Finding the Right Book Cover

I’m an ignoramus when it comes to art. I can’t even claim to know what I like: sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.

Today I like Mona

Today I like Mona

This was a problem when it came to my latest book, Return to Kaitlin. I had no idea, none at all, what the cover should look like.

I’ve been fortunate in the past, having had my first two books designed by a colleague, Felix Ferreiro, with whom I’ve worked on nonfiction projects for years. I supplied the words, he supplied the graphics. But Felix wasn’t available for this book, and so I set out to find a new graphic artist.

LinkedIn was a good starting point: I’m a member of several writing groups there, and found names of two or three artists in a discussion on covers. Searching the internet for “book covers” produced some names, certainly, but most looked to be far too expensive for my means. At the other end of the scale, I tried a designer on fiverr, a marketplace that offers just about anything you might want for five dollars.

I also found a really useful resource compiled by BookBuzz, a directory of book cover designers. Several designers looked very good to me, and their prices turned out to be competitive. I nearly took the plunge and went with one of them, then panicked and got cold feet: what if he didn’t come up with anything I liked?

A friend had mentioned 99designs and crowdspring, both of which offer a range of prices. I checked them out and liked the concept: you submit a brief, which is presented on a member bulletin board where everyone and his dog can submit designs. That way, you get lots of choices. But will they be good choices? And will they provide the finished art to your specifications?

I decided to stop messing about and take the plunge, and because I’d been hit by the devalued Canadian dollar when it came time to pay my US editor, I went with 99design.ca, which took the worry out of that particular aspect by quoting in Canadian dollars. I chose their low-end package, $299. I posted my brief, consisting of a description of the book and a blurb (the cover copy). I added a full synopsis, which many of the designers dumped onto the back cover, slightly startling since I had intended it for reference only.

Anyway, the trickle began and within three days had become a flood. These contests are time-sensitive: designers have only four days (as I recall) to submit a design, and it’s my job to winnow out the ones I definitely don’t like. I found this incredibly hard to do. In the first place, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. In the second, these clever artists from all over the world were submitting art for my book. I wanted to kiss them. Most of them, anyway. A couple of offerings were quite easy to reject. But the entries ultimately totaled 94, and I had to resort to polls, and to buttonholing friends and forcing them to make a choice and tell me why, before I could reach a decision.

I wish I could display the shortlisted entries. They were all good, all quite different. But two seemed especially striking from the start. They had similar colors, but the first had a silhouette of a roughneck (which seemed appropriate: my novel was titled The Roughneck until very recently) and the second, an image of a young man. And because Return to Kaitlin is about a young man, that’s the cover I ultimately chose (you can see it on the book page, here). It was not the popular choice: the roughneck entry had by far the most five-star awards in the polls. But it was the most appropriate choice and I think it will linger in the mind.

The designer, Ivan Zanchetta, is my new best friend. 😉 He read between the lines of my brief and found the central character’s vulnerability. And he provided final art for both LightningSource and CreateSpace, at no additional charge.

As for 99design, I can recommend them without reservation. Their customer service is always there and always helpful, and they run their contests with both sense and efficiency.