Dealing with a “you´re not quite there”, part I – when you can take it but…

Recently I received a nice commission from a new client. Again, a US publisher. Got a good brief and loads of instructions and happily I started looking for images and ideas (to be extended in a future post).

I had plenty of time to design this and so I let myself experiment with some concepts. And this was my mistake. Concepts.

Some covers dont need concepts. Some authors dont like concepts and this was the case. I had my feedback and it was obvious it was my mistake (even though I feel the author just disregarded some very good covers, and better than anything she suggested…). I seemed to have read more about the history (and how I could translate that to an still image) than the tone that the author wanted the cover to have. As it was my first cover to this publisher, panic ensued.

What have I done wrong? Not reading the instructions properly? I thought I have done so.

Were the covers not good enough? They were, just not what the author had in mind.

Was the brief clear? It was, again I took a creative option rather than a strictly literal approach.

Paranoia and depression are part of being a freelancer, and I am not just focusing on my experience. While there are many designers that have a regular set of clients, there are plenty more that are still struggling (for many reasons) and every setback is quite hard to take. Even when you have a beard like I do. Building relationships with editors takes time, books and care, and specially when all this is done via interwebs – where words are just cold characters on a white background. This means that you are already in dire straits and you cant read their words with the same calmness that you would if things were not so difficult. 

I asked fellow book cover designers on how they deal with this and of course every single one had a different answer. From “ah I just open it and whatever. my life is miserable anyway” to “oh I open it and get things done! the more time goes by by, the worst it will be”. One of them was particularly funny – “I see the email notification rising in the right bottom of my monitor and before opening it I run to the kitchen to get chocolate”.

Myself, I fill the pipe and hope for the best. 

It was not as bad as I thought, however there was of course the reference to the original brief. I had missed the “fun” factor and as I said before I focused on trying to work the keywords instead of the “fun feeling”. Back to the image search, new designs, and endless tests with type (as it should be fun too).

Now I have 2 more covers done and perhaps a 3rd one. And I feel a bit anxious about the remake and keep delaying sending them along. There goes the myth of the designers eternal confidence 😀 No, really – I am not the keenest blog reader, but it is kind of difficult to read the other side of the “look-at-my-wonderful-work” designers out there.

The main reason that led me to write down this blog is that I rarely find other book cover designers talking about their mishaps and tribulations. Again, maybe I havent searched enough, but apart from some linkedin groups, I dont seem to find designers expressing their failures or refusals. And by telling mine I am not saying I fail a lot or assuming an uncanny fragility – I am just being honest. Taking the pub talk to the web. Recently I had great reviews and some of them public (via publisher´s facebook and twitter) so I should feel quite confident. 

Nobody likes to fail and nobody likes to see that the hard work has not met the expectations. But this is how we grow as designers and this is how we learn, or relearn, in this case. The importance of a brief is immense and sometimes we tend to take our previous cover success or conquest to the current one, emotionally but not wisely. On the other hand, these things take a bigger toll when you are struggling and when you need either a boost of money or confidence. Being a good professional is not enough, you also need to have a strong shell to take these hits and carry on. 

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