Ask a Cover Designer: ANSWERS (PT 2)

Today we’re back with the talented Scarlett Rugers, Cover Designer for The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. As we all know, the cover of a book isn’t just important–it’s CRITICAL. Scarlett has more answers to your cover questions! If you missed yesterday’s post, check it out as well! There’s a ton of great info to help authors make informed decisions when working with a cover artist and choosing a design.

I’ll get right to the Q & A…

Southpaw asked: How do you avoid (or maybe modify) those cliché covers when all the best sellers are using them and selling?

SCARLETT: Best sellers can use cliche covers because readers don’t immediately identify with the cover- the identify with the author. A lot of Stephen King book covers are average but you never really consider the cover, you consider the name. At their best-selling height the name is the gold, not the book.

You have to visualize your book as its own element, unattached to any category or genre. It’s its own body. It has its own personality. That’s where you start.

So in order to avoid cliche covers I brainstorm. I consider the current standard of design with your genre, figure out what makes it what it is, why it’s a cliche, why it’s used so often. Then I break from it. I’ll always remember what my teacher said when I was at University- ideas are currency. The more you have, the richer you are. Why people limit themselves on ideas was lost on him. So when I brainstorm something new I go crazy and fill pages. One idea will lead to another and to another and another, just like web pages can lead you on and on and on in to new and disturbing/wonderous topics.

The Golden Eagle asked: What are the best programs to use when creating a cover?

SCARLETT: I have always used Photoshop/Indesign/Illustrator. As a professional I do my images in Photoshop/Illustrator then layout in InDesign.

I understand that can be very pricey. However Adobe has just organized a month-by-month subscription service which is much more affordable.

I’ve heard also that Gimp and Inkspace are good to use for those who can’t afford Photoshop. I’ve also heard of PowerPoint but I say no, please, no! Don’t use PowerPoint. Its purpose is for presentations, not book cover design. You need a program that specifically handles images, text, layout and the right margins/settings for printing purposes.

Traci asked: How close to the description of characters does the cover artist try and get? Do they read the book to get the details or does an author include that description for them?

SCARLETT: Some designers will read your book, some won’t. I don’t know the percentage of who does and who doesn’t though. I do, because as an author myself I know it’s an important step to make sure I interpret the story correctly and can give the cover that absolute personal touch it needs. I also have a questionnaire that I get the author to fill out so they can give me as many details as I need about the story. Sometimes authors come to me and they haven’t finished their book, so I use their description to provide some concepts for the book cover.

As for how close to the description of a character do I get? As close as I can. Depends on how determined the author is to have a model on their cover that represents their character. I generally have a preference to stay away from using characters on a cover- just because I don’t like having someone else decide what they look like when I read the book. But that’s just me! Some authors like having their character on the cover and have a very clear idea what they want. From there we’re limited by stock resources and how much you’re willing to spend on a photographer if you need one to take the perfect photo for your cover.

Anne asked: I see there’s a strong trend toward photographic images as the basis for covers. I’m sure this is because of their ease of manipulation, and their clarity as thumbnails. My question is whether you think hand-drawn or -painted covers can still work for online marketing. And, if so, are there particular characteristics that will make them successful?

SCARLETT: I’m enthusiastic about any style of cover- photographic, illustrated, painted, or simply typography (the use of text). I believe you can make any media form work with enough brainstorming, patience, and persistence.

There are styles of illustration that are popular in chick lit– from cartoon images to illustrated images. If you visit and type in ‘woman’ or ‘shopping’ or ‘fashion’ – and refine your search to only illustrations, you’ll see a huge number of pages with quality images ready to be put on to a chick lit book cover.

But for something like paranormal it’s extremely unusual to see an illustrated cover- which is where you ask yourself, do you want something that’s aligned with your genre or do you want to break the rules and have a beautifully illustrated dark cover?

So when it comes down to choosing the characteristics of an illustration or painting (or collage, or mosaic etc) it’s a combination of making sure your choice of media works for your story, and the composition of it on your book cover with all the other elements. I don’t even consider your genre. I consider how powerful it is for YOU, for your STORY, for the tale you’re trying to TELL. If you hire someone to draw/paint something for you then of course someone who can do it well will be better than someone who can’t- but this is only applicable to a book cover about someone who can possibly draw well, or who’s life is sketchy. If the book cover is about someone who is crappy at drawing, then by all means have a crappy drawing! See what I mean? Anything can work- it just depends on what angle you take on it.

Jeanie asked: With all the independent printing and self pubbing, my curiosity is: Are they charged to use additional colors? Many books seem to stick with different shades of the same color. I think that a contrast for lettering would make your book title/author name pop. How about the size of the letter printing? Sometimes you can’t see the author’s name or the book Title well, because of small print. Is there a rule of thumb? I think authors that are doing their own covers should at least hold the book 5-10 feet away and look at it.I received an ARC from an author, and the title blended in with the rest of the book.

SCARLETT: There are two basic sets of colour.
CMYK= Printing
RGB= Computer screen

When you send your book off to get printed somewhere, they will ask for your document in CMYK. The program you use must have the ability to use colour in CMYK.

All printers use CMYK. It stands for Cyan Magenta Yellow and K (Black). There’s no extra charge for using any of these colours. It sounds like the books you’ve seen made a conscious design decision to keep it monochrome.

However there are what’s called “Spot colours”. A spot colour is a very specific colour that you can request to use if you so choose. For example: Coca-Cola have their own spot colour called “Coca-Cola Red”. So the red you see on all Coke products isn’t the red that’ll come out of your printer but is a very specific combination of colours to get their own brand of red hue. The most popular spot colours come from Pantone. If you see a Pantone swatch book, or geeky gadgets or mugs or stationary with a block of colour and the word “Pantone 704C”- that’s a spot colour.

You do have to pay extra for spot colours. When it comes to book covers, and if you’re doing it yourself and you’re not a designer- I wouldn’t even consider this as an option. It’s completely unnecessary, and usually only used for branding of companies and large businesses.

If a printer comes back and says to you “you have to pay extra for blue/green/yellow” ask them why, tell them your document is in CMYK, there should be no spot colours, and that should be standard for printing. If they say “no it’s not standard” drop them immediately as a printer and go somewhere else!

Leah asked: I was wondering how cover designers choose if the cover will have a photograph of a real person in character – like the girl in the green dress on the cover of Ally Condie’s Matched versus the Mockingjay pin on the cover of Hunger Games.

SCARLETT: Having your character on a cover is down to the author’s personal choice. I love the Hunger Game covers, very symbolic. But when you have a character on the cover you’re not allowing your reader the flexibility to imagine your characters for themselves. So while I will provide concepts that don’t include characters, I talk with you prior to that point about what you want on the front, what other covers you like so when I send over some ideas they will or will not include a character on the cover.

There are no rules with this – it’s just about what you feel is best for your story and if you want to give your characters an set idea of what your character looks like or if you want to allow them the freedom to imagine it on their own.

Thank you Scarlett–I leaned a TON and I know everyone else did too. It was great to get an insider’s look at covers and the decisions that need to be made in the process to ensure it hits the mark with an audience. If anyone wants to take a peek at some of Scarlett’s other covers, check out her Gallery

Scarlett Rugers (writing as Scarlett Archer) has just released a book 1001 First Lines which is now available at Amazon! You can purchase a paperback, .lit, .epub, .mobi and PDF versions HERE.

She has been writing for over fifteen years, completed over eleven novels, and her main drive is in speculative fiction or its contrasting opposite romantic comedic novels. She has a passion for studying the art of story telling and is a grand lover of movies. Her focus in work is book cover designs which enables her to put all her energy in to the area she loves most- literature. You can get in touch with her about getting a book cover designed for you at her WEBSITE.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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24 Responses to Ask a Cover Designer: ANSWERS (PT 2)

  1. That was really interesting! Thanks for sharing your trade with us.

  2. That was really interesting! Thanks for opening that up to us.

  3. Scarlett Archer’s covers are amazing! It looks so professional and beautiful. I know that if I self publish, I will most likely be using her services.

  4. Leslie Rose says:

    The design process for a cover sounds very similar to the one I follow for theatre design & art direction. It was fascinating to hear the specific details.

  5. Wow, what a thorough Q&A. I think I prefer imagining a character, but I can think of several gorgeous covers that made me want to read the book that did have a character on the cover.

  6. Biddy Fraser says:

    Thanks for a fascinating post. An interesting website overall.

  7. Jemi Fraser says:

    Super interesting! Ideas = currency is my new favourite phrase!! Going to use that in class tomorrow 🙂

  8. The is the most comprehensive information I’ve read on cover design. Thanks!

  9. Super questions and answers, ladies! Very informative post. Thanks for sharing the information with us. 🙂

  10. I am as impressed by the questions as I am by the answers. Both brilliant. I’ve learned a lot. Thanks!

  11. Very interesting! Covers can be so important to sales, so this info from someone who designs covers is priceless. Thanks!

  12. My pleasure guys! I’m honoured to be interviewed for you and happy to provide some insight in to the book cover design practice!

  13. I really found this post facinating. Thank you so much for sharing. And I can’t wait for your book to come out soon!

  14. Thank you, Scarlett! Looking forward to working with you again in the future!

  15. I love that you interviewed a cover designer! I find the whole thing fascinating!

  16. So much to consider. I did a little searching at the stock photo sight. Ugh. Decisions!

  17. Riv Re says:

    Thanks so much, Scarlett! That was really interesting to read. =D

  18. Bish Denham says:

    Lots of information. Thanks so much sharing this Scarlett, it’s greatly appreciated.

  19. Just wanted you to know that I nominated your site for Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers. I’d love to see you guys on the list!


  20. Thank you so much Scarlett for such in depth answers. It was such a pleasure to work with you, and I heartily recommend you to any writers looking for a cover design!


  21. Thanks for your answers!! I can see the point of not including the characters on the cover–or at least maybe a dim view of them–so that the reader can visualize them to their preference.

  22. Really valuable series of posts. i learned so much. thank you.

  23. This is fascinating stuff! Now if I can just finish a book …

  24. JeffO says:

    Great interview, thank you for posting this. Further evidence that self-pubbing is not for me….

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