5 author tips for briefing your designer

Stuart Bache design

Stuart Bache is Art Director of Books Covered, a design agency for publishers, independent authors and literary agents. Here he shares his top tips for authors briefing designers. 

1) Start writing

It’s a good idea to begin collecting information for your brief as soon as you can. You know your novel better than anyone, so make a note of places, interesting and pivotal scenes, character descriptions… but keep it light.

Try to think of it as a starting point for your designer and a focal point for you.

There’s absolutely no problem if you want to do this before you’ve picked your designer, but when you have – and you’re presenting your brief to them – be sure to create an open dialogue with them, as they have a lot more experience of what will and won’t work than you.

2) Put your shoes on

Head to your local book shop (you could look on Amazon too, but it’s good to stretch the legs every once and a while).

You will find loads of important information in a book shop more than you ever would trawling through Google Images; what stands out in your genre, what styles are popular, how it looks on shelf form a distance, what your cover will need to fight against and, just as important, sit alongside.

The bestseller shelves will give you a good idea of what’s currently working well, but remember to look for the shelves specific to your genre too.

3) But my character would never run like that…

Narrative is important, having an exact scene or character trait is not.

I hate to admit this, but potential buyers spend mere seconds (if that) looking at a book cover, they care more about the genre, author and blurb.

So asking your designer to use a specific road in Washington DC at 3am where the moonlight is hitting your protagonist’s face – but only their eyes are in shadow – whilst they run away in a bespoke suit made in a shop (that has since closed down) in Maine and they are holding a gun that hasn’t been invented yet will be completely ignored… and may make your designer’s head explode with rage.

A brief should never be a strict set of rules. Its purpose is for reference, direction and ideas.

4) Say it with images

Designers are visual creatures, so when writing your brief make sure you add book covers which have a similar aesthetic/direction to how you want yours to look.

This isn’t copying, it’s emulation. Plus, it’s a great way to express your ideas when the words don’t come to mind.

Also, it’s not a bad idea to show your competition. These are the covers which your book will need to fight against… or resemble in some way (familiarity is an important factor in book design).

5) Bear in mind…

A good designer not only works to your brief, but also thinks outside of it.

You should allow your designer creative freedom to think of their own direction too, especially if they have a lot of experience in book cover design. They may very well come up with a concept based on your brief that you would never in a million years have imagined… and it may blow you away!

If you found these tips helpful and are interested in knowing more about the design process – or even learn to design your own book covers when you’re on a budget – Books Covered are launching an online design course aimed specifically at self-published authors this Autumn.

To keep up-to-date and receive more information on the course, you can subscribe to Books Covered here https://www.bookscovered.co.uk/subscribe or like their Facebook page here http://www.facebook.com/bookscovered/

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  1. Great post. I was wondering what do you do when an author insists on being too specific like your example above? How do you convince them that what they have in mind really isn’t a great idea?

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