Confessions of a Graphic Designer


Today, I would like to welcome my guest, Anita B. Carroll.

She is a designer of book covers and has some great tips for authors.

Anita has offered to share:

12 things every author should know when working with a book cover designer

1. Should you hire a professional to design your cover and what about the cost?

The simple answer is, yes absolutely!  I know several self-published authors who design their own covers.  Some do it because they want to, and others because they simply can’t afford to hire a professional.

My advice is do what you do best, and leave the rest to the professionals. Ask yourself  objectively; Does this cover represent my story?   Does the cover represent my identity as an author? Does it look professional?

Your book cover is a representation of your work as an author.   It is part of your brand identity.  Most readers will see the cover before having the chance to read an excerpt from the book.  If it doesn’t look like the author put much effort into the presentation, most likely the potential reader will just gloss over it.  You will never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business.Steve Forbes

Learn more about brand identity and why you really need it.

What about the cost? Many designers have flexible pricing.  Even some who are just starting out can still create awesome works for you.  So please, don’t assume you can’t afford it.  Do some research.

Don’t let the assumption of high cost discourage you.  Every project is different and the price will reflect this. Just send the designer an email and ask what they would charge for your project.

Every designer works differently and charges differently.  I definitely recommend using a designer that charges per project, since you can’t really be sure that the designer uses the hours they give you, and it can get rather costly, quickly.  I can spend anything from 5 hours to a month on a cover.  This is why I charge per project, and don’t offer an hourly rate.  Every project is different and I try to be as flexible as possible when proposing a quote.  I always take into consideration the author’s budget and timeline.

Good quality designs will cost from US $50+/hr and up. Be sure you look over the details and have a mutual agreement as to what the fee includes. A base fee of US $125+ for a project is to be expected.  I have seen good quality pre-made book cover offerings as low as US $149.   Also, a full-blown custom cover design can run between US $250 and US $2000. As you can see the range is quite large.  More commonly, a custom cover is around US $400 to $800.

2. Define YOUR style to find the RIGHT designer for YOUR project.

Decide what type of design and art you envision to represent your story.  In graphic design there are many types of designers, just as there are many specialties within the medical field.  If you are looking for illustrations, i.e. hand drawings, your best bet would be to find an illustrator with this type of work in their portfolio.  However, if you want to use a photo for your cover, a digital art manipulation artist, such as myself, is what you are looking for.


 Before and After – Photo Digital Art Manipulation: Anita B. Carroll.

3.  Assess the designer’s quality of work

Finding a designer that has the style you are looking for is half the battle, and equally crucial is assessing the designer’s work prior to hiring them for your project.  Always ask for a sample of their previous work.  Any experienced designer will welcome this request.  When a client contacts me, even if they don’t request to see my portfolio, I will offer it.  It is very important to me that I meet their expectations up front and that my design style is what the author is looking for.   I need to be certain that you are looking for something that I can deliver, or it can end up being a waste of time for both of us.


Graphic Design by Anita B. Carroll.

4.  Look outside the box

So, you have defined the design style for your cover and have researched several cover artists, but perhaps just can’t seem to find that RIGHT cover designer?  Think outside the box by keeping an open mind.  Don’t judge a designer’s portfolio by how many book covers they have done in the past.  Instead analyze how the designer uses typography within their design work, and their layout capabilities.  This speaks volumes of their skill set as a graphic designer.


 Graphic Design by Anita B. Carroll.

5. Understand the EFFECT of TYPOGRAPHY

It might be that you hire an illustrator to do a drawing, and are tempted to just add the text yourself.  If you have a good understanding of typography, I say go for it.  However, not everyone does.  Let’s  take a look at the “before and after” of a book cover I was invited to review some months ago. This first image displays the book cover with the author’s own typography.


The before picture of book cover before I “tweaked” it. -Anita

My initial thought was  that the typography felt weak, and I could not wait to tweak the cover. However, I first needed to be in the mindset of the author.  I had to really understand what he was going for and find out what kind of story this was.  So, I read the first 30-40 pages of the novel.   After reading the pages, not only did I know what type of story it was, but I really understood why he chose to use this specific cover art.

Here is what the cover looks like today, after I implemented my typography:


Welcome to the FIGHT: Silent Wars
Author: Glen Romero
eBook – Kindle Edition

In the seven months prior to the tweak, the author had no sales on his novel.  In the six months after I tweaked the cover, he has had 115 sales. How awesome is that!?   It’s pretty amazing how the typography can have such an impact.

 6.  Not ALL designers are ALIKE. Find a designer who is a team player

In the beginning of the design process, which I call the “first date” stage, if you have something specific in mind for your cover design, but the designer seems to resist every suggestion you make, this is a red flag, and should tell you that you might want to look for another designer before you are stuck with a cover you don’t want.  Take your time and do some good research, BEFORE you say, “Yes, let’s do it!”

A GREAT designer understands that successful cover art concepts are best reached when working closely with the author.

The cover design should meet your vision and be a true representation of the novel.  The designer is an instrument in reaching that goal.—Anita B. Carroll,

7.  Trust the designer. Keep an open mind. Welcome new ideas. 

It is equally important for the author to welcome new ideas.  Remember, it’s all about teamwork. Sometimes I find, after reading through my client’s wish list, that I might not have a clear understanding of what they are looking for, which is why I always ask to read the first 30-40 pages.  Then, I feel inspired and understand the emotion the author is going for.The story often tells me the direction to take in the design.  It’s quite the balancing act.  If you, as the author, really want a specific object on your cover, it is very important to communicate this to your designer, so they know to focus on that.


“B R O K E N Heart series” Graphic Design by Anita B. Carroll –

8.  Understanding the design process

When the time comes to begin discussing the details of your cover concept, if you have a strong opinion about what you want, offer as much information as possible.  Provide links and information that you think will help explain your vision.  This will really help the designer understand what you are looking for.

My number one goal is always to meet my client’s needs by creating a design they will feel both proud of and excited about to share with the world.—Anita B. Carroll,

When working with a designer, from the start, be very up front about what you are looking for.  Avoid changing the original specs once the design process has begun.  If you originally asked for a pink elephant but then later, after the designer has started working, you decide you want it to be a pink house instead, this will only lead to frustration for the designer.  Colors are easy to change.  However, when the art takes a whole new direction, the artist has to start all over.  So be sure to inform the designer if you are unsure whether or not you want a house or an elephant, and see what they can come up with.

9.  Don’t rush the designer

In today’s competitive market, we all want everything yesterday. However, when the time has arrived to design the cover to your book, think about this.You have spent months, maybe even years, to write the story.  Does it make much sense to rush the cover design?  Does it make sense to rush THE item that FIRST interacts with your potential readers?  Does it make sense to rush the item that represents your work?

When it comes to design, it is what’s in the details, that matters. 

To allow a designer to reach his or her full potential and become inspired, it is important to give them creative freedom, and as much time to create your cover as possible. 

Don’t wait until the last-minute.—Anita B. Carroll,

anitacarroll_below9Designed with Creative Freedom by Anita B. Carroll.

10.  Using stock photography vs original photography work

In the last year, I have noticed an emerging trend where highly digitally manipulated photo covers are becoming a popular choice when choosing the cover art.  It has reached or surpassed the level of popularity of graphic design and illustrations.  It is important to know that stock photos can be mass-produced, and are available to everyone and anyone.  Most stock photography websites have a stipulation when purchasing and using a photo for a book cover.  Some sites allow you to sell up to 250 000 or 499 999 copies before you have to purchase a new license.  This is the same as purchasing the stock photo a second time—just something to keep in mind.


“P R O M I S E S” Stock Photo.  Cover Design: Anita B. Carroll –

With regard to using original photography work, if you are lucky enough to find an artist who is also a photographer, and offers their photography for cover art purposes, you can be assured that the photo will be used for your book only.  The cost of the photo may be a bit higher than a stock photo, but if you want one-of-a-kind cover art, it comes with a price.  You might be able to negotiate a lower price if you allow the artist to use the photo in other areas, just not for a book cover.


 “P E B B E L E D Heart” (Anita B. Carroll Photography –

11.  Recognizing what’s best for the novel

Let’s say your cover artist is deeply submerged in the design process, and the concept you both agreed on has become a reality.  And perhaps, the cover has been completed, finalized, and approved by you.  You are completely satisfied, and have begun to advertise it.  Then, what if, your cover artist emails you, maybe with the subject line “Don’t freak but …”  You are probably thinking, “Oh-oh, what is wrong?”  In this case, the cover designer proposed to change direction of the concept entirely, and go with something new and different.  To support the proposal, the designer had done thorough research, and found that maybe this new concept would not only be a better fit, but also be keeping up with the newer trends we see in cover design these days.

As you can imagine, at this late stage of development, this was not an easy decision for the designer to make.  However, she placed the needs of the novel first.   This true story has a happy ending.  My wonderful author client, (yes, I am the designer in this story) trusted me, and she was open to the idea and willing to give me the opportunity to design the new concept. Although, she didn’t think anything could persuade her to switch the existing cover design.  Today, I am so incredibly glad I took the risk, and proposed we head in a new direction.

After all, it’s all about the story, it should always direct the concept.—Anita B. Carroll,

The result?  My author client really liked the new cover design, and stated “it must be the cover… and so it shall.”

The cover that almost didn’t happen:


 Release date November 2013  “Kelly and the Angel” by Author Kelly Ilebode.
Cover Design: Anita B. Carroll – anita

12.  A designer’s big secret

For an artist, “The moment we all wait for is the revealing of our work.”  For me it is such a personal journey. I always put my heart and soul into the creative process, completely submerging myself into your story.  For days, and weeks I will be thinking about your book, dreaming about your book. It really never leaves my mind.   So, presenting the final work is actually a bit scary.  Not knowing whether the author will love the design or hate it can be quite an emotional process.  I have so much fun creating, and as I have been known to say: THIS. IS. THE. BEST reward I could ask for:

Anita – I have no words for this, but I will try…  When you first told me that you were thinking of changing the cover I froze a bit and thought that there would be nothing that you could have done that could have swayed me from changing….Well, I was wrong….THIS IS STUNNING!!!!  Love it and it must be my new cover.—Kelly Ilebode, Author –

… I truly have the best job!

In summary, for me designing is a PASSION. 

For most artists, creating art is not a choice we make. It finds us.  We have a need to create, and as an author, looking for a cover artist, it may comfort you to know that we always try to design to the best of our capabilities.

I love what I do.  Entering the world of story telling has allowed me creative freedom when designing.  I simply can’t imagine doing anything else. – Anita B. Carroll


To connect with Anita and see more of her work, check out:


Portfolio Website:

Anita B. Carroll is a visual design consultant and founder of, supporting authors with all their business brand identity design needs, and offering a FRESH take on book cover design.  Anita has over 17 years of experience within the visual design field, starting out managing creative initiatives for Fortune 500 Businesses in Silicon Valley, California.  She is specialized in Heuristic Evaluation, User Interface and Experience Design with focus on online usability testing, a valuable skill when designing book covers for the rapidly growing digital market.  Anita is also an avid reader. Discovering book cover design has provided the opportunity to combine her works in photography and graphic design skills.  In her free time, you might spot her at one of the U. S. Cape beaches, biking the National Sea Shore trails, or photographing the gorgeous coastline and capturing everlasting moments with her beach portrait photography services.