Why I’m jealous of other book cover designers (but shouldn’t be)

I’ve been designing covers for a couple years – and in that time I’ve done a few hundred. I love the work. And I’m getting better all the time. But I still feel insecure when looking at other book designer’s portfolios. I see a lot of amazing work that I like. I’m hoping to improve my skills until I’m up there with the very best. But I still get a little jealous of other people’s awesome work.

Here are the things I tell myself when that happens:

1. Everybody has a different style

I’m a messy person. I tend to be careless about the details, so my covers can seem more visceral, raw, and rough. Usually what I like about other cover designer’s work is how clean and polished and pretty it is. And I can work on being neat and tidy. But… I also need to embrace my own personal design style. I make a ton of rough samples (usually more than ten – sometimes pushing fifty!) until the final idea is hammered out. Other designers spend a lot of time making things pretty but may not give as many options (which is not necessarily a bad thing: I often feel I give authors too many choices and they get paralyzed, or choose poorly).

2. I build scenes

The covers I like are also usually just using one big picture. That means very little Photoshop work. If they’re using one stock photo, all they did was add some text and maybe some design elements. So even if it looks awesome, it was pretty easy. Oh how I wish I had more projects like that (and I probably would, if I made fewer samples and didn’t listen to my authors).

My authors are usually very descriptive about what they want, and I try to do it. I know that other designers say “That’s a bad idea, it won’t make a good cover, let’s do this instead.” I know that those designers are probably helping the authors more than I am – because really busy, complex covers don’t usually sell as well as simple, powerful covers.

I make some simple strong ones as well, but most authors push on towards their vision, and we get into scene-building – which means, constructing an entire 3D reality with all the objects, locations and characters and magical powers and what-not. It can take dozens and dozens of hours to get everything right, and make the authors happy. Why are my finished covers not as neat and pretty as other designers’? Because I’m still listening to my authors. Maybe I need to stop, but it’s fun and they’re happy with the work, so…

PS) I just noticed an author I worked on a brilliant cover for, and we spent a long time on, has gotten a redesign and gone with something very bold and simple. One large image rather than a scene. The new cover looks great. Bold and simple is almost always best. My portfolio is full of ‘scenes’ because that’s what the authors chose, rather than what I favored.

3. Lots of variety, and they appeal to different folks

People have different tastes. I look at my portfolio and there are some I like and some I’m not fond of. I feel the same about other people’s portfolios. I’m tempted to clean out my portfolio and just focus on what I consider my strongest work, but every time I get a new client I’m surprised by what they say they liked in my portfolio. Everybody likes different stuff. There’s no accounting for taste.

So at least I’ve got a ton of variety.

4. It’s not all about pricing

I’m especially jealous of cover designers that charge about the same as I do. We all package our services differently. They may throw in free bookmarks, Facebook banners or posters and other stuff. It’s hard to comparison shop for book cover design because – regardless of the extras in the package – what matters most is having the best cover for your book: the one that’s going to appeal to your target readers and suck them in enough to read the description. It’s got to be beautiful and bold and fit the genre well. I was about to say something like “how well you work with the designer” is also important, as in you should feel comfortable with each other… but I’ll admit I’m not as positive and supportive as some other cover designers. I want you to sell books. I want your investment in me to pay off. I want you to earn a return.

So I’ll give you straight up opinions and advice, and push you in a direction I think will be most successful, but I’m brief with my words and pragmatic in my direction. I’m not a hand-holder. I’m not cheery and garrulous. I know it can come off as rudeness sometimes; chit-chat is not a skill I find useful, as I’d rather be making things that will help you achieve your goals.

Do you have feedback for me?

Like I said, these are the things I tell myself. I like to be aware of my shortcomings so that I can improve, and I’m constantly seeking to be more helpful to authors. I’m open to any critiques or suggestions on how I can make this site, my services or my covers better.