People really do judge a book by its cover. And as a book cover designer, you can use your creative design talents to help market books and ensure that they look worthy of picking up off the shelf.
Book cover designers might not get quite the same recognition as authors or publishers, but they’re just as essential when it comes to creating books that sell. So whether you’re a book lover with a graphic design degree or just want to diversify your options for a career in publishing, here’s what to know about how to be a book cover designer, including lots of guidance to help you navigate your way into the field.
What is a Book Cover Designer?
A book cover designer is a creative professional who creates covers for fiction and nonfiction books. For many readers, the cover is the first impression they get of a book, so this is an important role that often involves a lot of collaboration with the publishing team.
Individuals may work for publishing firms or creative agencies, or they may work solo as a freelance book cover designer. In any case, book cover designers tend to have lots of opportunities to stretch their creative muscles, bringing their own interpretations to the cover design process and putting their skills and experience to use to create covers that perfectly suit their literary companions.
Book Cover Designing Tasks & Job Description
As with most jobs in the visual arts, there’s more to book cover designing than just sitting down and putting pen to paper (or stylus to screen).
When you design book covers, you take on a critical role in the publishing pipeline, particularly in terms of book marketing. Even if you’re working with a self-publishing author who doesn’t have a dedicated marketing team, you’ll still be responsible for creating a cover that’s designed to sell—and you’ll need to do plenty of research in order to put together a design that speaks to both the book and its audience.
Specific tasks that a book designer may take on include:
- Research and development: Designers need to have a deep understanding of the book that they’re creating a cover for, as well as the wider genre it inhabits and general book cover trends.
- Design oversight: There are various features involved in a book cover—the cover image and font, plus the look of the back cover, spine, and any relevant interior pages—all of which the book cover designer has to oversee and optimize.
- Mock-ups: A book cover may go through multiple iterations before the final design is decided on. Likewise, publishers may request several mock-ups at the outset in order to narrow in on the vision and point the designer in the right direction.
- Creative collaboration: Designing book covers tends to be a collaborative role alongside publishing marketing executives, creative directors, and one or more literary artists. Book cover designers may also work closely with authors themselves, though not always.
Relevant skills include graphic design and familiarity with design software tools. Knowledge of the publishing industry is definitely a plus, though it may not be necessary for entry-level positions.
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How to Become a Book Cover Designer
How do you become a book cover designer? There are a couple of routes you can take depending on your interests, your experience, and how much you want to invest in the process.
Fortunately, there’s no single way to get your foot in the door, nor is it always a requirement that you have a design degree (though it can’t hurt). Take the path that makes the most sense for you, and put the majority of your focus on making industry connections and producing great work for the best chance at success.
Get a Graphic Design Degree or Other Relevant Degree
A design degree—and specifically a graphic design degree—is an obvious jumping-off point for becoming a book cover designer, especially if you want to work for an established publishing firm or creative agency.
You can learn how to create covers online, but there are a few advantages to pursuing formal education. This includes easier access to internships, mentorships, and industry insiders, which may be harder to come by without school support.
Gain Experience Designing Book Covers
Experience speaks for itself in creative fields, so don’t feel like a degree is your only option for how to be a book cover designer. If you’ve got some graphic design skills, you can start gaining experience by working with self-publishing authors on a contract basis. This will allow you to begin building a portfolio, which you can then use to seek out higher-paying and more exclusive work.
Make sure to prioritize networking to increase your chances of securing opportunities. Online graphic design and publishing communities are good places to establish your creative network, and you can also attend conferences and other in-person events. You never know who can open a door for you, so be professional and be open to trying new projects.
Average Book Cover Designer Salary
The average salary for a book cover designer is between $43,270 and $55,489, according to Salary.com, with high-end earners taking home about $62,000 a year. Your location, level of education, and skill set can all impact your salary potential, as can the clients and/or firms that you work for.
Keep in mind that this data is based on salaried employees and may not be indicative of how much you can make as a freelancer. If you’re planning on going out on your own rather than working as a full-time employee, do your research to see what the going rate is for individual covers and how you can diversify your income to make the most money.
Finding Book Cover Designer Jobs
Designing book covers can be a competitive career to break into, at least if you want to design for big-name authors and publishers. Everyone has to start somewhere, though, so decide what sort of book designing job sounds most appealing to you and then make a plan of action for how to go about getting it. Here are two of your options.
Work for a Publishing Firm or Creative Agency
Look for graphic design jobs with publishing firms or independent creative agencies, both of which could lead to book designing opportunities. Just note that you may have to start in an entry-level position or an internship if you don’t have previous cover designing experience.
As you get ready to apply for book cover designer jobs, have a portfolio ready to go that shows off your graphic design skills—even if you haven’t designed actual book covers before. If you’re really new to the field, consider creating mock-up redesigns of existing books to show potential employers your capabilities and your style. It won’t be quite the same as having an established body of work, but it will give them an idea of what you could bring to the table.
Go Solo as a Freelance Book Cover Designer
Many book cover designers choose to work on a freelance basis. There are a number of advantages to freelancing in graphic design, including the ability to pick and choose your clients and projects and the chance to challenge yourself with a wide range of genres and book types. There are some disadvantages though too, of course, such as a potential lack of job and income consistency. You will also be fully responsible for finding design gigs, rather than having them handed to you.
Going freelance can definitely be a way to find success as a book cover designer, but it will require the ability to market yourself and manage administrative tasks. Create a website where you share your work and let would-be clients know what skills you offer and how to get in touch. You may also want to consider getting active on social media which, in addition to providing you with another place to share your talents, could also lead to more networking opportunities.
Where to Look for Book Cover Inspiration
One great way to learn about what works in book cover design is to look at existing covers. There are lots of beautiful book covers out there, and all of them can be useful as inspiration and for helping you develop your own design style. While you’re at it, follow cover designers and publishing houses on social media to see what’s trending in book cover design, and try to pinpoint the elements that make for a successful cover.
A book cover is a work of art in its own right, so as you seek out inspiration, look to other works of visual art, including those that aren’t related to publishing. The more that you immerse yourself in art and design, the more attuned you’ll become to both your style and the type of work that resonates with you. You can then use what you learn to start creating covers for practice and for pay, opening yourself up to wherever your passion and experience can take you.
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