One of the best parts about going indie is having full control over the cover art. My artist is Ana Cruz, (DeviantArt profile) and I was able to explain to her my vision, and work with her until the cover art for Emerald City Dreamer was perfect. She was a joy to work with. I am very proud of the final product:
I will be doing design myself, which includes cropping and adding the title.
Some people may wonder how this process works. I will tell you.
I went to DeviantArt.com and searched on "fairy", not only to find an artist, but to get an idea of what kind of cover I wanted. I had recently browsed the sci-fi/fantasy section at the bookstore to see what current trends were, so I didn't end up with something out of date.
By browsing here, I decided I wanted a photo manipulation style, and then I let my visualization processes stew for a while until I imagined my character in the pose I wanted, with props and background. I made a terrible sketch in pencil just so I could remember the details, bookmarked the artists and images I liked, and waited a few months. (I was still running the manuscript past my fellow Wordslingers, and publication was still far off.)
When I returned to the process, I ruled out the artists I had bookmarked for various reasons, so I had to start over again -- this time I searched for "photo manipulation". I chose three artists based on these criteria: 1) I liked their art, 2) they seemed professional -- i.e. they presented their gallery in a professional manner, they listed the fact that they took commissions, they had their own website, and they had a portfolio of previously commissioned work.
Here are some examples of what I looked for. Notice the sidebars are well laid out, contain links to offsite profiles including a professional website, and they state she offers artistic services. Deviant Art hobbyists often do amazing work, but will not list their credentials or mention commissions. They may or may not be able to do a great cover for you, and who knows if they can act professionally.
I contacted these artists with a professional, serious email, stating my intentions and asking for details such as timeline and price. I settled on one artist, but her workload was full, so I started the process again, contacting three more artists, at which point I found Ana.
What impressed me most about Ana was her professional attitude in her email replies. She stated that she always produces a "sketch" or outline of the art before spending too many hours on it, so that if there were foundational corrections, it saves time and money. That showed me that she'd given this lots of thought. If you are commissioning cover art, I would strongly recommend you request this of the artist. Given that this is a digital image, my "sketch" was full color and consisted of the basic model standing in front of the basic background. Details such as her hair, props, touch-ups, color-finishing, etc. had not yet been done. The feedback I gave at this level greatly improved the direction of the image, so I was able to get exactly what I had envisioned.
As an indie writer, my toolbox needs to include the ability to describe an image to an artist in sufficient detail to get what I want. I'd had some practice on a tattoo I got just a few months before starting this, and I quickly learned not to be fuzzy on any detail. It forced me to really dive in and not gloss over anything I thought might be important. Ana was a perfect fit, because she was able to listen. She got it all, including the facial expression I wanted -- which I thought would be impossible to achieve.
The next time I do this, I will plan ahead a lot further. It's difficult when you're in the middle of the second draft of a novel to think about the cover art, and to commit to getting started on that piece, especially when you're full of uncertainties and self-doubt. But the process did take three or four months. Fortunately, I was far enough behind on the revisions, line edits, and everything else, that it didn't matter. Of course in the future, now that I've gone through the full process, I should be able to better plan the timing of everything.
They say you should also begin marketing efforts long before release date, and I don't even have a release date. I've been reluctant to commit to anything until certain things are done -- and it feels weird to market without a cover. For my second novel, I will be better prepared on all levels. This novel has very much been a learning process.