How Book Covers Are Created

Custom Book Cover Illustration

Book cover I designed and illustrated
for "Phillip Singer An Accounting".

See more of my book covers in my illustration portfolio.

This article is to help inform anyone who wants to hire someone to produce a book cover for them.

I'm going to break down the development process into three steps. In some outstanding cases steps can be skipped or modified, but this is the method I have used for almost every book cover I've developed. It has worked well for me and my clients find it efficient and helpful to them as well.

  1. Concept Development:
    In rare cases where the client knows EXACTLY what they want and have supplied all imagery etcetera I may skip this step, but it is very rare.

    Book cover I designed and illustrated about Florida Marine Biotechnology for Florida Sea Grant.

    This is the stage where a clear concept of what the end result is supposed to look like is established. Normally this starts with deciding whether to use illustration (a drawing or painting), photography or text only on the cover. This is a joint process done with the client. This usually doesn't take long (it can be one email sometimes), but I have to know what the client wants or what decisions they are willing to allow me to make regarding the look of their book cover on my own. It is at this point I provide a quote.

    I have to know what a client wants in order to provide them a quote. Keep in mind that doing an oil painting, for instance, takes a lot more time and materials than pasting a photo in the middle of a book cover in some software package, so I have to have a clear idea of what the desired end result is to make a quote that is fair to myself AND MY CLIENT.

    If the client would like me to make proposals of my own concepts I usually go through whatever has been supplied to me by the client first. This includes ideas that the client has and any photos or examples that they may have supplied. If at all possible I read the manuscript thoroughly at this point as well.

    Whether it's my concept or that of the client I now make sketches of what the final product should look like and submit them for approval by the client.

    So here's what happens in step 1 in a nutshell:

    • Once I have a fairly clear idea of what the client wants I provide a quote.
    • Then I begin creating sketches based on what the client has chosen for me to do.
  2. Execution Phase:
    This is point where I break out the paint brushes or the camera or whatever it takes to create the actual image that will be the primary content of the book cover.

    Depending on the project I may send updated digital photos or images of the project in progress to the client to keep them well informed.

    When the image is complete I submit it to the client for approval.

  3. Design and Print Prep.: This is the stage where the image developed in step2 has text added to it like the title and author and other things like barcodes and legal statements. This is also the stage where I prepare the final digital file for the printer in a way that meets all of their technical requirements. I then supply the files to the printer and the job is done.

In conclusion some advice:

  • Decide either what you want, or whom you are willing to trust to tell you what is good for your cover.
  • Be realistic about your budget.
  • If necessary, delay release of your book rather than release it with a cover that is less than it deserves.
  • If you have a very tight budget don't even bother contacting designers and illustrators asking for quotes. Just tell them up front how much you have to work with and ask what they can do for you within that budget. It will save you both a lot of time.
  • And the most predictable advice...hire me to illustrate your next book cover...
    John Potter. You can see samples of book covers I've illustrated and designed and other work at

To read about a specific book cover's design process READ THIS ARTICLE.