This post is part of Cover Design Week. To see other posts click the CDW tag below.
In an earlier post I talked about how the value of hiring a cover designer is directly related to the potential time savings. For me the prospect of hiring a cover designer will save me time in a variety of ways, including some that are unconventional, or at least idiosyncratic.
I have a fair amount of technical knowledge. I’m reasonably comfortable with computers, and if I don’t have specific familiarity with a given application I can usually get it to do what I need in fairly short order. In putting together the e-book cover for my short story collection, The Year of the Elm (TYOTE), I used an open-source application called GIMP, which is a free and fairly powerful image editor.
GIMP is not, however, easy to embrace. Even armed with a helpful book about the program I found myself bashing my head on my desk when trying to do simple things, including changing ColorA to ColorB. Like many graphics programs, GIMP uses a dizzying mix of image-editing terminology and application-specific geek terminology to describe various functions and aspects of the interface. If you don’t know which term means what, doing even simple things can become a nightmare.
On the art/design side of the cover-design equation, I’m not an artist, but I have a fairly good eye, and I understand basic composition. Whatever you may think of the current TYOTE cover design, it’s pretty much what I was aiming for from concept to execution. Not only do I ‘know it when I see it’ (some people don’t), but I am also able to imagine what I want in advance or work toward it in the image-editing process. I may need to try a few things and discard them, but over time I’ll be able to focus my efforts and reach an acceptable result. What I cannot do is draw very well, but as image libraries continue to grow in size that skill is becoming less and less critical.
Relative to the scale or experience I described in the earlier post referenced above, I’m someone who doesn’t necessarily need a cover designer in order to end up with the cover I want. I may be wrong in what I want, or there may be tweaks that a better designer/artist could make that would improve the image, but relative to people with no image-editing or creative skills I’m reasonably proficient. Where a tech or design novice would almost be compelled to seek assistance, I have the option to do things myself and save money (meaning capital) in the process.
(As an aside, several weeks ago I asked a number of people to recommend cover designers to me. I was a bit surprised that half of the people who replied said they were still doing their own covers. Some of these people were self-taught, but most of them had innate artistic ability to draw from — including skills that are well beyond my own. As expected, people with advanced skills perceive minimal value in hiring someone else to create what they themselves already have in mind.)
So: given that I could probably execute my own cover designs if I wanted to (as long as they didn’t involve original artwork), why am I thinking about hiring someone to handle the POD version of the TYOTE cover? For the following reasons:
- I want to limit my tendency to try to get things juuuust right. Maybe that’s not something most people are at risk for, but I know I am. I can move an image element only a few pixels and it will look qualitatively different to me, which leads to a lot of fussing. Maybe someone else can take that on and get there faster.
- To whatever degree creating a final image is enjoyable for me, all the file-formatting stuff is the opposite. Exactly how much compression should I use on that JPEG? Or should I be using JPEG’s at all? ZZZzzz….
- Speaking of tech stuff, I’ve never formatted anything for CreateSpace. I know it’s not rocket science, but I also know other people are doing it routinely, meaning they’ll be much faster, and at negligible cost to me because it’s already part of their work flow.
- I don’t have a lot of new ideas for the TYOTE cover image. I’d rather have someone take a look at what I have and see how it can be improved as opposed to either of us starting from scratch. (More on this in the next post.)
- The next cover I’ll need is for a novel I’m fixing. Working with someone else will teach me about the collaborative process, if not also help me decide whether to hire that person again. (My approach may be similar in the case of the novel: work up an idea/sketch, then ask someone else to fine tune it.)
The decision to hire a cover designer is actually two decisions. First, whether you should or not. Second, who you should hire.
As noted above, people who have no tech or design skills essentially have the first decision made for them. They may not hire a professional, choosing instead to get help from family or friends, but they know they themselves won’t be creating the cover. The more tech and design ability a writer has, the more complex the first question becomes.
The second decision — who to hire — is decided by each writer’s needs. For writers with no tech or design skills, this decision is necessarily more uncertain because they need everything. For writers who are strong in either tech or design skills, they can narrow their search by looking for cover designers with complimentary skills. For writers who have most of the tools needed to design their own covers, narrowing needs down to one or two specific criteria can all but eliminate most of the available cover designers as either overkill or unqualified.
The criteria I listed above are not complex, buy they are very specific. As with most decisions, the more information you have, the more likely you are to get a good result. Looking for a cover designer is not simply about finding out who’s available, it’s about finding out who fits your needs. If you don’t define your needs, you can’t answer that question.
In the next post I’ll talk about the original TYOTE cover I designed, what I’m looking for in the CreateSpace POD version, and how that will affect my hiring decision.
— Mark Barrett
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