Professional book cover design is essential because readers, retailers and reviewers glance at a book for only a few seconds before they make a choice. But, finding and hiring a cover designer can be tricky. You have to find someone who has the right talent and the right technical skills. Sending improperly formatted book covers to your printer can be time consuming and expensive.

How to Find a Book Cover Designer

When hiring a cover designer, the first thing you should do is look for someone whose work you like. There are a few ways you can do this.You might see a book that has an attractive cover and track down the designer; or you can use a search engine and weed through the results; or visit industry sites like IBPA (http://www.ibpa-online.org/) for referrals.

Determine What Skills You Need

Once you find a handful of designers you like, narrow your list according to the skills you will need. Book cover designers are not necessarily illustrators. If you want a woman wearing a blue dress on a red motorcycle riding through New York City, you’ll probably need an illustrator, or a professional photographer. And all illustrators or photographers are not book cover designers, so it’s possible you’ll need to hire both. Most adult book covers are created with only a cover designer using licensed stock images.

Read the Contract:

Work-for-Hire

Some cover designers are work-for-hire, but many are not. You need to make sure the designer does not retain any rights to the design.

Control Your Own Image Licenses Whenever Possible

Some book cover designers provide royalty-free images for your project, and others will require you to license the images yourself. When it comes to image licenses I highly recommend authors license them directly. Not all agencies allow licenses to be transferred and you could find yourself unable to make changes to your own cover at a later date. In most cases images licenses are  a minimal fee of US $30 or less. These are both perfectly valid ways to run a design business. Just be wary of designers who offer licensed images as part of the package and won’t give you the information on how to license them directly.

Have Access to Your Application Files

Make sure the designer will provide you with the application files upon request. Application files are the Photoshop, InDesign, Adobe Illustrator and other files used to create your cover. Without these, you will not be able to make future changes without hiring the designer again. Sometimes there is a nominal additional fee for these files, and they don’t always include the fonts and images due to licensing restrictions. (Another reason it’s important you be able to license these things in your own name).

Do Your Homework: There’s More to Cover Design Than Pretty Pictures

Once you’ve found a designer and worked out the contract details, and paid a deposit, you’re working on trust. Unfortunately, it’s easy for anyone to put up a website and offer services as a book cover designer. To protect yourself, it’s important you do your homework. Look for designers who have been around a few years, and have verifiable references or referrals. And don’t jump at the lowest price. Too-good-to-be-true prices are a big red flag.

The software for designing a book cover costs thousands of dollars. If you’re using print-on-demand, then it’s possible to use less expensive software, but if you want to take that cover to an offset printer, you could have problems. Other costs include font licenses and image licenses, (memberships to online stock image agencies usually cost hundreds of dollars). And don’t forget the time factor. It takes roughly 10 to 40 hours to create a book cover. If you have received a low quote, chances are that the designer has no idea how much work goes into cover design and formatting, or simply doesn’t do it. No designer can afford to run a freelance business on $10 an hour. It doesn’t even make sense. Working at a fast food joint would probably pay more and offer benefits.

Print cover design is not the same as designing an e-book cover for online purposes, so it’s also important your book cover designer have the technical know-how and skills to design for print.

Most designers are professional, knowledgeable and dependable, so chances are you will not experience any problems. Just watch for red flags such as too-good-to-be-true prices, fly-by-night companies or people who don’t understand the difference between print design and formatting and design for online purposes.