Working with Book Cover Artists and Illustrators

As someone whose livelihood revolves around editing, formatting, and publishing books for authors, I’ve also built relationships with a number of illustrators and designers who have artistic talents that I simply … well … don’t.

I can rewrite a sentence to perfection, market a book from invisible to ranked, and click my way around Adobe Illustrator, but I’m realistic in my lack of ability when it comes to pure art: drawing and painting. Unfortunately for me, I can’t join the cover design craze that’s been born out of the self-publishing era, but I do still find it pretty wonderful to collaborate with these artists on a project. Many clients hire me as an overall project manager for their books (since I do a majority of the tasks necessary, just not drawing), and usually prefer for me to hire and manage a designer, rather than them.

Acting as the middleman between client and illustrator is sometimes a difficult task which requires being the bearer of bad news to both parties. The illustrator wants more money. The client wants more drafts. I just want everyone to get along, and to not ruin my relationship with either.

So, I decided to write this post as a sort of guide for authors on how to hire and work with book cover artists and illustrators. By knowing a few key things ahead of time, you can save yourself time and heartache, while walking away with the cover of your dreams.


1. You get what you pay for

If you take anything away from this article, it’s the lesson that if you want a great cover, you need a great cover artist, and great cover artists want great salaries. Websites like Fiver and have made artists compete in a race to the bottom: they lower their prices in order to get hired, and now authors have the very wrong belief that artists do things for practically free.

This isn’t the case. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, that is completely understandable, but you cannot expect a cover in return which takes 30 hours to create, and is worthy of a Bestseller list.

To be frank, expect to spend $300+ for something decent.


2. Artists aren’t mind readers

Let’s be honest. You probably have an idea of what you want. There’s probably the start of a color scheme and a sketch already in your mind. Yet, some clients choose to keep these to themselves (perhaps out of embarrassment), and use generic phrases instead like “colorful, fun, energetic, cartoonish, marketable, cool, unique,” and expect the artist to understand what type of color, energy, or cartoon the client would like. There are endless styles of cartoon. There are endless ways to be unique.

Here’s a common situation: a client hires a cover artist and portrays themselves as being open and flexible to whatever the artist creates. “You’re the artist! Have fun with it!” But once the artist spends 3+ hours creating the first draft and presents it to the client, the client then goes, “Well, anything but that.”

This is really frustrating to artists. If you think back to the last time your boss gave you vague instructions to an assignment, and then reprimanded you for not doing the job right, then you can understand exactly how it feels. And in the end, it will hurt your relationship and the cover itself. If you’ve just wasted three hours of the artist’s time and don’t compensate them for that, then you can also expect the cover to not be as wonderful in the end.

Do yourself a favor and find multiple covers you know you like (from the same genre as your book), and send them to your artist. Send them sketches. Send them color schemes. And make sure all of these items go together.


3. Give specific feedback

You’re never going to love the first draft, and artists know that. They’re prepared for you to want changes and tweaks (note that I’m not using the word overhaul). Just make sure to give them specific feedback.

Here are some very typical and real client words I’ve seen: “weird, strange, odd.”

Not only are these hurtful, they are also so incredibly vague. They are not helpful to the artist.

So be very specific in the changes you would like. For example:

– I’d like the cartoon to be more like an emoji style (attach an example).

– I’d like the background to be a brighter blue.

– I’d like the picture to be more retro (attach an example).

– I’d like the font to be larger and more like the one attached.

Artists love when you give them specific examples and feedback like these – it makes them feel like they aren’t wasting their time, and that they’re getting closer to making you happy. No one wants to slave over a project which the client will never appreciate. Give them some hope by offering some direction.


4. Make sure you like specific items in their portfolio

If you hire an artist without checking out their portfolio, that’s another issue. But some clients will check out an artist’s portfolio and really love the way the artist paints portraits, but then hire the artist to do cartoons.

Just because an artist is great at one style doesn’t mean they’re great at all styles. Make sure you can find a specific piece within the portfolio that you can point to and say, “that one, just like that, but with dogs instead of cats.”


5. Set up realistic timelines and expectations

An artist could turn something around very quickly if you didn’t have any revisions, but that isn’t the case. Ask the artist for a realistic ETA that makes room for many revisions, and accept whatever they tell you – do not rush the artist.

If you would like daily updates on their progress, tell them you expect that level of communication from the very beginning. In fact, put it in the contract. It can be very stressful to not hear from an artist for a number of days (especially if you’ve paid them in advance), so go ahead and set up that expectation.



6. Have fun!

Working with an artist doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. If you go in with a fair price, specific design ideas, and a realistic mindset, it can actually be incredibly fun. Working with creative people on something completely unique and custom to your book can be extremely thrilling – and often it’s a once in a lifetime experience. So … enjoy it! Afterall, it isn’t every day you get to design your own book cover.













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