This post is part of Cover Design Week. To see other posts click the CDW tag below.
In the previous post I said that neither the amount of cash you have on hand nor the cost of an expense necessarily tells you whether that expense is a good idea or not. That’s particularly true for something like the design of a book cover, which is so inherently subjective in any instance as to defy meaningful cost-benefit analysis by even the biggest publishers.
If how much money you have, or what something costs, says nothing about value, then money as a useful metric has pretty much been exhausted. However, since time equals money in many business situations (if not in life as well), we can also look at the value of offloading cover-design responsibility onto someone else from that perspective. In doing so, we may find a more useful way to judge both the merit of the decision and the economic value as well.%nbsp;%nbsp;
To begin, consider the possible range of independent authors who might choose to have someone else design a book cover. At the novice end of the spectrum are writers who have no artistic ability, no graphic-design ability, and no technical experience with the tools that are commonly used to create the necessary files. These writers may be brilliant at writing, but would literally have to start from scratch in designing even the most rudimentary of covers. At the other end of the spectrum we have equally talented writers who are also expert artists and graphic designers, technically proficient with all of the tools required to create publication-ready covers.
Continuing the example from the previous post, in which our cover design cost was $50, it should be obvious that the value of cover-design services at that (or any) price is almost incalculable for writers with no relevant skills, while close to negligible for writer who possess skills and abilities that would allow them to work as cover designers themselves. In either case the value is determined not by looking at dollar cost, but by looking at the amount of time a cover designer would save a given author.
In order to equal the production capability of a cover designer, a novice designer would have to develop artistic skills, design skills and technical skills, assuming they had the potential to do so to their own level of satisfaction. However long this growth might take, the amount of time a novice designer would need to invest would not only be prohibitive in terms of gaining the requisite skills, it would seriously impact the time available for that author to write. Note, too, that a desire to gain these skills would probably speak to a level of awareness of what the desired cover should look like, but many writers may not have that level of conviction. Even armed with artistic talent and technical skill, a writer might have no personal opinion about how to translate their work into a cover that would speak to the contents and/or appeal to the desired reader. The possibility of purchasing conceptual services along with the skills necessary for design execution only makes any particular price point that much more valuable for a writer in this position.
Contrast all of these advantages with the negligible value a cover designer provides to a writer who already has the artistic and technical skills to execute their own cover design. The only conceivable advantage such a writer might gain in hiring a designer would be the time savings of having someone else do the actual work. But given that such a writer would probably also have a strong opinion about what the desired cover should look like, it’s possible the time required to explain the cover to another person would be greater than the savings gained by outsourcing the execution. For a writer in this situation, there may be little or no value in hiring someone at any price point, particularly if the writer has a specific design in mind.
In trying to determine the value of hiring a cover designer, then, all writers need to ask where they fall on this continuum. Writers with considerable artistic training but no technical proficiency might choose a designer to help with that aspect of production. By the same token, a writer with technical proficiency but no artistic gifts might look for a cover designer offering commissioned artwork. In all cases the value of outsourcing would be directly related to the amount of time saved when compared with the time necessary for a writer to produce the same cover themselves. This time savings can then be equated to a dollar value (either an hourly cost or the total cost of acquiring the necessary skills), in order to help determine whether the decision to hire someone else makes economic sense or not.
In the next post I’ll talk about where I fall on this scale, and about the specific advantages and disadvantages I anticipate in hiring a cover designer myself.
— Mark Barrett