As Neil Gaiman says… “Make Art.”
Or in this case, make book covers.
First, some terminology. I’d use the term “book cover artist” to refer to someone who creates the images used in covers. They provide the artwork, the background; maybe they hand-paint or create the image specifically, or maybe they use stock imagery; maybe they digitally create it or maybe they draw and then scan. However you do it, that’s the artist.
The “book cover designer” does the overall book cover: how to position the art, any effects, tweaking colours, but also doing the layout and the fonts, including the spine and blurb.
The cover designer may also be the artist – particularly if they’re an in-house designer, and have their own artistic skillset. But they can also be separate people.
So! This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot through work. We get a couple of emails a month asking about opportunities for artists – some are directed more towards the graphic novels (which is where I send those emails – not my skillset to know what makes a good comic!) but most are asking about book covers.
This is also only my view on it, and only the experience I’ve had. Please feel free to chime in with other experiences and things you’ve found that helped if you’re in publishing or art!
Getting in contact – KISS
Basically, if you’re a cover artist and want to get more work with publishers, what you’re trying to do when you contact me is make it as easy as possible for me to see what your work is like.
The other side of that, though, is that I don’t want to be immediately swamped with images and huge attachments.
So, the ideal contact? KISS (Keep it simple, stupid.) Briefly tell me:
- who you are (your name, and potentially your location if you want to tell us that)
- what you want (to design book covers)
- any relevant information (you already design for X and Y, have art credentials from Z, or do a lot of artwork in a particular genre that you know we publish)
- and provide a link to a portfolio.
That’s it for the email. If you don’t have credentials, don’t worry – just don’t include that. Basically, you’re trying to get me to click on your portfolio link.
Now, the portfolio.
You need one.
Put your art somewhere on the internet. It might be a site that you can only access if you have the specific web address (aka. make it un-crawlable) or it might be on a public site like DeviantArt. It could be your personal page. It could be a Tumblr. However you do it, get your art out there.
Because that is what I’m judging you on.
And it’s not judging as in “are you good enough” – I mean, to some extent it is – but it’s also: are you suitable for what we do? Do you do the kind of art we need? What is your style?
Are you horror? Are you fantasy? Are you intricate, detailed sci-fi? Do you draw beautiful, inspired concept art of imaginary worlds? What do your figures look like? Do you draw nature and landscapes? Is your work more abstract? Do you have a particular city or place that’s an inspiration? What colours do you use? What art styles can you cover? What makes you the artist we need?
Basically – we know roughly what we need for our book covers at any given time. Do you fit what we need for our covers?
And it’s also worth remembering that an immediate “no” isn’t an eternal “no” – I do keep a list of artists that I would like to use, if the right book comes up!
Give me book covers
There are two places where potential book cover artists fall down in their portfolio.
The first is not having much of a portfolio. I can’t necessarily tell what your art is like from a couple of drawings of computer game characters and a tattoo image; yes, you’ve got the skill, but I can’t tell what your work is like. I can’t see your unique style.
The way round this is to create, create, create. Give me examples. Show me what you make. Show me what you draw. Show me your range and depth. I want to see what your art is like, and the best way to do that is to give me as much of it as possible.
And the second place where potential cover artists and designers fall down is that I can’t imagine what their covers would look like.
The solution to this?
For cover artists, this means that you might have to give yourself an imaginary brief. Draw the front cover of your favourite book. Imagine you’d just been asked to make an image for something. How would you approach it? What different options could you have? Be aware that clients will often have ideas, too – so come up with concepts. Show your working. Show your ideas. Show me that if I come to you with a cover brief, you’d be able to adapt.
For cover designers, it’s pretty much the same thing – but because cover designers deal with a much wider scope, it’s a wider scope here too. Come up with multiple options: what fonts could you use? What images? What concepts could you play with? What aspects of the book would you draw out? If it’s a series, could you wind that in somehow? What directions could you go in?
If you want to design book covers, then design them! Pick your favourite. Produce concepts. Produce ideas. Play. Imagine. Give me an idea of what it would be like working with you, and what you could do.
All of this comes together to one thing: I’m looking for someone to create a book cover. Make it as easy as possible for me to pick you.
And a final comment: money & contact
It’s always nice to have an idea of your rates from your portfolio or website, but it’s not vital. You do, however, need an easy way for me to get in contact with you – ideally an email address, or a web contact form. If you don’t have any sort of contact information, or it’s only via a platform that I don’t use (eg. Instagram…) then no matter how good your art is, I’m likely to pass.
Questions? Stick ’em below or poke me on Twitter!
I really want to do something with this concept…
My world’s on fire, how about yours? And no, I definitely don’t like it. I would much rather have boredom. (Earworm brought to you courtesy of Mr David Moore breaking into Smash Mouth at any and every opportunity.)
After the glorious fun that was the political fuckery of December, I had a long think, and then a bit of a thought-splurge on Twitter about what I could actually DO.
My overall conclusion? Be more kind.
(I’m still debating getting that as a tattoo.)
Off my list so far, I’ve subscribed to the Guardian, and also joined the Patreons of Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Uncanny Magazine, Locus and Shoreline of Infinity. (If you’re into podcasts, by the way, I also highly recommend Breaking The Glass Slipper.) I’ve asked at work about payroll giving to donate to The Trussell Trust, Shelter and probably BookTrust (and I already donate to Tommy’s), and I’ve also asked about mental health first aid courses. I’m looking into Arts Emergency too, and the possibility of internships.
What else? I did Christmas cards for the neighbours, and I’m starting to get to know people. I want to do a crafty evening once a month, and get into the habit of buying a foodbank item when I shop. Beyond that, I’ve started to consolidate myself; sort out what I have and where I have it, and get myself onto a firmer footing for the next ten years. It’s going to be rough, so I want to know where I stand before we hit stormier waters.
I also want to be better at being there for people this year; I always do find it hard as an introvert and someone with limited spoons, but I want to make sure I keep up with friends. I know I forgot things, so my calendar is going to get lots of new entries to remind me! I’ve already got a bundle of random cards to send out, and I want to pick up some odd little gifts in the sales that I can just post at random times. Beyond that, I need to make sure I actually keep in touch, too!
Everything else on the list is ongoing… but it feels good to have started it all! If the world’s going to try to make selfishness and hate a priority, then fuck that. I’m going to do my best to be kind.
And as a final thought:
My response, all I really know to do, is to create cool shit that does include all those normally shoved to the margins. To reclaim magic and wonder and share it. I can do that. Some of you can too. Let’s do it. pic.twitter.com/WHXo0ABK6W
— Jen Richards (@SmartAssJen) December 20, 2019
I might not be able to make cool shit at the moment, but I can bloody well enable it. I’ve got the power to choose what I want to publish, and I’m damn well going to enable what I want to see in the world. Diversity, kindness and weirdness are the watchwords of 2020!
I just… don’t know what to say.
If I think of a post, it’s either too complicated and difficult to articulate (politics), too personal (relationships), too sensitive (work), not happening (reading and writing) or just… not interesting.
And I don’t feel I have the attention span to be able to write anything. I can barely cope with a book for more than a couple of pages; trying to settle to write something here just feels like reaching through fog.
I’ve got more energy than I’ve had for a long time; I’m baking, sorting stuff in the house, bouncing around work, able to do more… and then I’m exhausted when I fall into bed, having really weird (and sometimes bad) dreams, and am finding it hard to settle to anything.
But I don’t want to stop, y’know? I managed this all the way through the last five years of depression and personal shit and job changes and the chaos of NaNoWriMo, so surely I should be able to cope now that I’m getting better?
I dunno. I might drop the post frequency down to twice a week, but… this was – is? – something I enjoy doing. I just need to get my ass in gear!
(Although for now, I have cakes to finish off… chocolate with blackberry jam and dark chocolate drizzles! Anyone at work may get lucky, assuming I haven’t eaten them all by 9am.)