I used to tell people that you can never start your book cover too early. On the one hand, having a great cover can motivate you to write a quality story that lives up to the picture. On the other hand, you need to get your story out there and create demand for it, even if you haven’t finished. So hiring a book cover designer or making your own book cover early can work really well for indie authors.
However recently I’ve been noticing something less advantageous: some of my clients hire me to make a book cover for their book when they’ve just gotten started writing their book. Maybe they’re 30% done. So they think they know some things about the characters and the plot… but as every writer knows, books have a life of their own. Characters change and evolve. New directions and plot twists spring up.
I’ve had clients start with a main character in a certain costume, change ethnicity, age, costume, hair style and location as weeks (or months) progressed. Rather than one book cover design, I’m doing the work of four or five different ones, waiting for the story to take final shape.
So my new advice is this: start as early as possible on your book cover design, but not until you know for sure what your book is about. At least have a solid first draft.
You can hire a cover designer about the same time as you hire a book editor. That way, the cover will be ready by the time you start formatting for publishing.
More Things to Consider
Before you hire a designer or start the book cover design process, here are some things you should have ready:
1) The Perfect Title. Although this is easy to change later, knowing your title will really help direct the style of your book cover. Have variations. Use Google Adwords to test what gets clicked. Get tons of feedback. Innovate.
2) The Perfect Tagline. Summarize your book in one sentence. Note the key conflict, the key setting/location, the transformation journey or challenge, the main character(s). Write down all of the keywords that readers might use to discover your book. (The genre and sub-genre, the setting/location, the topics, vocations, and issues that are dealt with directly or indirectly). Once you have those checklists, try to put them all together (as many as possible, choose the strongest) in one or two sentences that tell readers what the book is about while also hooking their attention.
These same lists can be given to your book cover designer.
3) Examples of 5 book covers that you like, and why. Your book cover doesn’t have to copy, but knowing what appeals to you will make it much easier for your designer to make something you like, and save some time. A good designer will probably make a few samples of what you think you want, and a few samples of what he thinks would look good – the final result will hopefully be a collaboration between both.
4) Help search for your own art/photo.
Your designer will search through thousands of photos on stock photography sites. You can save a lot of time by looking for things you like as well – you may find something you love, or at least help him narrow down what you’re looking for.