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Cover Designer to the Self-Published Stars

Book cover designer Sarah Hansen has made book covers for some of the bestselling self-published books, and now she’s started doing cover work for the Big Six publishers as well. Hansen created iconic covers for Colleen HooverNichole Chase and J. Lynn.

In fact, her cover for Abbie Glines‘ new book topped our Self-Published Bestsellers List yesterday. We caught up with Hansen for an interview, finding out how she built her business from scratch last year. You can read the complete interview below, but here’s an eye-popping excerpt:

I am averaging forty covers a month and am booking for January of 2014. So, you can say that I am losing lots of sleep trying to keep up with the new work. I can’t believe how much has changed in publishing in the past two years, never in my life did I think a little freelancing would turn into an around the clock more than full-time position. In less than a year I went from working part time designing balloons to owning my own company. It’s crazy.

How did you get involved in making book covers for so many well-known indie authors?

It really happened by accident. I’ve been a graphic designer for over ten years (I designed mylar balloons), and reading is a major passion of mine. Honestly, though, I really never thought “I wonder who designs these covers”. It never crossed my mind.

In spring of 2012 I started reading self-published books, it was something new that I wasn’t aware existed. I made some friends in the self pub world on Facebook, one of them being Kyla (K.A.) Linde, author of Avoiding Commitment.

At the time her book was available for free on FictionPress. I read it, enjoyed it, and assisted in convincing her to put it on Amazon. She had a cover designer who fell through at the last minute. She came to me and said “aren’t you a graphic designer?” and it took off from there.

How has your career changed since writers like Abbi Glines and Colleen Hoover hit bestseller lists? Can you keep up with the new work?

I was getting extremely busy before, I think, partially due to Colleen mentioning me on social networks prior to the revealing of Hopeless. But after Hopeless was revealed/released emails flooded in. The fact that it sat at No. 1 for so long absolutely helped, and now having my name on the back of a No. 1 New York Times bestseller in a brick and mortar store makes it all “real.”

Abbi has a huge following, even though I already knew her and had met her in real life prior to Fallen Too Far, I was super nervous when I got the email asking me to do her covers.

What many people don’t know, is that I didn’t actually choose the Fallen Too Far cover image….Abbi came to me with it. That set the pace for other covers, and let me tell you, finding Blair’s bleach blonde hair for every photo hasn’t been easy.

Currently I am averaging forty covers a month and am booking for January of 2014. So, you can say that I am losing lots of sleep trying to keep up with the new work. I can’t believe how much has changed in publishing in the past 2 years, never in my life did I think a little freelancing would turn into an around the clock more than full time position. In less than a year I went from working part time designing balloons to owning my own company. It’s crazy.

Can you describe your normal process for making a new book cover? What was it like with “Hopeless” as you worked on the cover and read the book?

I’m very big into letting creativity lead the way. I can’t say “I will do this one this day, and this other one the next” I do what feels right at that moment. I’m also very big into finding the perfect picture for the covers, and I spend an insane amount of time image searching. So, basically the process is, image search and then design.

I really have no process. If it starts flowing, it starts flowing. I just go with what my gut tells me on covers. Am I more pround of some over others? Of course. No artist in ANY medium could say they 100% love every piece they have created. Art is subjective. What works for one, won’t work for the next. I *think* I can sort of “see” what the author wants or needs, some have labeled me the “cover whisperer” (Tiffany King, ahem)

Hopeless was my baby. That book, that cover, the whole process. It’s the only cover I have created while reading the book. I read Hopeless chapter by chapter as Colleen wrote it. I knew I would be creating the cover so late at night I would sort of image search for inspiration.

When I stumbled upon that photo, I knew, KNEW it was Sky. I think it was 3am, and I knew Colleen wouldn’t be sleeping, because she doesn’t ever, so I emailed her the photo immediately and within 3 minutes I got a “OMG IT’S SKY” back. And from there, I created the concept. And then I created a hundred more concepts because she was (is) a little indecisive. Of course, the original concept was the one we chose. And it was perfect. It is perfect for that story.

Lots of indie writers struggle to find (or make) the best covers for their books. Do you have any advice for writers as they are choosing cover art? What are the characteristics of a great book cover for a book in an online marketplace?

I think they need to be very aware of fonts. I see so many covers with unreadable titles. It drives me mad. Also, and I just said this on my Facebook page not long ago, the “in” cover right now is what I term an “ab” cover. Which is fine, many women love that.

However….if you get picked up by a publisher they will, 99% of the time be changing your cover. What works online does not always work in a store. Is a woman shopping at Target with her kids going to pick up a book covered with a half naked man? She may want to….but nine times out of ten, she won’t.

Will she go on Amazon and discreetly buy it? Absolutely. I try so hard to design bookstore ready covers, and while I can’t for every single one, that is my goal each time. Also, stock images are everywhere. They will get used more than once (although I have secret sites…..haha), authors should make sure their designer at least attempts to work with the photo a bit and not slap it on with a title.

“Designers” are popping up everywhere, left and right. I am a firm believer that buying Photoshop does not make you a graphic designer. Check your artists credentials when you hire them. Look at their portfolio though and through. I do a ton of cover redesigns, you don’t want to pay twice.

Where will we see your work next in the coming months?

Everywhere! I am booked solid, you will see Okay Creations covers popping up everywhere I am sure. Also….you will be seeing more of my work in stores, as I have begun working with Big Six publishers. It’s all very exciting. I will for sure remind everyone, book early, very very early! I feel so bad when I have to turn people away.

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