Andrew Benzie led the December BAIPA presentation on book cover design. As a follow-up, I spoke to him on the phone the week after the meeting to find out more about how he got where he is and how he does his work.
Q: How did you get into book cover design?
It almost kind of found me. I was in print design for years—corporate work—and the first book I designed was my dad’s. The cover and inside layout.
Most of the work I get comes from word of mouth and client recommendations. Obviously, there’s not a lot of repeat business—most people take years to write a book. I do a lot of speaking events and I’m also on the board of the Mt. Diablo California Writers Club.
Q: What attracts you to book cover design?
I really enjoy the actual designing process, each cover is kind of like a puzzle. And working with creative people, authors, to create something that’s powerful—to help them see their dream come true.
There’s nothing like seeing their faces when they hold the book in their hands for the first time.
Q: Take me though the process from initial contact to finished product.
The first thing is we decide what size the book. Usually 5 1/4” x 8” or 6” x 9”. We look at other books in same genre. And we find covers the author likes. Half the time the author has photos or an idea in their head.
We’ll often look at stock photos, find an image that works, and go from there.
Q: Do you need to read the book? How do you know enough to design the cover?
I ask the author for a brief description of the story. That gives them a chance to practice their elevator pitch. I figure out some appropriate typeface for the genre, whether it’s romance or sci-fi. I work up a couple of ideas and post them on a private site.
Mostly we work through email. I often use stock photos—I’ll do a search and send the author some potential images. Finding prospective images can take a while. I often have clients go to a stock photography site and search for images they like. As much as possible, I keep them as part of the process. I want them to be happy with the cover.
Ideally I can get the feel what the author wants. Most authors want to talk about their book, it doesn’t take a lot of encouragement.
I do the front cover first, then once they sign off on that, then incorporate front cover elements into the back and tie in the spine. I like it when I can find an image that wraps around the spine and back.
We have a blurb and bio and sometimes a photo of the author on the back, so there’s often not much room for a large image on the back. I often use part of the front cover image.
On a recent book I designed and published the author wanted some hands with paint on them on the top and bottom of the front cover. On the back, the hands were enlarged in the background.
Q: How do you figure out the fee?
I work for an hourly rate and provide a ballpark estimate. I try to adapt to what each client needs. I do as many revisions as my clients like. Usually I start by presenting one or two ideas.
Q: How do you persuade people to pay for a cover design?
I sometimes see people who who have spent a lot of time writing their book, then have a friend with photoshop and clip art come up with a sub-par cover design. A weak cover can guarantee that you’re not going to be taken seriously. I strongly suggest for a couple of hundred dollars to have a professional create a cover that reflects well on the work they’ve done writing the book. I encourage authors to produce the best possible product possible, that means professional editing and design.
I’m a one-stop shop for design—I can do the cover, the interior layout, business cards, bookmarks, websites, etc. I don’t offer editing, but I know a number of great editors that I can recommend. I also consult with my clients on branding and marketing.
Q: And when you’re not designing book covers?
I play drums in a jazz band and electric bass in a rock band. I perform about every three weeks of so. Our jazz band, Lewiston Jazz, has been together for ten years. We perform originals songs and jazz standards.