What is Etiquette 101? Well, it's a branch of the 101 series that we started just to talk about this very important topic. Unlike the other articles in this series, this isn't aimed at one facet of the creative community; but rather any writer, publisher, or creative looking to buy a premade book cover.
We are big advocates for premade book covers here at The Sinister Scoop. We feature several premade cover galleries from some very talented artists. We have seen some beautiful projects and collaborations be built from premades.
But, since we do our best to promote the artists, we also thought we should take it upon ourselves to make sure that people know some of the basic etiquette surrounding premade covers and how to approach someone selling them.
Our number one rule for talking to artists: don't be afraid to ask questions. Even if you think you know the answer. Even if it's something we've suggested will probably be the answer in this piece. Ask. It takes no time to ask and it shows you're being considerate to the artist and their policies.
Premade Book Covers FAQ
It's hard to believe now that I've become the posterchild of cover hoarding, but a couple years ago I didn't know that premade book covers were a thing. I had a lot of questions about how that could even work, and I asked all of those dumb questions to a lot of very patient artists. At the time I felt stupid because in retrospect the answers felt so obvious.
I am still seeing people who are just learning about premade book covers who are having to ask those same questions and are also feeling silly about it. So we wanted to start this by just having a very basic FAQ section to help illustrate what the process is generally like with a cover designer.
(But remember, each artist has their own policies. These are to be considered general rules of thumb, not ironclad laws that all artists should or will follow.)
Can I change the title? Yes. All text is generally editable on a premade cover, including the title of the book, the author name, and any sample text for things like blurbs, quotes, and descriptors.
Does the story have to be done? No. There are pros and cons to buying a premade cover before you have your project finished (or in some cases, started.) It's something we'd like to tackle in a follow up piece because there are a lot of variables that go into making that decision. But, generally speaking, you don't need to have a story done to purchase your cover. If a cover resonates with your story, and you have the funds to do so, we vaguely recommend picking it up before someone else does.
Can I change an aspect of the cover? Text and color are the main things that it's acceptable to ask to be changed on a premade. It's expected for you to change the text, and color is generally an easy fix -- especially if it's the result of a filter that has been used over the entire cover. Other details that might seem smaller can actually be a lot harder to fix. If you want the composition changed or an element added, that's going to be more work for the artist who now has to find and approve elements. Some will do it, but usually it's because indie horror artists are the sweetest people in the world and have a tough time saying no. Premades are usually priced in such a way that reworking a cover isn't really worth the price you'd be paying.
What is the difference between an ebook cover and a full wrap? An ebook cover is just the front cover of a book. If you see the term full wrap, it means the front, back, and spine of the book, which is something that will be required only if you're doing a print edition.
Can I upgrade to a full wrap later? Yes. Again, each artist is going to have their own policies about this, but generally speaking artists love to have returning clients wanting to upgrade and create a physical edition of the book. Just make sure that you ask and are willing to pay whatever the extra charge is on the full wrap.
What is the turnaround time like? Obviously it's different for every artist, so do be sure to consult their policies and be considerate of their workload. But generally, I've had all of my premades returned to me within 24-48 hours of submitting my title.
The Dos and Don'ts
Now we just want to cover some very basic dos and don'ts because you'd be surprised the sort of stories you hear.
When Buying a Premade Please Do:
Ask about any alterations you want done before sending money. While it might seem like the best etiquette to send money and then ask questions, it puts a lot of pressure on the artist to say yes to questions since you've already paid. If you want to ask if they're able/willing to do something special with the cover for you, give them a chance to answer before committing to the purchase.
Have your title ready OR request that the cover be saved until the title is finalized. I'm guilty of renaming my projects several times after I think they're done, so my track record on this is far from perfect. I always feel like so much of a hassle when I have to change the name of a project once I've already given the title to my cover artist. Unfortunately, it does happen sometimes. Try to minimize this as much as you possibly can. Artists are generally understanding about changes and adjustments, but that's no reason to create unnecessary work for them. Most artists, in my experience, feel comfortable changing the title or text one additional time on a premade if something comes up. After that it can feel like a hassle.
Have funds ready before any work is done. Sometimes you have to work out a hold, or an exchange of labors or a payment plan, but that's negotiating that really should be done beforehand with the consent of the artist, and you need to stick to it. Freelancing can be practically impossible and paying your artists in full, on time, can really help out.
Return to the original artist if you would like more work done to the piece. (And be ready to pay for additional services.) A lot of people buy a cover and think of it as theirs once their name is on it. But it's still the artwork of a human who should be respected and honestly, who should have a say in what happens to it. If you bought an ebook premade and use it to publish an ebook? That checks out. But if you buy an ebook cover and decide later to convert to a full wrap for a print edition? Well, then it's always better to come to the same artist who did the front to see if they'd be willing to do the back. And of course, you need to be ready to pay for whatever they charge for the additional services that you need.
Credit and promote the artist Paying the artist for a cover and owning a cover doesn't mean that you own all rights to the cover. The artist still did work for you, and needs to be credited accordingly. Their name should appear in the copyrights page of the book, and in relevant promotions (which is something we'll be elaborating on later, don't worry.)
Ask for multiple title/text changes Again, mistakes happen. It's not the end of the world if you have to add text or require a title change. But try to minimize how often you request things to be redone as much as possible.
Request a full wrap until you have all the back copy, trim size, and page count of the book ready to go. (This includes blurbs and any additional back text) Full wraps tend to be more labor intensive already, and it can be hard to fit a design around all the text that the back of a book has. Adding additional text or changing the size specifications can add hassle into something that's already less fun than the original design. So when you send in a request for a full wrap, it's very helpful if you have all the information ready in a single message.
Request bloodspatter/filters after money has been sent We talked about this a little bit, where it's not polite to send money and claim a piece before asking how much it can be altered. But a very common trend lately has been adding blood or other types of graphic filters over already existing pieces. It's not terrible to ask before purchasing if that's something an artist would mind doing, but asking after you've already purchased the pieces adds that pressure to say yes. The truth is, if the artist thought the cover needed blood, they would have put it on the premade to begin with. It's not hard to find bloody book covers, if that's the sort of style you're looking for..
Alter the work yourself after purchase. Do not do with without the permission of the artist. Just don't.
Use the art for anything not already agreed upon between you and the artist It's common practice that the book cover is used for reveals, reveal teasers, and other promotional images. That's generally acceptable, but once you start creating new things, namely anything where you need to edit the piece or are creating merch, you will need special permissions for that.
That last point wasn't just about courtesy. A lot of book covers are made with stock images and stock images have different kinds of licensing agreements about what can be used where. So this isn't just about being nice, it's about avoiding legal complications. Always ask first about the licensing of your art before making merch.
Price Points & Expectations
We talked about this a little earlier, but we just want to clarify. The price point of a cover doesn't necessarily relate to the quality of the cover or the capability of the artist. When it comes to premades, the price is more about how much time the artist has put in to a certain piece. I know several cover artists who scale their premades by how much time it took them to perfect that piece.
But, to a lesser extent, it also reflects how much it's reasonable to ask in terms of adjustments. It's okay to go back and forth a lot and have something pretty specific in mind for the font work on a premade that is, say, over $100. If the premade is $10, it's maybe unreasonable to ask for several options to compare and contrast. Obviously it's a spectrum and not a hard cut-off anywhere, but it's something to keep in mind.
If an artist prices a cover low, it's probably because the cover was lower effort and they expect it not to eat up a lot of their time moving forward.
If you find an inexpensive cover that is really perfect for a project except for one thing, consider explaining that to the artist and asking if they'd be willing to make adjustments for an additional fee, or at their custom cover rate (if they have one.)
Respect the Art. Respect the Artist.
This seems like such a basic rule that we shouldn't have to put it in here. But... if people followed this rule, we probably wouldn't have had to post the piece.
Please respect the artists and their art. Premades are art. They're not a lesser form of book cover and we shouldn't be treating them as such.
We've danced around this already, but we have seen a lot of disregard for the time and preferences of premade artists. We've seen clients ask for endless edits. We've seen writers talk poorly and publicly about art they don't like.
I think one of the most egregious things I've seen -- and I wish I could say I've only seen it once -- is an author altering a cover themselves, and then crediting themselves as the artist. In some cases this has been blatant plagiarism, and in other cases it's been more subtle (where they have at least credited the original artist as providing "assets" or "inspiration" to the cover.)
I'm not a cover artist. Even if I were, I couldn't speak for all cover artists when I say that this feels very disrespectful. What I can say is I cringe some as an author when I see other authors doing shit like that because the comfort and artistic integrity of the people I work with is one of my utmost concerns. Knowing that has been the case with a cover will very quickly remove the book from my personal TBR.
This is sort of a silly one to end on because it feels like such a small, simple thing. But please. Please. Tag your artists in your cover reveals for your book. It is such a good promotion for their work and it's good promotion for your book.
This one is just a personal pet peeve, because not only is it kind to the artist to credit/tag them when you do a cover reveal, but it's actively worse promotion for your book when you refuse to do it.
If we had to sum this up succinctly, we would do it as follows: show gratitude to artists that do premades. Premade cover artists help make doing freelance art in the indie community sustainable, but that won't be the case if we're abusing those privileges or hassling the artists offering affordable options.
So please, as always, don't be a jerk. Try to be considerate of the amazing artists we have in the community.