The Writing Sparrow Episode 28 | Your Team of Pros: Your Cover Designer with Andrew and Rebecca Brown

This week, I had the great pleasure of talking to my cover designers, Andrew and Rebecca Brown from Design for Writers, about all things–you guessed it!–cover design! If you’re a writer who’s unsure about how to find the right designer or if there’s anything you should know before you hire, this is the chat for you. It’s also a great listen if you’re just curious about what exactly cover designers do and how they work their magic.

You can find out more about Andrew and Rebecca and get in touch via their Twitter and their website.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[intro]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer and this podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started. 

[music]

Sarina: Welcome back, friends and sparrows. This is the 22nd of March. It’s Episode 28, and this is the final installment in this mini-series where I talk to my professional team of my editor, cartographer, and cover designer. Today, I’m talking to Andrew and Rebecca Brown from Design for Writers. They have been my cover designers, while since 2016, probably even started in 2015, come to think of it. We’ve been working together on every single one of my beautiful covers. [00:01:00] If you haven’t seen them, please do, because they are stunning, and while you’re there, maybe buy the book, I don’t know [chuckles]. Yeah, welcome, Andrew and Rebecca. 

Rebecca: Hello.

Andrew: Hello. Thank you for having us.

Sarina: Yeah, my pleasure. I really appreciate you being here because I know podcasts are terrifying. 

Andrew: Yeah. 

Sarina: I don’t know if you’ve listened to my first ever episode, but it was incredibly awkward. [chuckles] What made it more awkward also was that my partner was sitting in the corner, so I wasn’t-

Andrew: [chuckles] 

Sarina: -even just by myself and I knew he was silently judging me when I did the thing of, “please subscribe” and all that.

Andrew: [chuckles] 

Rebecca: He wasn’t holding up scorecards, was he?

Sarina: No, he said he was ignoring me, but you know, he was listening. 

Andrew: He’s not there now in the corner too, is he? 

Sarina: No, he’s working downstairs. To be fair, I have no way of knowing if he’s just outside the room. I don’t think he is.

[laughter] 

Sarina: It won’t be anywhere near as awkward as that, I hope. [laughs] 

Andrew: Thank you.

Sarina: Where do I have my [00:02:00] questions? It’s just sad that my Word has died on me, so thank God I’ve written things down so I can refer to it on paper. Yeah, technology, eh?

Andrew: Absolutely. Yeah. 

Sarina: Well, as I have just said, you have been my cover designers for quite a long time now. You’ve done all of my covers. Some of them have been a little bit harder than others. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: [crosstalk] -bloodbath. [laughs] To start with, how long have you been in this business of creating book covers and what has attracted you to working with authors in the first place?

Rebecca: We were just saying this morning, we’re about to hit our 10-year anniversary. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: Oh, wow.

Andrew: April, it’ll be full 10 years, April of 16th. Before that, it was another couple of years where it was a bit of a side hustle. So, keeping the day job going and then working nights, early mornings on skills and trying to get contacts and things. [00:03:00] Probably 12 years altogether, but next month, it’ll be a decade of full time of business. 

Rebecca: Full time [crosstalk], yeah. 

Sarina: Wow. That’s a big anniversary. 

Andrew: We were probably working with you [crosstalk] for half of that time.

Sarina: Yeah, actually. [crosstalk] That’s weird to think about.

Andrew: Yeah. What got us into it is really– it started off originally as just general design. Design for anyone who wanted a design done but we really wanted to focus on something and we both love books. 

Rebecca: Yeah. 

Andrew: Not just reading the books, but the whole experience and book culture. 

Rebecca: Yeah, my [unintelligible [00:03:42] is full of books. 

Andrew: Yeah. 

Rebecca: My [unintelligible [00:03:41] is actually covered in books.

Andrew: [chuckles] 

Sarina: Oh, yay. I need one like that. I’m surprised I haven’t got one already.

Andrew: That’s always been something sort of we just decided we’d focus on that, and we knew some people.

Rebecca: Yeah, through Twitter actually-

Andrew: Through Twitter.

Rebecca: -because I was doing a lot of writing at the time. [00:04:00] So, I had lots of writer friends, and a couple of them needed their book covers doing. So, I said, “Oh, well” as it happens.

Andrew: Yeah. We were starting a business and it kind of– went for it accidentally at first, but then also based on just something that we love, and it was a really, really good natural fit, wasn’t it?

Rebecca: Yeah, one of our very first clients was doing a really successful blog at the time on Self-Publishing’s Catherine Ryan Howard. 

Sarina: Oh, yeah. 

Rebecca: She [crosstalk] Catherine, Caffeinated blog, which seemed to be a really big hit among self-publisher at the time. Then, she did a book on self-publishing and then a second book of self-publishing.

Andrew: Well, prior to that, actually she did a book called Mousetrapped

Rebecca: Mousetrapped

Andrew: -about her experience working in Disneyland. I think in around 2010, that was one of our first ever project.

Rebecca: It was because our daughter was born in April 2010. One of the her first pictures still in the hospital had the Mousetrapped book cover in the crib. 

Andrew: Really?

Rebecca: Yeah. [crosstalk] -was out in the world. Yes, [00:05:00] so April 2010. Yeah.

Sarina: Wow, that was a big month for you, wasn’t it?

[chuckles] 

Sarina: Birth of your business and birth of your daughter, new pressure.

Andrew: It’s goodbecause working with authors means we’re always working on something with people where the design means something meaningful to them, like yourself. It’s not just another ticky box corporate design exercise. It’s working directly with people or via the publishers on things that are really meaningful to somebody and the whole project then takes on– [crosstalk] 

Rebecca: Yeah, it’s their baby, isn’t it? 

Andrew: Yeah. 

Rebecca: You want to do well, because you put so much work into it.

Andrew: Yeah. It’s always important to remember that as well when you’re working on a book design or web design for someone, but this is something that someone’s put possibly years of their lives into getting right.

Rebecca: Blood, sweat, and tears. 

Andrew: Yeah. That’s how we came to work with authors.

Sarina: All right. Did you do the cover for [00:06:00] Catherine Ryan Howard’s book, Self-Printed?

Andrew: Yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Sarina: That may be how I’ve found you.

Andrew: Actually, she’s got us in there. She mentions us in the book.

Sarina: Yeah, because I borrowed the book from a library at the time, and then I ended up liking it so much that I bought my own copy. 

Andrew: That one?

Sarina: Yeah, that’s the one. But when then the time came for me to find a cover designer, I possibly looked in there and had a look at who she had hired, and that’s possibly how I came across you. 

Andrew: Catherine’s gone on to massive success. She is published in America and all around the world now.

Rebecca: [crosstalk] 

Sarina: I think she’s now also branched out into thrillers, is it, I think?

Andrew: Yeah, crime, uh-huh.

Sarina: Now that she’s a big-name author, do you still do her covers? Do you also–?

Andrew: No. It’s one of those where the publisher she signed with, they-

Rebecca: -have their own in-house team. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: Yeah, because I was wondering if you design covers exclusively for indie authors, or if you also work with [00:07:00] some traditionally published authors.

Andrew: No. [crosstalk] Both, yeah. 

Rebecca: We’ve done a couple of publishers. 

Andrew: We’ve done direct with the publisher. Sometimes, there’s been a couple where people have gone to a publisher, and they’ve allowed the authors still to use us. Then we work with lots of smaller publishing houses where we’re the-

Rebecca: White label. 

Andrew: -like a white-label third-party designer.

Rebecca: If they’re too small to have their own in-house team, they branch out to us.

Andrew: Yeah. It’s kind of a mix, really. I would say probably three quarters of our work is direct with the author, and the other quarter via the publisher, usually a small publisher.

Sarina: All right. Well, I know from personal experience that you are very approachable, so I’ve never thought that you were too big for me to contact or anything.

Andrew: Oh God, no.

Sarina: What really sold me way back when first on emailing you, I think [00:08:00] was possibly your “About Me” page where I think you both had portraits of yourselves, and you talked some about your experience and then you had some testimonials in there. I was thinking I really liked them, I hope they want to work with me. Well, it was my first book, I always had this idea of what if they just say, “Well, you’re too small, we don’t want to work with you.” In fact, one of the cartographers I emailed just never got back to me. 

Andrew: Oh, no.

Rebecca: [crosstalk] 

Sarina: Yeah, well, I ended up with a really good one, so loss on them. 

Andrew: Oh, it worked out well. Their loss. 

Sarina: Yes, it was fine. That’s always been really nice for me, I think. You’ve always been very easy to work with.

Andrew: Thank you. Yourself as well, obviously. When we were setting up the website, it’s hard because we’ve– for a long, long time, we didn’t even have our own website. We’d like the back and forth with people initially, so you’re getting a feel for who the person is before anything is [00:09:00] signed up. But then, also you want a website so that people can get more of an idea about you and who you are. So, it’s hard trying to get a balance, isn’t it, between your whole automated side on the website, and also having a little bit of dialogue with people.

Rebecca: We wanted to get the balance between being professional and being friendly and approachable. 

Andrew: Yeah. Gosh, exactly that.

[chuckles] 

Sarina: Well, I think you’re certainly doing that. With your 10-year anniversary coming up– well, 12 years, really, you must have designed an awful lot of book covers. At a rough guess, do you know roughly how many you would have done in that time?

Andrew: Oh my God. We don’t know for certain because we haven’t got like a tally. It’s definitely more than 1000. 

Rebecca: I think it’s closer to 2000.

Sarina: Wow.

Andrew: In the region of 2000 copies, and you can double that because most jobs that we do, we do a couple [00:10:00] of concepts at least, so probably double that for the number of actual concepts we’ve done, but probably around 2000 books, a few hundred layouts.

Rebecca: Formatting because that’s only quite a recent development. [crosstalk] 

Andrew: Yeah, we only added that a few years ago. Probably a couple of 100 websites over the years, but we’ve done quite a few now.

Sarina: You have branched out quite a lot in recent years as well, so you’re not doing just the book cover design. You say that like it’s a small thing, it’s not. You also do website design and some formatting and general design things as well. Like I know, you’ve done my massive banner that I took with me to the Brighton Book Bash some years ago.

Andrew: Yeah. The banners are really popular actually. Well, not so much now in lockdown, but prior to that, lots of authors were after it, it was a really good way of promoting yourself. We do all kinds of print, bookmarks, business cards, big banners-

Rebecca: Postcards.

Andrew: -postcards, basically anything that you can print on, we can do. [00:11:00] Yeah, it’s predominantly, I would say, 50%, 60% book covers, and then probably the rest is evenly spread.

Sarina: It’s quite a good variety for you. I imagine, just with the nature of the business, no two days are ever really exactly the same because obviously every author wants something different.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. At any one time, we probably have around 30-ish projects on the go. There’ll be different stages from sort of just signed up to the whole signup process. We’ll be working on different aspects of different covers most days, or different whatever it is that we’re doing. Yes, just give a good lot of variety because we don’t just focus on one genre. We do-

Rebecca: Yeah.

Andrew: -at the minute we’re working on crime, [00:12:00] children’s, few thrillers. Historical fiction, we’ve got a few of those at the moment.

Rebecca: Yeah, World War II saga.

Andrew: Yeah, World War II saga. Brilliant children’s fiction series about aliens playing football against children.

Sarina: That sounds fun. Where were all the alien books when I was a child?

[laughter] 

Andrew: So yeah, there’s quite a lot of variety in there.

Rebecca: A lot of variety, yeah. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: You really are designers for every author, basically. 

Andrew: Hopefully, yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah. We have a good handle now on what works for different genres. 

Andrew: Yeah, and we do– [crosstalk] for every single client, we start with a complete blank page and try and bring as far as possible, no preconceptions to it other than your own experience and things about what works and doesn’t, so that each author that you’re hopefully not giving the same cover with a bit of variety every time we’re doing something different based on whatever comes [00:13:00] up in the brief.

Sarina: Yeah. Every author, of course, also wants different things. 

Andrew: Absolutely. 

Rebecca: Yeah.

Sarina: The other lady I talked to this morning, Rachel Grosvenor, who’s a writing coach, we talked about a trend that we have recently noticed in romantic, in romance books, where a lot of covers seem to have half naked men on them. Which doesn’t really work for us, but then it’s not really our genre, but there seem to be a lot of those.

Andrew: It’s strange actually because when we’ve done romance, most people say, “Do not put a naked man on the front or half-naked.” Most of the authors that work with us on that, will specifically say- 

Sarina: Thank you.

Andrew: “I don’t want that.” 

[chuckles] 

Sarina: Thank you. You know from my briefs that I will normally always say please don’t put people on there because I’m not a fan.

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: Ironically, with Blood Wisp,we did kind of have faces on them, didn’t we? 

Andrew: Yeah. [00:14:00]

Sarina: People still haven’t seen them because you did them about two years ago, and I still haven’t published them.

Andrew: That seems like such a long time ago since that was on there. 

Sarina: Doesn’t it? 

Andrew: Yeah. 

Sarina: When I talk about how long I’ve had these covers, I always think, “Yeah, is it really been two years?” I have not published them yet, what’s wrong with me? 

Andrew: [chuckles]

Sarina: I think I’m probably struggling through editing and rewriting them about as much as you struggled with doing the third cover.

Andrew: Oh, yeah, that cover was a good one. 

Rebecca: Interesting. It was an interesting cover–

[chuckles] 

Andrew: It worked out in the end.

Sarina: It did. I’m sad that people still haven’t seen it because it’s so beautiful. Eventually, I’m getting there. I’m hoping to maybe finally have the first book out by the end of this year. They’ve not been easy to do. This is my fault for thinking that I could do a novella trilogy, which has since fused into the first book of a novel trilogy. So, it’s been a whole nightmare, to be honest. 

Andrew: There are too many ideas, that’s the problem. 

Sarina: Yeah. I could talk about why [00:15:00] not to do it this way for a long time, but I won’t. Okay, talk us through how this whole process works from your end and also for the author, the things that you consider, important things to know, before you start, etc.

Andrew: Do you want to start? Or me–?

Rebecca: Okay. Someone gets in touch, we book them in. At the minute, we have a mega long waiting list, which is a lovely position to be in, but we do have to sort of say– I keep saying on our social media like, “Get in touch sooner,” because we do quite a lot of work–[crosstalk]

Andrew: We can’t take any bookings now prior to June. We can’t take it if it’s got so late, if it’s expedited in somewhere, but ideally, no plans bookings prior to June now.

Rebecca: Like a hint to authors, you don’t have to have your book finished before you look for cover design. If you know that you want to be publishing in August, then get in touch and book your slot for July.

Andrew: Or, start even [00:16:00] just contacting potential designers. 

Rebecca: Yeah, because we won’t be the only ones in demand, so shop around, see who you like, and make sure you get your slot booked. Anyway, that was beside the point. People get in touch, they get booked up, and we start up a briefing. We have a briefing questionnaire, which we’ve worked on for quite a long time, I think, since day one actually.

Andrew: Yes, it’s kind of been tweaked on in the way, hasn’t it?

Rebecca: Yeah, but because, as much as we would love to, we can’t read every single book that comes to us. We really would love to. We have to use our questionnaire to get a really good insight into the book, and there’s been quite a few people over the years have said that it’s actually made them think of things that they wouldn’t have thought of before.

Andrew: How did you find the brief honestly, Sarina? Unless you think it’s awful, then don’t say it.

Rebecca: Don’t be– [crosstalk]

Sarina: No, I really liked it. As you’ve just said that some authors have [00:17:00] got back to you and told you that it’s made them think about the book in different ways, I’ve certainly had that. With my first book, as any author can probably tell you, you make a lot of mistakes, obviously. When I then went over the brief, and you asked me things like, “Are there any important objects in there?” Or, “Is there like a dominant season?” I was like, “Should I know these things?” [chuckles] 

For me, it was quite interesting on that, because it did make me think about my book in different ways, certainly. But I also think that it’s actually really quite an easy brief to answer. I think one question that any new writer is going to struggle with, is this comparison. If you saw your book on Amazon, what– [crosstalk] 

Rebecca: Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: -authors you might compare to. Because, on the one hand, you obviously want to give good answers to that. On the other hand, I think some of my books in some way, are similar to Sarah J. Maas books, [00:18:00] in some respects. She’s such a big author for that, for me, putting that down feels so weird. I can’t believe I’ve just compared myself to this massive author, but they asked.

Andrew: There’s no reason you have to do that. [crosstalk] If you’re writing a book and you’re wanting to sell, which is probably why you’re getting a cover design done, then you do hope that your book is one day going to be in a position with those books, and therefore you want it to look good alongside those books. To start with that, we’re going to go and copy that off the style, but it helps us to identify where you want your book to sit in the market, and therefore– 

Sarina: Yeah. [crosstalk] identify the kind of style as well that the author might like.

Andrew: Yeah, because one thing that I think, especially indie authors definitely shouldn’t do, is try and reinvent the wheel and think, either, A, I’ve got a whole new genre that’s never come up before. 

Rebecca: Which you probably don’t.

Andrew: Or, B, I want to redefine how the genre looks, you can do that, and we can do it for you, but it’s going to give you [00:19:00] a lot of trouble along the line because really, you don’t have a massive HarperCollins budget. You want to press the buttons in potential readers, so that they get what they think they’re going to get from your book. This is quite a topic for writers, but genre design generally works if you’re starting from a standing start, and you want to make as much impact as possible and get the biggest bang for your buck.

Sarina: Yeah. I think to consider there also is that readers tend to have certain expectations of what books in various genres look like. 

Andrew: Exactly. 

Sarina: So, to come back to those romance books with so many half naked people on them, I think that’s probably something that readers expect so they can look at the cover and instantly know that it’s a romance book or probably more likely an erotic novel. 

Rebecca: Yeah.

Sarina: They want a cover like that, but if that’s what they’re looking for, it instantly helps them identify that. Knowing your genre ultimately really helps you attract readers in that genre because [00:20:00] they will expect to see various things. Likewise, there are things that they probably wouldn’t expect to see.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely.

Rebecca: Yeah. It helps you align yourself even within the genre. So, you’ve got a contemporary YA novel, or you could go John Green style, not that you think that you’re John Green, but that’s a very separate kind of way a novel compared to something like Harry Potter or Rick Riordan, or something like that. Even within the genre, having those similar authors that you would like-

Andrew: To align yourself with.

Rebecca: -those readers to– If you like this, then you will like me sort of thing, that helps you pick something up. Then if you do that, if you go John Green’s style, and then your books are full of teenage romance– readers of teenage supernatural romance, I should say, your reader is not going to be disappointed. It is worth considering that it’s not that you suddenly think that you are [00:21:00] John Green, or that we’re going to think that. It just helps us pitch you. 

Andrew: Yeah, definitely.

Sarina: Alternately, your book cover is the first impression that you’re going to make on a potential reader. So, you don’t want to mislead them at that point and make them think that your book is some other genre. Actually, my example of Sarah J. Maas was actually a terrible one, because while I feel like our writing styles are similar in some respects, she has people on the cover, so please ignore that. Please don’t start putting people on the cover.

[laughter] 

Sarina: From a design point of view, that was a terrible example. [laughs] 

Andrew: I guess, if the big publishers are designing genre books in a certain way, then absolutely we can design yours different, and that’s one of the good things about being an indie author, you get to call the shots. We probably advise you don’t, but if you want to, fair enough, but there’s a reason why genre covers look as they do, [00:22:00] and it’s because generally they work.

Sarina: Yeah. I don’t know, maybe many writers end up thinking that the book doesn’t really fit into any one genre because chances are there is lots of crossover in the book. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: For example, with my first book, Rise of the Sparrows, it’s an epic fantasy, of course, but there are also some– well, apparently, some horror elements, because for some reason, it’s been ranking on Amazon under dark fiction horror, which I can’t explain. I’m confused about that, but thank you. There are some mystery elements in there of “Ooh, what’s going to happen? What’s going on with this?” There are some slight romance parts in there as well, with the slow burn romance that I’ve got going through them, but predominantly, they are epic fantasy. The chances are there is one genre that will be stronger in your book than any others.

Andrew: Yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah. I think a good book probably does have [00:23:00] some different elements brought in, because that makes it richer and more complex, but it will still be identifiable to the reader. Like even the ones that don’t feel quite so much, they’re literary fiction, they still have a certain feel that you’re going for, a certain reader you’re going for.

Andrew: The main things we would look for, and when we’re reading the brief, we haven’t come up how many questions. This maybe is 15, 20 questions in there.

Rebecca: Something like that. 

Andrew: Not all of them might be relevant, but the idea is different questions that hopefully, by the answers we do get, we’ll be able to draw out the key things we need to know which are, where should the book sit in the market? What tone does the book have? Really important, what we always say, is what feelings do you want to evoke in your potential readers, because a cover is much more about feeling than details and things like that. If you can get that, then you probably well on the way of doing that. [00:24:00]

Sarina: Yeah, that’s very well put. What did you love the most about this business?

Andrew: You or me? Both? Who’s going first?

Rebecca: [laughs] I love seeing people on Twitter. The authors when they’ve got the new cover done, and hopefully their book formatting too and they have their big release day on Twitter and they’re like, “I’m really excited to show you my new book cover,” and everything. I love that moment.

Andrew: Yeah. When you get the email back or the comment back, and the clients really liked the cover, that probably is the best moment. Or, when actually doing the design and you know that the design has come together because you’ve done the research and you’ve developed the ideas, when you feel like coming together, that’s really good, but ultimately, it’s when the client– 

Rebecca: “Oh my God, I love these so much, I can’t choose between them.” 

Andrew: Yeah. 

Sarina: When I’ve been in that position, [00:25:00] I’ve asked my critique partners to help me and say, “Which one do you prefer because I can’t choose?”

Andrew: Also, just the other side of it, you’ll probably find this as well, but having the freedom during this sort of job, meaning you can do your hours at work and we can be there for the kids in lockdown and being able to help with schooling and things like that, which is a big privilege, because a lot of people haven’t been able to do that.

Rebecca: Yeah. When our kids were growing up, we could go to all their activity plays, and school fairs and things, and so many parents don’t get that chance. [crosstalk] 

Andrew: I think a lot of indie authors, or people like yourself who work with indie authors well with what you do, the editing, it’s good to have that freedom so that the business is very much part of life, so you never can leave it behind and shut the door but also– Well, it feels like I have a third child in lots of ways, doesn’t it?

Rebecca: Yeah.

Sarina: No, that does make sense. [00:26:00] For me, seeing my covers for the first time is such a big moment, it’s easily my favorite thing. It beats seeing my map for the first time, for example, or definitely beats seeing how many suggestions my editor has made and how many cuts she’s made. Because I think when you see your book cover for the first time, it helps make it real in a way that other things don’t because you’ve got your name on there and you’ve got the title, obviously. I think to just see your name with the book title on an actual book cover- 

Andrew: Yeah, it all becomes very real.

Sarina: – is just such a big moment for me every time. My favorite thing.

Andrew: We actually– Have you got your cartographer? Because we often get people asking for someone to do maps, I’m not sure if you’ve got yours to recommend. 

Sarina: Oh, [unintelligible [00:26:48].

Andrew: You can pass that along.

Sarina: It’s Glynn Seal. His business is MonkeyBlood Design. I’ll send you the link. 

Andrew: Yeah. 

Sarina: [00:27:00] Just this coming Monday now, I’ve done an interview with him that will go live then about cartography and what goes into creating a map for authors. 

Andrew: Oh [crosstalk] looking forward to that one.

Sarina: I’ll send you the name. 

Andrew: Yeah, because we actually get people asking for that, don’t we?

Rebecca: Yeah. 

Sarina: I can see people ask you potentially for quite a lot of various referrals because, obviously, you do have an awful lot of clients at this point, which is a nice problem to have. You clearly have a lot of jobs on at the same time, which is amazing. I can see that a lot of them, I’d ask if you know an editor or if you know a cover designer– Well, not a cover designer, but– 

Andrew: Throw us in though if anyone asks that.

[laughter] 

Sarina: Instant no if you know a good cartographer or– [crosstalk] 

Andrew: Actually, we should put something out on the website, shouldn’t we with people that we trust? Yeah.

Rebecca: [crosstalk] -make a note of that. 

Sarina: Just like that, it’s forever evolving. [laughs] [00:28:00] Do you have any tips for writers who are looking for the right cover designer for them? Maybe writers looking to change designer or looking for the first time? Is there anything we should know before we choose? Because with cover designers, maybe more than any other professional, there’s an awful lot of choice out there.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I think I would try and see if you can build-

Sarina: A relationship.

Andrew: -relationship, if it’s someone you feel comfortable working with. Ideally, not just for this cover, but someone you feel you can build a relationship long term. Obviously, look on the website, work through their portfolio, check out testimonials.

Rebecca: Do you trust that they know what they’re talking about?  They’re probably going to give you advice on what’s a good cover. So, do you trust that they’re giving you good advice? I think that would be–

Andrew: Also, what do you want from a designer? Do you want someone who is basically going to move pixels around at your direction? Which is fine, if that’s what you’re looking for? Or, do you want someone who [00:29:00] can bring something to the table and you’re kind of– your own mini business and as an author, and someone who can bring something to the table and advise you, and ultimately, you’re always going to make the decisions. But hopefully, if you get an editor, such as yourself, or a cover designer, whatever, you want some advice from them. That’s why you spend the money rather than just saying put this bit here and this font, and things like that. What are you looking for in your designer, is something to consider. Make sure they’ll answer questions. I think that they’re often–because that’s like a signal for what’s going to come down the line because it’s very much a collaborative process, isn’t it? 

Rebecca: Yeah. 

Andrew: Hopefully, we know what we’re doing about the design, you know your book, and somewhere in the middle of there, is the right answer for what your book cover should be. [00:30:00] If they’re not really open to that in the beginning, then maybe it’s not going to be a great collaborative process further down the line, do you think? 

Rebecca: Yeah, as long as you don’t take up the other way and start saying, “I am going to have this very specific symbol on there, and I will not budge.” 

Andrew: Which we can do. 

Rebecca: Or, this very specific scene. Well, not always.

Andrew: Yeah. Actually, something important is to realize that you don’t have the ability to have a photographic scene of a man riding a donkey, with these clothes on– you know what I mean, because you can’t set up that photography but also, that wouldn’t necessarily make a great cover anyway because like you said, the cover is about evoking a feeling so that the key elements, however complex the scene you have in your head that you might want on the cover, for example, there’ll be key elements in there that we can take out and make sure that your cover evokes what it is you’re wanting to evoke without having to get the level of detail that isn’t really possible, [00:31:00] with imagery that’s available at a decent budget. 

Rebecca: Yeah. 

Andrew: What else is important to look out for? Make sure you can trust them, which I guess comes from the conversation. 

Rebecca: Yeah. I would look at their portfolio, and I don’t know I’ll get hung up on– I’m doing historical, so this person has to have 10 million solely historical covers on books. Have they got a good grasp of what makes a good cover? So, I don’t [unintelligible [00:31:32] too focused on genre book. 

Andrew: Good designers, good design, basically.

Rebecca: Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to get at. 

Andrew: Yeah. As long as there are some examples that that designer–

Rebecca: Sympathetic to a genre.

Andrew: Yeah, and can turn the [unintelligible [00:31:45] to that, and have a conversation with them and have a conversation with whoever else you’ve narrowed your options down to, and then choose design for writers probably. 

Rebecca: Yeah.

Sarina: I think with something like a book cover, [00:32:00] really, your portfolio speaks for itself. If you as an author, find a website off of a cover designer, and there are no examples on there of previous work, then that’s probably already a red flag right away to begin with, because why wouldn’t you want to showcase what you’ve already done? Equally, if there are examples on there, but you don’t like any of them, then equally, maybe you should keep looking.

Andrew: Yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah. That’s one of the questions in our briefing, and what do you consider to be good design, bad design, not because we want everyone to turn up with an example of bad design to be in a picture with Comic Sans on, but because design is subjective, so it could be a really good design, but you personally don’t like it.

Andrew: Which is a good way that leads into a conversation for us saying, “Okay, why is it that you don’t like this?” Then from that, we can make sure that the designs we put forward, although this still needs to be relevant to the genre and to the market, because [00:33:00] the author doesn’t like this particular style, we can make sure that we avoid that or steer away from it. Or, sometimes actually, they say that, and then we explain why that might work. 

Rebecca: Oh, they do come around. 

Andrew: They thought, “Yeah, okay, that’s probably what’s needed.” 

Rebecca: I think that’s why it’s good to have a range, like not just all historical or not just all the way on your portfolio, because you have to show that you can make a good design that fits that author. If you have a proper range of styles, then there will be something on there that as an author, you’re going to warm up to.

Andrew: Yeah, because no one’s going to like all designs. 

Rebecca: Exactly. Yeah. I think we’ve got quite a few on our website, and no one’s going to like all of them, as Andrew just said, but hopefully you’ll see from the range that’s there, that there might be something that you think, “Yeah, I can where that’s going on.” “Yeah, I like that one, even if it doesn’t work for me personally.”

Andrew: For us, when people get in touch, the main thing that I’m always looking for, it’s just that there’s a chance that this is [00:34:00] going to be a respectful engagement. If someone comes on saying– Oh, you kind of learn signals. If someone comes on without a very nice attitude in their emails, it is a bit of a red flag that might not work out so well. It’s rare. It’s very rare. Most people are lovely. That’s what you want. You don’t want to go to work and be dealing with people who have got no respect either way. You want to have a nice experience together, hopefully build up a relationship. Like when we see you on Twitter, and we engage on Twitter on different things, or the same with other clients, hopefully it feels more like a friendship where we do covers for you than just some sort of transactional thing.

Rebecca: We really want your book to work. We love seeing– when we get the book club daily emailthing, I get actually thrilled when I see one of our covers on that because it means that the author is getting some really good reviews and they’re really getting out there. We really love [00:35:00] seeing our authors get success and get awards and all this. Yeah, we really, really want your book to work, probably as nearly as much as do. 

Andrew: And so do the kids, they love it when they see one of our book covers.

Sarina: Oh, there you go. I agree that that personal relationship makes such a big difference. You don’t feel any more so much like you’re just talking to someone you don’t know, rather you’re just discussing your next big project with a friend who really wants you to succeed. 

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. 

Sarina: Which is so lovely. 

Rebecca: I think– [crosstalk] I think if you’re doing the traditional publishing route, you’re quite a few steps remote from the design team. So, that is one big benefit of doing it this way. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: I certainly feel as the author like I have that extra level of control over what my cover looks like. I know that I’m involved in pretty much every step of the process with you, which is lovely. I know I’m not going to publish a book and hate the cover, but I don’t get a say in it. [00:36:00] You’re very open to feedback and really making it something that we both really love, which is so important.

Andrew: Then within that process, sometimes there will be differences of opinion on how it should go but, always hopefully, a respectful one, and that’s an important part of the dialogue as well. Then, from that, as long as the client is open to us and this is what we think and why we think it, then it’s totally down to the client then to decide, “Yeah, I agree with that,” or, “No, I still want to go this way,” in which case, we can have a set direction, which narrows down the options and helps us get to the right design for you either way.

Sarina: All right. We had one question come through on Twitter as well. From author, [unintelligible [00:36:47] RhianWilliamsAuthor on Instagram, that’s a username. How do I figure out what to put on the cover? I feel like that’s going to be an easy one for you to answer. [00:37:00]

Andrew: Does that mean if she is approaching a cover designer do you think or if she’s putting together her own cover?

Sarina: Well, I think previously, she hasn’t worked so much with the cover designer to the same degree that I have. So, I don’t think that’s been the kind of level of briefing or anything like that. I don’t think she’s used to the attention that I had with you.

Andrew: Okay. Well, probably the most important thing is I keep it simple. If you’re going to try out a cover foryourself and you’re looking to make that decision on what to [unintelligible [00:37:30] keep it simple. Don’t try and mess around with complicated font combinations and things. Go for classic fonts and then you’re not going to go too far along. Make sure that whatever fonts, images you’ve chosen work within the genre. 

Rebecca: Don’t get hung up on having to [00:38:00] have a very specific person on the front. 

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. 

Rebecca: Try and think of something that sums up your book or sums up a key part of your book or theme, but not scene number six from chapter five, line four.

Andrew: If think of your cover as a 100-foot view of the book or someone’s across– may be 100 feet is a bit far actually, I can’t see that far. If someone’s across the bookstore and something just catches their eye quickly, or someone is scrolling through quickly down Amazon, scroll, scroll, scroll, and something catches your eye, trying something simple in impact– which doesn’t mean you can’t have other things on this, when people get closer, then make them see more. Just keep it simple. Don’t try and be too clever with it, really.

Rebecca: Yeah. A lot of our crime and thriller books or Rebecca Bradley’s books, it’s like a snapshot [00:39:00] of not even an exact scene in the book– There was one of them where it was about children being kidnapped, so we had a snapshot of some children’s feet in a dark cellar, and that wasn’t an exact thing in her book, but it did kind of give you a feel straight away “Okay, so this is dark. This is about children.”

Andrew: Or Griff.

Rebecca: Yeah, Griff Hosker.

Andrew: Who’s a historical fiction writer. 

Rebecca: He’s [unintelligible [00:39:25] some millions now.

Andrew: Literally millions now, with our covers on our site. He’s been really successful. He’s got a great wide audience, and his are very much– they just place the book in its time.

Rebecca: Yeah, so he’s got a few different historical periods, so we make sure we get a figure that sums up that period and some real classic [crosstalk] typography and all of his readers know exactly what they’re going to get and what the cover is going to be. If you’re going to decide what’s on your cover, [00:40:00] whether it’s doing it yourself or getting someone to do it, I think enough to sort of think about what are the two or three things or even just one thing that you want your reader to take away? There’s a genre and YA fantasy of magic academies, and you get a girl standing on the front just posing with a ball of fire and a hand. It really doesn’t matter the exact story on those covers, you know what you’re going to get, because there’s a girl standing in a uniform with a ball of fire in her hand, and cover after, cover after, cover after. Theme from that book, it’s magic, and that’s what you put on the cover. We’ve got historical romance [unintelligible [00:40:44] the minute[?] series, and you want the couple in there, not necessarily with heads, and definitely not with shirts off. 

Sarina: [laughs] 

Rebecca: There’s a couple on there in historical dressing, boom, it’s historical romance.

Andrew: Yeah. [00:41:00] Just get a good image. Make sure you’ve got some good, classic fonts on which work for your genre. 

Rebecca: Make sure everything that you use is licensed. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Rebecca: Don’t go looking on Google for an image and then just pick it and think that’s fine, because it’ll come back to bite you. It’s not fair use.

Sarina: The only thing I would add to that is that if you do hire a cover designer, you as the author, don’t have to figure out what to put on the cover. 

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. 

Sarina: Obviously, when I work with you, I get a briefing, and I fill everything and I give you all the info, and then you take away from that what you will, and then you decide what to put on there. Unless I already have a very clear idea of what I want on there, like, with Rise of the Sparrows, I knew there was the sword, I thought maybe we can put that on there. But ultimately, I also didn’t really know what I was doing. I give you the info that I can and then you [00:42:00] as the cover designer figure it out for me in a way. So, that takes a lot of the pressure off me.

Andrew: That again comes back to what it is that each individual client is looking for in their design. Do they want a solid relationship like you have? Or, do they want to sit– if they’ve got a very solid idea that they want us to translate, so yeah.

Rebecca: Like I said earlier, we can’t read every book, but we’re way more than happy to spend time, like having a bit of back and forth saying, “Okay, so give us 10 scenes that you love, and what you love about them and then we’ll just tease it out.” That’s fine. If you do know exactly what you want, that’s great. If you don’t know what you want, then we’ll tease it out with you. 

Sarina: I’ve given you info on books where I needed covers where I personally had no idea at all what I wanted with them. You somehow still managed to put together something very beautiful. I think that was the way with Darkened Light and Brightened Shadows where I started the brief and said, “Look, I have no idea what I want. I don’t know what I’m doing. [00:43:00] Please tell me.” [laughs] 

Andrew: Those ones, they came together and then we struggled a little bit as we went on to the second one and then doing that, kind of redefined what it was you wanted done and went back over again, but the answer is always there, it’s all– [crosstalk] 

Rebecca: You just need to know where to look.

Andrew: You just need to know where to look. 

Sarina: Yeah. There, I hope that’s answered the question.

[chuckles] 

Rebecca: You can always email us and we’ll answer it for you.

Sarina: Yeah, exactly. I think you’re all very helpful with that, I know you are. I know you wouldn’t just ignore the email of someone [unintelligible [00:43:37]. Yeah, so I think that’s a good place to end the interview on. Thank you very much. 

Andrew: Thank you.

Rebecca: Thank you.

Sarina: I hope that’s clarified the process for all writers looking to hire a cover designer in the future.

Andrew: Thank you very much for having us, Sarina.

Sarina: My pleasure. Thank you so much. Bye-bye, everyone. Have a great day. [00:44:00] 

Rebecca: Bye. 

Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learned something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @Sarina_Langer, at Instagram and Facebook @SarinaLangerWriter. And of course, on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.


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