For self-published authors, one of the biggest challenges is finding a good cover. Some people learn to create their own covers, but many turn to professional designers. Here, Ronnell D Porter talks about his work as an ebook cover designer, and offers some tips for anyone looking to hire a designer for a project.
How did you get into the business of designing ebook covers?
I joined an indie author forum when I first started out on my self-publishing venture. Most of the covers at that time (spring of 2009) were homemade, and though some were decent, a great deal of them were horrible (mine included!). There were threads when authors would ask for suggestions on improvements and I would post redesigns showing ways that it could be improved (and on a couple occasions just let them use it for free). Then I was asked if I took commissions and it snowballed form there. Back then they weren’t the greatest designs, but I learned as I went along. There have been some ups and downs but I’m happy with cover design and how much I’ve improved since then.
What is your all-time favourite book cover?
Two covers that are definitely in my top five are Winter’s Passage by Julie Kagawa and the movie tie-in novel for Red Riding Hood (the white cover, not the movie poster version).
How do you come up with the idea for the design? Do authors usually come to you with an idea, or do they usually give you total freedom?
They usually give me total freedom (which is how I prefer to work so that I don’t feel like my creativity is stuffed into a shoe-box in the corner of my closet) but occasionally they will approach me with a specific idea in mind and I’ll try to produce the best cover I can.
The way that I work is that I will ask within the first email what the summary of their story is, from beginning to end, and I ask for a list of any and all items important to their character(s) and/or plot. I also ask what genres the story falls under and who their target audience is. Obviously they want everyone to read their book but realistically every book has a category and an audience, even if the author can’t see it from where they’re standing. Then I’ll let it stew until a few ideas pop out and I start putting it all together.
How long does it usually take you to create a cover, from the very first design work to the finished end product?
Usually a few days, but I have been able to produce on in a few hours and other times it’s taken me a few weeks. It just depends on how busy I get with my day-to-day life and how tricky a story may be to peg.
What are the most common mistakes, or wrong assumptions, that authors have when they come to you?
There aren’t many that come to mind, really. There are articles floating around the web on other authors’ blogs anywhere from a year-to-a couple of years ago listing outdated prices. So they read these old prices and then see my current portfolio and immediately send me an email. Needless to say they aren’t happy when they find out that the information is no longer current. I’ve had a few people chew me out because of this (as though I can control what stays on the web) but most of the time they’re gracious about it and will search elsewhere or commission my services anyway because they really enjoyed a certain cover or a few covers.
A paperback book is something you hold in your hand. An ebook cover is usually seen (initially, at least) as just a few hundred pixels on a screen. Is designing an ebook cover different to designing the cover for a paperback book, because of the size?
It’s different in many aspects, text being one of them. What most authors tend to forget about the text on a cover is that their cover will almost always be accompanied by text on a webpage, or seen on its product page, so text size is important but not as much as people tend to assume. Also, paperback trim sizes don’t match an ebook screen (ex. a 6″x9″ paperback image won’t fit a 3:4 Kindle screen), it leaves very ugly (IMO) black or blank bars along the sides. I prefer the cover to display edge-to-edge of the screen. So when I get a commission for both an ebook + paperback cover I’ll design the eBook image first (as there’s more space to work with) and then trim, re-arrange, and add onto the paperback jacket.
Can you judge a book by its cover?
Can you? Yes. Should you? Default answer is no, but that’s debatable and I’m totally guilty of Cover-Judge-Syndrome so I can only speculate. Will you be correct about those judgments? 9/10, no you will not. You can judge a book to be a fantastic read by a fabulous cover and be very disappointed. You can see a very terrible cover that screams homemade or cheap, and miss out on the best read of the year. I’m sure I miss great novels all – the – time.
If someone is looking to commission an ebook cover, what’s the most important piece of advice you would give them?
Covers are absolutely important, and we all understand the gravity of them when we walk into a book store. There are some great artists at publishing prices, and they’re almost always guaranteed to increase your book sales (at $700-800 per cover, they’d better!). There are some horrible designers (IMO lol) at outrageous prices, and there are fantastic designers for low prices. I recently saw a cover designed for $700 and it was absolutely bland and the title wasn’t even readable as it was lost in too much background. The worst part was that the artist refused to change it! So remember, an impressive resume is no guarantee.
I would advise seeking out an actual cover designer as opposed to searching for an artist in the Deviant Art forums, the difference being that any artist can give you what you want but there’s a separate science to designing the layout of a book cover. In my experience you can still find quality designers at reasonable prices (some legendary names among indies only charge $200-$300 per cover, which, with their talent and portfolio, is a steal!). Some are even as low as $100.
My biggest piece of advice is not to hold the absence of a genre on one’s portfolio against them. Just because you don’t see Horror or High-End Fantasy doesn’t mean we as designers can blow the pants off of you with the commission; it just means we haven’t been offered the chance to take on those types of covers.
Visit Ronnell D Porter Design for more information about his ebook cover design services and examples of his work.