ALLi's Partner Spotlight introduces you to the valued partner members who help drive the self-publishing industry.
Many of you know Jessica Bell, the wildly inventive and multi-talented individual behind some of the best-selling covers of ALLi members' books. We sat down with Jessica to learn more about her creative pursuits.
John Doppler: Can you give us a little backstory on your business? What made you decide to go into cover design?
Jessica Bell: I began my career as a graphic designer when I self-published my first book as an author, a poetry collection called Twisted Velvet Chains, back in 2011. Being the type of person that 100% believes in the phrase ‘if there is a will there is a way,' I embarked on a self-taught design journey 1) because I was penniless, and 2) because I've always loved a creative challenge.
Very soon after my design debut, I started designing covers for author friends as favours. I didn't charge back then, as it was just a fun way to make use of my creative energy. Until one of my friends told me I had real talent, and that I should start a business. I took her advice, and since then I have designed hundreds of covers for indie, traditional, and hybrid authors, many of which have hit bestseller lists, and won awards. A few have even graced the shelves of WH Smiths at Heathrow airport.
Being an author myself, I fully understand the need to be able to incorporate your vision into your book cover. I allow you to do this while simultaneously hitting the right target audience, nailing a professional design, and adding a bit of extra artistic flair. (See below for testimonials.) That is why before I get started, I'll have you fill in a very detailed client questionnaire that provides me with all the information I need to give you exactly what you want. Sometimes without you even knowing you wanted it.
I pride myself on prompt friendly service and an iterative design process. And as I walk in an author's shoes, I am very sensitive to my clients' needs.
John: You have quite an eclectic portfolio! Artist, author, musician… What projects are you working on right now?
Jessica: I'm actually doing a lot of everything. Book design, running Vine Leaves Press, singing for Keep Shelly in Athens, and the doing the whole shebang for BRUNO, my new solo music project.
John: Do you find that one discipline calls to you more than the others?
Jessica: If that was the case I would spend all my energy on ONE thing and make myself a millionnaire. Haha! Seriously though, I don't think I could live without any one of them. They all satisfy and motivate me in different ways. And I think they all feed off each other.
John: Your covers are well known for their unique beauty and reader appeal. What's your process for working with an author to design the perfect cover?
Jessica: As I am not an illustrator, all my covers are designed by manipulating stock photography. So clients need to keep in mind that because I am limited to what's available on stock sites, the less ‘specific' their ideas for the cover are, the better it is for me to get creative and produce something engaging for potential readers. Of course, I can modify images (even illustrated images and vectors) to a certain extent. I can even use multiple images to create one different image, but all within reason. For example, see the first cover of the estalia novels. The separate images used to create that cover are the following: two men on a boat (the boat was also modified by hand to look cyber-punky from a normal fishing boat), the moon and clouds, the sky, and the mechanical overlay.
If the author and I agree to work together, I'll ask them to fill out a client questionnaire which gives me all the information I need to get started. I initially design three prototypes, as a starting-off base, for the client to choose from. They then pick the concept they like best and then we work together to perfect it. From that point forward they get three free revisions.
If it's a series I'm working on, I tend to design the first two books together, so that the author can see how my branding translates across multiple books. The main things I focus on when branding a series are font styles, and image positioning. I'm usually able to tell pretty quickly when designing the first prototype whether I can replicate the look over and over while still making each cover different. I tend to get more and more inspired, and gather more and more ideas as I work. So I need to actually start looking for stock images and putting things together before I understand where my designs are going to go. This is why I ask authors to fill in a questionnaire. I need to comprehend their answers and start working simultaneously to get the best result.
John: Do you have any tips for authors who have never worked with a cover designer before? What are some pitfalls to watch out for, and how can the author work more smoothly with a cover artist?
I seem to be able to design my best covers when the author has offered me lots of suggestions and zero limitations. Working with stock photography makes it very difficult to produce a cover to an exact brief, so concept ideas need to be broad and varied. Also, remember, less is more. You don't need to tell your story on the cover. It needs to create an overall ‘feeling', not by telling readers exactly what's inside, but by setting a tone that is going make your target audience take notice.
Regarding working with a designer, I suggest authors should enter into a collaboration with the understanding that, just like a writer, the designer is also an artist. Become friends. Inspire each other. Respect each other.
John: Do you offer any deals or discounts for ALLi members?
Jessica: Yes, I offer a 20% discount on all my services.
John: Is there anything special you would like our readers to know?
Jessica: Yes! I do all my cover design work to really really loud music. I'm a huge fan of PJ Harvey and bands such as L7, Babes in Toyland, and Magic Dirt ever since my early teens (I was a teen in the 90s). But since joining Keep Shelly in Athens, I've been listening to a lot of electronic music. Lately while designing I've been listening to artists such as Freeland, Daughter, ionnalee, Memoryhouse, Hælos, Bat for Lashes, Totemo, Le Tigre, and Trentemøller, to name a few. If you commission me for a cover, feel free to recommend a band or artist you'd like me to design your covers to. I love discovering new music!
John: Thank you, Jessica! Readers who would like more information about cover design services should visit Jessica's website.
To help authors find the best companies for their needs, the Alliance of Independent Authors' Watchdog Desk evaluates a wide range of publishing and related services. Exemplary services may be invited to join ALLi as partner members. Partner members are rigorously examined for adherence to our Code of Standards, and those who are accepted demonstrate the best qualities of self-publishing services.Meet Jessica Bell, multi-talented artist, author, and musician. Click To Tweet
Jessica Bell just completed a cover for me and it’s absolutely stunning. I thought I had a really good idea of the look I wanted but she reasoned me away from that – thank goodness. I decided to give her full creative control and I never regretted it. Jessica is an excellent communicator, too, which makes it so easy to work with her.
Thank you so much, Bruce!