Thursday, 21 April 2016

The importance of book cover design - advice from award-winning designer JD Smith

When you're in a bookshop, what draws you to pick up a book? It might be that your favourite writer's name is on it or your best friend told you it was a great read. Or it might be the cover seduced you, startled you, lured you in. I'm delighted to welcome Jane Dixon-Smith to Literascribe. As JD Smith, she's a book cover designer who has developed a loyal customer base not just because of the quality of her covers but because of the ease of working with her. I should know! I commissioned Jane to produce the cover of The Chase when I republished it. She also produced postcards for me, and has designed all the logos for my Fictionfire Literary Consultancy.

Jane has just written a book, The Importance of Book Cover Design and Formatting for Self-Publishing Authors - I think the title tells you all! In it she discusses the elements of good cover design, what is and isn't effective - and why - and how writer and designer can work together successfully. She shows you examples throughout the book - it's an enlightening and invaluable resource for all writers, whether self-publishing or not. (I'm also delighted to feature as one of the case studies!)

Here's my interview with Jane:

Could you briefly state how you came into the world of book cover design? 
I’ve always worked as a graphic designer, and when I was made redundant a number of years ago my two passions (books and design) collided and I began specialising in book cover design.

What do you enjoy most about doing this work?
Working with authors. They are so excited about working on their book cover, having spent so long working on their novels. It’s a really special experience, and so much more rewarding than working on brochures and catalogues and so on for corporate clients.

What do you see publishers and self-publishers most often getting wrong when agreeing to commissioned designs or designing them themselves?
Not hitting the right genre, or generally cutting costs and either designing themselves or commissioning cheap design.

Do you think authors can design their own covers effectively – or should they always pay for a professional to do it?
I’ve always said I would never say authors should have a professionally designed cover. It really depends on their goal and what they want to achieve. Are they serious about sales? Do they want to publish purely for their own personal enjoyment and aren’t bothered about sales? Is the book a freebie and if so is the cover on display to entice a reader? I think if people are serious about sales then they need a pro-cover, unless they have a very good eye and an extremely good understanding of why book covers work.

The beautiful cover for The Chase,
which Jane designed.
How important is it to have input from the author or publisher commissioning you? What sort of information is useful to you?
Hugely important. There’s so many markets you can aim a book at it’s really important to know which one the author or publisher intends to aim for, otherwise the cover won’t work. To get this information I usually ask which authors in the marketplace writer similarly, whose readers are they aiming for and so on.

Do you read the books for which you produce cover designs?
No, the marketplace is more important than the book, and the author or publisher is in the best place to state which market they want to go for, which dictates the design much more than the content of the book, although I will ask for descriptive passages of certain elements we might use on the cover.

How many iterations of the design are you happy to produce for an author? Is it ever frustrating to see an author opt for a choice you feel isn’t the right one for their book and its market?
As many as it takes, usually, although the way I work generally means we’re following a path to the right design and the author has input all the way. It is frustrating if I think another design is the right design, but it’s the author’s call if they feel it’s the right one for the book. I’ll always say what I think, it’s up to them to take on board my opinion or not.

How important is it for an author to have a range of publicity material in order to promote their book (apart from the power of the book cover itself)? Which kind(s) of publicity material do you think the most useful and worth spending money on (e.g. bookmarks, postcards, business cards, flyers, posters, banners, social media banners etc)? If an author on a limited budget could choose only one of these, which should it be?
It depends on the authors marketing tactics, whether they attend a lot of events in person or are they more into social marketing or both. Bookmarks, postcards and any printed materials are great for events, and banners for social media.

JD Smith
You’re an author as well as a book cover designer – did you find it hard designing your own covers? Did this give you any extra insight that has fed into how you design for others?
I find my own really easy. I know what I want and I only have to please myself. I don’t do various designs, I just do what I know works and tweak until I’m happy, whereas I produce options for clients because they need to have feedback into the process.

What three key pieces of advice would you give to any author intending to commission a cover designer?
Ask for recommendations. Look at the portfolios of the designers. If you’re not happy with the quality of the covers they have in their portfolio (which should be the best covers they’ve produced) then  you aren’t going to be happy with the cover they design for you. And ask them about how they work before engaging them to design your cover. Does the process make sense? Is it comprehensive? Do you feel comfortable?

Thanks very much, Jane!

Jane is also a novelist in her own right and I’ll be interviewing her again about her series of historical novels featuring Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, in a few weeks’ time.

JD Smith is an award-winning book cover designer and author of The Importance of Book Cover Design, available from Amazon

Finally, last call for this weekend’s Fictionfire by the Spires retreat weekend, with four workshops focusing on how to create rich, believable characters, lots of peaceful time to write, delicious food, encouragement and support. The retreat takes place here in Oxford on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd May – you can come for the whole weekend or on a single day basis. You can find out full details of the schedule and the content of the workshops by going to - and here's my logo, designed by Jane!

No comments: