Become a Writer Today

What Are the Conventions of a Book Cover and Which Should You Use? With Mariah Sinclair

March 07, 2022 Bryan Collins Season 2
Become a Writer Today
What Are the Conventions of a Book Cover and Which Should You Use? With Mariah Sinclair
Show Notes Transcript

Mariah Sinclair is an Arizona-based book cover designer who recently set up and sold a book cover directory.  I wanted to know what a book cover directory is, how authors can use them, and how her sale went. 

I also asked Mariah to critique a book cover for one of my earlier books that didn’t sell well. Mariah gave me some interesting insights that I could use if I decided to relaunch the book at some point.

Book covers are an investment in your craft. I’ve spent anywhere from $100 or $200 to over $1,000 on book cover designs. 

I also worked with professional designers while working for a software company, and one thing I’ve learned is that design is a different discipline from writing. It’s still creative work, so if you’re going to work with a book cover designer, it pays to understand the language of design.

In this episode we discuss:

  • How long it can take to design a book cover
  • How a good book cover can sell more copies of a book
  • Mariah critiques one of Bryans's book covers
  • Cliché book covers
  • What different fonts represent
  • How much should you spend on a book cover?
  • When should you start looking for someone to design your book cover?


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If you enjoyed the show please leave a review on Apple. And if you have any questions you can find me on Twitter @BryanJCollins

Thanks for listening!

Mariah: Well, I first wanna see the cover. I wanna take a look, like let’s look at your sales page. Let’s look at what genre is your book in. And then is that cover speaking to that genre? I think where a lot of authors kind of get hung up is they think the cover is supposed to speak more to the story inside and that’s not necessarily the case. The cover is really supposed to speak to the genre. And the reason that is is because readers know what they like to read.

Introduction: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan: What are the conventions of a book cover? How can you figure out which ones you should use in your book cover and who can help? Hi, there. My name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast.

Book covers are an investment in your craft. I’ve got book covers designed for various books over the years and I’ve spent anywhere from $100 or $200 on books to over $1,000 on book cover designs. I’ve also worked with professional designers while working for a software company and one thing I’ve learned is that design is a different discipline to writing but it’s still a type of creative work, so if you’re going to work with a book cover designer, it pays to understand the language of design.

If you know a little bit about font choice, if you know a little bit about color schemes, and you know a little bit about typography and what images you want on your book cover, you’ll have gone a long way. Now, if you’re gonna find a book cover designer today, there’s a couple of options that you can pursue. You can use a service like 99designs to run a book cover competition. 

That’s something I’ve done in the past. You can use websites to purchase premade book covers and then tailor the title of the premade book cover or tailor your story accordingly and that’s something we talk about in this week’s episode. I haven’t explored this option but it is particularly popular with genre fiction authors who are publishing lots of different books because you could relatively easily find a cover for a science fiction book or for an urban fantasy book and use that for a story that you’ve already written without necessarily breaking the bank.

Now, the option that I prefer is to work directly with a book cover designer. I like working directly with book cover designers because I can explain what my book is about, I can go through the book cover design with them and work on several different iterations, and, if I need to go back and make changes to the book, I can just shoot the book cover designer a quick email.

Now, I used to recommend that you always ask your book cover designer for the source files, but after speaking to several different book cover designers over the past few years, I found that it’s not always possible to get the source files because they might not necessarily have the license for the stock photo or it may not be built into their contract, so that’s a question that you should probably ask upfront before you decide to work with a book cover designer.

Also, unless you’ve got skills in Photoshop or Illustrator or other tools, then you’re probably not gonna be able to do much with the book cover design anyway. And most book cover designers are creatives, so if you send them an email and say, “Look, I need to change the size of this book cover,” or, “I need to change the font,” or, “I need to make some other alteration,” they’ll do it because it’s part of their craft and because they’re professionals, so don’t worry too much if you get a JPG image and you need to go back and make changes later. Keep in touch with your book cover designer and you may be able to work with them on more than one creative project. 

Now, in this week’s interview, I caught up with a professional book cover designer, her name is Mariah Sinclair. She’s based in Arizona, and she recently set up and sold a book cover directory and I asked her all about what a book cover directory is, how authors can use them, and how her sale went.

Halfway through the interview, I also asked Mariah to critique a book over for one of my earlier books which didn’t sell that well. It’s not my latest book, which is a book about parenting called I Can’t Believe I’m a Dad, but I won’t spoil the surprise. Mariah gave me some interesting insights that I could use if I decided to relaunch the book at some point in the future.

Now, if you enjoyed this week’s episode, please consider leaving a short review on iTunes because your reviews will help more listeners find the show. And also consider sharing the show with a friend or somebody who enjoys hearing about the craft of writing on Spotify or Overcast or Stitcher or wherever you’re listening. 

Finally, before we get over to this week’s interview with Mariah Sinclair, if you’d like a 20 percent lifetime discount on Grammarly, which is a writing tool that I use every day for my business, you can use the link in the show notes or visit and that’ll give you a 20 percent discount which you can use to check your writing and to check your book chapters.

Now, let’s go to this week’s interview with Mariah Sinclair. 

Bryan: Welcome to the show, Mariah.

Mariah: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Bryan: I always love talking to book cover designers but you took your book cover design to another level. You built a business around it, part of which you sold so before I get into that, could you give listeners a flavor for your creative journey and how you got into book cover design?

Mariah: Sure. So, I started as a designer back in the 90s, early 90s, and I worked for government agencies and in advertising and then I was an art director for a magazine and then I left it for like 10 years and did other careers. I worked in property management, in entertainment, a bunch of different careers. And a few years ago, I opened up Photoshop again and just kind of fell in love with it. I hadn’t worked with it in so long and so much of the industry had changed since I left it in like the year 2000. And it was a lot easier, honestly.
There are so many tools and tutorials out there and I started creating digital art and I looked at book cover design and saw this huge opportunity with people self publishing, and that’s what I focused on is self-publishers, and with Amazon and Kindle and that industry, it was just so wide open and I was like, “I think I can make money doing this. Like I think I can leave property management and get back to being creative,” and I started. 

I just kind of put out my shingle, I learned all I could about book cover design. I had the graphic design background already but book cover design is different than just straight graphic design. So I learned as much as I could about how the book cover functions as a marketing tool and how it invites readers and I learned about that and kind of just put my shingle out there in 2017 and, since then, I have designed over 1,300 book covers.

Bryan: 1,300? How long does it take to design a book cover?

Mariah: Well, I have 30 years’ experience, so I kind of have a head start on speed. It depends. I can do a book cover in as little as 30 minutes. But, remember, like that’s because I have 30 years of experience and I’m making decisions a lot quicker than some other designers. For me, that’s how I get really fast is that I commit to a decision pretty quickly. I don’t look through stock sites for two hours. 

Some of my counterparts will and they will look through images after images to just keep on getting options and I generally don’t look that long. I find the first one that I think will work and then I get to the designing, or the first handful of images that I think will work and then I jump into the actual designing.

Bryan: I think writers will have a similar experience with doing something quite quickly that will take other people quite a long time. For example, I used to be a copywriter and I would be given short pieces of copy to write for a homepage for some accounting software and it would take me about 30 minutes to do it. 

I remember a product marketing team was trying to do the same activity and they were describing how it took hours. And for a while, I couldn’t understand it but then I realized it’s because I’ve been writing for 15 years or 20 years so that that was probably the reason.

Mariah: That’s exactly it. When you’ve been doing something, like I’ve been designing since the early 90s and, you know, I just — I know what font I’m gonna probably work with before I even begin the book cover, or I at least have two or three in my head, where younger, newer designers, they may go through and look and play with 20 different fonts. And that takes time, you know? 

And for me, I’m like that ruins my profit margin so I wanna make decisions as quickly as possible and I also really try to understand how the book cover works as a marketing piece so I’m always coming from it from a sales point of view, where some other designers really come from it from an artistic and a creative expression point of view and that can be a big difference.

Bryan: If I come to you and I say, “Mariah, I want to sell more copies of my book,” what would you say to me?

Mariah: Well, I first wanna see the cover. I wanna take a look, like let’s look at your sales page. Let’s look at what genre is your book in, and then is that cover speaking to that genre. I think where a lot of authors kind of get hung up is they think the cover is supposed to speak more to the story inside and that’s not necessarily the case. The cover is really supposed to speak to the genre. 

And the reason that is is because readers know what they like to read. Let’s say I love vampire books, like that’s all I read is vampire books. I know what vampire books look like. I know when I’m looking at 200 covers in a bookstore or if I’m on Amazon and I’m looking at there, just the open Kindle Store, I know what vampire covers look like so my eye is going to gravitate towards the vampire books.
That’s from the cover, that’s speaking to the genre or the theme of the book. That’s what’s gonna grab my eye. Then I’ll look at the title, I’ll look at the sales page, I’ll look and see if there’s any reviews, I’ll look at the price point, you know? I’ll check out all that other information to see if this vampire book is the one I want. But it’s that cover looking like a vampire book that’s gonna grab my eye as a vampire lover, vampire reader. Obviously, that works for all other tropes and genres, not just vampires.

Bryan: I’m gonna put you on the spot, Mariah. I’m gonna ask you about a book cover that I have.

Mariah: Okay, I’m excited.

Bryan: So, I know listeners can’t see this but this is a book I wrote several years ago, didn’t sell that many copies because, looking back, it’s probably outside of my niche, but it’s a business book about productivity —

Mariah: Okay.

Bryan: — at work, not something I write about anymore. The book is called This Is Working so I’m holding the cover up to the camera.

Mariah: I need to see — here we go. Yeah, put it right in front. 

Bryan: So I’ll just describe the cover. It’s large typographical font in black, it says, “This Is Working,” and then there’s a small icon in yellow and it’s basically black text and yellow text on a blue cover. If you Google This Is Working on Amazon, it’ll come up, but the book didn’t sell that much. So I don’t — you can say what you want, I don’t mind.

Mariah: So, what year did you publish it? Because that does have some bearing on trends and what —

Bryan: Two years ago.

Mariah: Two years ago, okay. So, it’s a nonfiction book and with nonfiction books, the title is really important. You are solving a problem. It’s a little bit different than designing for fiction books, which is speaking really to genre and theme, right?

So, with nonfiction, you need to prove on your cover and on your sales page that you know the problem that the buyer has or the potential buyer has and this book is going to solve it. I don’t have any real problems with your design, the title’s really clear. I’m not sure the actual title is really working. This Is Working is the title?

Bryan: Yeah, it was a play on, at the time, there was a viral trend of “This is marketing,” “This is coffee.”

Mariah: Okay.

Bryan: “This is life.” It was like “This is…” and whatever the concept they were trying to describe. It was quite popular on Twitter at the time so it was a play on that. Didn’t work though.

Mariah: So, there are some good things with your cover. Your title’s really big. That’s not necessary with every genre but with generally nonfiction and productivity type things, it is important to have that be immediate and have it be very clear. I would just say that “This Is Working” and maybe the subtitle, it didn’t hit the pain point of the potential buyer enough.
And with nonfiction, productivity type books, self-help books, you have to nail in on that pain point, just like you do with any sort of consulting marketing, right? You have to identify the pain point and prove that you solved the solution. And I’m not — some of that’s on the sales page but some of that is with the cover and the title and just the actual text and I’m not sure your book was doing it. The other thing is to look at your conversions. Was the problem the cover? Like if you were playing with AMS, Amazon Marketing Systems, their ad platform, if you were buying ads for that, you need to look at the conversions. Are they clicking the cover but not buying? 

Well, then, the cover might be okay, it might be some other factors on your sales page. Maybe not enough reviews, maybe the price point is too high compared to your competitors. So, that’s something to look at is what your conversion rate is. It may have just not been getting enough traffic. There may have been another book that had a thousand reviews right next to yours that was on the same topic. 

That will really hurt you, through no real fault of your packaging, it just happens that every time someone searches for something kind of on that topic, another book with over a thousand reviews, positive reviews shows up or maybe it’s cheaper or something like that and that can hurt the sales of your book. So it’s kind of looking at the whole package, how your cover is playing and an entire marketing machine that needs to happen when selling books.

Bryan: Yeah, there’s some factors there I hadn’t considered. In terms of a marketing machine, I don’t think I spent enough time promoting the book. And it was also — it was outside of the niche I typically write in so I probably should have spent more time getting reviews. But you’ve also built a business, part of which you sold so I wanted to ask you a little bit about that. So, most people will understand how a book cover designer works but you actually had built a book cover directory, so could you describe what that is and how it came to be?

Mariah: Yeah, it’s — the domain is — or the website is and it can be hard for authors to find reputable cover designers, whether that’s design, from a design standpoint or a scamming standpoint, any of that, it can be hard to know where to look so I created a directory that features, I think there’s 70 to 100 designers on it right now and it’s mainly devoted to fiction. 

We are — they are working on building out the nonfiction side. And you see a bunch of covers when you visit it. You’ll see genres on the left so you can narrow it down. So let’s say you write chick lit, you can click on chick lit and then see four or five covers of designers that specialize in that genre. You click on the cover, it connects you to their profile. On their profile, you can go straight to their website and there is no middleman, like the directory is just kind of pointing out — like an old phone directory, it’s just giving you a listing and then you go ahead and visit the business and see if it’s a good fit for you. 

And I just wanted to make an easy one-stop shop to see a bunch of different designers and a bunch of different art styles so authors could fit, look at the genres, pick an artist that speaks to them or speaks to the genre, someone that they like their aesthetic, and go and visit their site, look at their price points, see their availability, just in one spot, kind of a one-shop stop for looking for cover designers. I have sold it. I sold it last month. 

Bryan: Congratulations. 

Mariah: Yeah, thank you. I wasn’t expecting to but I was kind of buried by the technical side of it. So I’m a designer and I’m an innovator but I’m actually not a developer or coder. And when you’re trying to develop these types of sites, it really helps if you are actually the coder or you have a partner that’s a coder. And so I sold it to a couple. She’s a book cover designer and her husband’s a developer. And so, that way, they don’t have to —

Bryan: It’s a good skill to have —

Mariah: Right?

Bryan: — on both sides.

Mariah: Exactly. So it ended up being a win-win-win. A win for me, because it was weighing heavily on me that I couldn’t make what I wanted to have happen with the site happen, and a win for the directory because it’s in much more capable hands, and a win for them. They were so happy to buy it. I was gonna shut it down and they sent it. She was a member of the directory, the wife, and they’re like, “Can we buy it from you?” I’m like, “Well, maybe, let’s talk.” And so they took it over. They love it. They’ve already made so many improvements to the backend just in a few weeks. It’s just — it’s so delightful to watch it fly. 

Bryan: And did the sale take long? 

Mariah: No, it was like 72 hours.

Bryan: Okay. Do you have any figures you can share or are they private?

Mariah: We signed an NDA to not —

Bryan: No problem —

Mariah: — we didn’t wanna rumble any feathers with — well, everyone was happy with it. There are sites you can go to to find out how much your site is worth and when I plugged in all the information in those sites, supposedly, the site is worth $20,000. I did not sell it for that amount. I was more excited to see it blossom in the hands of new people than me getting a payoff. I had made — I had broken even on the site within the first three months of it launching so I had already — like I wasn’t in the hole and so anything else to me was just like icing on a cake. And so, yeah, yeah, super exciting, though. It’s just — it’s so nice to see an idea live on beyond me instead of having to be shut down.

Bryan: So you sold the site because you wanted to concentrate on more creative book design work and you didn’t like the development side of it.

Mariah: Yeah. I wanted to get back to book cover design and I was just really drowning on the technical side of the directory and I had kind of put my book cover design business on hold, I was maintaining my current client base but not accepting new clients, and when I transitioned the directory to the new owners, I opened my doors up to accept new clients again and that’s where we are. I’m accepting new clients. 

I just had a premade event. I’m not sure if you know what premade covers are. Premade covers are covers that I come up with the idea before I have a client. So I just create to create and I put it up on a site and people buy them and they generally write stories to match the covers.

Bryan: Oh, I haven’t heard of that concept. That’s like kind of a writing prompt.

Mariah: Yeah, it’s pretty — it’s basically a writing prompt. They can change the titles if they want. My clients tend to keep my titles. I specialize in a genre called cozy mystery and the titles tend to be very punny and I love puns and so that’s what attracted me to the genre to begin with.

Bryan: I’m a bit confused by that. So, if the book cover designer creates the cover and then the writer writes the story, so how does the writer get paid for their writing? Because normally the writer commissions the book cover designer?

Mariah: Sure. So they buy it, they buy the covers and then they own the covers and then they put that up on Amazon, it’s all under their name. So I get paid a flat fee for a price that’s in my store. So, in the case of the covers I just sold, I just had an event a few days ago and the covers were about $100 apiece, $125 apiece, so they give me — it’s in a shopping cart, they put it in their shopping cart, I only sell one copy of each, and they buy it, I add their name to it, I change the title, if they want a different title, if they wanna keep my title, I send them that book cover, it’s ready to go up onto Amazon. Some people already have a story that it fits so they do it really quick.

Bryan: Oh, yeah. Okay, so they have a story and they’re just looking for something to —

Mariah: Right, and then others —

Bryan: — they can tweak their story. 

Mariah: Yeah. And then others will sit on it for three, six months and write stories to fit it. I have one client, Tonya Kappes, she bought a set of five premade covers, one series, when I first started doing this back in like 2017, 2018 and that series is now over 30 books. It was gonna go beyond book form, that’s all I can say. Unfortunately, COVID hit so I think that opportunity did not end up happening, but that was all based on a set of premade books that she bought from me, wrote stories to fit the titles and the covers, and then it’s gone on to — I’ve done 25 more covers for that series since she launched it.

Bryan: Yeah, it’s a way of writing to market.

Mariah: It is. It’s absolutely, especially if your cover designer and who you’re buying the premades from knows the market. That’s kind of the key. You gotta have a cover designer who really understands that genre and that market and that’s why I’ve niched so tightly into cozy mystery so I can really understand what sells a cozy mystery, what are readers looking for in a cozy mystery cover.

Bryan: When I look at book covers from different niches, there’s a few clichés I come across. I want to talk to you about the clichés to see what your thoughts are. 

Mariah: Yeah.

Bryan: Perhaps the biggest cliché I see is a guy, sometimes there’s no head, his top is taken off and he has a six pack, does that sell books?

Mariah: 100 percent, as long as there’s sex in the books. So that’s the thing. The shirtless man is going to tell you what kind of heat level is inside that romance book. First off, it’s a romance book if it has a shirtless man. It’s not selling productivity tips, ideally.

Bryan: I would hope not.

Mariah: It will not sell your productivity tip book. So, the shirtless man will sell romance so long as that shirtless man is on the front of a story that has spice, that has heat. If it does not deliver on the heat, you’re doing a bait and switch to your reader which will result in bad reviews. People who are looking for sweet and clean romance will never pick up a shirtless man cover. And so that’s part of the nuance of the romance genre is is it sweet and clean? Is it Christian romance? Is it steamy? Is it erotica? 

And a romance cover designer will know those nuances, but they depend on the author to convey those to us, like how spicy is this? How sexy is it? One of the reasons you see the heads cut off, this started long ago, with stock sites, you couldn’t show the face depending on how hot the content was. So, the stock site has in their terms and conditions that you can’t have the model’s face and that’s basically so a model is not associated with pornography, right? On the cover, so if you cut off the face, you don’t — it’s anonymous then. So that’s why that started. 

Now, you will see faces, there are lots of things that have changed, but back in the day, you know, 5, 10 years ago, with stock sites, that was something that some stock sites didn’t allow you to use images for romance at all, regardless if it was clean or erotic. So many rules. So many rules.

Bryan: I didn’t know any of that. That’s fascinating about the stock — yeah, I normally approach stock from the point of view of publishing articles on a website and if you don’t have the license, you get sued. I didn’t know that there was rules about chopping people’s heads off. So the other cliché I see a lot is ladies who are about 19 or 20 or perhaps all teens and they’re wearing leather or black, their hands are on fire or they’re running down mysterious halls or lost in a forest.

Mariah: Yeah. So you described a couple of different genres there. So, if her hands are on fire, she has what we call magic farts coming from her hands. That’s probably for urban fantasy, correct? So that’s for an urban fantasy. So that’s a contemporary novel with magic so she’s fighting monsters or maybe vampires, that’s what she’s doing. Or maybe she’s just discovered she has magic and that she’s actually a wizard, that happens around 19 or 20, I guess, in our worlds that we find out if we’re magical. 

And so that’s for urban fantasy. Now, running down the hall or into a forest, if their back is to you and the colors tend to be a little bit on the darker side or even maybe stark is more of what I should say, like a blue background with a pop of yellow and a yellow title, we’re moving into thrillers. That’s your mysteries and your thrillers probably. That’s my guess. And if she’s in a hallway, that might be a little more moving towards horror. That could be thriller or horror. I’d have to see it. 

And there’s a lot of overlap in those genres aesthetically, you know? You’re going for a very similar audience, depending on the level of thriller and gore in your thriller mystery, it might lean into horror and vice versa.

Bryan: Could you describe or talk a little bit about font selection? Because when I look at science fiction and futuristic books, they tend to have large, bold fonts.

Mariah: Yeah.

Bryan: San serif —

Mariah: Yeah, and maybe a little metallic? The science fiction might be a little metallic? See, I’m good. I know what I’m doing.

Bryan: You are good, yeah, you —

Mariah: Yeah, like —

Bryan: — and the ones you described there a moment ago have fonts that are twisted and curled or sour fonts and they’re on fire.

Mariah: Yeah, the urban fantasy has some more ornate fonts. That’s really bringing in that fantasy feel. Even though it’s contemporary times, they’ll have ornate fonts for urban fantasy. For science fiction, you’re looking at a great narrow san serif and that means a font with no feet on it. So, a san serif, generally narrow and sometimes with a metallic sheen on it. Now, it depends on what your sci-fi is though. Is the future or the fiction, the science fiction you’re describing more sterile or is it more of a dystopian and it’s cruddy and falling apart? That will kind of determine what type of effect you’re gonna have on the font. You may use the same type style, it may be a san serif narrow, but is it grungy and dystopian looking or, well, the grungy would lead you to a dystopian book, or is it more sterile and artificial and clean and metallic? And that goes to speak a lot to the tone of what’s inside that book.

Bryan: So, to go back to a business book then and a self-help book, they should be san serif?

Mariah: Well, they should at least look clean. I think depending on your audience, if you’re definitely going for more of a male audience, you probably want san serif because it’s a little bit stronger. If you’re going to a female or even — female, oh, this is gonna sound so bad, Bryan, you’re gonna — female or more intellectual, you’ll wanna use a serif font. See? That came out all wrong.

But, generally, when you look at the serif font, that’s a classic typeface and it does generally mean something that’s more intellectual. Look at Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Blink, all of those use a serif font and it’s against a white background and that’s just to say like this is serious and intellectual but also pleasing, right? Blue is generally everyone’s favorite color and if I remember correctly, all of his covers tend to be more of a white cream with a blue type. You can tell me if I’m right, because you’re looking on the screens, I’m not.

Bryan: I’m looking, I looked up a cover here, yeah, you’re pretty much right but it’s red but that could be a newer version but the background is cream or off white.

Mariah: Okay, and was that Tipping Point that’s red?

Bryan: Tipping Point is a red version and a cream version, depending on the country.

Mariah: Oh, interesting. And, you know, that was the beginning of your question was based on country. Different countries have different aesthetic. Book covers for the European market tend to be far simpler than our American counterparts which are flashy and bold and one of my authors once said to me, “Yeah, they kind of scream.” Yes, they do. American book covers kind of scream.

Bryan: Yeah. So that’s a lot to take on board when I’m going to work with a book cover designer, font choice, colors.

Mariah: It is.

Bryan: How much of that do I need to know?

Mariah: Depends on how experienced your book cover designer is. I think that newer authors should go with a more experienced book cover designer. Two newbies trying to make it happen may not be the best choice, even though it feels good to your budget. How much do you need to know? You need to know the genre. You need to know what categories you’re gonna be in on Amazon. That’s the thing that’s gonna help me the most as a cover designer. I need to also know the tone. You know, for non-fiction, is it humorous? Is it very serious? Is it more intellectual? Is it more action-oriented? 

You know, like you’re actually giving tips and to-do lists. I need to know that, I need to know the tone, because that’s going to inform what fonts I choose. If it’s more lighthearted, I’m not gonna do that Malcolm Gladwell style, that serious somber cover, right? If it’s got a lot of humor in it, I wanna convey a little bit of that on the cover. Even if it’s still supposed to be a helpful book, I wanna do a nod to the humor. So you need to tell me what’s inside. You need to tell me the tone and the genre and your target audience, especially for non-fiction.

Bryan: And when it comes to the stock imagery on the book cover, should I rely on my book cover designer to source that?

Mariah: Either or. If you’re a romance writer, I would look through some of the stock sites, you know, your Shutterstock, your Depositphoto, for maybe your main characters that you like. That will even — that will just help your designer get a feel for it. 

Don’t lean too heavily on it looking like a specific celebrity. I can’t put a celebrity on your book, right? I can’t put one of those hot guys from the movies on your book. We have to use stock sites. So, if what the character looks like is really important to you, then, yeah, you might wanna go through the stock sites yourself and pick out some of the photos that you like. But it’s not necessarily a requirement. It’s really on how important that aesthetic is to the author.

Bryan: What advice do you have in terms of budget for authors?

Mariah: I think $200 is a good starting point. It’s really genre-dependent. If it’s urban fantasy, you are looking at — high quality urban fantasy is gonna be $500 to $1,000. You know, your fantasy market is going to be a lot more. It just is. There’s so much more work that goes into those covers and many times they’re original illustrations or elaborate photo manipulations using, you know, 20 stock images just to make the woman, you know? So, you’re looking at a higher budget.

Bryan: Do you give the source files to your clients?

Mariah: Most of us do not because the licensing for the stock images do not allow for that. So, what I can give you is a flattened image with live text. Some designers will do that, but I can’t actually give you a book cover with all the images layered so you could extract images from that file. I can’t give that to you because the licensing does not allow for that. Now, if the author purchases all the images, then that can be a possibility and you’re gonna have to discuss that with your cover designer. Different cover designers have different policies about that. It’s a good question to ask up front though.

Bryan: Yeah, that’s something I’ve noticed as well. And what’s the typical turnaround time for a book cover?

Mariah: Oh, goodness. I know artists that are booked out a year. So, when you know what genre you’re in and you have an idea of what book cover artist you wanna use, start inquiring. I’m booking for February right now but that’s just because I just reopened up my doors to taking on new clients. 

There are some artists that I know that literally books six months to a year out. There are some that are available now and can have you something within two weeks so you just have to kinda start doing your searching and the more popular the artist, the longer the wait as well as the expense, but they generally know how to sell books, like they know their art has been proven to sell books, that’s why they’re booked out that far.

Bryan: A good book cover is an investment —

Mariah: It really is. It really is. And newer author sometimes don’t get it right on the first try. I think the more experienced your book cover designer is, the more clear you are on what genre and your target audience is, the better chance you’re gonna have to finding the right book cover designer for your book.

Bryan: Mariah, where can people learn more about you or work with you on a book?

Mariah: Yeah, just go to

Bryan: Thanks for your time, Mariah. 

Mariah: Thank you. I really enjoyed spending some time with you this morning.


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