Want to be a book cover designer or artist?

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?

Create examples.

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!

Ps. The original cover art for The Goblin Emperor is by Anna & Elena at Balbusso; the UK edition is by James Paul Jones. Both very good examples of portfolio websites!