Congratulations on your contract! Now what? Besides the editing process, there are tons of other things that need to be taken care of. One of those is helping your cover artist bring your story to life. In order to do that…you have to be VERY clear. Unfortunately, there are all kinds of rules and regulations about what images can be used, so check with your publisher about the stock images they work with.
If your characters have a particular hair color, hair length, eye color…it’s fine to list it, but try to find pictures to show the artist what you are thinking of. Don’t forget to mention facial hair or lack thereof. IF you are lucky enough to work with models specifically for your cover, you can ask for a particular pose, but otherwise you are going to have to work with what is available in the stock photos. You may be able to look through your publisher’s catalog and choose some of the covers that have the style you are looking for.
Background. The same applies—if you can find images that evoke the atmosphere you are looking for, that will help the cover artist narrow things down. What is the weather like? Colors that should be prevalent? Urban setting? Day or night? Don’t just say you want a house…is it a small house? Single story? Open door? Open windows? Good condition? In a neighborhood? What color is it? Again, find some examples. All three of the pictures included in this post were taken at the Grand Canyon…but I am sure that you agree that they convey different aspects of this fascinating place!
Key items. There is usually a limit to the number of things that can be added to the cover without overcrowding or making everything look awkward. If you are trying to have a particular item present, e.g. a weapon/item of clothing/icon of some sort, be specific. Supply pictures of what you are thinking of, make sure you specify color and size.
Remember, if you have a series, you need to help figure out what you want to tie the covers together. Is there a symbol, a color, a style that would epitomize the series?
If you are working with an experienced cover artist, he or she will have definite ideas of what tends to appeal to readers. A picture that looks perfectly fine in a larger format may be indistinguishable in a thumbnail portrait, so make sure you pay attention to any suggestions or caveats.
Remember that the models in stock photos can NOT be moved around, i.e. the positions are not changeable, you have to work with what is present.
If there is a particular font that you like, you can submit a sample, but be advised that simple is better, because it needs to be legible even if it is in a thumbnail image.
Ok, now that you have submitted all of those details…don’t be surprised if the cover looks nothing like any of them! Please remember to be diplomatic in your requests for corrections or revisions and, if all else fails, learn from this one and know what to be more specific about requesting for the next one!