Mrs Armitage and the Big Book Cover

If you’re planning to design your own book cover, then I have no advice. Cover design is well beyond my capabilities – hats off to you!

However, if you are planning to get someone else to do your cover design, you might learn something from my experience – ? Like how not to do it?

Things did not go according to plan over here

I guess, the more ‘loaded’ something is and the more we want it to go a particular way, well … yes, you all know what I mean! Not quite pear-shaped … but tortured. Difficult and stressful rather than a creative breeze. And let’s face it, when it comes to authors there is nothing more loaded than the book cover. Because authors are usually big readers and KNOW that we ALL judge the content by what’s on the outside. Isn’t that the whole point of a cover? It does mean a prospective buyer is judging years’-worth of work based on a cover that may have been created in the space of a few hours. Tricky.

First off I went with a small start-up company made up of a small team of graphic designers and illustrators. They have great client testimonials and an impressive portfolio with a large range of styles. Their approach is to hear the client’s remit then come up with a couple of draft ideas and finesse until the cover is just right. My contact was a very personable graphic designer who seemed to listen. But the first two concept sketches I got back were exactly what I didn’t want. No problem: I made suggestions of specific things that could feature – and what I got back was a cover with exactly those things on. A part of me already knew that I’d been hoping for a more cooperative approach with real creative input from the illustrator, but instead I tinkered to try and get the cover I wanted – which is where MRS ARMITAGE AND THE BIG WAVE comes in. If you don’t know or remember the story, check out It’s too brilliant.

Anyway, things got very:

“That’s very busy, what I really need is … less elements on the cover …”

“That’s square what,  I really need is something less computer-generated … “

“That’s baby-ish for middle grade … what I really need is … “

And so it went until I realised that what I needed, what I really, really needed was … a new illustrator. Someone I could speak to directly and who had their own definite style.

At this point I started losing sleep. Was I being too fussy? Expecting the impossible? Chasing the elusive? But hold on! Would Mrs Armitage ask these questions? Of course not.

So off I went to find someone whose style matched what I was looking for, so that she/he could take over the creative process and come up with images that would make marketing the book less (not more) difficult.

And I totally lucked out by finding exactly the person I was looking for in a young freelancer called Mimi Alves, working in LA. If you ever want to find a freelancer, go to Elance ( – it is an amazing resource full of talented people either starting up or setting out as freelance. If you’re wondering why I didn’t use the amazing resource that is SCBWI, the answer is: funds. Bearing in mind my budget, I wouldn’t be happy approaching someone on a speculative basis without knowing what that person expects to earn. And I would always assume that person is way over my budget.

The good news is that having found Mimi everything went swimmingly. She is enthusiastic, creative, quick and easy to communicate with. If you want to find her on Elance, look under Amelia Alves.

Finally I asked the amazing person doing my interior design (more in next week’s post) to also do the outside … and now have a cover that I’m REALLY excited about – and one that will help me feel more confident about getting out there to sell my book.

For those interested in the bottom line, I paid Mimi $120 (6 hours work at $20/hour) and the graphic designer $40 (2 hours work at $20/hour). With the £-$ exchange rate as it currently is, that’s within budget.

So my advice for anyone thinking of farming out cover design: find an individual illustrator whose style very closely matches the kind of look you want (this will likely involve a large amount of trawling), then hire a graphic designer separately. No doubt there are companies that work well as a team, but unless you know this for a fact, it is better to get two different people with two different skill specialisations that you can work with directly. Them’s me pearls!

And here are a couple of (not saved to print-quality!) sneak peeks:

uma_and_imp_cv_11_180914  imp_flat

Thanks for reading,



6 thoughts on “Mrs Armitage and the Big Book Cover

  1. Larisa I think you’ve done really well to find a good cover illustrator on such a low budget, you’ve every reason to be excited, I’m sure the book will be a great success. But, as a pro illustrator, I have to say that’s not much of a fee for a book cover, and in this business you generally get what you pay for. On top of the illustration you were also expecting the illustrator to throw in ideas – sketches, prep drawing and concepts also cost time and effort – which devolves into a higher fee. If budget is an issue then you should really establish exactly what you want from the artist, you come up with the idea, the visual look, so they are literally just a hired hand to execute the work, without having to conceptualise a vague plan. The more you ask the illustrator to think, the more effort is required on their part, and the more expensive it is as a job. Don’t ask an artist to do something outside their style or experience. ” I went to find someone whose style matched what I was looking for” yes! yes!! precisely! 🙂

    You’ve been lucky though, usually it’s difficult to find a quality artist for a low budget unless it’s a favour, or you can persuade a young, eager student or graduate with a hot portfolio but still to establish their career. Despite the old saying, often books ARE judged by their cover, if it looks low-budget or unprofessional people will not read the book, so it’s essential you get it right.

    I’ve not much experience of working with self-publishers precisely because I refuse to work on speculative projects without an upfront fee (unless it’s my own project!) and the funding rarely competes. I did illustrate a self-published book cover once with a simple image though – £200 flat fee ($325) – which is still on the low side for a book cover. I don’t know what happened to the book but I imagine the author was able to sell a few more copies than otherwise would have been the case.

    Best of luck with the book.

    • Hi John, I totally take your point. However – in my defense – coming up with concepts and working with the client to completion is precisely what this (graphic/illustrator) company offers! Although, subsequently, I was lucky to find someone whose work matched what I was looking for, the beauty of Elance is that it puts together young talent, (or freelancers just setting up) with small ‘enterprises’. In a broad sense, I was spoiled for choice once I went to Elance. As someone who has worked freelance for 20 years and set up in two different industries, I know from experience that in order to get a foot on the ladder people charge less. In any case, the second illustrator charged $20 per hour – so not an exploitative rate. All’s well that ends well, eh!

  2. Larisa, your journey is proving to be remarkable! And your blog is a hotbed of tips for those self-publishing. Huge hats off to you for all the invaluable advice you’re sharing. Can’t wait to see the final product!

  3. Pingback: Ten-Minute Blog Break – 30th September | Words & Pictures

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