How much decision-making power does an author have over the cover of their book? The answer varies between 0% and 100%. Those numbers are greatly affected by whether the author is indie or traditionally published, and how much creative control the author is offered or insists on. Some publishers allow their authors no say, some will listen to the author’s thoughts, and some will allow authors to have final decision-making power, though this is rare.
In my case, I can have 100% say. However, as long as my covers depict my main character, her horse, and a farm scene laid out with a font easily read in thumbnail size, I leave the rest of the cover up to my illustrators. I have had two, and each has brought a unique style to the mix.
My first set of book covers were a labor of love by a very good friend, Gary Rasmussen. As an artist, author, and horse whisperer, he drew beautiful horses and ranch backgrounds. His horses were magnificent and caught the eye of many tweens and teens.
However, most middle-grade books tend to have a more animated look than my original covers. I happened across Mikey Brooks, whose work interested and enchanted me. He fell in love with my characters and sent me a cover he drew on impulse. I loved it, so we discussed other projects, including YouTube video trailers, paper dolls, other fun extras, and a picture book.
Gary draws his covers and then paints them with watercolors. Mikey draws the picture by hand and then colors it on a computer. Each man’s technique has a unique look and feel, with their individual talent and dedication to their craft shining through each illustration.
Because computer animation makes it easier to tweak colors, scenes, expressions, fonts, sizing, and scene elements, it is easier to change small details or large ones without putting the project on hold for long. My second illustrator, Mikey, and I decided to collaborate on a picture book featuring my main character as a precocious three-year-old. Mikey has a lot of experience with picture books, having written and illustrated several. Gary agreed that all of my books should have a similar look, so Mikey created new covers for my Ginnie West Adventure series.
The added bonus to Mikey’s method of illustrating is that we can quickly produce new pictures for projects such as the YouTube trailers of my books. Then he converted some of those pictures into illustrations for my books—both print and e-book, and coloring pages for promotional purposes. As an indie author, I have complete control over what my books look like, but I am smart enough to let Mikey do his thing, which is make awesome illustrations for my books.
Book covers must hint at what the story is about. They begin the promise of the author to the reader that they plan to at least meet their genre expectations.
Most of all, great covers are important because people really do judge your book by them.