Sunday, December 9, 2012

Author beware: 'Custom Cover Design' does not mean 'Original Cover Art'.

by Aidana WillowRaven

So, you've decided you want an unique book cover for your book. You don't want it to look like every other book on the shelf or web browser.

You hop on Twitter or Facebook and put some feelers out, searching for a cover artist or designer. You get dozens and dozens of responses, from both amateurs and professionals. How do you know you are going to get what you want and that it's unique?

 First you must learn a few key terms.

1- cover designer

A designer is typically trained in typesetting and photo-manipulation. Rarely are they traditional artists. Technically, it is an accepted concept that once an image is altered it is a new work, and by law, that is true. All it takes are three distinct changes to make it a new work. If you are looking for something more original than manipulated parts of stock photos that could potentially be used on another book cover, be sure to tell the cover designer you are not interested in using stock imagery. A cover designer may or may not be trained for what you are looking for.

2- cover artist

In years past, publishers hired a cover artist to do the visual art work and a cover designer to do the typesetting and layout. In today's tough job market, more and more designers are doing both the cover art (again, most likely photo-manipulation) and the design under one job. On that same note, more and more illustrators or cover artists are tackling the job of design as well. It is prudent to verify, before trusting your book to anyone, that the people putting your book together are trained and skilled to do what needs done to give you a quality cover. After all, your cover is the first impression.

3- custom vs original

Many designers and websites that boast cheap 'custom' cover designs or art can really be misleading. Again, let's look at the laws regarding art. By law, if an image, including a design, is altered in three ways, it is a new work. If an artists manipulates just two images by combining a figure from one and changing the color of something from another, then all you have to do is add text, then by law that is a custom cover. If that is acceptable to you, by all means save money and use a cover like this. However, some authors want a more detailed, more story-relevant cover, that does not include mixing existing stock imagery. If you are in that group, be sure to hire someone who insures the art is original, not simply custom. You'll pay a lot more, but like the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.

If anybody has questions as to what is considered original vs custom, or the difference between cover design & cover art, please leave comment or contact me at my signature links.

Art Director & VP of Operations


  1. Very helpful article, Aidana, esp. coming on the heels of a flyer I just got in the mail bragging about their inexpensive, professional cover design!

  2. Aidana, great article. Most of us authors don't know these distinctions.

  3. Our covers bring raves because we use original art work. Some may be created from concepts furnished by the author, such as my next cover will be created from a photo by one of my sons, but most are the creation of the illustrator/designer.

  4. Dear Aidana,
    Thanks for explaining the difference between custom and original. It really helps when you know and understand the lingo people use. Celebrate your artistry and your willingness to share your knowledge with others.
    Enjoy your holidays.
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  5. Very supportive article, Aidana, esp. going ahead the impact points of a flyer I just got via the post office gloating about their cheap, proficient spread structure.
    Logo Design