1. START WRITING
It’s a good idea to begin collecting information for your brief as soon as you can. You know your novel better than anyone, so make a note of places, interesting and pivotal scenes, character descriptions.
But keep it light, about the length and detail of a back cover blurb.
Try to think of it as a starting point for your designer and a focal point for you.
There’s absolutely no problem if you want to do this before you’ve picked your designer, but when you have – and you’re presenting your brief to them – be sure to create an open dialogue with them, as they have a lot more experience of what will and won’t work than you.
2. DO YOUR RESEARCH
Your first port of call should be both Amazon and your local book shop (it’s good to stretch the legs every once and a while) and head to the bestsellers in your genre. Here you will find what’s working, what styles are popular, what you’re fighting against and, just as importantly, fitting in with. After all, booksellers have spent a lot of time thinking about how to sell you as many books as possible – and this information is free.
You could make a Pinterest page of your research, click and drag the covers to a folder on your desktop or scribble a few notes in a pad.
3. MY CHARACTER WOULD NEVER WEAR THAT!
Narrative is important, having an exact scene or character trait is not.
Asking your designer to use a specific road in Washington DC at 3am where the moonlight is hitting your protagonist’s face – but only their eyes are in shadow – whilst they run away in a bespoke suit made in a shop (that has since closed down) in Maine and they are holding a gun that hasn’t been invented yet will completely be ignored… and may make your designer’s head explode with rage.
A brief should never be a strict set of rules. Its purpose is for reference, direction and ideas.
4. SAY IT WITH IMAGES
Designers are visual creatures, so when writing your brief make sure you add book covers which have a similar aesthetic/direction to how you want yours to look.
This isn’t copying, it’s emulation. Plus, it’s a great way to express your ideas when the words don’t come to mind.
It’s not a bad idea to show your competition. These are the covers which your book will need to fight against or even resemble in some way (familiarity is an important factor in book design).
5. BEAR IN MIND...
A good designer not only works to your brief, but also thinks outside of it.
You should allow your designer creative freedom to think of their own direction too, especially if they have a lot of experience in book cover design. They may very well come up with a concept based on your brief that you would never in a million years have imagined!!