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Interview: Cover Designer Kerrie Knutson

Cover by Kerrie Knutson

Cover by Kerrie Knutson

Cover by Kerrie Knutson

Cover by Kerrie Knutson

As part of our ‘War on Shitty Covers’ series, the Naughty Ninjas interviewed Kerrie Knutson of Alchemy Book Covers. Kerrie produces both paperback and ebook covers for both independent authors and publishers, as well as promotional materials.

Do you have any tips for authors when working with a cover designer?

The first piece of advice I give any prospective client is a general idea about book cover design (especially ebook cover design). A good book cover should do only two things, neither of which is to tell your story. The first thing it should do is give the potential reader a firm idea of the emotional experience they're going to get from reading your book (this speaks to your genre/niche/tone/style). The second thing it should do is be professional and eye-catching enough (especially in thumbnail size) to make the reader stop and click through to your synopsis/blurb (which is where you tell your story). A good designer will not only understand the concepts of design but will be able to create something that is emotionally resonant and represents the soul of your book. In working with a designer, express what you want, but also trust that the designer will tell you when an idea you have won't work. So don't be afraid to communicate, but don't be intractable. By that I mean be open to the fact that a designer has the knowledge and experience to determine what kind of cover will help you connect with the readership you're looking for.

What should authors look for when selecting a cover designer to work with?

Look at a designer's portfolio. Do you like their overall design aesthetic? Have they designed covers for your niche/genre? When you contact them, don't be afraid to ask questions. Are they open to communication? Are they willing to answer questions? Do they conduct themselves in a professional manner? Not every designer, regardless of the quality of their work, is right for every client. And a good personality match is sometimes as important as the actual quality of the work, especially if you're looking for a long-term relationship. Also, make sure your designer is well-versed in licensing and other legal matters. While some amateur designers do lovely work, if they're not running their studio as a business, you can run into problems down the road.

How much should authors spend on cover design?

The cost of cover design varies widely in the independent publishing world. Next to editing, the biggest expense most authors face is cover design. An author on a tight budget can sometimes find a great pre-made cover for $35 to $75, and can sometimes get that cover further customized for an additional fee. If you're going the full custom route, you should expect to pay from $125 to $300 for an ebook cover. Some upper echelon designers charge much more. In short, you can pay anywhere from $35 to $600 for a cover, so an author needs to have a budget and consider what they can afford versus what they want. As a designer who specifically caters to the independent author and ebook market, I try and fill the niche for the average author and have design options starting at $35 and topping out at $200. 

If authors are unhappy with a cover, when and how should they communicate this?

Never be afraid to communicate openly with your designer. I've found some of the best results come when there's close collaboration and alignment between the author's vision and a designer's professional aesthetic. Plus, before you begin, be clear on the designer's policies. Is there a non-refundable deposit? (There should be some amount that is not refundable because it is used to pay for the initial time spent on design.) Is there a standard kill fee? (This pays for the work done up to the point when a client and designer part ways and is some portion of what a full design would have cost.) Again, open communication from the beginning can help to head off problems in the future. As soon as you feel there is a problem or some deficit that is not being addressed, bring it up. In most cases a designer will try and make it right, whether that involves a redesign or a partial refund. Remember, designers want to leave you a happy customer even if you part ways before a cover is made, because everybody wants to avoid a bad reputation.

What are the mistakes you often see in cover design?

The worst covers I see are what I call "patchwork" covers, meaning there are too many disparate elements shoved together on a cover. These usually result from "trying to tell the story," and including too much information. You commonly see two different people lit differently against a background that they don't fit in and a bunch of other elements thrown in. Simpler is better in almost all cases when it comes to cover design. Also, never forget the importance of font. An ugly, inappropriate, amateur or unreadable font can destroy a nice cover, while really elegant font work can elevate a so-so cover. Some things about fonts: NEVER stretch a font, find another font that will fit. Beware of gimmicky treatments like heavy drop shadows, strokes of excessive beveling or crazy styles. Plus, don't use too many disparate fonts; three is the usual absolute limit and one of those should be something bookish for the tagline. Lastly, avoid a cover design that becomes muddy in thumbnail view due to lack of contrast or low-quality art or design. If it doesn't look good small, most potential readers will never see it any larger. 

What's the worst cover you’ve seen for a romance novel?

The worst cover I’ve seen (recently) combined a lot of the mistakes I've mentioned. It was a floating, semi-transparent head superimposed over a dark landscape scene with a necklace overlaid over the whole thing, and the font for the author name was excessively curly, while the title font was stretched to be taller. Eek!

Thank you for your time, Kerry. (Kerry’s extensive cover portfolio can be seen at her site: