Be Professional, Artist.

This page follows on from a recent post I wrote about behaving professionally as a wannabe writer and most of the general stuff (like not being a dick, not bad-mouthing other professionals and being appropriate when attempting to approach and contact your heroes and so forth) applies here as well.

Note that the artistry I am referring to in this post pertains mainly to the artwork used in books – both cover art and interior art – but many of the points are applicable to other forms of commissioned artwork as well.

Cover art for In Fabula-divino - edited by Nicole Murphy

Cover art for In Fabula-divino – Nicole Murphy (editor). Available on Amazon.

Agree to do what you say you will.

This is common courtesy and also good business. If you say you can deliver a piece of art by a certain date, then you need to deliver. This is especially important on the artwork side of book creation because art takes time to create and tweak and if you bail at the last minute, the publisher may not easily find someone who can fill your shoes at a pinch or who has the perfect piece of original artwork on hand and ready to go.

If at all possible, submit your artwork in under the time allowed – so long as doing so has not been achieved through a drop in quality. Publishing is all about deadlines and time is money. Getting projects completed allows a publishing house or editor to move onto the next money-making thing more swiftly, so they like it if you can have your work submitted ahead of schedule. It also gives them and you more time to make edits. It also means that they have a piece of cover art available on hand to get the early promotions-work rolling.

Do your best work every time.

Any book that manages to make it through to publication does so after a whole lot of work and collaboration has taken place by a whole lot of passionate people (not just the author/s and/or editor/s who wrote the book, but literary agents and the staff of the publishing house as well – editors and subeditors, as well as marketing, publicity and finance folks). All involved have a vested interest and pride and, in the case of the publishing house, money, in the outcome of the book, so it is very important that the book be given the best chance it can of being noticed in the marketplace and one way it can do that is by having a really good, eye-catching cover.

A good cover may not necessarily ‘sell’ a book (though I have personally bought books based on their cover art), but it will make a potential buyer pause to pick it up and browse it – which is the first crucial step a book needs to overcome on the path to being bought.

Be prepared to decline work.

Because it is so crucial that cover art be delivered on time and that it be the best piece of work possible to promote the book, you should be prepared to be honest and decline an offer of work if:

You think there’s a high chance you won’t make deadline


You’ve read the brief and do not think you are going to be able to do justice to what is being asked.

One thing I’d like to say about this second point, however, is not to mistake “inability to do the job” with “fear of failure”. Artistry often co-exists with a good dollop of self-doubt, which can only be overcome by having a go.

If you honestly can’t do the job (you don’t have the requisite gear, you truly don’t think you can create what they’re asking for in a weekend), that’s one thing, but don’t turn work down purely for a lack of confidence or because “you’ve never drawn a camel before” (or whatever it is they’ve asked for). Quite a few of my art commissions have started out with me having no idea how I was ever going to meet the brief and ended with a product the client has been happy with.

Once you start to mull over the brief, particularly if you’ve read the novel or anthology the cover or artwork is intended for, ideas and images will begin to form.

Read the brief carefully.

The brief tells you what the client wants you to create and what the artwork is intended for.

The cover art might not be solely intended as a printed-book cover, but also as an e-book cover (e-books are generally displayed in online shops as small thumbnails and, therefore, the simpler and more eye-catching covers tend to work better) and even a Facebook banner. This is important to know because printed covers are generally presented in CMYK format, whereas covers to be displayed on the internet (e-books and banners) are generally formatted as RGB.

Sometimes the publisher will be very specific about what he or she wants on the cover. Respect that, but trust your instincts as an artist and be willing to offer suggestions of your own (if your suggestions aren’t taken, however, don’t be offended – just move on and deliver what the publisher has asked for).

Technical things you really want to know before you start:

  • Dimensions – how big the cover is to be, including the dimensions of any bleeds. You do need to know the dimensions for e-book covers – e-book sellers (e.g. Amazon, Smashwords) often have strict specifications for the dimensions of e-book covers, as well as the minimum dpi resolution needed and the sizes of image files accepted.
  • If you are to meant to design the spine and back cover as well (this may not be needed if the book is to be e-book only). If you are doing front and back covers, don’t forget to include the width of the book’s spine. If this is not known, find out the maximum it is likely to be and give yourself the extra room (you can always take a little away later)
  • Whether the art is to be CMYK or RGB or greyscale (black and white – often used in interiors).
  • Image resolution in dpi
  • If the image is to be photographic or non-photographic (some publishers opt for a photographic style, while others prefer original drawn/painted or purely digitally-designed art).
  • If you are going to be doing the type-setting as well – placing the titles, author/editor names and blurb – and the publisher’s specifications for that (e.g. font, colour).

So as to not lose the effect of both artwork and type, always be sure to set places in the artwork for titles and author/editor names to fit, which won’t obstruct the visibility of important elements of the art.

Have a portfolio of your work.

Having a portfolio of your work is a good way to show prospective clients and publishers what you can do. Sites like Flickr! and Tumblr and Deviant Art are good places to get your art out there without fees.

You can visit my portfolio on Flickr at:



I now have an art portfolio

Hi all,

If you would like to view my art all in one convenient place, you can now see my portfolio at My commissions (except the currently-secret ones) and sketches and whatnot are also there.