A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Or, if copywriters do their job, maybe one word balances one picture. Or, if authors are the clients, one picture sells 100,000 words, multiplied by 100,000 copies. The two roles work hand in hand, although designers have in certain ways the harder job: They have to turn people’s thoughts into pictures.

Although freelance writers have to date been the majority of ClearVoice freelancers, we are excited to expand the talent pool to offer access to some of the best freelance designers in the industry. Like writers, designers have a wide range of niches and special offerings in their toolbox. And so we’re pleased to expand the Niche Freelancer series to begin showcasing some of them as well.

For this installation of the Niche Freelancer, we chat with Brandi Doane McCann, who specializes in designing ebook and print book covers that sell romance, fantasy and suspense to consumers — often without a publisher to market them.

Interview with book cover designer Brandi Doane McCann

niche freelancer ebook cover designer

Please describe your “toolbox” and special areas of expertise?

I use Adobe Photoshop for all of my book cover designs. If someone needs a logo design or an illustration for a children’s book, I turn to Adobe Illustrator. My preferred go-to website for stock images is Shutterstock. I’d say my area of expertise would be photo-manipulation. I’m a creative person, and I don’t like to slap a stock image on a cover. Manipulating an image makes it more unique.

Please take us along your career path to what led you to your current niche.

I’ve always been into art. I started working with Photoshop once I started my first year of college at the University of Maine. I studied new media and graphic design there. From there, I worked more and more with Photoshop and immediately realized I enjoyed manipulating photos. I would sometimes play around with friends and family photos and merge them with other images, like characters from a show or maybe even an animal. All in fun of course.

Tell us a little about your ebook cover expertise. Who is typically looking for it?

I’d say most of my clientele are self-publishing authors. A lot of them are first-time authors and are totally new to the whole process. I have many repeat clients. Once in a while, I’ll have someone contact me because their previous designer did not work out for various reasons. I’ve never turned anyone away.

niche freelancer ebook cover designer

You work with many book authors who have decided to go the self-published route. Do you find that they mainly come at this from a personal, creative fulfillment angle, or from a business perspective?

Most of my clients come with a personal, creative fulfillment priority. Some come to me with several books they need art for, so I do try to design a brand for them.

How do you find most of your work?

I have a website, ebook-coverdesigns.com. I think most of my clients find my website via Google search. I do have a Facebook page as well. I’ve been told by some clients they found my name mentioned on the website The Creative Penn.

Your work is central to one of the biggest cliches ever: the world judging a book by its cover. How do you know how to create a cover when you haven’t read the book?

If the client has no idea what they want for a cover idea, then I’ll ask them for more information about the book. From there, we both brainstorm different ideas, look at stock images, etc. Eventually, an idea will spark and we’ll run with it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll talk about alternative concepts. I work with my clients until we have a finished product that they’re happy with.

How can clients/brand managers/marketing directors without any design background or language best communicate their wishes and ideas with you to ensure a smooth process?

I’m a visual person, and I like to imagine what a cover would look like as I’m learning what the client wants. For example, say they want a dark and stormy ocean scene with ominous clouds in the background, maybe a lightning strike off to the left side of the cover. Maybe a sea monster is emerging from the water on the left side, attacking a ship, etc.

Once I gather all the information and can see it in my minds eye, I start looking for stock images to help me piece it all together. There really is no special language needed when communicating their ideas. Just basically tell me what you think you want, and I’ll let you know if I can do it.

niche freelancer ebook cover designer

Describe your perfect client.

The perfect client would first and foremost be friendly. We’re going to be working with each other until your cover is completed, so lets make it an enjoyable experience for both of us. I have a good sense of humor, so don’t be afraid to joke with me.

I try to get covers completed in a timely manner, and as much as I’d like to read your entire book, I don’t have the time. Sending me the blurb that you would find on the back cover is plenty. What I find to be the most helpful is knowing what your expectations are for the cover design. If you know what you want, please explain it to me. If I get stuck, I’ll ask for more information.

As I mentioned before, I have a lot of repeat clients. After working with the same people over the years, you really feel like you get to know them, and they start asking how my kids are and how the weather is up here in Maine. I love what I do and I owe a lot of that to the great people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with.

If a person has a degree in graphic design, do they need to continue training and studying new skills? Or is it possible to pick them up on the job?

I think it’s possible to pick the skills up on the job. I learned more about Photoshop through experimenting and watching lots of YouTube tutorials. I feel like college just scratched the surface. You just have to dive in and want to learn how to use it.

Has the decline of print publishing and rise of video/social media hurt the book market in your opinion, or just changed it?

I haven’t noticed any decline. I’ve had a lot more authors asking for paperback designs now than when I first started my business about six years ago.