HELP!!!! How do I tell a Publisher that I HATE their cover design?

  • SVS OG

    Hi, everyone! So just recently I was approached to illustrate a book for a publisher. They offered me 3k usd for the whole thing. I accepted because it was the highest I’ve been offered so far.

    Out of respect, I will not name names.

    They wanted me to illustrate the cover first which was unusual but I know they sometimes happen. They sent me a mock-up of the cover they wanted which was stranger since I usually make a few sketches for my clients and have them choose afterwards, but ok... So I made the cover according to their instructions. I like what I made. I sent it in. They said they like it. They sent me an image of the cover plus the title text and it was HORRIBLE!

    They butchered my illustration. They resized bits and pieces in order to fit their title text in and not in a flattering way. They hyped up the saturation of everything. Now the backgruond elements which were initially in desaturated red are standing out like crazy. The fonts used are garish at best. Since I sent them the psd files, they used some elements on layers that I purposefully hid because they were ugly.

    IT’S A SHIT SHOW! I’m not censoring myself because that’s how bad it is.

    If they wanted to make more room for the text all they had to do is ask for revisions and I’d be happy to oblige and the result would be tasteful. Now, the cover looks like a highschooler who just discovered Photoshop threw up on it. I don’t know what their designer, art director, or marketing team were thinking.

    My one hope is that this is just a rough version and that they’ll fix it later.

    How can I express my disgust while still preserving our working relationship and not burn any bridges?

    Thank you for bearing with me,

  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz Could you... perhaps... offer a suggestion and explain to them why this other version you suggested is a much better cover idea than their horrible cover, without necessarily telling them their original suggestion is awful? You words wouldn't necessarily come across as you shitting on the original cover or whoever was responsible for it. Try to come across as if your coming from a place of experience in design and that you're essentially trying to "enhance" the awful cover by offering tips and techniques from your years of education and working in the industry.

    Try to say "I think this is better because..."

    And not say "this cover has issues/flaws/just completely awful".

  • Oh no! So sorry! 😞

  • Compliment the person who did it, act excited and say it sparked an idea you had for the cover and would it be okay if you added a few touches to what they sent you. Worst that happens is they say no and you're no worse off than you are now.

  • Personally, I think I'd be a little more forthcoming rather than tactful and tell them in your opinion WHY it doesn't work. Foreground background rules..whatever. Sometimes its your honest passion that sells your idea. I've been in your shoes and I did win out in the end. I don't know that it was a win because I didn't care for the entire But at least in the instance that I took a stand on, they listened to me. Good luck and congrats on a decent deal.

  • That’s too bad. I’d probably just be straightforward with them tell them that’s not what you produced for them and if they wanted to make adjustments they should’ve asked you to do it

  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz Omg that really sucks! I like @Kim-Hunter 's approach. I would just take it one step further and instead of asking them if it would be okay for you to send your version, just go ahead and send it. Point out the things that make your design better (without explicitly comparing it to the shitty one) and then ask them if they would like you to send the revised illustration.
    If your agent is involved in the communications as well, maybe you can ask them to show some support to your design as well?
    Best of luck!

  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz As you had mentioned its really strange that they would 1st start with the book cover and then change your work totally to a point without taking into consideration your point of view on it.. before you try and talk through this and convince them... maybe you should look at the point that someone who right at the beginning can make so much of changes could they do the same all through the book too? And book is a long time project and no matter how much they pay, would you be happy always getting back to them after they make such drastic revisions without consideration on every illustration you work on... your frustration is totally understandable.. I would probably walk away after letting them know what I think..

  • They are paying you to do the work. You seem to be taking it personal. You can make tactful suggestions but after the artwork leaves your hands your job is over in most cases and the layout artist and typographer takes over.

    I would approach everything with respect since you do not want to lose a client and you do not know where these ADs will be in 10 years when you run into them again.

    It's nothing personal, it's just business.

  • Moderator

    Wow, that’s frustrating. Especially since it will probably have you credited as illustrator. I would definitely say something, and say it as professionally as possible. If you come from a standpoint that this is a team effort and you want the book to succeed, “so here are my thoughts on your revisions to my artwork” type thing. You can do it. Once you cool off, definitely wait to speak with them until you are calm so you don’t say anything accidentally in anger. And I would not give them layered files anymore. If you stick with this project that is. Good luck. And please keep us informed on the outcome. 🙂

  • I am so sorry to hear this @Nyrryl-Cadiz, this is a very frustrating situation to be in.

    Here is what I will try:

    1. I will thank the person in the client side who did the job (But I would not act that I am excited).
    2. Then I will give them the version I think it will work both visually, and also functionally, and present them with reasons why my version works better.

    If you can involve your agent to help resolve the situation, that would be the best. Then she could be the one playing the "bad corp", pointing out the design issues for the client, instead of you. I had a cover being killed this autumn. The situation was also a very odd one (I did not want to going to detail here). I basically send all my concerns/reasonings/demands to my agent, and did not communicate with the AD directly until the issue was resolved.

    Here are something I could think of that may help you to reasoning with your clients once you have a cover design you are happy with:

    1. do a bit of research to see if there are nice covers came out from this publisher before, and pointing that cover as a reference to your client. They will be more willing to discuss if you are complimenting their own books.
    2. Talk about how your design will make the reader feel, or more willing to buy the book. Avoid using too much time criticising the cover design done by them.

    Best of luck!

  • Hi @Nyrryl-Cadiz, sorry to hear that!

    Here’s my suggestion:

    Setup a quick call with your rep and inform them you feel obligated to bring up the quality concern and offer your constructive feedback on improving it.

    Perhaps offer support or suggestions on improving the cover design. You may even suggest escalating the concern with the art director (if applicable).

    Your concerns are valid! A book cover can make or break a book.

    Good luck and keep us posted!

  • I'm curious on all the suggestions for the artist to give feedback on the cover design. The artist stated they were hired for illustrating, not designing a book.

    Illustrators don't always know or have a say in book design or typography. The ADs I have worked for in the past were pretty clear that once the design I created with their approval leaves my hands, my responsibility ends.

    Unless contractually stated, why would a publisher feel the need for opinions being given in an area that the artist was not hired for?

  • @jimsz It is a very blurred border in my opinion. That is also why Nyrryl´s case is tricky. In my limited experience with doing books (3 books so far). The first book, the editor just assumed that I will do a hand-written typography for the cover. The second book, I have no clue what the title typeface is going to look like yet. I was not even asked for opinions. With the third one, the AD and I co-designed the typeface. I did a design, she improved it with a new suggestion, and I am going to take over to do the final touch.

    I have heard from other more experienced illustrator that you can charge a separate fee for designing title typeface, but I have not yet be able to do that.

    Since the artist name is going to be on the cover, you as an illustrator would want to make sure the cover look as good as it can. Yes, it is technically not the illustrators responsibility. But if it goes terribly wrong, and it shows the AD has a very different taste as you. It is a sign that the process for the rest of the book may be problematic.

    Also Nyrryl mentioned that the AD has changed her illustration without her consent. It is another red flag in my book.

    I would try to handle the situation as diplomatic as I can, but I would not keep silence. The best thing here really, is hand the case to your agent, if you have one.

  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz What does your contract say? Sometimes I've seen contracts that say clients are supposed to give the artist first crack at any changes. Some say they can do whatever they like to your art. Like, if it's work for hire and they own the image you may be out of luck.

    Though, come to think of it, if they signed an advocate art invoice, then they signed a document with the following in it:


    10.1 The Customer shall not in any way modify, alter, amend or adapt the Artwork or permit the Artwork to be altered, amended, adapted or modified in any way.

    10.2 The Customer shall not use the Artwork in anything other than its original form save that The Customer may overprint text on reproductions of Artwork and apply colour enhancement to reproductions of the Artwork.

    10.3 The Customer shall not plagiarise the Artwork or allow the artwork to be copied in the theme of.

    I'd talk to your agent!

    Either way, that situation's no fun 😞

  • SVS OG

    @Braden-Hallett @burvantill @djlambson @Jeremy-Ross @KathrynAdebayo @Kim-Hunter @Michael-Angelo-Go @Neha-Rawat @powsupermum thank you for the support everyone. Sorry for not responding sooner. I was waiting for the client’s response as well as letting myself calm down so that I can handle this level headed. I’ll soon let you know what happened. In the mean time, have an amazing Holiday season. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  • Moderator

    @Nyrryl-Cadiz You too! Merry Christmas! Good luck🤞🙂

  • Pro

    @jimsz Your approach on this is that basically this is not the illustrator's job or problem, and since they're paid they shouldn't care. I'm impressed by your "all business" approach and can see the advantages. However it also has some big drawbacks. A book is teamwork, and as the art expert of the team I believe it's the illustrator's responsibility to raise red flags about the quality when they see problems. And the graphic design CAN certainly interfere with the art and ruin it. The illustrator will have their name on it, and putting out a cover like this that looks amateur and awful can absolutely be detrimental to their career. There is a bigger picture here beyond just getting paid for the project: it's building a name and reputation for high quality work. In @Nyrryl-Cadiz's case, they did not just add garish text: they resized elements, turned on layers that were not supposed to be in the final illustration, and changed the saturation of everything. It is messing with her work directly and negatively impacting the quality she's putting out. I don't think it's a good career move to put out stuff that looks awful, pocket the money and move on. It lives on forever more on the internet... You don't want people googling your name to see your work and the first thing they see is THAT awful cover from 5 years ago...

  • @burvantill

    I agree with you that a book is normally a team approach, the artist's name is on it, etc. however, without contract specifics we have no way of knowing who is responsible for what. The artist may indeed have the right to make first changes they may have the right to give approval of typography and graphic design but again they may not have any contractual right to any of this.

    Plenty of times and artist will be paid for an illustration that does not work for hire and not have any say and what the publisher or our director does with it once the work is turned in.

    The devil is in the details and other than emotional responses there are a few details on what the contract actually states as to the role of the artist and the rights of the artist in this specific case.

    If an artist is concerned about what happens to their artwork after it leaves their hands (as we all should be) why would anyone send the native, editable layered file with unused layers/art made available to be used? The artist gave the publisher the means to do what they did and should use this as a painful learning opportunity.

    I'm not saying either approach is right or either approach is wrong but too many artists forget that illustration be it books, covers, magazines, etc. is a business. To have complete control of one's work well either require the artist to become such a big name that they call the shots or they move over to fine arts and make art simply for art sake.

  • Pro

    @jimsz I think you're focusing a little bit too much on rights and contracts, and not enough on teamwork and honest communication. Most of the time I think the publisher WANTS to know if the graphic designer did a shit job and ruined the cover! They want the book to sell after all, don't they? They may not be legally required to make changes if they don't want to, but the overwhelming majority of the time they want to make the book as good as it can possibly be. That's why it's ALWAYS worth to politely raise issues, there's nothing to lose and everything to gain 🙂 I'd say maybe 95% of the times I raised an issue, I got my way. As they say, nothing ventured nothing gained!

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