Our Services for Authors series continues this week with a visit with book cover designer, Ken Raney. This is the third post in the series. If you missed it, you can read the introduction here.
Ken is a graphic artist with years of experience as a commercial artist. For 25 years, he worked in advertising and was a commercial graphic artist for 35 years. He now designs book covers and interiors as an independent entrepreneur and that makes him the perfect person to talk to us about the importance of cover design for our books.
Welcome to Indie Plot Twist and thank you for joining us, Ken. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
Married to (author) Deborah Raney, 4 kids, 5 grandkids.
I am an illustrator and graphic designer and I freelance from home to make a living.
That sounds like a handful. How did you get started in book cover design?
I’ve always admired good book covers. I was laid off in 2009 and needed to find a way to make some money. The e-book era was just starting and the Lord had me there for the start of it. I have been fortunate to work for only Christian authors and publishers so far.
For those indie authors who aren’t familiar with designing book covers, walk us through the process.
The way I work is this: I have an “Art Fact Sheet” that I ask the author to fill out that tells me the genre, targeted audience, cast, location, time period, etc. From this I design several (3-6) rough layout ideas for review. Hopefully, one of these will be selected by the client and then I will refine the design and send that for review and then back and forth until we get a final solution.
This usually entails using stock photos. Sometimes, I need to shoot photos which may require models, costumes, and props. Also, many times a photo will not be the best solution and I can do a digital painting for the final art.
Once the front cover is finalized, and we have the page count for the book, I can complete the design of the back cover and the spine.
You mentioned that among the things you like to know about each novel is a cast of characters. How much detail do you like to have? I’m assuming basic physical details (eye and hair color, ethnicity, etc.). What other details help you in creating concept designs?
I usually ask authors if their characters look like any celebrities. Location can be important: what State, time of year, etc.
Truthfully, I find the LESS detail, the better. The old adage “Keep It Simple” really applies to book cover design. Too much detail bogs the design down. A cover needs to be “read” quickly – with out any need for explanations.
That’s interesting, more detail being a detriment to the process. I would have thought the opposite to be true. How much input do authors usually have in the design process?
I do accept photos and suggestions.
It sounds like an intricate and detailed process.
I realize that no book cover is ever truly average, but how long does it take, in general, to design a book cover? How far in advance should an author be thinking about cover design?
I usually ask for 2 weeks to complete a cover. If I’m real busy, it might take a bit longer, so I’d plan at least a month in advance.
What advice do you have for first time authors looking for a book cover designer? Anything they should look for or avoid?
It helps (for the artist) to have some graphic-design knowledge, but compare covers to books in the same genre as yours.
Also, one of the surest signs of good design is the typography. Many self-published books have the same stock typefaces because it is simpler for the company to not have to mess with a lot of type choices. Kinda like those stock business cards you can buy or Christmas cards. “Choose from font 1, 2, or 3…”
To close, share your thoughts on what makes money spent on a professional design money well spent.
There are several factors. First off, many times a self-published book looks that way because of the cover. A professional-looking cover helps convey quality to the potential buyer/reader. If the cover looks professionally-designed, that doesn’t make the story any better, but it improves the chances it will get noticed, purchased, and read. If the cover is not professional-looking, it may never get a chance to be read. Think of it like “curb-appeal” when looking to buy a house.
I think a lot of people think they can grab a good stock photo and add some type and have a professional-looking cover. Even though that is how most of us do it, there are years and years of experience involved in selecting the image(s), retouching, manipulating, and prepping it to look professional.
Typography, I think is the biggest difference between a not so and a professional cover. I have over 1,000 fonts plus their variations on my computer. Letter forms can convey a LOT about a book, and knowing how to use typography make a huge difference in a cover.
Thank you to Ken for taking time to answer my questions. I hope you’ve learned as much about the design process as I did.
Other & Upcoming Posts in This Series
About Our Guest
Ken Raney has 25-years experience in advertising and marketing and over 35-years experience in graphic design and illustration. In addition to book cover design, Ken does book interior design, website design, illustration, and more.
He is also currently producing an entertainment/portal website for Christian teenagers which features news, reviews, and interviews in the fields of music, movies, books, comics, careers, games, etc. Clash Creative, Inc. also produces graphic novels and comics for the Christian teenage audience.
For more information on the book design services Ken Raney offers, you can visit his website or contact him by email.