Say you’ve decided to join a dating site. Shortly after signing up, you find a profile that intrigues you. The person is interested in the same things you are, seems intelligent, has a great sense of humor, the works. Do you:
(a) Introduce yourself and say you’d like to meet for coffee
(b) Propose marriage
It sounds like a silly question, but file it away. We’ll come back to it.
Not long ago on a LinkedIn discussion group, a bunch of writers were talking about how to obtain a professional-looking book cover on a budget. One participant—we’ll call him Lloyd—said his strategy was to figure out exactly what he wanted his cover to look like before he hired a designer. The more specific he was, the easier and cheaper it would be for the designer to do the work.
Jim Hayes of Ha! Yes! Graphic Design had this to say about Lloyd’s approach:
Lloyd mentions that he got a good deal by having already mentally designed the cover. In my 30 years designing, I’ve found this to be a dangerous talent in a client. I love to hear and utilize their ideas and integrate their desires when possible, but designers come up with several ideas, some of which will not work out. Non-designers typically come up with one idea. When I used to accept that type of job, I often found myself trying to make a dead-end idea work. Designers come up with dead-end ideas, too, but they get thrown away.
Jim nailed it.
I’ve produced many design drafts that, despite my best efforts, were never going to look as cool in print or onscreen as they did in my head. Those drafts got tossed onto the scrap heap.* Frustrating, but no biggie. Ideas that don’t work are part of the creative process.
When a non-designer only has one idea and it doesn’t work, that’s okay. The problem arises when the non-designer refuses to consider any other possibilities. When the cover needs to look just like they mocked it up in MS Word, sometimes right down to the fonts, and they will not budge from their vision regardless of how many other ideas you pitch.
Let’s replay that initial scenario in a publishing context. You rack your brain for cover ideas until you hit upon one you like. In your head it looks professional, accurately represents your book, compels readers to pick it up, the works. Do you:
a) Have a designer mock up your idea so you can see what it really looks like
b) Decide this will be your cover no matter what
By no means are all amateur cover ideas destined to fail. If you have a concept in mind, you should absolutely share it with your designer and see how it goes.
Just don’t be married to it, is all I’m saying.
* This works in reverse, too. I’ve had clients pitch ideas that sounded awful at first, but kicked serious butt when I played around with them in Photoshop.↩