Setting Up a Design Brief for a Cover Contest (Part II)

Here we are at part two of my advice for people starting up a crowd sourcing competition for a book cover. I hope the first part helped you along the way toward setting up a contest with few headaches. Today I’ll add a few more items so you will avoid pitfalls in your quest for artistic glory.

1) Did you lose your mind and include the kitchen sink? It’s very tempting to wish for every single exciting thing from your story to appear on the cover. For the love of the Great Spiny, don’t do it. Pick some key elements that will show potential readers what your story is about, but don’t get carried away and ask designers to create a visual synopsis. If you write a design brief that says something like — Must have a snowy mountain range in the back with a castle that has five round towers and at least three bridges wedged in amongst the peaks (and the castle is on fire), with the sun coming over the edge and rays of light spilling into the foreground where the four heroes, one gold dragon, a magic user with mystical symbols on his cloak, a black staff with a glowing orb and a red cape, a half-orc barbarian with dreadlocks (female – muscular but not ugly), and an invisible dude (but make him look like glass or something so we can see him), are standing on a road leading to the castle, with the half-orc looking over her shoulder at a forest they just left that is full of frolicking fairies (many different colors of fairies). And a unicorn. It HAS to have a unicorn. And it has wings. And on the back I need a gigantic dragon eye like from the poster for “The Hobbit”, and here’s my author photo and my back copy — then you have committed book cover suicide.

Write a design brief like that and if you’re lucky three people will attempt to do everything you ask. However, the end result will be nightmarish. If you actually use one of those designs, it will look like a crazed smudge when it gets turned into a teeny thumbnail on Amazon.
What’s more likely to happen (assuming anyone tries at all) is that the artists will attempt to edit down your request on their own. They might latch onto the flying unicorn and the rainbow-colored fairies, but completely avoid the rest of the scene. At that point you’ll be disappointed because even though you were insistent about the unicorn, it’s only in ten percent of the story and doesn’t really convey the feel of your overall story. You would have been better off asking for the four heroes to be represented, moving toward a mountain range. It shows the journey which is a key part of your story, and folks might be drawn in by the unusual makeup of the party.
So, before you right your design brief, really think about what the overall theme of your story is. Who and what stand out as the driving forces that will make for a compelling image.

2) Did you communicate during AND after the contest? So, a while back I was chosen to do the cover for this person’s book. I sent them the ebook version of the cover and then proceeded to wait for them to give me the final dimensions for the print version of their book. I’m still waiting. Once they wrote and asked for a PNG of just the title for their web page. I sent it, along with a request for them to get the print information to me. Nothing. No acknowledgement that they got the PNG, and no info about their print book. Then they sent me a log to incorporate into the cover. Still no info about the final product. I asked and got no response.

Part of this goes back to number two from part one of this series. Be prepared. Obviously this person didn’t get their print formatting done before they dove into the cover process. They probably didn’t know that the cover dimensions will vary depending on their page count and paper weight. I understand, that is often part of the learning how to self publish. But don’t leave your designer hanging. Let them know where you’re at in the process. Do you have an ETA on when you will be ready to commit to a cover size? Be up front about what is going on, what delays you’re running into. Heck, they may be able to help you get over a hurdle or two.

The point is, the artist would like to do covers for other people, and they may be concerned about taking on a new project if yours is still hanging out there. The artist doesn’t want to be put in the position of turning down work because they may be called in to finish your cover out of the blue. Some folks thrive on chaos, but a lot do not. Many prefer to devote themselves fully to a project, complete it to everyone’s satisfaction, and then move on to the next job.

3) Are you a pompous, pain in the rear end? Don’t be rude. Don’t denigrate people’s work. Don’t tell people one thing and then when they follow your instructions get sarcastic and condescending because it doesn’t look like what you imagined in your superior brain.

If you had this great idea for your cover, but it’s just not working out in practice, be up front about it. Tell folks, “Hey, I know I thought it would be really cool to have glowing yellow rain, but now I realize it looks like nuclear pee, so I’m sorry, but I think I’d better just have you guys do regular rain. I’ve updated my design brief to reflect this.” Odds are the artists will laugh and make the alterations without batting an eye. But if you instead go on the attack and tell people they’re a bunch of incompetent dweebs because they’re not getting the right shade of nuclear green for your rain, then folks will go find someone less nasty to work for.

Be nice, answer questions, ask questions, and most people will bend over backwards to accommodate you.

I hope this short series will help you get your dream cover. I’ve seen some beautiful work get produced because the author went into the process prepared and attracted skilled artists to their contest. And remember, if you create a positive relationship with an artist, in the future you can contact them for a 1-on-1 project and that will help give your series a sense of consistency. Everyone wins!


One thought on “Setting Up a Design Brief for a Cover Contest (Part II)

  1. Pingback: Setting Up a Design Brief for a Cover Contest (Part II) | Lee Dunning

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