Working With a Cover Designer: Time-Saving Techniques

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigDeathPaysaVisit_print_web (2)

I have a cover conference (via email) this week with my current cover designer, Karri Klawiter.  I’ve been told by cover designers in the past that they like working with me because I both know exactly what I’m looking for (or can quickly identify what I’m looking for when I get samples) and that I supply most/all of the information they need on their end immediately.

I’ve got sort of a template email that I use with designers to help speed along and clarify the process on both ends.  Below is the initial email I sent for the last, published, project of mine (fall release). 


Cover Formats: 

As for the last project you did for me, I’m looking for a:

1) print cover:  I’d like the book to retail for $10.99 US and 6.99 UK.  Dimensions: 5.06” x 7.81 on white pages for CreateSpace. The ISBN for the print edition will be: 978-0-9895180-5-5  or ISBN-13: 978-0-9895180-5-5 .  As yet I don’t have an exact page count, but it should be right around 200-215 pages.  Tagline to go over the back cover copy: At Greener Pastures Retirement Home, leisure time can prove perilous… 

My bio for the back of the printed book (author photo is attached):

Elizabeth writes the Southern Quilting mysteries for Penguin/NAL, the Memphis Barbeque mysteries for Penguin/Berkley, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently.  She blogs at , which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010-2013. 

Back cover copy: 

When psychic (and hubcap retailer) Wanda Alewine pays a late-night visit to Myrtle Clover, she urges the octogenarian sleuth to head straight to Greener Pastures Retirement Home. But Wanda doesn’t want Myrtle to consider the home’s dubious amenities–she wants Myrtle to prevent a murder seen in a vision.

Reluctant Myrtle investigates with sidekick Miles, who seems a lot more interested in Greener Pastures than she is. As the duo digs, they uncover more than just Sudoku and Scrabble—they discover a sinister undercurrent… with murder as its outcome.

2) An ebook cover (will run on Nook, Kindle, Smashwords), and  3) an audiobook cover for ACX.

What I’m looking for is really exactly what you did for the “Body at Book Club” cover…illustrated/vector drawing approach for the cover.

So, it’ll be “Death Pays a Visit”–A Myrtle Clover Mystery by Elizabeth Spann Craig (all title and byline elements like you had them last time).

Ideas for the cover. 

I was thinking maybe a backdrop of a stone or brick wall with ivy on it.  In the foreground, a bistro-style table with an upset glass, formerly full of red wine?  Or maybe a broken flower pot either on the ground or the table (don’t know if that would require a window on the backdrop’s wall).  I’m attaching some photos that sort of show where I was going with the idea, if that can help give you a starting place.  I guess if we could sort of keep it simple and not too busy, but have it look like a mystery cover.

Please feel free to jump in if you think of other potential options.  The idea is a tranquil scene with some dangerous sorts of elements thrown in.

****** (end email)


I sometimes attach covers of other books in my genre that I especially like.

I ask to be put on my designer’s calendar again for the next available slot.

I remind my designer that I will need to contact her once the formatting is done with the exact page number so that she can tweak the spine to get it exact for the print copies for CreateSpace.

So, general takeaways:

We can work with a designer on a book even when we haven’t yet started the book.

We need to know what formats we want the book in…print? Ebook?  Both?

We need to know what type of cover we’re looking for. Photo manipulation?  Vector illustration?

We need to be familiar with what types of covers various designer can do (some don’t do illustration) and what information they require.  These requirements will usually be specified on their site.

We need to know what, legally, we can do with the images designers create.  The post “Do You Know Who Owns Your Book Cover” from attorney Helen Sedwick on the Book Designer site may be helpful.

We will want our print cover’s spine to be tweaked if we don’t have the final page count yet. See what the process for doing that is and whether there is any additional cost involved (or delay, time-wise).

I find it better (with my limited design experience) to give a starting point for the cover design and general element ideas and then let the experts work their magic.  I’m sure to emphasize that I’m open to ideas and design elements. Then I can offer suggestions for the sample(s) I get back.

On cover design day, I make it a point to be as accessible as I can that day to make the process of emailing back and forth go faster.  I don’t schedule appointments that day and I either check email frequently or I turn on notification sounds on my phone for the day.

And I pay promptly, too, which is important. PayPal is usually the method by which designers and other self-publishing professionals request payment.

How do you help the design process go smoothly?

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32 thoughts on “Working With a Cover Designer: Time-Saving Techniques

  1. Hi Elizabeth,

    I do almost exactly what you do re:working with my cover designer. Streetlight Graphics gives their clients a questionnaire to fill in for every cover design (+/- formatting) project which makes life easier for everyone involved, designer and author, as to the direction the project should take. I also describe what I would like (and wouldn’t like) to see on the cover and give links to Amazon covers and Shutterstock photos that reflect what I want.

    The extra thing I do is finalize on Skype. It’s the most magical feeling in the world to see your designer’s computer screen via Skype as he tweaks things just the way you want them for the final version of the book cover. I would most definitely recommend this, particularly if both the author and the designer are struggling to get the cover right. It saves plenty of time as well as it negates the need for dozens of emails.

    I also ask to be scheduled in my designer’s diary and specify a deadline for when I need the project completed by.

    I also pay super promptly! :D

    1. AD–A questionnaire would make it incredibly easy, too. Good idea…maybe more designers can implement this.

      That’s cool about finalizing on Skype! I’ve never seen that done. I think that would be especially helpful if there is any confusion about what a writer is looking for or during the tweaking process.

  2. Elizabeth – I can’t tell you how helpful this is! It’s so important to be as clear as possible with your preferences, so that you don’t waste any time, or end up with something you don’t want. And your covers look great too, so something is going very right!

    Kind of reminds me of the communication I had with the person who did my book trailer for B-Very Flat. That required the same kind of clarity.

  3. I’m sure the designers appreciate your thoroughness and attention to detail. It saves them time having to ask all those questions. This is so helpful. Thank you.

  4. Fantastic post! I loved working with the cover designer of my first book. I tried to be as specific as I could (and giving all of the relevant information, like CreateSpace details) but also letting him know that I have an open mind if he can come up with something better.

  5. Elizabeth–
    I can well understand why cover designers love to work with you. Your template will be close at hand for me to use, when the time comes for my next book release. Thanks so much. No one serves the true, real-world needs of writers better than you do.

  6. That’s a lot of description to make the design easy to get right the first time. And I like the cat in the cover.

  7. Hi Elizabeth,

    I was a bit nervous when I recently did this for the first time. I did a lot of homework on previous work by designers to see if they had the right feel I was looking for. Once I chose one, I send a clear outline of aspects I wanted to see in mine and sent a synopsis of the book so they would have an idea of the setting. I sent a number of links to book covers I liked and what in particular I liked about them. I also sent a list of things I didn’t want…script or cursive writing, image too busy…things like that.

    The whole process was a breeze and actually very exciting when the drafts started coming in. I was fun to see someone’s visual conception of my description. I’ve worked with designers on other projects and have learned it is much less frustrating to be as clear as possible ahead of time. The questionnaire is a great idea.


    1. Silas–I’m so late in responding here…it’s been a crazy week.

      I really like the cover you did for your book. I think your list of things/elements you *didn’t* want is a great idea and really could be a time-saver. Yes, I think the process is a lot less-frustrating for everyone involved if we can be as clear as possible at the beginning.

  8. As a designer myself, I try not to be The Client from Hell when I work with artists.

    One thing I’ve learned is that there are two kinds of people when it comes to design: those who know exactly what they want, and those who haven’t a clue until they’ve seen 3 things they hate.

    That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a thing. You and I recognize that we know what we want, but when a client and artist both realize the client doesn’t know what they want, they can skip much of the frustrating interrogation and go right to “show and hate” to make quicker progress.

    We use questionnaires for our web work and our publishing work. Once you’ve asked 43 clients exactly the same questions, it just makes sense to codify the process.

    1. Joel–Oh, yes…I *love* questionnaires. I’m one of those people who hates to feel as if I don’t know what to expect from a process or what I need to contribute to it. I love it when everything is laid out at the beginning.

      Show and hate…ha! So time-consuming for the poor designer, though. For heaven’s sake, it seems as if clients of web designers and book designers should be able to show examples of sites and covers they *do* like. Hope you charge for your time for the show and haters. :)

      1. I consider it the designer’s job to ferret out what’s needed. After all, the plumber and gardener don’t ask us how to do their jobs, right? (Was just telling Best Beloved about one of my unfollowed dreams: interior design, with a focus on lighting. Now there’s a field where people haven’t a clue; architecture design, inside and out.)

        But, yes, oh yes indeedy, I’m not cheap. I’m just fast and good.

  9. Love this! It’s sooo important to kind of have an idea of what you want. I keep notes of some of my favorite covers, and share them with the designer. I also keep a Pinterest page of photos for potential covers. Then it’s just a matter of bouncing ideas back and forth. Cover design is my favorite part of the process.

    1. Julie–To me, on this end of things, I think that’s the most helpful thing when working with someone for the first time and for the first book in the series–show examples of covers that have a particular style that we like. For sequels and other books in a series, the designer just has to follow along with the pre-existing elements. The Pinterest page is brilliant, Julie!

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