Choosing a Cover Artist

Eye of God Cover ArtThe freedom to have full control was the most common reason I heard as to why others loved self publishing. They had full control over the cover art and the artist or photographer they selected for their cover.

This post will ramble a bit. There is a lot to cover!

When I selected Chris Howard to be my cover artist, I was expecting a pretty cover. With his talent, it was inevitable. What I wasn't expecting was a cover that managed to match the tone and feel of the book and a character on the cover that actually looks like the character!

Color me impressed. And color me jaded from seeing so many covers that don't match their books very well.

I knew of Chris's art long before I seriously considered self-publishing as an option. He did the cover for Lisa Cohen's Derelict, which is a piece of art I really, really like. Chris Howard was willing to work with me to create the cover of The Eye of God. Not only has he been willing to gamble on me, he's given me the rights to create promotional materials from the cover art, which I'll be sharing with him. It is very rewarding for me because I can help him with his promotional needs while I have a cover for my book that I can really be proud of. He even managed to slip in the cover art early so I could use it as a part of my indiegogo campaign to gather funds for the editorial and formatting work.

I really can't sing his praises enough. I can't wait to see the magic that he works when he finishes all of the fiddly little bits, including adding the text.

Why I wanted Chris Howard for The Eye of God:

  • I loved his art and his style
  • He came on recommendation from another author who had a cover done by him
  • His estimated time for completion fit my publication window
  • I could afford him

How it worked out:

I went in with a budget of $750-1,200, assuming that my indiegogo campaign is a success. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the nature of the indie community. I explained the situation of using the indiegogo campaign to gather funds to Chris. I wanted to reserve some of his time for a cover, because good artists are often booked and booked for months.

Things didn't work out like I was anticipating! The specifics of the arrangement I'll keep confidential, but it is working out where I'll be able to spend the budget on promotional materials that benefit both of us.

My mini-rant on cover art:

Cover art is one of those things that can really make or break a book. People are, by their natures, very visual. The cover art is a direct representative of the quality of your book. People will judge what is within the book based off of the cover.

One of the top mistakes self-publishers make is not being willing to invest in a good cover artist. I can't even count the number of self-publishing books I've turned my nose up at because the art was low quality. I automatically assumed the book was also low quality because the author wasn't willing to try to find a better artist that did fit in their budget or skills. (And by skills, yes, I mean bartering. I love bartering whenever I can.)

I'm hoping to work with Chris Howard on all of the title that I self publish. Why? I like the idea of having consistent covers. I also really like the idea of those covers all being made by someone as talented and easy to work with as Chris.

I also appreciate when covers are uniform. Mercedes Lackey is a perfect example of this. I appreciate that the Valdemar covers all match each other in terms of art and appearance. It looks nice on my shelf, and I expect that sort of thing from the cover. It also makes it easier for me to pick out the Valdemar books they are spread out on a table in a book store or a convention.

How it should have worked out:

When I went to World Fantasy Con 2012, I had a chance to speak with a few professional cover artists. These men and women have had their covers on bestsellers. I had a chance to, rather bluntly, ask for how much a cover costs.

The answer? You're looking at around the $2,000 mark for a cover by a reputable artist who has worked with professional publishing houses.

$750-1,200 is a little low for someone of this caliber and experience, but feasible. You can get some really good artists, including Chris Howard, for far less than this. I believe Chris's current rates start somewhere a little over $200 and cap out at around $500.

You can get cheaper on deviant art, especially if you're willing to take a risk on a talented but amateur artist seeking to improve his or her portfolio. There are cheaper options. But, as with all things, expect to get what you pay for.

Also think in the long term. Is the artist someone you would want to work on each and every one of your books?

On top of paying that amount, I was expecting to wait in line until April or early May to have a cover done. I've already asked him for a slot in half a year when he'll be able to fit more covers into his schedule. I got lucky on the timing and his availability.

So, a quick recap:

  • Expect to pay good money for a good artist
  • Expect to wait in line for the artist to have time

With that out of the way, I'll tell you a bit about how the actual cover design process went. I'm a firm believer that an artist should be able to go with their gut feeling on a project, within the constraints of the book. Sometimes things the artist loves doesn't work out. This is why artists do concept sketches


This is the concept sketch that I was sent when Chris started the project. He had created this based off of a description of the book, the description of the characters, the tone and feel of the city, and the tone and feel of the book itself.

His job was to match it as close as he could based off of the descriptions I provided.

So, as the writer, you need to be able to provide that sort of description for your artist. Many artists would love the time to read the book, but the truth of the matter is, art of this level takes time. And a lot of time. Many of them just won't have time to read your book.

It isn't uncommon for a cover artist to do 2, 3, or 4 different concept sketches for a cover. It isn't uncommon for a professional to provide that many — or more — for review right out of the gate.

Chris got it right the first time. This is an exception not the rule. Expect a couple of sketches. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for changes or another conceptual if you don't like the first one. Don't sell yourself or your book short. Professional artists won't spend that much time on a conceptual. This conceptual was done while Chris was at lunch at his day job, for an idea of how long it took him.

I approved the concept sketch with two very minor changes. Not only did he implement those changes flawlessly, he managed to improve the piece without losing any of the elements that made the concept sketch work so well for the book.

It is okay to ask for revisions to the concept sketch. It is okay to ask for additional concept sketches. That said, it is not okay to approve a concept sketch that you're borderline on and then decide to hate the finished product. It isn't the artists fault you weren't thorough, especially if they kept true to the concept sketch. There are times an artist will diverge from the concept and turn in something completely different — that is an exception, and I do think it is okay to ask for a redo in that situation. (After all, you approved the concept sketch and not what was ultimately turned in…)

That's why there are concept sketches. They're designed to save the artist tens upon tens of hours of hard work and make sure you know what to expect.

Professionals do concept sketches. If you are buying a cheap commission from an amateur, you may not get one (let alone five.) That is something you'll have to watch out for. Also remember that the artist's job is to try to make the most appealing cover possible.

Being a control freak can be fun, but an artist that is enjoying the process as much as you're enjoying having art made will likely do that much better of a job at creating your cover.

Even if it isn't exactly what you were expecting.

Once the art is done, the text will need placed. During this stage, Chris has sent me a sampling of different concepts. We've been batting back and forth over the text placement, which is one of the fussier parts of cover art.

I'm confident we'll get the text perfect.

And a little on etiquette…

This is my final point: When you pick your cover artist, pick someone you're confident in. You need to trust them to do their job with your guidance on specifics. They need to trust you to keep a sane and professional head on your shoulders. In other words, even if you're a self-published author, you need to carry the dignity of a professional, bestseller. That means not throwing a temper tantrum if your art isn't exactly what you had in your mind.

After all, you're a writer and words are how you paint. Consider that if the artist didn't get the concept sketches just right. It isn't their fault they can't read your mind, and it isn't their fault you didn't paint them a picture in words for them to work from. So, when they don't get it right, remember you're the one who told them what to paint or draw. If you're super polite and acknowledge that you didn't express yourself clearly, then everyone will be much happier for it. After all, artists aren't that different from writers. They're just as proud of the work they do and share equal investment.

Good luck picking your cover artist.

Here is a gallery of some of the cover art Chris Howard has done for me. The titling on these covers was done by Brooke Johnson.

Leave a Comment:

Heather Dudley says January 29, 2013

I completely agree with the idea that cover art is critical. The thing about cover art is that it defines the book for the reader, before they’ve ever even picked it up. There are ways to save money… this is not one of them. Without the benefit of a traditional publishing house to do all that stuff for you, you owe it to your readers and yourself to get it right.

Not to mention, a good cover artist can help the book pay for the cost of that cover. Good cover = more sales = eventually making it into the black!

Understanding Self-Publishing: a Beginner’s Guide to Retailers, Vanity Presses, and Surviving as a Self Pubber | On Writing says February 17, 2015

[…] Either way, cover art is necessary. There is nothing wrong with hiring a cover artist. In fact, I recommend it. I find a good cover will pay for itself, given time. Here’s a post on how I work with my cover artist, and here’s a post on how I work with my typography designer. Here’s another post covering my very first experience with Chris Howard. […]

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