The best way to tell a good cover designer, is to use one who can give you links to Amazon titles they have done.
Knowing what to expect is very important
I deal with a lot of authors, game companies etc who want everything from covers to layouts, to game designs done. However there seems to be varying degrees of what customers feel they need to get / see / and review before they determine if I am the right one. I imagine this is true for all designers of my profession. So read on and don't be offended, read what I post, do not read into my post. You are an author / agent looking for what we will for the sake of this little article call "The Service". Now this can be anything from a cover, to a layout to even illustrations. Whatever...
The question becomes how do you find someone who offers "The Service" that you can trust. Trust is a HUGE thing this day and age, as lets face it. Anyone with an internet connection can place THE SERVICE website up and they are in business. But who... Who's "Service" is..
B: Qualified to do the work
C: Not going to run off to Bermuda with your couple hundred bucks
How do you assess, determine and move forward with a person. Well there are do's and don't do's. I am listing a few below.
HERE ARE THE DO'S......................................
Ask for references: Ask for at least 3 and 2 of them should be published. Email those authors and ask a simple question. "Hi, I am "X" and am thinking of using "XXXXX" to do my "The Service" and they gave you as a reference. Can you tell me about your experience with them?" Don't badger em, don't send three or four emails wanting a essay on the experience. One email, simple, clean. Trust me, people will be brutally honest.
Look to see if the reference is on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords etc.Yes, look at these sites. Not to see if they are lying about being published. Look to see the cover. (See number 3 below)
Ask for a few covers to look at. Ask for a few in your genre. Yes they may make a great Horror cover, but can they do that cover for your romance novel. Yeah, I know you may not write romance. But you get the jist here.
If you are looking for a layout to be done, don't ask for a PDF layout of a book they have done. Sorry, no free books for you to read. However, if you contact a reference and look on Amazon you can usually see their "Look Inside" feature. This gives a few pages you can look at to see the layout or part of it.
Ask some other questions. How many revisions do you get. What EXACTLY do you get for your bucks. For whatever fee they charge you should get AT NO EXTRA COST.... Ebook cover, wrap print cover, barcode for your ISBN, print ready files. Full complete release of all rights by the designer. That is the minimum. Anyone says different do not use them. Yes I said do not use them. These are the minimum things you need to print, and market your work.
Require more than email for communication. Here is a list of ways designers should have. Good designers (yes good ones) will have at least two of these if not all. They MUST be accessible to you. If they answer your emails fast when they want your money. They need to email you fast when doing the job. Email, Phone, Yahoo IM, Facebook Chat, Skype
Ask for a time frame to get the work done. Do you have a deadline, a release date? Do you have a must have date. Tell the designer UP FRONT about this. Trust me, we do not mind deadlines. But we do not like deadlines when you pay us and then notify us you need it in three days. And yes that happens all the time.
HERE ARE THE DON'T DO'S............................
DO NOT - Ask for 20 references. Sorry, you are having a cover done and not employing them to watch your kids.
DO NOT - Ask for original design files, so "your guy" can verify their work quality. Sorry, I actually get that all the time?
NO - I am not writing you an essay on why I need to do your work. And yes, I have had one ask for that this very morning.
DO NOT - Pay cash or Western Union. Ever... Never... If they ask for cash, or use the old.. If you pay me cash I will give ya a "discount" run. Run away fast. Pay via Paypal if you can. Paypal protects you both. If they are scurvy and try to rip ya off. Paypal helps you get your money back.
DO NOT - Never. Period. End of story pay all in advance. The normal way fees are paid in graphic design and web site design is HALF down, and the balance upon completion.
SAVE ALL - Emails and chat logs. If you are on the phone and ask for a change, and they say okay, follow up with an email saying it and ask for a response. Yes, email is proof of the change / agreement. Trust me, you may not save your emails. But any designer worth their salt saves and prints everything change wise and request wise and places it in your project file. Plus we are only human, we deal with a lot of people, and it is possible to forget something you say on the phone. Thus good designers will even follow up with you via email when you have a phone conversation. They are not hassling you. They are confirming...
DO NOT - Be paranoid about who you are dealing with. It is actually pretty simple. Ask for a few references, ask to see some work samples and move forward. If you want to drag out the "interview" experience for your designer, he or she will just move on. You are spending a few hundred bucks. Yes a lot of money, but if you are going to make it a long drawn out experience in the decision making process, then your designer will begin to wonder what the heck you will be like designing for. It is a TWO WAY street. You deserve to be happy, the experience should be fun and exciting for you. But also, your designer does not have the time for twenty emails a day asking "are we there yet"?
DO NOT - DEAL WITH ANY DESIGNER PERIOD... WHO DOES NOT GIVE YOU A COMPLETE AND TOTAL RELEASE OF ALL RIGHTS. YOU SHOULD NOT PAY EXTRA FOR THIS. THIS SHOULD ALWAYS BE A PART OF THE FEE.
Finally, Once you have paid this should be what happens.
The designer should send you an email asking you many questions. Design ideas you have, ISBN Nbr, Title, Author name, yes author name, as you may use a pen name. Plus much, much more. Answer them quickly as the faster you answer them the faster they begin.
The designer should keep in contact with you, update you as to the status. "Hello, just letting you know I am working on your cover." etc...
They should tell you in writing (via email) the aprox time frame to get "The Service" to you. If they run a little behind, and hey things do happen sometimes. They should send you a courtesy email, call, IM etc and let you know IN ADVANCE. Not on the say they owe it to you.
Do not worry if the designs they send you are low resolution or watermarked. This is to protect them, and your final designs will be high resolution and have no watermarks.
Finally, once you okay everything, and you pay the final 50 percent. You should get your designs. They will ask you if they can use you as a reference. Always say yes to this. Even if you had a bad experience, as this allows your voice to be heard.
In my career I have done over 600 book covers.
Key to doing a great cover, is to understand the subject and story.
Check out my Twitter feed, I will be starting to use Twitter a lot for instant news and lecture info.
Make sure your designer is not using a stock image for your cover. Your book deserves custom work. Period.
No one will ever do my book covers again except Don Semora, thank you for your awesome talent. You rock.
Wow! You rock! That was fast! Thanks you, you made it perfect.
No one does my design work except Don, from websites to covers he always nails it.