As part of our ‘War on Shitty Covers’ series, the Naughty Ninjas interviewed Willsin Rowe, Australian author, musician and graphic designer.
Do you have any tips for authors when working with a cover designer?
Having clear ideas is a great way to enter into the working relationship...as is the willingness to change them! I know that as an author, I can get so attached to a story that I develop tunnel vision. Sometimes it takes an external point of view to find a visual version of that story. And further to that, I always think that “feel” should trump “facts” in a cover art debate. Your cover is a visual blurb. It’s a moment in time that may not even be a literal part of the story. And if your heroine has green eyes but your model has brown, I honestly don’t think readers mind at all. If she’s in the right pose, with the right look...I say run with it.
What should authors look for when selecting a cover designer to work with?
Well, there’s no substitute for a fine touch, I believe. That means different things for different artists, too. As a general idea, there should be a sense of balance, and a flair for typography. Not just choosing the right typeface, but treating it right as well!
I feel that in my case, there’s a vibrancy and a clarity that’s all my own. I get a lot of praise about the way I make skin tones work on covers, for instance. My “reality” skills are also good. By that I mean that I put work into making perspective look accurate, and think about where shadows should fall if I have to create them. And I see artists like Reese Dante and Claudia McKinney (aka Phatpuppy), and they each have a wonderful touch and a look that’s all THEIR own...and neither of them look like each other’s work, nor like mine.
How much should authors spend on cover design?
There’s not really one set amount. I, like many cover artists, work from stock imagery. This brings cover art into a price range that becomes affordable to most self-published and indie-published authors, but also means there’s no guarantee of exclusivity on images used. Many’s the time I’ve seen the same image on several different covers.
As a rough guide, I’d say US$50-$100 would be a fairly accurate range for basic covers with only one or two stock images in them.
If authors are unhappy with a cover, when and how should they communicate this?
When? Always as soon as possible. Even if it’s just a vague idea that something is not sitting right. Any cover artist worth their salt will probably present a mockup that has merit, in all the elements discussed above (balance, typography, style). But that doesn’t mean it will work. It could have the right balance and completely the wrong feel.
How? Respectfully. Remember that the artist is NOT wasting your time by presenting something you don’t like. If you hate what they show you, it’s likely there’s been a misunderstanding between author and artist. So they’ve unwittingly wasted much more of their time than yours.
A cover artist has no interest in spending hours on something you’ll hate, so keeping things professional and as calm as possible is always appropriate. From both sides, that is.
What are the worst mistakes you often see in cover design?
Typography is probably the biggest offender I’ve seen in the past few years. Sometimes it’s the font choice. Using a web font like Verdana, for example. Sometimes it’s the colour choice. Dark text on a dark background will render the words illegible, especially in thumbnail size. And sometimes it’s placement. I’ve seen many titles running across sections of imagery which would normally be highlights. Hands, cleavage, pretty mouths...all that sort of stuff. To hide those behind words is almost a sacrilege!