I’m thrilled to present an interview with Victorine Lieske, a cover designer and New York Times Best-Selling Author, who’s agreed to share her insights on cover design. Victorine designed one of my own book covers, A Rose in Bloom, which is still awaiting publication, and I highly recommend her work.
1. How did you get started in artistic cover design?
I’ve always loved art, and I fell in love with graphic design in college, but I didn’t ever freelance my design work until I became an author and saw the need for cover artists. At the time, I knew I had the design skills, but not the photoshop skills. So I watched as many tutorials on Photoshop as I could and jumped into it, determined to figure out how it worked. I must say I fell in love with Photoshop as well.
2. Do you have other non-digital artistic talents?
I love to doodle, and I sometimes draw designs for my rubber stamp company, Victorine Originals, but my skill is limited. I do much better on the computer!
The average person knows within seven seconds of looking at the cover if they are interested in a book or not.
3. What inspires you when you are beginning a cover design?
Honestly, I’ve learned not to re-invent the wheel. If someone comes to me with a book, I ask what other books out there are like theirs. I look at other book covers in their genre, and see what kind of vibe they portray. I look at the font, the colors, and the images from that genre. I want my totally new cover to scream the genre. If it mumbles it, I’m not doing my job. I want people to know right away what kind of book they are looking at. The average person knows within seven seconds of looking at the cover if they are interested in a book or not. If the cover looks appealing to them, they will go read the blurb. If the cover doesn’t portray the right genre, or it’s not clear what genre it is, the reader won’t even look at the blurb. They will move on to something else.
4. What kind of service should an author expect from you as a professional cover designer?
I feel my job isn’t only to provide a cover. As a NYT’s best selling author, I have some experience with writing, packaging, and marketing a book. I feel my job is to give an author the best chance they have at selling a book. Sometimes that means talking a cover design through with an author, because some authors want me to design something that is firm in their head, and what they envision wouldn’t help them sell a book. A large part of my job requires me to find out what genre the author has written in, and what well known books are like theirs. If an author has written a book that is unlike anything that has ever been published, it will be difficult to package and market. (And it’s unlikely that is true anyway. It’s more likely the author just isn’t familiar with what genre they are writing in.)
I feel my job is to give an author the best chance they have at selling a book.
5. What sets your cover designs apart from the millions of covers out there in cyber-space?
I’m not sure if anything sets my designs apart, other than my experience as a best selling author myself.
6. Should a cover “stand out from” or “blend with” the other covers in the genre?
I’ve touched on this before, but it’s so important I’m going to say it again. It’s highly important that a cover match the other covers in the genre. Maybe “blend in” isn’t the right phrase, because you do want your cover to be noticed, but a cover should not look so different that people can’t tell what genre the book is. Genre trumps story details every time. This is what I mean by that. If you wrote a story about an ice skater who falls in love with a football player, and at it’s core the story is a romance, it’s more important to show that the book is a romance than having ice skates and a football on the cover. While ice skates and a football might represent the story, it won’t tell anyone about the genre. And people shop by genre. A potential buyer is going to think, “I’d love to read a good romance novel,” but they are not going to think, “I really want to read a story about an ice skater who falls for a football player.”
7. What are some of your favorite covers you’ve designed and why?
Wow, that’s a hard question! I love all the covers. I guess I have to confess my absolutely favorite cover is one I did for my own book, Accidentally Married. I was lucky enough to find the right photos to make the girl look like she was a bride. And I’m pretty happy with how the flower looks like it’s really in her hair. That cover actually won the Best of Adult category in the 2015 IndieRevAwards. http://www.indierevawards.com/p/cover-contest-winners.html
8. What should an author do if they can’t afford to hire a book cover designer?
I know some authors who have designed their own covers, and have done a fantastic job. However, I know far more who have ended up with something that looks homemade and unprofessional. I don’t say this to be mean. Like our own writing needs other eyes, our own book covers need other opinions as well. If you’re set on designing your own cover, join an author’s group and post your cover. Get outside opinions. Kboards.com (the Writer’s Cafe child board) is a great place to do this because there are a lot of cover designers who will give you honest feedback. The best thing you can do, in my opinion, is to study other covers in your genre before attempting to create your own. Pay attention to the fonts used, the color schemes, the images, and over-all presentation. For best results, you may have to purchase a professional font, and a stock photo or two. And if you don’t have photo editing software, you may want to download Gimp and watch a few tutorials on YouTube. In the end, if you don’t already have graphic design skills, you will probably come to the conclusion that hiring a cover designer is best. If money is tight, ask your designer if they would be willing to split up the cost in two or three payments. I’ve done this for clients. You will probably have to wait for the final cover until you have paid in full, but you probably have to wait for your beta readers’ feedback, as well as your editor. (And if you don’t use beta readers or an editor, that’s a conversation for another day.)