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Cover Design, Design Process, Journal, Publishing

Hiring a Book Cover Illustrator – Like Me! – for your novel.

By Rachel George · 27th April 2019


8 helpful points and a breakdown of my cover design/illustration process!

In this post I’ll be talking about some tips for hiring an illustrator like me, and the process and steps/stages of the cover illustration and design for the YA Novel cover ‘The Land of Unlived Dreams’ by I Q Malcolm – who was an absolutely excellent client!

Apparently this was the first time he’d hired an illustrator for his covers, which honestly I wouldn’t have known had he not mentioned it – He was a really great client!

The Land of Unlived Dreams final cover spread

Because of this, I figured it might be handy to run through what I need from a client in order to do my job. The details about your book, and the feedback I require to move forward with designs.

It might not be an one-size-fits-all guide for hiring an illustrator, but it should certainly help with illustrators working in similar genres/styles/markets as I do – which is Children’s books, Young Adult books, Sci-fi/Fantasy novels and Lesfic/Queerliterature/LGBTQ+ Publishing.

1: When is your deadline?

This is the first thing I need to know, before anything else. I might be absolutely vibrating with excitement about illustrating your cover, the premise is cool! The characters are really interesting! I get to draw fun stuff I really enjoy drawing!

But if I need 2 weeks to do it, and you have a deadline of 2 days, and don’t tell me, then, well – It’s probably not going to happen.

The very first mock-up sketch for TLOUD

2: What is your budget?

If you don’t precisely know how much an illustrator costs – if this is your first time hiring one – then that’s OK! Not only do a lot of illustrators use a set price range sheet (Like myself, tailored to the size of distribution and publishing house/or indie author) But it’s always a good idea to have an estimate of how much you’re willing to spend.

This number should factor how complex/detailed your cover is (A single painting of maybe a pendant or a sword wrapped in roses – is very different in terms of work hours to – an entire battle scene or a rolling shot of a city, or complex machinery and robots), what your market size is, what your use-age needs are, and also how soon you need the image. If it’s in a very short amount of time, a rush fee might be something you might need to factor in.

But to give an example: For a single cover design (Just the front cover illustration, potentially with the design elements like typeface and title design. My fee includes all of these things but some illustrators might not, it completely depends on their provided services) for a small indie author or small press run – around 2000/7000 units – with a reasonable deadline (not 2 days) the price may be around $350-$810 (£270-£624GBP or €312-€723Euro).

Yes, cover illustrations for $50/£40 and less are a thing. But chances are, it’ll be obvious they are $50/£40 covers.

Second round of thumbnails for IQ Malcolm to choose from.

3: Who is the book for?

Is this a Children’s Book meant for under 6 year olds? Or maybe 8-10s? Or a Young Adults novel? Or general market? What about a romance novel or an LGBTQ+ novel? Most of these markets have very different looks for their covers, and your illustrator needs to know who and what market your book is going to sit in. You don’t want a cute and fluffy cover for a book that’s meant for horror. Or something really horrifying and gross for a book intended for babies (I mean, maybe you do, but it’s important for your illustrator to know what you’re going for!).

4: What is your book about?

OK, so your Illustrator knows your deadlines, your budget, and your target audience. Now it’s time to tell them all about your awesome book, it’s characters, the themes and the settings. We want to know about the world and the people that live in it and the amazing things they get up to, it’ll help us construct the cover and give the right ‘feel’ to the image.

For instance, IQ Malcolm gave me a short description of his book, some of the characters and a key scene from it (THAT INVOLVED A GIANT WHALE WITH A CITY ON IT’S BACK!!!!! HOW COOL IS THAT!?) and I literally, instantly had the image of the first mock-up I shared. And hey, I didn’t need to stray far from my initial idea! The clear image that IQ Malcolm created with his description put a clear image in my head, and then I put that onto digital canvas.

Thumbnail chosen! Time to crack on.

5: The details and specifications.

Your illustrator will need to know what dimensions to work to, or a rough idea of the final size of your book. If you have a particular printing press in mind, or are planning to use an online print service, getting the size/dimensions of the book will be a vital bit of information your illustrator/designer will need.
You don’t want them to spend days/weeks creating an image of your book only to find it’s far too small to work as a cover, or that it’s the wrong file type and converting it will result in an ugly distortion of the image/colours.

Also, if you have a specific file type you need to submit to for your printing press, let them know, just in-case they need to prepare before the image is finalized to make sure they meet your needs.

6: The Legal Stuff.

A good contract protects both you and your illustrator. Having one is essential. It gives everyone a peace of mind too, as an added bonus. Make sure you sign one before work begins.

Make sure it includes what the illustrator is agreeing to provide, what you as the client intend to use it for, the agreed price, the agreed deadline date, a set number of revisions to make sure you don’t end up with revision number 355.
Also helpful to include is an agreed notice period in-case things don’t go as planned and one of you needs to end working. Sometimes life gets in the way in the most unexpected ways, it’s always good to be prepared.

The city on the whale’s back. Now in more detail! As is the whale.

7: Give me all of your Cover Ideas, reference images/moodboards/doodles. I want them.

If you have any reference images or cover ideas, even if it’s some google images you found that look a lot like your characters, or a moodboard you made on pinterest. Or a cool doodle you did of a character/element from the book/cover design idea you had, those will be really useful!
Once you’ve found your illustrator – and agreed on a price/contract/all that stuff – they’ll likely find your collection of images super helpful. Let them know you have them!

Every little helps!

8: Feedback throughout the process.

While I’m working on a cover I’ll send progress images to the client throughout. Once the mock-up has been chosen and I start fleshing out the image, I’ll send an update with that and need feedback on it to make sure I’m going in the right direction. Or to fix anything that needs fixing.

It’s important to look over the image thoroughly, and note what you like (and why) and what you don’t like (and why not) and send that to your illustrator – being as clear and descriptive as possible is really helpful. This helps us make the right changes/continue in the way you’re envisioning.

Don’t worry about offending your illustrator if something isn’t quite right, they’ll want to make sure you’re 100% happy with what you paid for. If it’s clear and descriptive and not “YOU SUCK! Quit your job” then it’ll be helpful and the illustrator will be more informed. Win/Win!

Cover design illustration. The Land of Unlived Dreams. Final cover
Final Cover with characters, details and title/typeface layout and design.

And that’s it!

Or at least, all the things I could think of that I need to know/have in place in order to do my job.

Hopefully this has been helpful in your search for your illustrator and the things you need to know when hiring one. If you think I might be that illustrator – please get in touch! Email me at: [email protected] or head across to my Contact Page and drop me a message!

Massive thanks to IQ Malcolm for paying me to draw a whale with a CITY ON IT’S BACK. And a pirate ship! And adventuring kids!!! I’m still not over how cool and fun this cover was to do.

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