The Book Cover: self-publishing and working with freelancers

Thanks to the sharing economy, no writer ever has to go at it alone. There are a plethora of options available on the internet where you can find people to help you with the task of bringing your book to publication. 

In my last post on polishing your manuscript for publication, I wrote about the people that you’ll need to hire to bring your manuscript up to scratch. You’ll need beta-readers, editors and someone to help you format your manuscript.

But that’s just the beginning. 

Once you’re done with writing and editing, you still need to package your book so that it can reach its intended audience. Many writers feel deeply uncomfortable dealing with the commercial side of publishing. They’d rather just write the book and get someone else to deal with the business of selling it.

And thankfully, you can. With a little trial and error and some determination, you’ll get there. 

So now the manuscript is done and polished. Now what?


They say never judge a book by its cover, but we all do. And in this age of social media mayhem, you better take the design of your book cover seriously. Amazon and other websites do offer DIY book covers, but I personally don’t recommend it. It’s too big of a risk to do a shoddy job on something so important. 

At the end of the day, how much of it you decide to do on your own; and how much of it you decide to outsource really depends on your own capabilities, and how much time you’re willing to invest to teach yourself something you’re not familiar with.

Writers come from all walks of life with all different skillsets so there’s no one size fits all. First things first, do an inner inventory and then seek out people whose skills complement yours. 

Working with other creative people

My very first book cover was designed, done and dusted around the end of last year. I can’t say I particularly liked it. It wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t capture the vision I had in mind. 

So I ran into my very first challenge in dealing with other ‘creative people’. Sometimes the people you work with will have great ideas that you never thought of; and sometimes they’ll have ideas that simply don’t align with your vision. If you run into the latter, I say consider it a sunk cost and find someone else. It isn’t the end of the world and they’re plenty of others out there who will manage to bring your vision to life. 

But before you dive into the deep end…

The Book Cover Itself

Do you want digital graphics or an illustrator? This is a personal choice that’s also partially contingent on the content of the book.

If you’ve written for a young adult audience (which I have), you want to check out what’s popular right now and make sure your work doesn’t look dated. That age group is very image-conscious.

If you’ve written non-fiction, you’d ideally want something that looks professional and makes you seem like an authority on the topic. The last thing you want to come across as is a newbie that made its cover playing around with an iPhone app. 

Finding the Right People

Many artists and designers have portfolios of their work available. Take a look and see if you like what they’ve done before. Once you’ve found a couple of people you like, give them an idea of your vision and see if they’re willing to work with you based on your budget and timeline. 

Find examples of covers that you liked so that you can give the designer/illustrator an idea of what you’re looking for. Perhaps even do a sketch. Think of the colours you want to use, the genre you’re writing in, and the overall ‘feel’ of what you’re trying to communicate.

IMPORTANT POINT: at this stage it is also important to clarify how many revisions the designer is willing to do. Some will cap it at a certain number, whilst others are happy to do as many revisions as they need to till you’re satisfied. (Please remember to be reasonable…)

If you’re self-publishing, your book cover is probably going to start its days as a thumbnail on the internet. Make sure it still looks good when it’s that tiny. And then make sure you get the pixels and dimensions right. And don’t forget to think about the spine and the back cover. 

Which of these book covers work and which ones don’t?

The Artwork and the Typography

Given the genre I’m writing in, I ended up going with an illustrator whose work I really liked. My cover was hand-drawn and then painted with watercolour before being digitalised. I’m glad I got to work with someone so talented and whose work I really admired.

At this point it’s important to note that my illustrator was not a book cover designer. So although I was incredibly happy with the way the artwork turned out, I can’t say I was particularly keen on the font.

And boy did my friends who work in marketing have some feedback for me on that. Unbeknownst to me, there’re people these days who specialise in font design. HAH! You live, you learn. 

So I wrote back to my artist and requested a copy of the cover without any font so that I could get someone else to take care of that.

And believe me, the typography was an even bigger song and dance than the illustration. Firstly, the font has to look good when it’s a thumbnail, and secondly, the idea I had in mind wasn’t particularly easy to execute. It took a whole month of back and forth with my typography designer to get it up to scratch. Admittedly, the time zone difference didn’t help. 

I’m surprised my designer didn’t give up on me. I was very particular about the whole thing given I’m writing for the YA crowd. That, and my friends who work in marketing weren’t shy about voicing their negative opinions.

Thank God I have friends who tell me the truth. 

So my designer and I both kept at it and the end product is something I’m really really happy with. And kudos to my designer. He did a great job. 

Concluding Remarks

So there you go. All in all, it took around 3 months to get the cover to where I needed to be given all the trial and error involved. 

But I got there. And you will, too. 

4 thoughts on “The Book Cover: self-publishing and working with freelancers

  1. Good stuff here, Dipa! The cover is incredibly important, no matter what’s inside. I’ve been designing artwork for years, so I will produce my own cover for my books… but that’s not to say that I wouldn’t hire someone if my design doesn’t cut the mustard 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great that you can design your own covers! 🙂 When I was a teacher, my students had a lot to say about the stuff I drew during Pictionary. I believe the one word that stuck was ‘unskilled’ hahaha.


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