Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Working With an Illustrator--Traditionally Published and Self-Published

Hullo my Auchward friends! I hope you had a satisfyingly delicious Thanksgiving, and gained at least five pounds for good measure along with the rest of us!

So. I made this whole video where I talked about working with an illustrator, but then the more I thought about it, the more I realized you probably don't have time to watch me talk about something when you could read about it in half the time. Pleasant as my face may be, I've got your interests in mind. (Although dang, my hair did look fine that day.) But you can count this post as one of the "publishing experience" series of videos I have done thus far. (See what happens after the publisher acceptance letter and  publisher contract.)

Today's topic, continuing in that vein, is what you might expect when dealing with an illustrator or book cover maker. I'm going to break it down into two areas: Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing. Because I've done both! So I can.

Traditionally Published
When being traditionally published, the whole process could not be more simple. For me, the publisher sent
along a document to fill out. In this document, they asked questions about setting, main characters, descriptions, and even what I might like to see on the cover of my book. Because--and I'd always wondered this--the artist doesn't actually read the whole book! It was very helpful and certainly enlightening when I realized I had to give the artist everything they would need to bring my vision to life. There's one thing they didn't ask for in that form, and I'll cover it in my self-publishing section, because its something I learned on my own. Suffice it to say, it was easy as pie to talk about my own book and then send it along to my publisher, who then gave it to whichever artist they chose for the cover.

And then I waited! I'm sure they went back and forth a little bit with the artist and the publisher, but I wasn't a part of that process. They sent me a final version, asked for my opinion, and I guess as long as I wasn't demanding a complete redo, they were cool if I wanted little changes. I asked for a change in font (looked too...manly I guess), the artist did it, and blamo! The first time I saw the finished version was when my book went live on Amazon. Just sit back and let them make your work look good.

Self-made cover by Eileen Sharp

However, if you are doing this on your own, you're going to have a little more work ahead of you. First of all, you have to decide how you are going to go about this. The way I see it, you've got three options:

--Do it yourself
--Find premade covers
--Hire a graphic designer

For the first option, I'll just say this: I've seen some really bad self-made covers, and I've seen some good ones. Get an honest opinion. As in not your mom or spouse or best friend...I mean people who can hide behind their computer screen and give a non partial opinion of the thing. If you read my blog somewhat regularly, you might remember that I put Inito's cover up for everyone to see, and I got some great opinions. Mostly, "We hate the font!" So I changed it. Done.

If you're more like me and have no graphic design experience whatsoever, then you will likely need to pay some cash for the cover. It's no big deal really, especially if you find a premade cover you like. They've got lots of sites for this, and most of them hover around the $30 range. That's very reasonable, and some of them look great! Here's a top ten kind of list you can take a peek at to see if these designers have what you need: http://jmmadden.blogspot.com/2011/10/10-sites-for-self-pubbed-pre-made-ebook.html

If premade covers aren't your thing for whatever reason, then you'll need to find an illustrator. In my case, I liked the work done for Lunula, so although I hadn't corresponded with the artist originally, I tracked him down like a stalker and asked if he would do my second. Which he did! For a very reasonable price, too. (Check out John Phillip Cameron here)

When working with an illustrator, here's how it basically goes down. You will likely talk price first. I can't tell you what a normal range is...you could find upwards of $1000 or more depending on the artist, but I don't think that high number is the norm (even though I was quoted that once!) I can tell you I didn't pay nearly that much, and I probably just got lucky. If you can find a young or new up-and-coming artist you like, you'll probably be able to snag a great deal.

After you hammer out prices, then you'll want to agree on a deadline with your artist. Be firm but nice. :)

Next comes the most important part. You need to give the illustrator an idea of what you want the cover to look like. Enter my epiphany. When I filled out the form for Lunula the first time around, I just gave facts when asked questions. When I began to work with John personally, I realized that he's an artist and he's going to need some inspiration! Lightbulb. I'm a writer, correct? Inspiring with my words is what I do! So I gave him excerpts. I included my most brilliant scenes, my most vivid descriptions. Anything that might put a picture into his head and inspire him to bring my words to life. And it worked perfectly. He latched onto a scene on a frozen lake, and we ran with that.

I have shared a document file with you that includes prompts and questions for when you work with an illustrator, just in case you are looking for a kind of guide. Provide as many examples from the actual body of work that you can! With any luck, that will inspire your artist and create a killer cover.

After that, you wait for your illustrator to do his/her thing, and they will send you drafts. My best advice when getting drafts is to stick up for yourself...but pleasantly. Give criticism with a smile. Make sure you get what you're looking for, but no reason to be a jerk about it!

So I hope this was a little enlightening for you if you haven't been through the process with an illustrator yet. One thing I really liked about having someone else do the cover for me is not having to worry about formatting. When you work with createspace.com, there's a specific format (bleed...dpi...what???) that the cover needs to be in, and I don't have time to learn random things like that. So thank goodness for artists who know better! He gave me the cover in every format I needed, and all I had to do was download and upload.

Here is that document for you. If you are an author or an illustrator, this might help you hammer out the important details!



  1. You had me here: "the more I realized you probably don't have time to watch me talk about something when you could read about it in half the time."
    I cannot understand why people insist on putting everything in video - Not all information translates well or quickly into the visual medium. Anyway, now I can go back to reading the post itself.

  2. Enjoyed reading your post, Alyssa, and thanks for sharing your experience - very informative.