information that your designer will need to provide you with the best fit possible, not just for your book but also where it fits on the “shelf”. (For more on this, check out Book Cover Basics.)
The genre your book is in will help you narrow down your choices for book cover designers. You can google to find a smaller range of designers. Once you’ve found a few that work in your genre, check out their portfolios. Do they demonstrate a good understanding of your genre? Every artist has a style, but is the designer able to adapt to the needs of the book and author they are working with? If you see books by many authors in that designer’s portfolio that look pretty much the same, I recommend that you go no further. The designer’s job is to make your book look like you, not them (This is a part of branding and you want your unique brand, not the designer’s). If your genre calls for photographic covers, and the designer has only illustrations, you’ll want to look elsewhere as well.
Once you have one that has the look you’re going for, then check out their terms and conditions and about pages. Do they sound like someone you could work with? Do you feel that they will “get” your project? Do you have common ground with the designer? You will work better with some designers than others, that’s often a personality match or conflict rather than a skill level. You need to be able to communicate well with the designer and he or she with you for the best experience possible.
Do they have information on their turn-around times and/or scheduling available, and will that fit with your schedule. If you are in a hurry, many designers offer pre-made book covers as well as custom packages as I do. Turn-around times for a pre-made is usually very quick and may be a perfect option for you. Pre-mades are usually less expensive as well which is a bonus! Custom covers require additional time and communication back and forth. This is often reflected in the price points of those packages. Most designers work on covers in the order in which they were hired, so check with the designer on their timeframe to be sure it will fit your schedule.
In your initial communications with your chosen designer, be clear in your expectations about the process and your cover. Hopefully, the designer has made their expectations clear on their site, and yours match them quite well. If you’ve worked with other designers, let them know what worked well, and what didn’t. This hopefully goes without saying, but do be respectful, your designer is a highly skilled professional and should be treated as such.
I haven’t mentioned price. It probably goes without saying as this is the piece that most of us are the most acutely aware. But price, within reason, is somewhat a secondary concern. In some ways, you get what you pay for, but in others, it’s irrelevant. A $2000 sci-fi cover is not going to help your self-help book to sell – nor would it if you spent multiples of that! It’s just the wrong cover for the book.
I mentioned pre-mades earlier. This is an excellent starting point if budget is an issue. Many authors begin with a cover that they can afford and then upgrade as they are able if they find that sales are not as strong for the book as they would like. Your cover decision now does not have to be with you for forever.
Some designers, like myself, have various tiers of packages for design so that you can choose one that fits your book and your budget the best. We are your partners in this venture and want you and your book to do well. While the cover is not the only determinant of the success of your book, it is your readers’ first exposure to your book and we want it to do well for you.
A word of caution about sites with cheap designers and those where the designers compete for your job. There are some good designers and good designs that come from such sites, but there are also potential legal risks that you should be aware of. You, as the author will be culpable for any fines if the designer chooses images or fonts that are not licensed for commercial purposes or have the appropriate releases signed. I have more on the legal issues of cover design, and indeed design in general, here.