Today I’m going to cover something that’s been on my mind because of a situation I’m dealing with: finding a cover artist.

There are a lot of resources out there for finding cover artists. A lot of author databases that you can go through and hope to find someone who’s good. I don’t bother with any of that stuff though. Not when I know of a great artist community that has a job board specifically designed for people seeking commissioned art.

That site? The Deviant Art jobs forum!

Finding an artist

This is the easy part. Create your own account on DeviantArt and post on the forum letting people know what you’re looking for. You’ll quickly be inundated with artists who are looking for work, and they’ll continue to stream in for a couple of days as people check the forum.

From there it’s a matter of sifting through the various offers you get. I maintain a note that I’m constantly updating when I find an author who looks promising. In that note I include the artist’s name, a link to their profile, and information about what they charge if they make that available.

You’re going to get some people who clearly aren’t up to the standard of what you need for your cover. You’re going to get people who are amazing and clearly out of your budget.

Here are a few things I look for when settling on an artist:

  1. What kind of styles do they work in? Is it cartoony? Full realistic renders? Realistic but with some exaggerations? Does their style fit what you’re looking for?
  2. Does the art flow? Are they able to do multiple poses and different scenarios? Is it stiff at all? Are they able to do men and women or is it clear that they’ve been drawing sexy ladies or sexy men since middle school and never bothered to learn how to draw anything else?
  3. Do they have a lot of work on display? I’m wary of artists who have newer profiles or don’t post all that much on their DA profile. Not all of them are scammers, but it is suspect.
  4. Do they have comments on their profile from people who’ve worked with them? Are those comments positive or are their complaints that they’re scammers?

Those are just a few things to consider. Look for an artist who has a varied portfolio and clearly is good at what they’re doing. Compare between several artists until you find one you like, and then start negotiating the price.

Settling on a price

Give serious thought to what your budget is for this project. I wouldn’t recommend including that budget in your initial post because that’s going to encourage people to come in at whatever price you offer even if they would’ve started lower. This is a negotiation even if you are going to pay the nice artist what they are worth.

We’re looking for a sweet spot. Someone who clearly has the ability to do what you need but comes in at a price you can afford. You need to go into this with the attitude that you’re paying a business associate for a service. You want to get paid for your writing, and you should be willing to pay a reasonable sum to an artist as well.

I can’t reiterate that enough. Good artists who are responsive and deliver good work in a timely manner? They’re unicorns, and you should treat them like the precious and valuable resource they are.

If someone is amazing but they’re a little out of their price range then don’t be afraid to ask them to come down just a little. This is a business transaction, after all. The worst they can say is no.

Don’t be afraid to work with someone from halfway around the world. If you’re in the U.S. or Europe then that exchange rate is pretty favorable if you’re working with an artist in, say, Asia or another place where USD or GBP or the Euro stretches pretty far.

If someone is coming in with a quote that seems too good to be true then that’s probably because it is. I’ve been burned a couple of times by artists who had amazing work but ghosted once they got their payment. Again you’re looking for a sweet spot, and someone who comes in too low is probably trying to lure you in.

Covering your ass

There’s no way to guarantee completely that you don’t get scammed, but there are some things you can do to protect yourself while searching for an artist.

Social proof – A serious artist is going to have lots of happy comments from people who commissioned them. Look for these. Don’t be afraid to ask the artist for references. This is a business transaction, and if they aren’t willing to provide references then you should run for the hills.

Half and Half – Whenever I make a job offer I make it clear that I’m paying half up front and half upon delivery. This makes the cost of the commission hurt a little less, and it also is likely to scare off some scammers. Not all, but some.

Use protection – A lot of people will want you to pay with a PayPal money transfer. Don’t do this. There are no buyer protections built in with money transfers. What you’re going to insist on is that the artist invoices you via PayPal, and only then will you make your payment. This means you have PayPal’s buyer protection if they ghost you.

Other considerations

Contracts – You can do a contract if you want. There are indie author sites out there that offer boilerplate contracts. I tend not to mess with them. I have a paper trail of email conversations where expectations are clearly laid out and make sure the invoice include exactly what’s being bought and paid for. Including considerations like copyright transfer. If a contract makes you feel better then by all means go for it, but I’m not an IP lawyer so I’m not going to comment on them other than to say I don’t use them.

Copyright – One of the conditions of commissioning your work should be that all copyright to the work transfers to you. Full stop. I wouldn’t work with anyone who isn’t willing to do this. Some people will charge a little extra for this and some will throw it in. I’d recommend indicating you want the copyright transfer in your initial post and seeing what the artist says.

This is something that you need to have spelled out in your conversations with the artist and in the invoice so it’s clear on the off chance they try to come after you later. It’s also an area where it might be helpful to get a boilerplate contract from somewhere on the Internet, but again I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice.

Price Increases – I’ve heard a few horror stories over the years about artists who commissioned a cover, then when their book did very well the artist turned around and jacked up the price for future covers. This can lead to situations where book releases are delayed while things are renegotiated.

I’ve never had this happen to me before, but if it did then I would politely tell the artist to go and pound sand. I believe that artists deserve to be paid a fair amount for their work, but if someone raises the price by some exorbitant amount because they think an author can cover it they’re essentially trying to hold future releases hostage. That’s not someone I’d want to work with, and there are plenty of other artists out there who’d be able to do a new cover.

Having said that, there are instances of artists who raise their fee as they get more popular. That’s to be expected if they’re making a go of making a career as an artist. In that case you’ll have to decide whether or not the slowly increasing rate is worth it, but that’s a completely different scenario from someone trying to extort an author because of some success.

Lettering – Cover artists make cover art. Letterers do lettering. There are some people who have both skills, but not necessarily. Ask your cover person if they’re comfortable doing lettering, and if not then look for someone who can do this and expect to pay a little bit for it. Good typography on a cover is every bit as valuable as the art beneath it.

If the artist can do typography then be sure to get a copy of the art without all the lettering on it.

Timeliness – Figure out what your release schedule is going to look like. Then figure out whether or not your artist can keep up with that schedule. Art can take time to complete just like it takes time to write and edit a book, and if you have a release schedule that doesn’t match up with what your artist is able to do then it’s time to find someone else for your project.

Wrapping up

Finding an artist! There’s a lot of stuff to consider if you want to find someone who’s good, reasonably priced, able to complete their work in a timely manner, and isn’t out to scam you. The good news is that it’s not all that complicated so much as it’s time consuming. That’ll be time well spent when you get that perfect cover that drives the sales to you though!