Working With Cover Artists

Working with an artist is an interesting process. Even when that artist is my daughter whom I think I know about as well as any person can know another, I discovered that imaginations don't often match up. What I think is cute or fun isn't necessarily what she thinks and vice versa.

If you're trying to establish a working relationship with a graphic artist who is an unknown quantity to you, then you need some guidelines about how to make a cover artist/author relationship work.

Working With Cover Artists

After listening to Adina Reeves, my daughter the artist, complain about clients, from the time she worked for an ad agency to the time she started doing freelance design work, I knew she was the person to ask about what is involved in creating cover art for a book.

Adina has had all these situations described below in dealing with authors who want book covers. If you think authors suffer from the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome (I don't get no respect!), then try being a graphic artist.

The problem lies in the fact that most people don't realize how hard a good artist works. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of authors who just plain take advantage every way they can.

There are also many who don't know what's easily doable and what's extremely time-consuming to create. My daughter actually has some of these things listed in her contract so that was a good starting point. The others listed are from conversations with her.

12 Tips For Good Artist/Author Relationships

1. Have an idea of what you want on the cover because the artist can not read your mind.

If you say an embracing couple, then give details: what the couple look like, what they're wearing, is the embrace sweet or sensual, what's behind the couple, do you want their full body shown or just faces or just body parts.

2. Don't say a sexy cover or a funny cover or a scary cover without giving some clue as to what you think looks sexy, funny, scary, or whatever. Again, artists aren't mind readers.

3. Be sure you know what the quoted contract price will give you. If you know you want more than what is quoted, then be up front and negotiate it in good faith. If you request a specific image or font, artists must pay for these, so know what you're getting into and ask whether using a requested image or font adds to the price.

4. Most contracts state that minor changes are allowed. If the contract doesn't define minor changes, ask. Usually, minor changes are limited to color of font, type of font, and/or text placement.

Most cover artists send a "proof" file that's low resolution image for you to approve the design before they proceed. Don't say that the design looks great, and, then when the final file is sent, say that you want the black hair on the woman changed to red hair, or long hair should be short hair, or you want a man to appear to be an amputee or you decide that you really don't think the man looks "bad boy" enough and can he be changed to a different guy in the embrace.

Requesting that a couple appear dancing on top of a wall when the wall was the only requested image is not a minor change. If in doubt about the design vision you have, please discuss this with your artist before signing the contract.

I've been amazed at some of these requests made to my daughter after she's completed all the work and is expecting payment. All of the above are major changes that require hours of work.

5. Don't accept the proof file as good to go and then change your mind after the work is done and refuse to pay because the artist won't make more changes.

6. Don't ask the artist to use copyrighted materials without permission, and chasing down the copyright owner to request permission is not time the author has to spend unless you are paying by the hour. Another artist's work, like the cover on a print book, is protected by copyright. Don't ask your artist to use the same image of a house or tree or woman unless those images are in public domain or royalty-free images available for purchase. Don't ask for a copyrighted image to be recreated exactly because that's infringement.

7. If the artist wants an art copyright notice in your book, then please give it! Their work is copyrighted, and they deserve the recognition and legal protection. Don't agree to do it and then not include it because "it's too much work to change my copyright page."

8. If the photograph the artist uses requires notice in the art copyright, don't argue about it and refuse to post it because "it's too much work to change my copyright page." That's nonsense, and we all know it.

9. The book cover the artist designs for you is limited to the uses in the contract. Don't take the design and put it on products at CafePress unless you have permission to do so.

10. For God's sake, don't stiff the artist. If the artist did the work according to the parameters of the contract, pay her or him. If you want the design changed, but you approved the proof, you owe for the design. Pay for it and then work with the artist to change it.

11. Don't be shocked if cover artists start instituting a Kill Fee, similar to a writer's kill fee, in their contracts because of too many bad experiences with clients.

12. If you choose an artist with a low fee, know that there are limits to what can be achieved for that fee, and make sure they are spelled out in the contract. If you want something different, then ask for a quote before you sign the contract.

Takeaway Truth

Chose an artist who has good business and design skills, communicate well with the artist, and you'll get book covers you love. It's a win/win for both artist and author.


  1. Thank you for the guidelines. My experiences so far with cover artists have been really positive, but I wasn't sure what to expect. Also, they charged a lot lower than I thought they would, which was a relief. What is the standard price for an ebook cover?

  2. Hi, Katheryn,

    You're welcome! Glad you've had good experiences. I don't really think there's a standard price. I know authors who have paid as little as $50 and as much as $1000!

    So know what you want and shop around.

    Best wishes,

  3. I am working with a cover artist now and also had no idea what to expect. I knew what I wanted but not really what questions to ask or what other information she might need from me. So far it's been super. She's doing an original oil painting that she will then digitize. She'll retain the right to sell her painting which I think is grand. Hopefully both of us will benefit from her art!

    These guidelines are so helpful, Joan. I understand the artist-end of the process much better. Thanks again so much for sharing. It's like getting an inside look!

  4. Thanks Joan. I paid near the bottom end of your quote!

  5. Joan, what a great series. I just discovered your website.

    I would like to add these suggestions:

    Go through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. and find 3 or 4 covers that you like -- not to duplicate, but to show the cover artist your taste and the direction you want to go.

    You can also find 3 or 4 covers with fonts/type that you like.

    When you've made your selections, create a Word document with links. You and your designer might end up making different choices, but the designer will have a place to start.

  6. Hollister Ann Grant, welcome! Glad you stopped by. Excellent advice. Thanks for posting it.

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves