E16 – Interview with Sharon Coleman (video, show notes, transcript)
This week we discuss cover design with Sharon Coleman!
Find Sharon online!
Author site: https://kimlark.com
Professional services site: https://ignitedesignservices.com
Support us on Patreon at https://patreon.com/revisionwizards
The Revision Wizards are at https://www.revisionwizards.com
V.E. Griffith’s website: https://www.vegriffith.com
Miss Catherine M.H.’s website: https://www.scribes-pen.com
Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2301
V.E. Griffith 00:00:00
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m VE Griffith, and I’m joined by my sorceress cohost, Ms. Catherine M. H. This is episode 16. This episode is sponsored by our amazing patrons who help us build our podcast so we can help you make your editing and revision process better.
Miss Catherine MH 00:00:19
We have one shout out this week to Lily Ann Fouts, who has joined our little community. Our patrons help us pay for transcripts, which you can find on our website, and for better audio recording quality. So listening is easier on your ears. If you’d be willing to support the show financially for as little as a buck an episode. We have a bunch of neat benefits that you can take advantage of, including a special podcast feed with extra content and personal updates, inside access as we collaborate on a Vella project, the opportunity to ask questions in our Ask the Editor episode, professional editing, and more. And you can find everything you need to know at patreon.com/revisionwizards.
V.E. Griffith 00:01:05
This week we delve a little more into the business side of indie publishing with cover designer Sharon Coleman. And with that, here we go.
V.E. Griffith 00:01:05
So we’re here today with a new guest and we’re going to discuss editing and book cover design. If you would please tell us your name and your pronouns.
Sharon Coleman 00:01:23
Sharon Coleman. She her. Hers.
V.E. Griffith 00:01:26
Well, thank you. Okay, so let’s start with the basic stuff. What is a book cover designer? What makes you different from a regular graphic designer?
Sharon Coleman 00:01:34
I think a lot of that is in researching and understanding what a book cover is supposed to do. Any graphic designer could do a book cover. You’re just not necessarily going to get one that is genre specific or that’s on point for the genre because they’re not necessarily going to know what to look for. They’re not going to know how important the various genre elements are. They’ll give you a pretty design, but it may not fit what a book cover is meant to do, which is convey genre. Like, first and foremost, that’s its job. First and foremost job is to get people to click on the cover and then read the description. So its job is to draw people in. But you have literally less than a fraction of second of eyeball time on that cover. So it has to pull some really, really heavy duty work to get the person to do that clicking. And if you’re hiring a graphic designer that doesn’t understand books and readers and the industry, you’re not necessarily going to get a cover that’s going to do the job, as pretty as it might be.
V.E. Griffith 00:02:32
What kind of covers do you focus on? What kind of stuff do you do?
Sharon Coleman 00:02:35
So I design the way I read. I’m kind of omnivorous. So I like to do kind of all genres. Nonfiction, I’m very on point for. I find them very quick and easy to do. And my background is an illustration. So I love to do things that require that extra level of design. It takes a lot longer to do a hand illustration than it does to Photoshop stock images together. So that’s kind of one of my strengths. That being said, I love doing Photoshop stuff as well. There is something to be said, if you are a niche genre, to find a cover designer who signs in that niche, because they’re going to understand it better than somebody like me who is omnivorous. But when I start doing covers, I research the genre. I research what’s currently trending in covers because it changes constantly, especially in the indie market, which moves very fast compared to trade publishing. So I don’t know if that answered your question.
V.E. Griffith 00:03:33
Yeah, it does.
Miss Catherine MH 00:03:35
How are you able to edit the image someone has in their mind and put that onto a cover for them, so sometimes they’ll have a very specific idea? How do you work around that?
Sharon Coleman 00:03:46
All right, I’m laughing because, Catherine, you and I have talked about this quite a bit. Yes. It doesn’t matter if you have a specific image in mind as an author, as attached as you get to that specific image in mind, hire somebody on fiverr to make you that image and then enjoy it yourself or use it in social media. But if you’re hiring a book designer to help sell your book, it’s better to let go of that and let the designer create something for you that is going to draw people in. If your main character has blonde hair and the specific tattoo on their face, for example. Pulling that up for my own work. It doesn’t matter that it looks exactly like what’s described in the book, because in less than a fraction of a second, your reader has made the decision whether they’re going to click on that description or not. If the book cover does its job, it’s pulled and your blurb everything has to do its job. This is just step one of getting the person to purchase. They click on that cover, the blurb then pulls them in to, say, read a sample. Then your writing pulls them in to read the rest of the book. Once inside the book, then they can be like, oh, the tattoo is different from the cover but most people are not even going to notice that. That is a difference. So let’s say you want 17 different elements, and this happens a lot, where the author is like, well, there’s there’s trains and steamships and, you know, a dog. The dog is very important. There’s, you know, seven different characters. I want all of that on my cover. Well, now you’ve got a cover that is so overloaded with imagery, nobody’s going to pick out anything. The cover’s mood is more important than the details. The author’s name is more important than the details, and the title is more important. You have, again, less than a fraction of a second, and you also have what they call a thumbnail, which is literally the size of your thumb, to convey all of that information. So if you have too many things on your cover, nothing gets seen. And as an author, I too have scenes from my books that are like visual set pieces that I would love to see drawn out as part of my cover. So part of the reason I have so many darn covers my book, that most of them are just going to be kind of for me to satisfy that creative urge. So if there’s a set piece like that, go ahead and get a free account on Canva. Play with it yourself. Or like I said, hire someone in fiverr to make you something that doesn’t necessarily have to be a cover, but can be something that you can use as inspiration and that can satisfy that creative itch that you’re having about that scene.
Miss Catherine MH 00:06:20
Makes sense. I mean, like you said, we’ve talked about that before, but for others.
Sharon Coleman 00:06:28
It’S an ongoing thing when you’re working with a cover designer, I know it’s really easy to get attached to that. And I just recommend that you let go and and trust if you’ve hired somebody whose work you like, trust that they know what they’re doing and that they’re going to create you something that you like and sort of give them the brief and then step out of the way and just have some trust. Because at this point, it’s now a team effort. I know writing can be very solitary, but selling your book and marketing your book becomes a team effort because you do need to hire somebody who’s professional. It makes a huge difference in how your book is perceived in the marketplace.
V.E. Griffith 00:07:07
What’s the big thing that authors don’t understand? Aside from, like, letting go? Is that the big thing that they don’t understand that you want them to? Or is there something else that they need to get?
Sharon Coleman 00:07:16
That is probably the thing I see the most often is that it’s like with writing blurbs, blurbs are hard to write because you’re trying to convey this giant story into a paragraph or two. And it’s the same thing with the cover. You’ve got this giant story that you’re trying to convey in a fraction of a second and a thumbnail image and one little image. And I think the most important thing is to be aware that what the cover’s job is. So, yeah, I think letting go is the most important thing. I mean, we can talk more about working with a cover designer and how to communicate with them so that you can get the best of both worlds. Ideally, that’s what you want. You want a cover that you love, that conveys the mood and feel of your book, that conveys enough important elements so that the reader knows what they’re getting. But the job of the cover is to bring the reader in, let them know what genre they’re in, maybe potentially what tropes they want. Romance authors do this really, really well, and you can tell in a split second on a cover not only what genre you’re in, but what the tropes are, what steam level it is. And there’s shorthands that designers use. If you’re writing a really steamy romance, and we are moving away from this in romance used to be like, the less the man is wearing on the cover the steamier romance is. But if you’re writing a really steamy romance to go back to that, because it’s a simple shorthand, but your man wears suits a lot and you’re like, I want him in a suit on the cover Well, now you’re saying you’re giving the reader that shorthand, that the steam level is lower than what they’re going to get, and then you have a disappointed reader when they get inside that book.
Miss Catherine MH 00:08:58
V.E. Griffith 00:09:00
Well, what should the process look like in terms of the back and forth?
Sharon Coleman 00:09:04
So that’s going to be different for every cover designer. It’s part of the reason I don’t generally like the big stock sites. Not to diss on anyone who’s using them, because they’re a good deal when you have a lower budget. But those big stock sites tend to limit your communication. And working well with a designer is with any relationship, it’s all about the communication. So depending on how your designer likes to work, I like to get on a call with my clients because I interpret better what they’re explaining. If I can have that back and forth exchange. And I just like to go through a brief like that. Some people will have a form that you can fill out that gives them the brief. A lot of companies will do that. I just prefer that sort of one on one touch that I can understand the book better and understand what the author is looking for a little bit better. Because I do like to try my best to have that best of both worlds place where the author is happy and the readers will be drawn in. In trad publishing, there’s going to be zero communication between the author and the designer. There’s literally no say. So I think that’s part of the appeal, at least for me, to indie publish is you have a lot more control and a lot more say in the whole package of your book. So, yeah, it’s a lot of communication. If it’s a good relationship with your code designer, there’s going to be a lot of communication back and forth. Again, trust is key. So having that communication and then stepping back and letting the designer do their work that they’ve trained for, for probably potentially decades, right. They know what they’re doing. So sort of trusting that and not necessarily getting too prescriptive. So you don’t want to be like, well, I need to have the title up in the top left corner and the author’s name has to be in the bottom. If the cover designer is doing their research, they’re going to look at what’s trending. So they’re going to see that right now, in romance, the author’s name on the top is trending. I mean, it’s like, literally, they’re going to look at that kind of detail, what fonts are trending, and all of those things for the various genres. Because it’s amazing what all of those little pieces contribute to the overall feel of a cover without us even realizing that they’re doing it.
Miss Catherine MH 00:11:16
So with getting covers, is there something that authors should prepare themselves for before they come to you or any designer? Like, what should they do before they come to the designer?
Sharon Coleman 00:11:32
Ideally, they have a blurb already written pretty strong that will help the cover designer a lot in understanding what the book is about and what the genre is that they’re writing in. Because, as you know, especially because of indie publishing, genres can get very niche down. Right. I like paranormal romance, but I won’t read anything with werewolves, that kind of thing. So it’s really good to have all of that down. And I’ve even heard of authors coming to you where they’ve already got, like, images they’ve purchased. They’re like, you must use this image. I really would recommend against that because a designer may or may not be able to use that image with various other elements that are on the page. So really, I would say come with an open mind about what your cover might be because you might have an image again, might have something in your mind, and then the designer creates something, and it’s completely different from what you were thinking of, but it works, and you love it. Right? So I would come into it with a sense of experimentation.
Miss Catherine MH 00:12:38
What is something that you wish readers understood about book covers? I know when I look at it from a reader’s point of view, I’m judging the cover I’m expecting what’s on the cover to be somewhere in the book. So what would you like readers to understand about covers?
Sharon Coleman 00:12:56
How mean can I get? A little mean. Can I get mean?
Miss Catherine MH 00:12:56
V.E. Griffith 00:13:03
Sharon Coleman 00:13:04
This is where I’m going to get a little mean. And it’s actually a little mean to authors. And I hate to be mean to authors because, again, I am one. It used to be that you could judge a book by the cover And the beginning of indie publishing, you could still judge a book by the cover because most indie authors were creating their own covers. And you got an amateur looking cover, and you kind of got a sense of, when I get inside this book, I’m going to get an amateur book. And I think the expectation of course, you go inside that book, and the expectation is immediately lower. So as a reader, you’re actually not disappointed, right? Especially if it’s a good book inside then you’re like pleasantly surprised. But as indie publishing has grown and authors have gotten wiser to the fact that you can’t sell a book without a professional cover, there are far more people out there who can design professional covers, really professional covers, and are doing it at very reasonable rates. Then I think there are authors who have practiced enough to have a professional book, because I do believe it’s practice. Right. Everybody can write it’s, developing the skills. And so if the authors publishing, say, their first book and they haven’t necessarily practiced enough or haven’t gotten an editor, which is super important, right, but they have a really pro cover, as a reader, I open up that book thinking I’m going to get a really pro book and I’m disappointed. So I think that’s one of the things readers need to know is you can’t always judge a book by its cover anymore. And it’s not just indie publishers too. I mean, I see it in trap publishing all the time. It’s a traditional published book with a beautiful cover and I open it up and I’m disappointed on the insight. So it’s certainly not in the indie, like exclusive to the indie world, but I think it’s a little bit more common because we are testing the waters, throwing it out there, seeing what it’ll stick. And I don’t think indie authors should stop doing that. I don’t think there’s a solution to it. But as a reader, maybe understanding that if you’re buying a book purely on the roll of the cover maybe do a little bit more digging first to see if it’s going to be something that you’re going to really love. So I hope that it wasn’t too mean on that.
Miss Catherine MH 00:15:26
No, it’s really good advice.
Sharon Coleman 00:15:29
That’s what I wish readers knew. You can’t judge a book by its cover anymore. It makes me sad.
V.E. Griffith 00:15:36
Is there a big difference in terms of what you see from trad pub and indie pub or is it?
Sharon Coleman 00:15:48
None. No. Interestingly. I read Voraciously and I have read one book in the past three years that I didn’t find a typo in one and it was indie published. And I just want to say this author, I only read it because I read a blog article about how she had written the book in a month and I’m like, it must suck. So I got it, I read it, it was very good. It was not my favorite. I don’t tend to like contemporary romance, but I like to read wide. So I read it, I enjoyed it. It wasn’t like my passion book, but I enjoyed it. And it didn’t have a single typo. It was very well written and she wrote it in a month. And I’m like holy moly, aspirations. But no, you see errors and typos in it all the time. Just because a book is traditionally published doesn’t mean it’s going to be like a better quality than an indie published book by any means. By any means. And readers don’t care. And why should they? I mean, I’m, I’m more apt to support an indie author than I am a trad published author, because the traditional publishers, the ones making all the money, not the authors. So I’d rather support somebody being indy. And most of the trad published authors are going indy now, even the big names.
Miss Catherine MH 00:17:11
But you don’t see a big difference between traditionally published covers and indie covers because I know there’s that big talk in the community where people are like, oh, you can tell in indie by its cover.
Sharon Coleman 00:17:24
So maybe in the hard covers because they are able to pay for all of the effects, the Puffy fonts and the Metallic fonts and all of those special treatments. But a lot of indie authors are doing Kickstarter campaigns so that they can have the same thing on their covers as well. So you do see it, I think more in the hard covers because they have the budget for that. But as far as a paperback goes, I see very little difference cover wise. If somebody’s hiring a professional cover, they’re hiring a professional cover designer, you know, whether they’re trad or indie.
V.E. Griffith 00:18:04
What’s your favorite part of being of doing a cover? What do you like about it?
Sharon Coleman 00:18:10
For me, it’s that initial piece we discussed. How do you take that image that’s in the author’s brain and make it into a cover that’s going to support the book and do its job? And how do you marry those two things? For me, that’s the most enjoyable part. It’s something I tend to do fairly naturally, I think, or at least I’ve been told. And also I will argue with the author, if need be, to say, hey, let’s let go of these pieces, and I will explain why. So for me, that’s a lot of fun. But just in general, I just find the process fun. It allows me to use all my skill sets. It allows me to use graphic design. It allows me to use illustration. It allows me to play with painting and photoshop, to do some research, to learn about new books that I may not have had any interest in before, new genres I may not have had any interest in before. So as a lifelong learner, for me, the whole process is fun.
Miss Catherine MH 00:19:10
What would you say for people, like, if you’re working with someone and you send them, I know that you and I have been working on a few, so our experience is a little different because I got to watch you do it. But for somebody who you send the cover to and then they’re like, hey, could we shift this? How does that process work for you? How many shifts do you allow an author before you’re like, no more?
Sharon Coleman 00:19:39
All right, well, I think most designers would probably kill me because I’ll do revisions till the person is happy. And most designers will limit how many revisions get on a cover, but I will tend to give a lot more than most professional designers will limit you to two rounds of revisions, maybe three, just because that process can go on forever. I’m probably not the model to go by, most designers. Yeah, you’re going to get a couple of rounds of revisions back and forth. So what I would suggest as a writer, what I would suggest you do is sit on your initial feedback, right? Because you might get your cover design back and go, oh, my God, I hate it, right? This is wrong, and this is wrong, and this is wrong. And I would suggest make a list of all the things you hate. Make a list of all the things you love, if there are any, right? And you might get it back and go, oh, my God, I love it, and you’re good to go. But make a list and then just sit on it for a little while. Don’t go back to the artist with your initial reaction. And then when you do go to the artist, artists are people, too. They’re sensitive people to designers or people, too. And as all creatives tend to be more sensitive, I would definitely suggest giving criticism in sort of the traditional critique format, is to point out something you like, then give constructive feedback of the things you don’t like, and then again, point out something you like just because it’s better to be kind in general. And you’re going to have a more productive relationship with your designer if you can create a relationship and not be like, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this. Right? So again, that communication piece, right? So I would suggest you do that. And because you’re making a list now, you’ve come back to them with all the things that need fixing, right, or that you feel need fixing or that are whatever problems. Be as communicative as you can be about why this particular item you don’t like. Let’s say you hate the font. So you go back to the designer and say, instead of saying, I hate the font, it would say something like, can we change the font and this is why. And then give them comps of things that are in your genre currently that are trending. I would like it to match more with this trend of this particular genre, which you had asked earlier. What should you come to with your what should you give your designer when you’re starting out? And that would be one of the things I would say for sure, is do some research. Get comps of books that are similar to yours in your genre, as similar as possible, and preferably indie published, if you’re indie published. And you’re not going to be hiring a cover designer yourself if you’re not. Although I heard about a Trad Pub deal recently where they had the, they made the author pay for her own cover. That was weird. They were giving less and less men. But, but so, so do that research piece and come out that went three to five. No more, no more than five. Then they’re overwhelmed. There’s too many three to five tops. Three is like the sweet spot of comps for your cover. So they have a good sense and then if they don’t adhere to that from the get go and now you’re unhappy with whatever pieces you are, give them more comps at that point and say, hey, more like this one. Right? When you give them any kind of feedback, try to communicate what is about the thing that you are either happy or unhappy with. I love the colors because it conveys this mood, or I would rather have something that looks more old because it’s more historical settings. So just as much as you can. I know we work with words, but sometimes the words are really hard in these kinds of exchanges. But as much as you can tell them the why behind what you like or don’t like, and that’s going to help them fix whatever issues there are. And if you can do that from the very beginning, it’s going to help them know what to create from you from the get go. So that you have that wonderful moment where you open up the first thing they did and go, oh my gosh, I love it. We’re good because the more back and forth you go, that’s the less time you have to write.
V.E. Griffith 00:24:10
What am I expecting to pay for a service like yours?
Sharon Coleman 00:24:15
That’s all over the place. So I have seen like, you can get pre made covers for as low as $50. And like, there’s a wonderful cover designer that his name is Eluding Me, but he’s very, very good. He’s a better artist than I will ever be. And several people in our community that we know have used him and he charges fifteen hundred dollars to start for a cover. So the, the range is very varied. It’s kind of all over the place. So that’s not something I can answer. Like hard, like firm and fast. And it changes, you know, the, the more swamped you get with covers, the higher you charge because you just don’t have the time to make a lot of them.
V.E. Griffith 00:24:59
Yeah, that makes sense. And some of it is going to depend, I guess, on quality and what you’re looking for and experience level the designer, all of those kinds of how much work they’re willing to put into it, that kind of thing.
Sharon Coleman 00:25:11
So for an illustrated cover, I would charge a lot more because the time involved in creating that is so much more than it would be for something that’s photoshopped together.
V.E. Griffith 00:25:20
Well, where can our listeners find you in your work?
Sharon Coleman 00:25:23
So my author’s site is Kimlark.com, and that’s got my books on it. You can find author services through that site. And then my professional services site is ignitedesignservices.com. So Ignite like a match design services. And I do cover designs. I also do the virtual assistant work for all kinds of people, not just authors and sales and marketing funnels through that.
V.E. Griffith 00:25:54
Okay, well, that sounds great. I guess with that, we will sign off for the afternoon and let our listeners go about their day. Thank you so much for coming on.
Sharon Coleman 00:26:05
Thanks for having me.