What Writers Need to Know About Book Cover Design: An Interview with Artist Lee Libro

Effective cover art has always been an important part of publishing a book. In this dawning age of self-publishing and indie writers a good cover artist is an important member of every author’s publishing team. I was lucky to come across the talented Lee Libro who created the cover art for my novel, The Pursuit of Cool. I am interviewing Lee here today to get some insights into book cover design and creation.

Tell us something about your life and what led you to being a book cover designer.

I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember. I was the youngest of four children and was often left to my own devices to self-entertain. Growing up in a very hot, un-air-conditioned inland Georgia town in the 60s, this meant drawing with a stick in the red clay, or painting on our side porch to escape the heat or sometimes just looking up at the stars at night to ponder my existence on our little patch of dirt…all these things shaped me and my artists way.

As it turned out, I was told that the destiny of any artist is to be a starving one, so in college I pursued my love of words instead of art. I majored in English, worked in Marketing and Advertising, then later as an editor for over two decades. I came to my senses in my forties, either that or I had more time as my five children got older and I rediscovered my talent in watercolors and also painting large format canvas that I showed in several art shows. All along I explored imagery and my artistic vision through words as a writer. I’ve written several short storied, published a novel and have two others in the works. Naturally, this led to the need for book covers and as word has gotten around, I have been designing book covers for other authors for the past three years.

Tell us about your experience as an artist and graphic designer. What types of art are you drawn to? What artists have inspired you? Do you produce fine art or other types of art besides book covers?

 I’m pretty eclectic. I love art from nearly every era in history and can appreciate most artists’ work. Extremely abstract art is the only art I might have issue with, because I believe art is all about connection. Art that is too abstract doesn’t do what art should do, which is to provide a clear meeting point between the artist’s inner vision and the world’s viewing of it. With some art, the artist’s intended message is not received by the viewer and so the connection isn’t there.

I paint realistic watercolors, fantasy acrylics and I also like to draw in India ink or colored pencils. My latest piece is an acrylic painting in progress that tells a story, entitled The Release of Desire at the Sea of Possibility.

Some examples of my artwork can be viewed here:

When it comes to creating a book cover, while I might lean on my artistic sense, I don’t necessarily use my art, but rather I create computer generated files from several elements which I photoshop in order to achieve the writer’s vision.

What do you consider the most important factors in producing successful cover art? Are there any things that are best avoided with book covers?

Just as in writing, with cover design there’s a simple rule. “Keep it simple.” A complicated image doesn’t relay a message as quickly as a more complex one. Immediate impression is vital because you want to provoke an impulse from the viewer. In addition, a simpler image translates into a clearer thumbnail for viewing online than does a complex one.

To what degree is a book cover “art” and what degree is it “marketing?”

 Well, this could be the beginning of a debate in linguistic meaning. Art means many different things to different people. I believe when referring to the art of book covers, it’s 99% marketing. The art of a book cover is actually in the marketing. This is not to say that some great book covers don’t deserve to be framed J or that well known fine art can’t be used as a book cover, The Girl with the Pearl Earring for example. But in this era of self-publishing, the bottom line doesn’t depend on pretty, but rather visibility and meaning. In other words, capture your audience!

What is your process of designing a book cover? Tell us about your creative method. Some cover artists are quite restrictive about the number of “tweaks” they allow the author to have when they are creating a cover. Something I appreciated about working with you is that your approach to working with authors on a cover is a “team approach.” Please explain to everyone what you mean by that.

 I work closely with the author to understand their objectives, their audience, the main themes in their book and any specific images that may be key to their story. The author is the director; I’m the implementer of their vision. That being said, the whole process begins with concepting. I want to ensure that the cover that goes on the book is the best choice, and that the author is confident in proceeding. Concepting allows the author to basically see preliminary cover concepts with just a small deposit, before proceeding and committing to final. It allows them to see an array of ideas from which to choose.

I begin after speaking via phone or e-mail with the author about the book, and sometimes followed by reading excerpts if necessary. The preliminary layouts in the concepting process will allow the author to review different looks for the book cover, usually just the main image and the font styling for the title and author’s name. This is because I build the front cover first and then from this, spin-off the design of the back cover and spine.  Once one of these concepts is chosen, we proceed to building the final file, which is a full spread front-spine-back cover created to the printer’s specifications. The whole process from there is an organic one entailing communication back and forth via e-mail accompanied by a proof file to the author at every juncture until completion. For more information, please visit:

At what point in the writing process do you think writers should start thinking about their cover art?

Writers can begin to imagine their book cover at any point in the process. I would go so far as to say that sometimes there is a central image that spurs on the story. An author might like to have a preliminary cover for inspiration as they forge onward, but the final cover cannot be completed until the interior file of the book is formatted and final. This is because word count affects the number of pages and therefore the thickness of the book, thus the spine. I design book covers with front, back and spine as one file and in order to provide the printer with a proper file, the parameters have to be concise.


By robbskidmore

Robb Skidmore writes upmarket literary fiction. He is the author of “The Pursuit of Cool”, a critically acclaimed coming-of-age novel about love, music, and the 80s, and the novella “The Surfer.” His short stories have appeared in many publications.

3 replies on “What Writers Need to Know About Book Cover Design: An Interview with Artist Lee Libro”

True, true! Am just done choosing a cover for my eBook and glad to say that two things led me: the right artist and a design that will be most visible online as well as attractive. Kudos!

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