Tara West

YA paranormal/fantasy and New Adult author

How to piss off a cover artist


Last week an indie author posted a link to her contest on my wall, indicating I might be interested in entering. The contest was simple: whoever can create the best looking cover art for her upcoming release wins.

What is the prize, you ask? Why, not monetary compensation, but the opportunity to have your artwork on her novel and an interview on her blog. After perusing her blog, I see she’s a relatively new author with a small following. So basically, she’s asking for me to invest my valuable time and money into creating a piece of artwork that may or may not qualify me for a spot on her blog.

Hmmm. I think I’ll pass, and not just because I have several loyal PAYING customers plus a publishing house to keep me busy, but because I’m offended, HIGHLY offended, at this author’s lame attempt to get something for nothing.

For whatever reason, it appears a few artists have lowered their standards and entered her contest. The entries I saw appear to be the same few covers reworked with a variety of fonts and shades.

Tsk tsk, fellow artists. Have you no shame that you will give away your talents for free? Do you not realize that if this contest catches on, other authors will also expect you to work for nothing? Are you one of the few artists who actually has no bills to pay and who has loads of time to invest your creative talents for free?

Authors, your book is your baby. You have spent months, maybe even years nurturing this book. You’ve researched plot, motivation and conflict. You know your characters as well as you know your own family members.  You have invested your time and your heart into this book and now you need to shine it up and prepare to present it to the world.

The first thing your readers will see before reading that blurb or the first chapter is the cover. A good artist will be able to capture the tone of your book and use the rules of composition to make the cover appealing to readers.

In other words, a good artist will maximize your selling potential by creating an eye-catching cover, and you should show appreciation to your artist by paying him/her a fair wage. After all, you don’t want to be a one book wonder, the author who publishes one book and then fades into obscurity. By establishing a good relationship with an artist, you can depend on having quality artwork for all of your future projects.

Remember that old adage, “You get what you pay for.” It applies with cover art, too. Would you spend hours detailing the inside of your car and then leave the outside caked in mud and bug splat? Would you spend valuable time and money remodeling your home and then neglect to paint the outside? Why would you spend so much time on your masterpiece and then try to scam an artist into creating work for you for free? It’s degrading and humiliating to the artist, and in the long run, will leave a sour taste in the artist’s mouth, especially after she’s designed a free cover for you and then other authors expect her to do the same.

Like I’ve said before, I have a loyal base of clients. They respect my work and I respect them. If you go to my indie artwork page, you will see most of my covers are for repeat authors. Why? Because they appreciate my talents and I try my hardest to create covers that reflect their visions.

Why, then, would I give away my work to someone who doesn’t respect my efforts? And if I did create free artwork for this author, I’m sure that my loyal paying customers would be equally angered.

Indie authors, if you’ve seen this contest or contests like this one, I kindly ask you not to follow suit. Sure, you might attract a few artists who obviously lack confidence in their work if they are willing to work for free, but mostly, you will end up pissing off quality artists and their paying customers.


Author: tarawestauthor

A former Texas high school teacher, Tara enjoyed coaching her writing team and even the hectic deadlines that came with running the school publications. After taking a break to raise her baby girl, Tara now works from home as a cover artist. In her spare time, Tara loves to read, exercise and spend time with her family and friends. She contributes the cover art for her own novels and has designed covers for over 500 other books. She’d love for you to visit her at www.tarawest.com where you can check out her Whispers series and sample her artwork.

28 thoughts on “How to piss off a cover artist

  1. I am both an author AND an artist–(I work in graphite and colored pencil) and I could not agree with you more. Time is money and your talent is yours. Keep up the most excellent work!

  2. Authors have bemoaned the fact that people expect them to work for free, or for some piss-poor excuse for a prize (publicity? Give me a break, my work is the COVER), and now they expect visual artists to happily bend over and take the same treatment.

    It’s deplorable.

  3. I am an author, but I can’t do anything artistic to save my life. This is why I PAY to have my brilliant cover artist do my covers for me. She’s brilliant. She’s affordable. And my books are worth her time and my investment. She deserves to be paid for her art just like I deserve to be paid for my novels.

  4. As a cover designer I’ve seen this time and time again… for book covers, for logo creation, for all kinds of art work. People assume that we’re happy to work for the attention and not the money.

    In the cases where I’ve seen this happening, my response has been the following:

    You are an author and you spend a great deal of time and skill creating a novel that you hope people will want to read. What if I came to the table with a great idea for a plot, It’s a book that many authors would love to write. But I invite you and 5 other authors to that same table, present you all with my storyline and ask the 6 of you to go out and craft the VERY BEST novel you possibly can. When you’re all done, I’ll read them all and pick the one I like best. Maybe I’ll pay for it, and maybe I’ll decide that just the fact that I liked one of them best should be payment enough for all of the hard work You’ve done. But imagine I didn’t pick yours. So you, and the other 4 authors have spent months writing, editing and refining a book for NO reason.

    Authors wouldn’t jump in on that scenario on a DARE. Neither should artists. Authors or artists, or anyone who is good at what they do knows that their time and talents are worth more than that.

    • Renee, something like this happened to me a few months ago. A NY Times Best Selling indie author contracted me to design her chick lit cover. Turns out, she’d contracted several of us and then picked her favorite. Had I known this from the onset, I wouldn’t have agreed to design for her. I should have held her to the contract, but I really didn’t feel like fighting it. I have no respect for this person now and would never read any of her books.

  5. I’ve also heard people offer to give an author their plot idea and then the author can write the story and they’ll share the royalties! Hmmm. Not likely.

  6. As one of your loyal indie clients, I cannot believe someone would do this. It is unfair and underhanded. I’ve tried doing covers and understand the hard work involved. It is why I choose to have a cover artist (you) do all my covers. Your talent, understanding of images and composition, makes my story jump out at readers. As you say, you get what you pay for.

    • Awww, thanks RG. I LOVE designing your covers. Yeah, this person actually posted her contest under cover art for your novel that I’d posted on my wall. I deleted her post and UN-friended her. Sheesh.

  7. I do some digital design, as well as being an aspiring author. The number one reason I do my own covers, is because I can’t afford to pay people to do it for me. A true TRADE is where both sides receive something of equal value. People don’t seem to get that, which is helping to breed this new age of ‘I deserve it’. They refuse to pay for a game and risk getting a virus, just to get it for free… Because, they deserve it.

  8. There’s a large segment of the population that doesn’t value other people’s time–no matter what their profession. My sister’s an accountant, and she gets tax questions all the time. I’m a computer scientist, and I get requests to write free programs, create websites, and format people’s ebooks.

    The free cover art contest is unfortunately not new. Last year, someone posted this kind of thing to Kindleboards, and I produced a poorly drawn stick figure cover as a joke, but a few cover artists did respond and made a real cover for him.

    You should probably be more upset at the cover artists who are encouraging this to keep happening by answering these contests with real entries. It’s an uphill battle though because many of them enjoy illustrating/photomanipulating and are only interested in cover design as a hobby.

    • You are right, Rex, but those who are only interested in design as a hobby rarely produce professional work, IMHO. I bet whoever designed your cover was a pro.

      • The line between hobbyist and professional has been blurred thanks to the availability of free tools like GIMP and relatively inexpensive versions of Photoshop. The community at DeviantArt also has a lot of hobbyists or people just starting that sometimes give their art away for free or really cheap, as they train to become better artists, and I think word of mouth spreads that this kind of solicitation for free work is working.

        Anyway, imo, professionals should be paid. I respect what you’re doing as an artist. If authors are wanting something free, they should expect a hobbyist, and quality can vary widely. They should not be pestering a professional–although I’ve seen that work with more than one case, which is frustrating for people like yourself.

        Here are my four covers–two professional, two hobbyist (me). I did have some experience with graphic design though.

        Professional Illustrator (Christopher Steininger):

        Hobbyist (me):

  9. I agree with you for everything but for one detail:

    Authors’ books are not their babies. It’s the idea that their books are their “babies” (which can lead to assumptions that their books are perfect, and of course authors will be lining up to contribute…)

    Your artwork isn’t your baby; it’s your business. The same principle applies to authors.

    • Nobody’s book is perfect, I’m sure. But nobody’s baby is perfect, either. Still, we love what we write or else we wouldn’t write it. Hopefully, artists love the art they create as well.

  10. Wow. That’s exactly like the “job postings” I used to see (and still would if I bothered to look) at Craigslist, asking writers to provide CUSTOMIZED samples for the privilege of working with someone who wasn’t even planning to pay them. It’s so offensive. Would the people hiring or hosting contests work for free? No, of course not! Not the ones who have any self-respect. If an author and an artist want to exchange work of equal effort or need, then that’s one thing. I will not work for free except for myself.

    I did the cover design for my book, but only because I took the time to learn how to use PhotoShop and learn numerous tutorials and practice and study other covers before I even considered it. I also consulted a professional visual artist where we exchanged services. Once I earn the money to invest in contract work, I will hire out.

  11. You know, I can understand that it annoyed you that she actively came here and solicited your participation. It’s kind of spammy, and if she’d taken the time to really look at your site, she’d have realized you’re far too busy for this kind of contest in the first place. It’s like asking a high profile attorney to take on your child support case pro bono. They’ll say no.

    But, to me, it’s not a pisser, because it’s between the artist and the author what deal they strike. If she wants to publish her debut novel with a contest-winning cover, then cool! More power to her, and I hope it goes great, that everyone gets wonderful publicity, and they all live happily ever after.

    I really liked the artwork I hired out for the cover of my first book, but it didn’t sell the book, and it was more expensive than what most decent cover designers can do. *Le sigh* That was a live and learn experience for me, and I still haven’t recouped the cost, so…blah. It sucks having a budget. If I could get a great FREE edit of my book and a great FREE cover, I’d be willing to give the artist or editor whatever promo they wanted in return, but you won’t see me actively pursuing those things, because I have neither the time nor the desire. I am all promo’d out at this point. I just want to write, and then pay good money for the services I require (or else by discovered by some fabulous publisher who wants to throw money my way and take over that side of business).

    But that’s a lesson I had to learn from my own path, and I don’t begrudge others their own learning curve, win or lose. Just my $.02. 🙂

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