Friday, February 19, 2016

Commissioning a Book Cover For Self-Published Authors by Kirbi Fagan

You wrote the book, you're planning your big splash, but what you need is a cover!

The Fairy Tale Series written by Shanna Swendson
Find a great illustrator.
Checking out SCBWI portfolio’s is great place to start. Look for an artist who has done self-published at book fairs, try hiring a super star illustration major at the local art school. Avoid agented portfolio websites as those illustrators may not be interested in self-published commissions. 

Drop the Pitch!
You do not need to “pitch” your story to an illustrator. Illustrators don’t need to be sold a story, they need to be compensated. This is YOUR dream project. Check out this example of how to approach an illustrator.

Dear Kirbi,
I saw your work on SCBWI and I thought you would be a good fit for my book cover! It’s a middle grade story about a witch and a panda! I’m in need of artwork for the front cover (6x9). I'm looking to spend about X. I’m hoping to have the book out in April. Can you also do the type for the front and back? 

Eager Self-Pubber

Get it in writing!
If an artist does not provide or mention a contract after agreeing to collaborate with you it’s a bad sign. Understand their working process and have a detailed schedule to keep you on track. Here is a look at my collaboration process:

Contract. Deposit. Concept sketch. Sketch revisions. Written approval of sketch. Create final art. Delivery of final art. Final payment.

Provide the Facts.
Make sure you include crucial elements of your story. Visual details can take hours to find in the book. Help your illustrator by providing them with basic visuals. If your story does not have visual details, don’t make it up! Let their creativity surprise you. 

Don’t Take it Personally… 
if your illustrator doesn’t read your book; their time should be spent on the artwork. Illustrators are not editors or writing critics, asking them for their opinion puts them in a difficult spot. In addition, reading a long manuscript from a computer can be very uncomfortable. Consider sending the manuscript in print. 

Damsel in Distress written by Lee French
Hit your Budget.
A great cover is an investment and it is a crucial part of marketing your book competitively. Check out Graphic Artist’s Guild, “Pricing and Ethical Guidelines” to see industry pricing. Many authors fear they will offend an illustrator when they tell them their budget. An illustrator may be able to offer limited complexity at a lower rate. 

Don’t Bribe.
Chances are if you are self-publishing your social media following is small. DO feature the illustrator on your blog and give them free copies of the book, but DON'T consider it compensation. 

Know your numbers. 
DPI, bleeds, spines and trims! Talk to your printer and get your measurements right! It is your responsibly to provide these details. If not, you could end up dishing out more money to fix your problem, or worse poorly printed books. Yikes!

Trust the professionals.
Writers sometimes provide very specific directions about their cover. An illustrator is more than just a hired hand, they are a creative problem solver! By providing specific directions you could miss out on many creative options.

About that Type…
Breaking typography “rules” could make a designer cringe and make your book scream “self published.” Use a graphic designer or graphic design student. If you are doing it yourself, ask your illustrator where they would recommend placing type. Unless your name is "Nicholas Sparks" or "George R.R. Martin" your name shouldn't be HUGE. Don’t forget there are legal issues when it comes to type. You must have permission. Many “free” websites include stolen designs. Learn the difference between font and typeface. Here is a great article on the subject. 

Give credit and team up!
Schedule your cover reveal with your illustrator and invite them to spread the news! Always include the name of the artist whenever the art is used. Learn about some of the setbacks illustrators face in the industry on Sarah McIntyre’s website.

Kirbi Fagan is an award-winning, Detroit based book cover illustrator who specializes in creating art for young readers. Her illustrations are known for their magic themes, nostalgic mood, bright colors, and powerful characters. Recent clients include, Capstone Publishing, Marvel Comics and The Book Smugglers.

Kirbi's artwork is amazing! See more on her website.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: On the Scene in 2016 - support for debut picture book authors and illustrators, a YA Success Story, take-aways from the SCBWI New York conference, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. 

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Have a great weekend!


  1. Great article, beautiful artwork! Thanks Kirbi :)

  2. I am in awe of your talent, Kirbi. And the article was very helpful. Thanks!

  3. Thanks for the great advice, Kirbi. Getting the cover right is so important when you're self-publishing your books. Thanks for the tips on how to do it right.

  4. Thanks, Kirbi, for the thoughtful advice--this is a posting that I'm sure I'll refer back to!

  5. Anyone who hires Kirbi to do their covers is smart.

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  7. Hey Kirbi, you're really setting the world on fire. Everywhere I look in this industry there you are! Great article and certainly a much needed one.

  8. Excellent blog, Kirbi! You know I'm a huge fan, and this has given me some new ideas to think about. Thank you!

  9. This is so helpful for our members. I'm bookmarking it to respond to people who ask their RAs how to find and work with a cover artist! :)