Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Cover Designer Craig Wolfe

Today, book cover designer Craig Wolfe is here. I asked him a lot of questions about his work. He’s used to my questions since he’s one of the experts I interviewed for my latest book, Computer Gaming. He was just as patient then as he was with this go-round of questions.

Craig Wolfe is a professional Graphic Artist, Illustrator and Animator with over 20 years of experience in the industry. Having worked on a wide-variety of projects including a series of book covers, 3D jewelry design, logos, and promotional videos, Craig has experience in all facets of design and illustration. His short, animated film, "Steve's Bad Day" has garnered great response and is currently available for viewing on YouTube.

If you haven’t seen “Steve’s Bad Day,” be sure you link over. But first, stick around for the interview.

Hi Craig.

What genres do you specialize in? Covers for science fiction/fantasy or Mystery or something else? Or are you open to any genre?

 I try not to limit myself to any specific genre. Of course, I have certain genres that I enjoy reading (Sci fi, Fantasy, mysteries and thrillers). But the true joy of creating a cover is capturing the author’s intent in one illustration. So, the challenge isn’t genre specific.

When an author approaches you to do their cover, how do you decide what to do? Do you talk to the author and get their vision of the cover? Do you read the book/manuscript and come up with your own idea for the cover?

It’s a process. Some authors have a very specific vision for their work. They have imagined every detail and nuance of the cover. I am willing to run with their idea to a certain point. When I feel the cover is becoming cluttered or confusing then it’s time to get with the author and regroup. I’ve had a few authors give me free rein to design the cover as I see fit with just a few suggestions. This allows me to really get the creative juices flowing but it can be a double-edged sword. I will only read a manuscript if the author has provided ample time to complete the project.

How much back and forth is there between you and the author or publisher?

I try to keep the author up to speed as much as possible. I completely understand that their book is a labor of love and the cover is the final, crucial piece of the puzzle. I get approval for rough drafts and at different stages in the process.

About how long does it take to create and finalize a book cover?

 It varies. A simple cover that consists of a photo and text may take as little as 3-4 days. A complex illustration may take over two or three weeks. The bottom line is making the most attractive cover possible. If I feel that a deadline is too tight to complete the author’s expectations then I will most likely pass on the project. That’s why it’s in the author’s best interest to plan ahead to avoid an overly restrictive deadline. Don’t just think about the cover, time must also be allotted for promotional material.

Do you do primarily print book covers or e-book covers? How are they different?

I have dealt with both, and they have specific standards and guidelines that must be strictly followed. Print houses will supply the author a specific template (based on the size of the book) and strict rules that must be followed (such as CMYK color, bleed areas, and file restrictions).

How long have you been creating book covers and which one was the most fun/satisfying for you?

 I have been a professional illustrator for 23 years but have only been involved with book covers for 5 years. The cover for “CassaStar” by Alex J. Cavanaugh was certainly the most fun. Alex gave me free rein to design the cover. I picked his brain concerning ship design and certain details and then it was off to the races. The publisher was so pleased that they asked me to create his book trailer (currently on YouTube).

Thank you Craig.

Now I know some of you have questions for Craig about his work or about designing a book’s cover art or a book trailer, so ask them here.


  1. I like the way that the cover art takes up most of the cover space. Have you found that larger images do better on covers?

    Thanks for visiting Helen's blog today. :)

  2. I know that artist!!
    Craig puts so much effort into these covers - he's not done until it's perfect.
    Great job, Baby!

  3. You did a great job on the Cassastar trailer! Do you work for a publisher? I've heard that author's have very little input on covers.

  4. I really enjoyed the cover and the trailer for CassaStar (I didn't realise it was the same person who did both). I'd go a bit nuts if an author gave me very specific instructions that couldn't be changed for a cover – though it's their story the great thing about covers is that it's an interpretation of that story, just as we get when we read it. Great interview :D I'll head on over and take a look at Steve's Bad Day too!

  5. So many times I pull a book off the shelf because of the cover, yet I never thought much about the mechanics of a good one. Nice post/interview.

  6. Elizabeth - I personally don't like to compartmentalize my image and text. I like everything to flow naturally. Thanks for the question.

    Diane - Thanks!

    Will - I've done work for Dancing Lemur Press but I don't work for them.

    Jamie - Thanks for taking a look.

    Helen - Thanks for the post!!

  7. A timeous and pertinent post for me as I'm starting to think of covers for my novel. I found Craig's discussion very interesting!

    I was also interested that Craig does book trailers - I've wondered if authors had to do them themselves, and am relieved to know that there are professionals out there to go to for help.

    Judy (South Africa)

  8. Hi Helen, nice to meet you *waves*. Fantastic interview with Craig, it's interesting to read about designing the cover - I think it's the first time I've really thought about how the process works!



  9. Thanks for the insightful interview. It was great to meet Craig and find out how he works. The cover for CassaStar is stunning. Kudos to the artist. LOL
    You can really tell the difference between what some authors are doing themselves and what a professional artist can do with a book cover. I have been lucky in having my daughter do some of my covers. I start out with a basic idea and then turn it over to her, and I think it is crucial to give the artist that freedom.

  10. I'm wondering what the most important element is in considering cover design. Is it an essence of the story? Or a sense of place? Characters? In your experience, what is the top factor to consider?

  11. This is great info. I know nothing about the science behind book covers, so everything was new to me. Thanks.

  12. Hi everyone! I think covers are critical. So many times I've pulled a book off the shelf then put it back based on the cover. I admit to being influenced by them.

    Thank you so much for the post, Craig, and for stopping by to answer questions.

  13. Judy - With my background in 3D design and short-films, it was an easy transition into book trailers.

    Rachael - It can be a smooth process or akin to a trip to the dentist.

    Maryann - I agree. Giving the artist the creative freedom to express your ideas can result in some amazing stuff.

    Joanne - It varies, but with fiction I like to focus on capturing a moment. I also feel that the cover should convey a sense of the story pacing and tone (action packed or romantic). I try to avoid placing a defined, detailed character on the cover. I feel that (unless it's an existing character like Batman or Han solo) it robs the reader of filling in the little details that help the reader relate.

  14. Great idea to honor and promote your cover artist. Very thoughtful. Its interesting to see how artists conceptualize the concepts you want them to convey to the potential buyers.

  15. Hey Craig--

    I enjoyed your comments on book cover design. Someone up above asked about how you balance type elements and graphic elements. I'm curious about that, as well, as well as what criteria you used in choosing typefaces. I've always gone by the "easily readable at six feet" guideline for print books, and something comparable for e-books. What's your standard?

  16. This is a fascinating view into how book covers are negotiated and designed, and the examples on show are fantastic, particularly for "Circle Friends" - love the understated emotion in the figures' pose.

    I was wondering whether the publisher of the book has any say in the design of the cover? If so, how do you find the balance between you the designer, the author, and the publisher?

    Thanks very much, Craig, and thank you Helen for hosting!

  17. I loved the Cassa trailer! Fascinating to hear your process in pulling together the design. I would imagine fantasy and Scifi would be the most fun in creative artwork. But I do like what you did with Diane's covers too.

    I enjoyed looking at your illustrations. I love dragons and although he's a bit blocky he at least looks real. So many look like they used a toy as a model. Love the blonde with the sword. :-) Are all those book covers?

  18. Thanks for sharing. This is a great post.

  19. The CassaStar trailer was awesome! My question is now that ebooks are becoming more popular has that changed how you design. Ebook covers are so small details are lost.

  20. I'm also curious about e-book covers. My gut feeling is that the cover should be the same whether it is in print or an e-book but am I wrong? How much different can or should it be?

  21. What a wonderful talent to be able to come up with book covers that meet or even exceed a writer’s expectations. As a writer, I know that is no easy task.

  22. Hey, there's my cover!
    First time I saw it, I was blown away. Way better than anything I could've imagined.

  23. Bodie - We could do an entire post on graphic guidelines and then find that they've all been successfully broken many times. The eyeball test rarely fails, however. As a test, go into a bookstore and find a table loaded with books and see which grab your attention. And then the more important question...why?

    I try to choose a typeface that is easily readable and speaks to the subject matter (I wouldn't recommend a flowery script for hard-core Science Fiction). I try to make the author text size on par with the title. When I get to a certain point, I'll take a mock-up into a bookstore and place it on a shelf just to see if it stands out. Then I go back and adjust what worked and what didn't.

    You can do the same thing with E-books. Screen cap a page of books and place your mock-up in the mix. Does it stand out or disappear? And...does it stand out in a good way (not a gaudy, neon Vegas sign way)?

    Jennifer - Thanks for the kind words.

    The publisher has the final word in my experience. However, if I do my job and design a strong cover then I'm confident it will clear all the hurdles.

    Sia - Thanks! The bulk of the illustrations on my site are not book covers.

    Holly - I approach E-book covers just like regular book covers. I've seen my covers on a Nook, Kindle, I-Pad and I-Touch. The only reservation I had was the B/W screens on the Nook and Kindle made my covers less dynamic. However, now that the Nook has a color version and I hope the Kindle follows suit, my job is simply to create the best cover possible.

    Sharon - See the comment above.

    Jane - Thanks!

    Alex - It was a fun project!

  24. Thanks for the interview, I really enjoyed it. I am anxious to get one of my books published and see it come alive with the book cover. You are very talented.

  25. Craig,
    Very informative article. My concern with ebook covers is that they have to stand out as a thumbnail embedded in a mosaic of dozens of other thumbnails. Look at the Apple iBook store for example. Are there things you do for ebook covers to make them stand out?

    I always liked the covers by artists such as Robert McGuire back in the 60s because each cover told a story in itself.

  26. Enjoyed the behind the scenes info on how a cover artist works. And I've long admired Diane's series covers as well as the Cassastar cover which is a real eye-catcher. Good covers really help the impulse sales and you're doing a fine job helping authors in that way - keep it up!

  27. Covers are so important for books. I think all readers will pick up a book because of a great cover. I've been pleased with most of mine and am very impressed by Craig's work.

  28. So very cool - the internet is a very small place with lots of connections!

    Love these covers - it's something I would love to do ... sadly, I lack the talent! :)

  29. Janet - Thanks!

    Mark - I create for the full-size E-book cover with an eye towards enhancing colors and tweaking text for thumbnail legibility. My thought has always been that if you create a cool illustration, people will want to click on that tiny thumbnail to see what it looks like.

    I'm not familiar with Robert McGuire, but if his covers are as cool as you say, I bet they would work as thumbnails.

    To ALL - Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  30. Really gorgeous covers you've shown here. Each one is do different, but they all carry a lot of impact. Great interview!

  31. Good job on Diane and Alex's covers.

  32. Enllightening info and fun to make some connections with which I was not familiar prior to reading this.

    Tossing It Out and the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2011


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