A few weeks back, I put out a call for questions to ask Scarlett Rugers, the Cover Designer for The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. She’s come up with some very thoughtful and insightful responses, so help me welcome her to the blog! *drum roll*
I’ll get right to the Q & A…
Bonnee asked: do authors of a book often get to pick or influence the cover their books end up with? Are we allowed to contribute to designing it? Or does it all depend on who we’re working with and their own personal terms and conditions?
SCARLETT: The designer you work with should always consult with you at each stage to make sure you are happy with the direction of the book cover. If your designer is pitching concepts to you that aren’t in your direction – and continue to stay out of your direction after you provide feedback- you should seek another designer. It’s important for you, as an author and client, to have a say in how the cover looks. This could range from letting your designer know what other styles of covers you like so they at least get an idea of what draws your eye, to showing them font faces, colour schemes, and images that you have considered using.
In return, I would also suggest being open to the designer’s advice and suggestions. If you have your eye set on a particular font face and the designer says you shouldn’t use it – ask them why. It could be due to the fact it has a bad/cheap reputation, could mislead the design of the book cover, could say the wrong thing, could be too expensive, or any other number of reasons. This is where the balance comes in and when you have to trust your designer. I’m not saying they’re right, and if you are 100% on using the font face (as an example) then tell your designer that’s what you want, but just be aware this is their field of expertise and it’s better to be flexible than be dead set on an idea.
In my situation if an author wants something specific- like a font face- on their book that I don’t believe works, I’ll advise them of why but will put the font face on the cover so they can see the example for themselves. More often than not they understand why it isn’t working. But at the end of the day it’s your cover, you can have whatever you wish!
When I collaborate with an author some of them are happy to take the risk and allow me to provide concepts that are completely new to them. In the initial questionnaire I ask them if they want me to design something for them that works in alignment with their genre, something 50/50 or something new and unique. New and unique is always a risk from the author’s side, I completely understand that. But the feedback I’ve received from the past writer’s I’ve worked with is that they’re happy with the outcome, it’s something they didn’t imagine but they’re excited- and of course as it’s a collaboration they give me feedback about the design with what works for them and what doesn’t. They’re still included at each stage of the design process so that even if it’s something new they are allowed to have their say!
Laura asked: How long does it take Scarlett to complete a cover from start to finish?
SCARLETT: The average process is two weeks, but it can take as quickly as three days or as slowly as three weeks to a month. The timeline depends on a lot of contributing factors:
Firstly- am I going to read your book? If so, that’ll add one or two weeks to the process.
Secondly- Once I finish the book I then brainstorm on concepts. When I pitch them to you it depends on when you get back to me (Usually they get back to me in a day or two).
Thirdly- The design back-and-forthing has taken anything from a day to a week and a half in the past. This is me sending you the design, refining it further, making changes with your feedback.
They’re the main factors to consider when having a cover designed for you. I do my best to respond within 24 hours of your emails- and if I’m delayed I’ll always let you know.
M. R. asked: Why don’t I see many black covers for middle grade books? Does it make the content look too intense for that age group or is there another reason?
SCARLETT: Colours are very particular, specifically when dealing with age groups. You won’t find a lot of black covers for middle grade books because black is a colour that has to do a lot with maturity, themes of adult content, seriousness, and satire. The book publishing industry decided teens in middle grade aren’t yet ready for that just yet. I don’t advise against using black on a book cover for middle grade books because anything with the right concept and design technique can be wonderful. But colour is one of the first visual senses transmitted to us before we even register words or images. So we have to approach the use of colour with awareness and tact just as we would font faces and images.
Kelly asked: I wonder about how one chooses a font (what to stay away from) and font size?
SCARLETT: Stay away from: Comic Sans and Papyrus.How to choose a font for your book cover:
1) Decide if you want to use a free font, or a priced font.
2) Keep in mind when checking a font face that you can use it commercially. Just because you haven’t paid someone to design the cover for you doesn’t mean you’re using it for free. You’re using it for a commercial endeavour so you must be covered.
3) Consider the theme of your book. Research other books in your genre, look at the fonts they’ve used, how they’ve used them, and how they’ve altered them (if at all).
4) When you use a font consider what it’s for. Is it for an eBook or are you going to also have it printed? You can use one font for a print cover because printing it will come up beautifully and you can read it easily. But using it in thumbnail form might not work because you can’t read it at such a small size. The only way to test this is by printing the font and shrinking it down to size to see if you can read it yourself.
5) Have fun trying different fonts! Get creative. Don’t just stick with fonts given to you by Microsoft/Mac. There are a lot of font websites out there and you can get to them easily via Google.
JC asked: what are the 3 most important things to AVOID when designing a book cover?
SCARLETT: I recently wrote an article about this exact thing. They were general design rules I saw being broken consistently, and when you saw the cover with those elements it immediately said “Self-Published Work”.
But to specifically avoid, I’d say:
1) Assuming your book cover doesn’t matter, and that people will read the story no matter what. When you look at books- would YOU read a story with a bad book cover design?
2) Not spending time on your type/font. The thing that constantly lets a book cover down is the type face. It’s a vital component that contributes to the beauty of your cover just as much as colour, and image. Consider the placement, the size, the type face, the legibility/readability, the balance.
3) Not getting feedback. I know it hurts, I know it can break you. But it’s worth it. Get feedback from your friends, from online forums- not from people you know will be nice to you no matter what they think. Be brave! It means more people will pick up your work in the long run.
Mirka asked: I’m wondering if there are things that should NOT be on a cover. Examples of NO-NOs in design. This would be my question.
1) Low resolution/quality images.
2) As said before- Comic Sans and Papyrus font faces.
3) Use of drop shadow on text when it works against the design and is not necessary.
4) Rainbow gradients.
5) Images and fonts you don’t have the rights/permission to use.
6) your website URL
Anything that doesn’t contribute to the purpose of your design and intention. It’s just like writing- if it doesn’t have a purpose it needs to be scrapped. Better to not have, than to have and be misleading.
If your story is a mystery of any sort- having something on the cover that will give away the plot!
Scarlett, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. We all know how important the cover is, and so knowing what to look for, ask for and avoid is so helpful!
Check back in tomorrow for the rest of Scarlett’s answers to your design questions!
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: http://www.1001firstlines.wordpress.com.
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.