By now, you should have an answer as to whom your target audience is, and you need to find a Graphic Designer to help design your cover for that audience. Fortunately for you, Graphic Design is my bread and butter, and the main skill I chased over the past decade, having landed me here.
From unreasonable fresh out of university “know-it-alls” to “wolf-of-wall street” wannabes, I have seen it all. This industry is, unfortunately, filled with punks and “shortcut-chasers” trying to talk you out of your money because, they know too well, you are entering a world you know nothing about. The only industry with a higher discrepancy between the professionals and the posers that I know of, is that of Fine Art. Even I found myself in a situation where, being too busy to create an illustration for a book cover, I outsourced the job to a 3rd year university student. While he was receptive and excited in the beginning, being severely overpaid for his skill level, this changed quickly once we started working. He was late by a week on producing the illustration, did not produce what I had asked him, and asked for more money when I sent him back to finish his job. My only regret is that my business partner, at the time, paid for the job upfront. Naturally, after hearing his demand for double pay to do his 5-minute part and finish the illustration, I wished him the best of luck in all his future endeavours, and finished it myself. He quickly provided me with a second invoice, stating his copyrights and that “nobody apart from himself has the right to edit his artwork”. I would like to say I wiped the area in between my buns with that invoice, but I can’t as it’s not very professional. The lesson from here is clear, had that snot-nosed punk known about his IP rights, he would have done that in his first invoice. And had it been you instead of me on the other side of the invoice, that would have been quite a nasty surprise, as you can’t even use what he provided, without paying him more money, for nothing. And if you think that such predatorial sharks are an exception to the rule, think again.
When you are choosing to use the services of a Graphic Designer, be it web or print, you are effectively creating a reliance on that person.
And you are creating a reliance in an industry you know nothing about. Terminating that reliance is going to present more costs than simply hiring a good designer in the first place.
What’s worse is that this industry “looks” simple. As such, the number of times I heard the statement “My nephew does graphic design. He can sort it out” is unbelievable. I assure you now, that your nephew, talented as he may be, knows nothing about RGB vs CMYK, PNG vs EPS, altkeys, SEO friendly design, bleed, contrast etc. And this is just to name a few of the fundamentals of Graphic Design. You wouldn’t entrust your divorce case with your nephew which is argumentative and fascinated by law, why would people make such a decision with their professional business brand?
Design is not simple
Making things look simple takes a lot of hard work and knowledge. Branding may have seemed like the least-worrying aspect of your publishing structure. I am here to tell you, not only is it actually quite the opposite, but harbouring that philosophy can be dangerous. As branding is your gatekeeper for your audience. Get a grumpy gatekeeper that couldn’t be bothered, and nobody is going to go past the door to read your words. Even worse, imagine getting sued for having a brand that infringes somebody else’s intellectual property. Then not only have you got a brand that doesn’t work, you also have a lawsuit on your hands. Good luck passing that responsibility back over to your nephew.
Avoid websites like fiver
No graphic design should cost that little, and the reason it’s so cheap on fiver, it’s because that is just the hook. Once you’re hooked with a cheap $5 logo (which will either look like crap, or it won’t be a unique graphic specially made for you), then they can start selling you flyers, business cards, SEO services etc. at a much higher price than the market’s going rate. As all your design editables are with the fiver guys (and good luck getting hold of them), and as you’re probably convinced that fiver is “cheap”, you’ll end up paying much more in the end. To add salt to injury, that someone is on the other side of the planet, bragging about how easy it is for them to sell you their services with a 500% markup. Trust me, I met those designers and heard them brag. So, does fiver still sound cheap now? OK, we’ve been over all the risks and No-Nos so far. What are the hallmarks of a good graphic designer? Here are some metrics to consider:
I think one of the most important criteria in the beginning is to find someone local. This is not to keep the money in the local economy (even if that is a nice bonus), but mainly because meeting face to face can be very beneficial. You most likely have no idea how to write a correct design brief, so it will be much easier if you meet up in person, and you explain, using your own words, what you want. The designer will ask you some questions, and highlight some potential problems that need solving, and you’ll have a much easier time reading how serious of a professional they are.
Agency or Self-Employed
Agencies can easily charge a daily minimum wage per hour. And there are many reasons for this price. But if you are just branding a single project like a book, you don’t need Agency work. Find a self-employed individual. The highest a freelancer should charge (unless they are globally renowned or something like that) is half of an agency’s going rate. And that really is the highest rate a single person should charge. So if an agency charges £100/hour, a freelancer should charge no higher than $50. But realistically, you should find someone who can professionally do it for around $30. These sums are just examples meant to relate to each other, they are not actual market values. Always be mindful of your local economy, and update prices accordingly. Someone in Romania is not going to pay the same as someone in the US. Nor should they.
Passion and Experience
It is up to you which one is more important, but you need to consider both. Anyone with less than 3 years experience is still learning (even if they do not know it). Designers with more than a decade of experience will most likely move onto other avenues, and their professionalism should be chiselled to borderline perfection. You may not need someone so overqualified for a book cover. As you will pay extra for that extra experience. But their passion needs to be there. You may find less experienced designers to be much more passionate in your project than a veteran. Too much passion can also be a bad thing, as your designer can become stubborn when you provide change requests, and start arguing about the right way to design. But you also don’t want someone who is so burnt out, that they just implement all of your changes without expressing their concerns.
You will find the answer to the passion and experience questions, by browsing their portfolio. No portfolio? Move along and find someone who is serious enough to work on their own brand first.
But the most important metric for choosing a designer has to be:
Do you like the person?
It’s best to work with the same designer for as long as you can. They know you, your brand and your particulars. You will not waste additional time with them by going through the same chat for every project. If you are, then find someone else, as they are not giving you the importance you deserve. You will also be under the impression, that you are paying your designer a lot of money. Let me be the first to clear that illusion and tell you, you are most certainly NOT paying your designer too much. Your graphic designer is going to be paid less than even your janitor, on a yearly basis. Yes, every single time you ask for new designs, you will pay lots of money at a time, but spread out over the year it really is nothing. On top of that, add the fact that our invoices usually contain expenses such as printing, hosting, our Adobe programs and other costly software, and a $1000 invoice barely has $400 left on the bone for your designer.
All that being said, you will still FEEL like you are giving your designer a lot of money, so it better be someone you like.
Surely, we should find someone who has some official certification from a well-respected and established university? Oh boy, if only it were so. But I can’t even say it doesn’t matter whether they have a degree or not, because it does. And contrary to common sense, you may actually want to AVOID young graphic designers with university degrees. Can you hear the hate coming my way? Allow me to explain: I attended 2 years of Illustration courses at Solent Souhtampton University, Uk. It was mind-boggling to discover just how useless creative courses are. In those 2 years there were no real classes, or lessons to speak of. Just talks, presented by washed-up illustrators that managed to get their 15 minutes of fame in a local paper or TV Channel. And “assignments” that had very little in the way of objective instructions, and were arbitrarily marked without any feedback or explanation. While I was in illustrations, I transferred there from Fine Art after ending up shocked to my core of how much time was wasted there. I also mingled with the Graphic Design students, and their opinion was the same as mine: You learn nothing useful at university as a creative. They were all there for the degree. By contrast, my Vocational High School in Romania has taught me useful creative skills such as: painting techniques, drawing techniques, measuring perspective and proportions, Art History, life drawing, 3D structures etc. So unlike most students who are unaware they are being scammed, I had the background to realise it, and then took the cost-effective decision of dropping out. 10 years down the line, that has proven to be one of the best decisions I took for my creative career. Shame I needed 2 years to convince myself of it. I’d really wish I could say that my experience was caused by the mediocrity of the university I attended, but alas that is just not the case. A few years after dropping out, I was hired as a Graphic Designer at a Mailboxes ETC in Winchester, UK. Over there, we were the main printer and finisher of Winchester School of Art’s Graphic Design students. We mostly saw the third year students show up, with their final dissertation projects, which usually took the form of a brochure. The amount of basic knowledge about design, that those soon-to-be graduates were lacking, was down right embarrassing. From simple concepts like bleed, or having their artwork coded in CMYK so that it prints correctly, to not embedding their fonts, or having low-resolution pictures ripped off google etc. they were terribly underprepared for the professional environment. What is worse, is that the university has nourished this attitude in them, where they actually think that they know what they are doing. The result of this being some very uncomfortable discussions where I either tell them their work is not good enough to print and then having to spend 30 minutes educating them on how to present their work for correct printing, or I had to go ahead and print it, knowing too well they will complain about the quality afterwards. And no, I couldn’t just correct the work without the editables and the assets linked in those editables.
This was such an often met problem working there, that we designed a small pamphlet containing those 30 minutes of information. We’d just end up offering them the pamphlet and asking them to come back, fix the artwork for them at a cost if they provide the assets, or print it as is, while taking no responsibility for the quality.
So yeah, it’s important if the designer has a degree or not. If they have a degree and zero experience, I would avoid them like the plague.
They don’t even know they are plagued, you see? And it will be on your budget, that they will have to learn their profession while making mistakes on your project, and then fixing them on your time and money, all of that while hitting you with an attitude of “I know better”. Fun huh? If they have a degree, they also need about 3 years experience before they will realise how much university has failed them. Incidentally, a no-degree designer, by his 3rd year of experience will be able to do everything a graduate claims to be able to do, minus the attitude and at a reduced rate, as no-degree designers are usually trying to compensate, without realising there is virtually nothing to compensate for. This is not a de facto rule, but more of a guideline, from someone who has worked with both extremes of the spectrum, and I can tell you without a doubt in my mind, that generally no-degree designers outperform the degree ones by landslides. And they may not even know it.
Once you have found someone you like that fits all the other metrics, adjusted to your own specifications, it’s important the designer has a healthy work schedule and a pricing system that is clear and transparent. My pricing structure is as follows: 1) Client tells me what they want 2) I provide a breakdown invoice/estimate
3) Client either accepts or wants it to be cheaper.
- I take out bullet pointed services out of the invoice, until we hit the desired budget.
4) Upon accepting a price, new clients are expected to pay a 50% deposit, and all future projects will undergo the same expectations. You should not expect any designer to start work until you pay part of the job. Like I said, around 50% of our invoices are costs that we cannot afford to swallow because you change your mind halfway through the process.
All new projects will include ONE free change request. That change request better contain all the changes you want done, as the second change request will come with an additional invoice. I also have a minimum project charge time of 1 hour, and the change request minimum charge is 15 minutes. So, even if you just want me to change one word, the fact that I have to go back to my computer, open up your folder, find your file, change the one word and then re-export your printables, you will be charged 15 minutes of my time for that. It may seem drastic, but If I spend all my time doing free “small” never-ending change requests, I’ll need to close my business by the end of the month. As such, it is key to your wallet and good disposition, to keep your briefs with your designer (and other professionals) as succinct as possible. A lack of preparation on your side, does not constitute an emergency on our side.
That is, however, my pricing structure. Other designers will have their own structure. You must find a designer with a structure that is fair to you. And I do mean fair and not preferential. You will have to be honest here and accept some responsibility. You don’t want to be ripped off, so don’t imagine your designer should enjoy working for free. Also, don’t be afraid to negotiate, just don’t be rude. I don’t negotiate on my hourly rate or printing prices, but if you have a 30-hour project, I will be inclined to reduce the hourly rate. Additionally, my original estimate may be for a project that takes a 10-hour process, maybe you just want me to spend 5 hours on it. All of this should be discussed with your designer with no pressures. If your designer doesn’t feel comfortable discussing their pricing structure and explain why they charge what they do, that indicates that, maybe, even they think their pricing is scummy. But don't expect them to be very responsive to a 1-hour project that inquires multiple emails of questions.
Finding the right designer for your book should take more time than finding the right editor, printing company or marketing manager.
As those other 3 roles can change the people without too much headache to your project. But the designer can end up withholding your assets as hostages for more money. Be very careful.
You should also make sure you have them put it in writing, that part of their service to you, includes giving you all of your artwork editables, assets and most importantly copyrights.
Many of them will flat out not know about any of this, and that is because, again, there are a lot of people who think design is easy, so they call themselves designers. Unfortunatley if the copyrights are not specified in some form of contract, invoice or email, then the law stipulates that the artwork rights stay with the creator. You are not the creator, you are the beneficiary of a service. Therefore, it is your responsibility to make sure you have the rights to your brand's graphics.
The designer should provide you with the following services:
- Cover Design (Adobe Illustrator and maybe Photoshop)
- Laying out the text (Adobe InDesign)
If they start creating a cover in Photoshop, or laying out the text in Illustrator, fire them instantly. They do not know what they are doing. Your designer needs to know what Illustrator is used for and what InDesign is used for, as the latter is specifically designed for multiple page projects like books. Illustrator's purpose is that of vector based graphics and small page projects like flyers and business cards. Photoshop is a pixel editing program, that has very little use in a book cover, unless your cover contains a picture that needs editing. Yes, you can create a book cover in InDesign or Photoshop, but doing so will result in low-quality graphics, that will print horrendous, and using the wrong program for the wrong job proves your designer is missing a clear understanding of the fundamentals of design. If they don't know the basics, they aren't going to be any better in knowing the specifics.
An easy way to check is to make sure that your artwork is presented in:
1) PDF files and
2) those files contain vector graphics.
If an element is a vector, then you should be able to zoom in as much as your program allows you, and never see one pixel appear. If, however, zooming in you start noticing pixelation (blurry jagged outlines), in the text, graphics etc. then your designer is either editing in the wrong program, or exporting them using the wrong options for print. In either case, it's an unacceptable result. The only elements on a print file that can be in pixels are pictures. There is NO OTHER EXCEPTION. Icons, titles, shapes and text should all be vector graphics.
The Cover and Layout (the bit between the cover pages) are necessary to go to print with, and you may want to find a designer with previous experience in book design. It is not the same as designing a flyer or a website. There are elements typical to this design venue, that you cannot pick in other design fields. You could also risk using a good Graphic Designer who is willing to learn how to produce book designs, but this should be discussed in advance, and you should be paying less for the experimental service.
A good print designer should also have his own printers that he works with. Don’t instantly accept his printing prices, take his quote and shop around. If his quote is just a little more expensive than what you can get yourself, it may be worth swallowing the cost and get your designer to place the print order. Placing print orders is another step where ignorance can create disqualifying mistakes. I think it’s fair to pay up to a 20% premium for somebody else guaranteeing a successful print order, as well as chasing up the printers if something went wrong. 20% is my premium, the going rate is 100% industrial printing markup, which would translate to around 40-60% markup on commercial printing rates. One final piece of advice here: Don’t be rude
The best and the worst of us chose this career for 2 main reasons:
1) It’s a creative field
2) We value our freedom
Graphic Designers are not your usual garden variety professional. If we were the type of people that valued money above all else, we’d be lawyers, doctors or engineers. It takes just as much preparation and dedication to become a successful designer, without any of the guarantees the other fields come with. So, why do we risk it all for the world’s least paying profession? Because we value freedom. We reserve our right to refuse customers, and the good designers exercise that right often.
I hope this has helped shed some light on the dangers and process of finding a Graphic Designer. Don’t let my article discourage you. I had to put down the worst bits to warn you it’s important to browse here. Most Graphic Designers I have met are wonderful people, that love getting involved in your business, and you can see their eyes bursting with ideas as you present your project. But the extremes can be nasty, and every client of mine, had some horror graphic design story to tell me before they hired my services. Next time, we’ll look at finding a printing company to handle your project.