Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Being a Freelance Book Cover Designer

Do you have a knack for graphic design? Have you wondered what it would take to be a freelance book cover designer? 

Since last month's post about "Being an Author's Assistant" went over so well, I thought I'd do another one on being a freelance cover designer!

Stephanie White - A Graphic Designer, Photographer, and aspiring author living in North Vernon, Indiana with her husband and three beautiful children.

Najla Qamber, or otherwise known as Naj, has been brought up in a persian/filipino atmosphere. Now, with her bachelors degree in Business, she has been working as a freelance designer for almost 5 years.

Emily Mah Tippetts writes science fiction and fantasy as Emily Mah and designs book covers, formats paperbacks and ebooks, and writes contemporary romance and chick lit as E.M. Tippetts.

How did you get started doing freelance cover design?

Designed by Stephanie White
I've always been an artist. I paint and craft and I love to read. So, I first decided that I wanted to write a book. Then when I looked for a cover designer I was blown away by the prices. I set out to make my own cover and in doing so I learned a lot about digital art and photoshop. I just kept studying and learning and realized that is was something that I loved doing. I started a page and a website and now here I am today. It's been great and I couldn't have chosen a more perfect profession!

I've been a designer for awhile and at the same time, I was a book blogger and read everything a book store can offer. One day, I wanted so badly to do book cover designs that I started revamping book covers of already published books just for fun and showed it off on my book blog and my design blog. Someone noticed them and my art gallery on deviantart and that's how it all started.

By accident, literally. I designed my own covers for my short stories, because I couldn't afford a cover designer for those, and so I had some very limited experience when I got an email from Casey Quinn. She was a fan of mine and we got to talking and she told me about this book she'd written called Girl With Guitar. From just the synopsis, I knew this book had to be published and that it was perfect for the indie, new adult market, but she explained she had very limited financial resources. I formatted the book for her and offered to do a temporary cover for a soft launch, until she sold enough copies to afford a real cover designer and then she could do a real launch. Well... so that cover I did took on a life of it's own. I still get fan mail about it, and people started pestering me to do their covers. At first I did them for free, assuming this was a temporary thing until people realized that I'd just gotten lucky with Girl With Guitar, but when it didn't let up, I started charging and people started paying. So here I am! I haven't had an art class in over 20 years and know how to use Photoshop from some digital scrapbooking courses I took once.

How do you find clients? How do clients find you?

Well, That is actually the hard part. It started out just me posting everywhere about my work and doing covers for some close friends for VERY cheap LOL! Now I have the website and I link everything together to help advertising. Really in this business I think it's pretty much word of mouth and the work you put out gets you more work.

Designed by Najla Qamber
Since I've already have a few author friends here and there because of my book blog. I asked them what places they usually hung around and I just went there and offered my services. That's how I got a few clients at first. Right now, a lot of my clients find me on my website, my Facebook page, or through their friends.

Clients find me through the grapevine, and through the copyright pages of books I did the covers for. I'm also a paperback and ebook formatter, so people sometimes come to my site looking for formatting services and see my covers there. I've never advertised, but a lot of indie authors are very proactive about finding designers who will make their books look exactly how they want, so anyone working in indie publishing will get a steady stream of authors surfing to their site, checking to see if it's right for them.

What advice do you have to offer to someone who would like to do freelance cover design?

Haha! Advice, oh... There is so much. Always watermark everything... Be aware that people will want you to pay for them to get you clients when they should pay you for your work not the other way around. READ contracts and licenses... Research your work. If you have never done something then research it and find out as much as you can about it. Find other designers that you can trust to be friends with so that you have someone who understand what you go through everyday. That has helped me tremendously. I would probably be bald and crazy by now if I didn't have someone to talk to about this stuff! LOL!

Always remember that you need to have some sort of online portfolio to show your potential clients. If you haven't done book cover designs before and don't have the portfolio for it yet. Go ahead and open up photoshop and make your own book covers just to fill up your cover design portfolio. Then show it off via your Facebook page, website, and other places where authors hang around. Don't be afraid to offer your services.
Designed by E.M. Tippetts

First make sure you know how to design an effective cover. While I do feel like the success of my Girl With Guitar cover was a bit of a fluke, I nevertheless worked hard to design the best cover I could. I did know the elements of where to place a title and what makes an effective image, and I had a lot of experience in photoediting. I gave it my all because I really wanted Caisey to have every chance of being successful. If need be, take design courses. I have since people started to pay me to design for them.

And then when setting up your business, build a social network of writers. Indie publishing is wide open; you can go to your nearest author event, talk to the authors there, and explain who you are and offer your card. Even if they don't hire you, you can then ask to friend them on Facebook and grow your network that way. Now when I say build a social network, the emphasis is on *social*. Ideally you're reading the kinds of books you want to design covers for and can have an intelligent conversation about the latest releases, how amazing it is that so-and-so hit the New York Times bestseller list, and so on. You don't want to be hawking your wares all the time. Just put your credentials in your bio and perhaps a sample cover as your avatar, and otherwise don't beg for business. Indie authors who think you have intelligent things to say about what they do will come find you, provided you've got current links to your website and such on your profile.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I would just like to say Thank you for including me and shining a little light on the Designers! It's great to see so many people interested in what I do!  ;)

Love your job. Design to please yourself as much as it is to please your clients.

Just a thank you for having me! I really appreciate it.

Many thanks to the designers for asking all my questions, as well as all the wonderful people who helped me find all the designers!


  1. Naj is the best! So glad you featured her and the other lovely, talented artists. It's not only a skill, but a gift.

  2. So amazing seeing someone I remember from Deviantart way back now building her own mini-book-designing empire ;)

  3. The book covers featured here are so gorgeous! Kudos to the designers and thank you for featuring them. I have been working on my own book designs and this post inspired me.

  4. The book covers featured here are so gorgeous! Kudos to the designers and thank you for featuring them. I have been working on my own book designs and this post inspired me.