Australian professional book designer Scarlett Rugers offers advice on the best way for self-published authors to build a great working relationship with book designers – and her top tip is pleasingly straightforward.
Speaking as a professional book designer, I know that authors can be hesitant to contact me for many reasons:
- they don’t know what to expect
- they don’t know what is expected of them
- they can’t trust a creative
- they're unsure of the outcome
- they're worried how much it's going to cost
- they're not sure that I will listen to their ideas
They need not fear. My purpose is to empower you to be the best author you can be. Getting a professionally-designed book cover to make you feel like a traditionally-published author is the start of that. But it doesn’t just happen, it’s something that both you and your designer have to work towards.
The Nature of the Author/Designer Relationship
The author/designer relationship can be relaxing, and easy going, and open. Whenever I talk with an author, I tell them straight up that the most important thing about working together is communication. This is not me dictating to you what will work best and that’s that, nor is it you telling me why we have to have <insert element> on the cover and there’s no leeway either way. It is about coming together into the same place, being open to change, being outside of our comfort zones and appreciating and respecting the input of the other person.
Creativity is all about interpretation and, while I hope you will trust me to lead the project into the golden lands of high profit, I will always listen to your feedback and try it out. But it’s more than just interpretation, it’s about making sure you know what’s happening at all times.
Collaboration is Key
Hiring a designer is about collaboration. It’s a two-person effort, and it can be rewarding and really, really fun. Confusion, misunderstanding and negativity all stem from a lack of communication, so, as I said at the start: talk it out.
When you work with a creative you don’t have to go in blind or confused. It’s okay to ask questions, to seek clarity. It’s okay to tell the designer you don’t understand something. This may surprise you but: I don’t expect you to know how this works. That’s my job! If you don’t ask me, you won’t know.
The Power of Empathy
I’ve been writing since 1998, and it is my first love. I know how it feels to be the author, not knowing what the hell to do next or whether the money is going to be worth the investment. You’ve spent months on this manuscript… years… and now publishing is so close you’re getting paper cuts. I get it, I really do. That’s why I take my time to read your work before I start, to dig out the killer themes in your book that will translate beautifully onto the cover. Reading the book is such a vital part; a lot of the time I draw themes and concepts out of a story that the author didn’t even recognize were in there. I want to give you the best chance of success.
This design belongs to both of us, it is just as important to me as it is to you.
Let the process of working with the designer be a give-and-take process. I approach the design in the same way I want my clients to: open to change. It’s okay to be outside your comfort zone – the only way you can improve is by having a fluid mind. Sometimes, what I originally judged to be a bad idea put forward by my client actually turns out much better than expected, and the authors I work with take the same risks.
So have faith in your designer, let them help you be a professionally published author. What have you got to lose?