Sunday, July 8, 2012

Finding and Working With Cover Artists

This is going to be a two part blog series that talks about cover art. As an indie author/self publisher, there are two main ways to get cover art: Pay someone to do it for you, or do it yourself. If you have the design skills and software necessary, you can easily create a cover for free or cheap using the DIY method. However, not everyone has these things. Hiring someone to create a cover for you can cost a good sum, it doesn't have to be that way. It's all about finding a good deal. So in this post, I'm going to talk about how to find a cover artist, getting the most for your money, and how to work with artists during the design process. In case anyone is wondering about my expertise in this area, I have worked with several artists myself, created my own covers, and worked as an artist/designer for other companies.

What to Expect for Pricing
The reason I'm beginning with price is to help you understand how to approach and work with artists. It's always helpful to have an idea of pricing before speaking with anyone, that way you are prepared and no one is offended. The price of an excellent book cover can vary depending on what type of work you are looking for. To give you an idea, I've been quoted as low as $50 and as high as $600 USD. You can find ebook-only cover prices between $50 and $75 dollars if they are photo-manipulation and print/wrap around covers from $125-$200, which I consider a good deal. There are exceptions, of course, but this is generally what I've seen and what I've worked with. Once you start looking for artists to create illustrations, whether digital or traditional media, you will start getting higher in price. Illustrations take a very long time and depending on the detail can be very difficult to produce. They can even go higher in price than $600, but it's worth it for the beauty of original art.

Here's a little tip on getting a great price for beautiful illustrations without having to pay $300+: Find an artist on a site mentioned below who is taking personal commissions for cheap, and ask them if they would be willing to do commercial work and what they would charge. Often times if they take personal commissions at one price, they will take commercial commissions for 2-3 times as much. So, if the artist charges $50 for personal, their commercial price may be as little as $100! Keep in mind, this is not always the case, but it never hurts to find out. No matter what you do, don't pay a royalty or percentage rate. Only negotiate with flat rates when buying cover art.

One way to save money when purchasing cover art is to buy pre-made covers. There are a lot of cover artists who have pre-designed covers that they sell for cheap and will insert your desired text for you. It's super easy, inexpensive, and can be just as marketable and lovely as custom work. Generally, you can find these for around $25-$60. There are some small downsides to doing this, though. The first is that they are usually only sized for ebooks. So, if you want to change that ebook cover into a print book cover, it may cause some problems down the road. The second issue you might face is that the cover won't be exactly the way you want it. However, this point becomes moot if you happen across something perfect for your project. Heck, some authors even purchase a fabulous pre-made cover and then write a story based on the cover.

Finally, there are ways to find artists looking to build their portfolio who will do the work for free. In cases like this, it's rude to outright ask an artist to do work for free, but if an artist is offering, then it's appropriate to take advantage of the inexpensive (or free!) price. What's the difference? Well, how would you feel if someone came up to you and asked you to write a book for free so they could make money off of it, but all you got in return was "exposure"? Doesn't sound like a good deal, does it? Well, artists don't think so either, but if they are actively looking for experience and offer to do work for free, then that's a great deal for you and it's okay for you to partake. Just don't expect this very often.

Where to Look for an Artist
There are a number of places to find artists depending on what sort of art you are looking for. My two favourite places to look, however, are deviantArt and the KindleBoards. You can also google or ask for recommendations from author friends, but I personally love cruising for artists, especially on deviantART because this is the best place to find inexpensive, good quality work. Keep your eyes open for artists who have a record with successful commissions, though, to keep from having a problem with getting your project completed.

How to Approach and Choose an Artist
Once you have found an artist you like, I suggest contacting them. Tell them a little about the project and see if they are available for commercial work. Also, always ask them for a price quote if their prices are not already posted. Once they respond, be sure to answer their questions and don't forget to ask some more of your own. Here are some things you should ask when trying to decide on an artist:

-Ask them what their commission process is. They will usually give you a sample of how long they expect the work to take, what they expect from you, when they expect payment, when and how the artwork will be delivered, etc. It's helpful to know this, but also it can help with deciding on someone if you are struggling to choose between two excellent artists.
-Ask them how they want to be paid and when they want to be paid. Many artists will allow Paypal, even if they are international. And some artist require partial or full payment up front. Personally, I don't usually work with artists who require full payment up front, but that's a personal preference. Partial upfront or full payment before the final draft is sent, work best for me and help avoid scams or problems. Also, as a side note, I don't work with artists who require payments through Western Union, because of the scams coming through that money business. If you feel comfortable doing so, that's your choice, but I've been burned by WU and so have many others.
-Ask them how many revisions you receive. This one seems minor, but can be very important depending on your vision, communication skills, and the skills of your artist. Don't expect unlimited minor tweaks or revisions after the final payment, though.
-Ask them what rights you will be receiving. Make sure they are giving you the right to post the artwork anywhere you need to and use it for marketing purposes. Also make sure they will not be reselling the work later. And please allow them to post the artwork to their website and in their portfolio. Don't forget to explain that you will credit them in the book and on your website, and anywhere else you can. It's always best to credit them in as many places as possible!

Here are some minor problems that may crop up:
-You ask for a price quote and they ask you for your budget. Sometimes, an artist will be afraid to scare you off with their prices and won't tell them to you. They will insist you give them your budget. This is hard because you are not the artist and you, as the author, can not possibly know how much is an appropriate amount for that particular artist. To avoid the stalemate, give them a price range you are comfortable with that is within your budget. Often times I don't have a particular budget for covers, but I know how much I want to spend and how much I can spend, so I will range it between those two prices. Be sure to let them know that you are flexible.
-You can't decide between two awesome artists. This happens! It's actually a great feeling, but it can be very annoying when you are on a schedule. My suggestion is to compare skill, process, payment requirements, price, and track record. If the first four are equal, I'd go with whoever has successfully done commissions before. The other option is to go with whoever is cheapest, if all else is equal. Really, though, it's up to you on how to decide. Don't ask the artists to compete for the job, whatever you do.

Working Successfully With the Artist
Explain clearly what you would like your cover to be. If you don't have any thoughts or ideas and want to see what the artist can come up with, that can still work, but you want to give them as much information as possible. Some cover artists will give your a questionnaire to fill out, but if they don't, be sure to give them character information, mood and feelings, settings, general concepts, etc. Make their job easier by enveloping them in your world.

If you are working with an illustrator rather than a photo-manipulator, then your project may include a series of thumbnail sketches of which you will have to choose one to become your cover. Keep in mind that during the thumbnail/rough draft stage, the work will not look perfect and sometimes won't even look all the great, but this is how an artist works out the layout and design of the cover. Once you have chosen a design, the artist will usually work on a draft and send it to you for changes and approval. This continues until you have given the final okay.

Don't forget to be polite and don't pester them. A great tip is to try and find as many of your revisions as you can each time before you send it off to the artist. You want to try to have changes done in as few sittings as possible, because it starts to feel tedious and nit-picky to have to find things after the fact and send the revisions back 10 times for tiny problems. By doing it all at once, you minimise this problem.

Payment Process
Depending on how your artist requires payment will depend on how this part will happen for you. Some artists will send you an invoice, while others will not. Either way, be sure to pay in a timely manner. Generally, you should decided on how payment will work before the artist starts. If your artist doesn't give you an invoice, don't worry about it. At the very least, they will request payment through email and Paypal will give you a receipt, so be sure to save it. (If you use another payment service, I suggest saving a copy of your payment receipt in any way you can.)

Once your cover is finished, you will have to approve the final version before you pay. Expect not to get a usable version of your cover until payment has been received by the artist. Most won't give you the final draft until you've paid, especially when they don't take payment until the end. Generally, if you pay partial up front and the rest upon receipt, you may not be able to get a full refund on the first payment if you should cancel before the project is completed. Be sure to discuss this with your artist before agreeing to work together.

General Dos and Don'ts
-DO treat your artist with respect and be polite. These two things go a long way!
-DO credit your artist everywhere you can. (Your website, in your ebook or print book, anywhere and everywhere.)
-DO respond to them in a timely manner. Your artist is on a schedule as much as you are, so minimise the time-wasting.
-DON'T email them excessively. There is no reason to bother them all the time. Art takes time and you might not hear from them for a few days at a time if they are busy working on your cover.
-DON'T expect the artist to be a mind reader. Art is subjective and your artist may not create your cover the exact way you want, even after a couple of tries. Artists are not mind readers. Be patient and clear about what you want, and they will get there.

What to Do If Something Goes Wrong
It doesn't happen often, but there are things that might make your experience less than desirable. For example, if you haven't heard from your artist in weeks, but they said the cover would take eight days. In cases like these, it's appropriate to email them to find out what's going on. It's okay to part ways with your artist if you are not satisfied, but be warned that you may have to pay for some of the work they have already started. Communication and respect are the keys to a successful contract with a cover artist. Make sure you are prepared upfront for any issues that could occur and stay in contact with the artist without being obnoxious.

So, that's it for the advice and thoughts on working with a cover artist. Hopefully, I covered everything. If not, feel free to leave me a comment and I'll answer to the best of my ability.

[READER INTERACTION] Have you ever worked with a cover artist? What's your favourite part of the process? Do you prefer hiring out, or doing it yourself, or both?

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