Selecting a Cover Designer for Your Book

Having decided to put my book on the self-published route, I realized that I had more work to do. Before I could hand the manuscript over to my ace editor, I needed to have the cover set up and an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) set up for it. Today I’ll be talking about the designer-selecting process, which turned out to be a lot more involved than I expected.

You Just Google for an Artist, Right?

I started out by reaching out to my friends who had self-published novels already. What I quickly discovered is that artists, like writers, specialize. Some focus on designing covers for romance novels; others, science fiction, mystery, whatever. The primary lesson learned there is that the artists my novel-writing friends worked with wouldn’t work with me because they did not handle nonfiction titles.

Impatient soul that I am, I figured I’d just open up my favorite search engine (, not Google, by the way), and start looking for the magic keywords:


Then just look for the top five choices the come up. Simple, right? Not quite.

My buddy Betty forwarded a couple articles from writer sites that listed guidelines and potential artists/graphic designers (I’ll use them interchangeably here, so bear with me). I found this particular article from The Creative Penn particularly useful, as it provided a long list of links to practicing book cover designers. Then I spent an hour or two looking at the portfolios of artists who designed nonfiction book covers.

I’d love to tell you that I was logical and “scientific” in my approach; but honestly, aside from developing a spreadsheet to track artists of interest, my primary criteria were:

  • Does the designer’s aesthetic sense match the tone I’m trying to capture for my book?
  • Did their work make me say, “Wow” or “Cool?”
  • Was the artist’s approach distinctive somehow?

Out of the couple-dozen artists I reviewed, I narrowed my choices down to four or five, then reached out to three of them. One design firm didn’t respond, a second was not taking clients. That brought me to–oddly enough–my first choice, and he was available. I’ll share more as my process goes forward, but I put a deposit down and look forward to seeing his results.

Communicating with the Artist

Taking a cue from my designer friends, I shared as many ideas for the cover art as I thought were manageable, hoping to convey what I was hoping to accomplish with the cover art:

Things you could include/try:
  • Comic-book-style title font, subtitle in one of those “pow” graphics
  • Caped superheroes (different sexes, ethnicities, etc.) with laptops or pens wearing hard hats, spacesuits, skirts, suits, Hawaiian shirts (my typical work gear)–putting papers, thoughts, or words in order
  • A pen wearing a cape?
  • “Glowing” writer (male or female) at a meeting table–maybe having a “Pow” (think Batman) on their laptop with the same “Pow” appearing on a presentation screen and the other people at the table looking amazed–wow, jaws dropping, that sort of thing
  • Whatever comes to your mind that I haven’t thought of yet. The primary thing is that I want the capture is the idea that writers can and do make a difference in the workplace.
Things I’d prefer you leave out:
  • typewriter (looks old)
  • pink, orange, or brown colors (not a fan)

Where it goes from here, nobody but the artist knows, but it’s been fun putting my tech-writing brain to work for one of my own projects, not just someone else’s. More on this as I get it.



About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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