Last week, I broke down the editing process for the first book in my epic fantasy series, Fire & Flight — Heirs of Tenebris trilogy: Book 1, and thought I’d share what happened behind the scenes of my cover design and book formatting process. I’d like to preface this by saying my artistic ability extends only to writing, so trying to concisely convey the images I had in my head was difficult for me because there was a lot of “so you know that part of this obscure object? That’s what I’m going for” in my notes to my cover designer, but she was awesome at interpreting the random images thrown onto Fire & Flight’s Pinterest board and my haphazard design thoughts.
Like the advice given in my editing process, I highly recommend making sure you have a good dialogue with whoever you end up hiring for your cover design and book formatting! Communication is key and makes the whole process smoother, especially when you go through a few revisions before landing on a final cover design.
As far as cover design goes, we have a few options as authors:
- If you’re artistically inclined or have the right programs, you can make your own cover
- You can purchase a pre-made cover from a couple of different (and reputable!) websites (I don’t have experience with those websites, so I can’t really speak to that experience. Make sure to do your research and view potential designers’ portfolios!)
- You can hire a graphic artist/cover designer and work with them to create a custom cover
I’m lucky in the sense that I know someone in the marketing industry who has graphic design contacts and I happen to know a few myself. For my cover, I did end up hiring a contact recommended to me by a mutual co-worker (can freelancers use the term “co-worker?), and we have since worked together on multiple designs for Fire & Flight, all of which can be seen on my social media pages! While those images were being created on a near-weekly basis, my cover designer and I worked through a few iterations of the cover. Once she was on board with the project, I gave her access to my Pinterest board for Fire & Flight and some design notes for the cover that included a few different design concepts and a bullet list outlining the key aspects I was looking for. The important part of communicating with artists is to be as precise as you can. They can’t see into your head and so you have to rely on your communication skills to help provide them with relevant information about your cover. Color palette, size, design elements, character information (if relevant to your cover), and anything else you think is important to mention FOR YOUR COVER.
Your cover designer shouldn’t have to sift through a wall of text for what’s important to your cover design and what you may want included in their design. Help make their job easier by giving them only the necessary facts (including important facts about your plot because that’ll come in handy when considering design), and if you’re like me and had a few different design concepts in mind, ask them which idea they think is most exciting! Talk through the design with them, and bounce ideas off of each other. Make sure to have at least one meeting to talk about design, make a final decision about which concept you’re going with, and just make sure you’re both on the same page about timeline, design proofs, revisions, and finalizing the cover.
Once you make a design decision, you have to trust in your graphic designer and answer any questions they might have about the design as they work on it. Like your initial design notes, make sure to be brief and precise in your feedback—but remember: your designer is human! Don’t be harsh in your feedback if you truly don’t like their proof.
I LOVED the design proof my cover artist sent me, but there was something about the design that bothered me. At first I thought maybe it was the background color, so my graphic designer tweaked it and I was blown away by the difference but there was still something “off” about the cover to me. Her design was beautiful but it wasn’t quite right yet. As it turns out, it was the holder for the crystal ball. Once we figured that out, I reached out to her with a final revision and her final design was absolutely stunning! We actually worked together on all three covers for the Heirs of Tenebris trilogy because I wanted to make sure the sequels had a similar look to them as Fire & Flight’s cover, so we opted to get them all done in one go. Seeing all three designs side-by-side is so impactful and I can’t wait to share the next two with all of you as I work on publishing the next two books in the trilogy!
When it came to formatting, I worked with Paper Raven Books’ amazing formatter. Not only did she do the interior and cover formatting for Fire & Flight, but she also formatted the interior for the companion guide as well. If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter yet, you can gain access to Tenebris: An Introduction to the World of Fire & Flight at brswrites.com. By signing up, you can marvel at all of the artwork created for the series thus far as well as my formatter’s gorgeous interior design.
While I can’t really talk about hiring a book formatter, I can talk about the moment she sent me the formatted proof of the first chapter. I’m pretty sure I screamed and then I cried. That was the moment I realized this whole thing was real and that F&F’s publication wasn’t a dream. Admittedly, there isn’t much for us to do as the author during formatting, but you may be asked about fonts, colors, etc., and this was also the time when my team at Paper Raven Books had me purchase ISBNs* so that the barcode** could be added to the back cover that my formatter had created and matched colors to the front cover thanks to the HEX codes provided by my cover designer. It was also at this point that I realized the cover design needed to have a certain amount of bleed to the design so that when it was printed, the cover wouldn’t be cut off. As this was my first time through formatting and cover design, and also my cover designer’s first time designing a book cover, neither of us had realized/thought of adding bleed to the design for when it went to print. We quickly amended that, and then the book was formatted in its entirety.
I did one more read through of Fire & Flight (or was it two? I don’t know—I did A LOT of rereading through the publishing process, but especially during proofreading and formatting) before approving the formatted book. I highly recommend you do the same, but remember: this is not the time to make big changes. Those should all be done by this point in the process and your formatted read through is really just to marvel at your novel, pull teaser quotes to share on social media if you haven’t done so at this point, and catch that one typo that’s managed to elude you and your editors (and just when you think you’ve caught them all! But rest assured, I have actually read traditionally published books with a typo in a first printing. It’s a natural part of the process and totally human).
Hopefully my experience through designing the cover for my epic fantasy trilogy and the formatting process has proven helpful! I know not everyone will end up seeking a cover design for a custom/premium cover, but it’s definitely worth it if you can. I’d also recommend going through the cover design process at the same time as your entrance into the editing process because by the time you reach formatting, you’ll be all set with a cover and it’ll put you that much closer to release day! Even if you don’t choose to custom create your cover, start your search for a pre-made or semi-customizable cover earlier rather than later. I really like lining all my ducks up in a row and having things ready to go in advance, so if there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it would be to take your cover design seriously and devote enough time to it.
Your writing deserves a worthy cover, because as much as we say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” people do and a cover is oftentimes the first impression your book will make. We spend years writing our books, so spending a few months searching for the perfect cover or working with a cover designer to create something worthy of your book is the greatest piece of publishing advice I can give you. As indie authors, we wear many hats (writer, marketer, business owner, etc.), but when it comes to actually publishing our book, we can’t do everything. No matter how much research we do, there are times when it’s best to leave it up to the experts, especially in cases of editing, cover design, and formatting. Unless this is something you do for your day job*** or have successfully done before, it’s best to find a professional you can trust to do it, and maybe learn a thing or two from them before trying it on your own!
*I purchased them myself as Paper Raven Books does not purchase them on their authors’ behalf. There is an actual legal reason why owning your ISBN is important, so make sure YOU buy YOUR BOOK’S ISBN, not your consultant company, not your hybrid publisher, but you. If you don’t own your ISBN, you’ve given a piece of your control up, and in essence, a piece of your book as well. If you’re an indie author, buy your own ISBN to help maintain your legal rights and your total control of your book. This is just my experience and the conclusion I reached based on my own research, so please be sure to seek actual legal counsel with any questions or for advice regarding this matter.
**So, I didn’t purchase barcodes from Bowker/MyIdentifiers (the U.S.’s chosen ISBN provider), and then I worried that I should’ve. When I asked, my project manager at Paper Raven Books, she assured me that once the file was uploaded to IngramSpark, a barcode would be provided. Needless to say, Fire & Flight does have a barcode and I saved a bit of money on that front!
***Editing may be the to exception this assumption. You’ll need a fresh eye on your writing because, as the author, you’ll know it too well and your brain may skip over parts of your manuscript or forget to absorb it due to how familiar you are with it.