As authors, we’re all about visuals in our writing. We love describing hues and tones and textures and all the tiny little details that really make our world pop. But do we ever consider what visual representation means in the actual publishing and marketing of our physical books?
In publishing So Sang The Dawn, I had the amazing privilege of getting to work alongside my brother, Adam Pavis, a professional graphic designer and marketing consultant. Adam was the one who designed my series of book covers for So Sang The Dawn, and is the one responsible for branding me as an author. He’s also my marketing advisor.
I’ve lived around the design world for several years now, just because of who my brother is, and I even worked for him as a web designer for a time. So it was kind of mind-blowing for me to step into the writing community and realize how vague and unreachable the knowledge of graphic design actually was. Visual representation and marketing might be an afterthought to some of us, just because we’re so glad to finally be done with our final drafts, but it’s actually incredibly important. The first thing anyone sees of your work before they ever read a stitch of your writing is your title and your book cover. It’s your hook. And a big one at that.
Visual representation and marketing are both really powerful tools in the writing community, and I feel like it’s something we talk about a lot, but it also feels kind of directionless. We don’t really know what visual representation is, or which avenues to use to market our books. I’ve learned so much about visual representation just in the last handful of months since publishing my first book, and I really felt like I wanted to crack open some of those secrets and share them with you.
I’m going to be doing a three part series interviewing Adam on some of these things. Part 1 will be a basic interview with him as a graphic designer and marketing consultant, what his job is like, why design and marketing is so important for any business, and what kinds of things we writers can expect when working with a designer or an artist.
Part 2 will be the ins and outs of designing your own book covers or social media graphics. Design work can be expensive, and there’s nothing wrong with creating your own covers and images, but there’s some definite do’s and don’ts that Adam will be sharing with us.
And finally, Part 3 will be a crash course on marketing and branding. How do you brand yourself as an author, should you brand yourself as an author, separate from your books, and how do you market yourself and your books in a way that keeps you in front of people’s faces without being pushy?
Stick around for this three-week series, and feel free to ask questions in the comments section, which I can then pass off to Adam to be answered.
Q: For those that don’t know, what exactly is a graphic designer? What do you do?
A: I work with a WIDE range of clients from small businesses to large corporations in order to help them visually represent themselves in the best way possible. This can take a few different forms. Sometimes it’s a simple business card design, sometimes it’s what we call a “face lift” (taking all existing design elements and updating the look and feel), and sometimes it’s the complete package. Full branding, website, print material, and other marketing material.
Q: How did you become a graphic designer, and what did that journey look like for you?
A: Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always had a love for color, art, fashion, design, etc. My grandma would take me to museums and model homes to look at all the different elements of design. She would never let me just look at the art or design. She would always ask “Now why do you think they…” or “What do you think they were trying to do when they decided to…”. She always challenged me to investigate what I was looking at.
As I grew up, I started to notice artistic elements around me. Things that were done really well along with things that could have been done better and it really lit a fire in me to want to jump into the design world.
When I was 14 years old I got an internship working with a church and it was my job to design small things like powerpoint presentations, little pieces of print material, and things like that. Suddenly I had a small client list of people who would reach out to me when they needed work done and it just started snowballing from there. Now, 11 years later, I’m launching my own company and working with people I never thought possible and it’s all thanks to a wrinkly old lady who challenged me to look beyond what I could see and ask myself “why”.
Q: You actually chose not to go to school for design, despite the incredible pressure from society to do so. What was your reasoning behind that? Do you ever wish you had gone to school?
A: To answer your first question, I decided not to go to school for a couple of reasons.
One, I was at a place in my life where I was the absolute embodiment of a “starving artist”. Any kind of college level education, whether that be online or in a classroom, is expensive as frick and I just couldn’t afford it at the time.
Two, I hate school. Calm down kids. I don’t hate it for the same reasons you probably think I do but I do NOT enjoy school. I could go into a lot of detail on this but that would basically be a whole other blog post.
To answer your second question, yes! Theres a lot of times where I wish/want to go back to school for graphic arts. They teach you so many incredible things there that can really help you in your career. I will say that there’s things that I have learned just by getting out there and working that that I can guarantee you I would have never learned in a classroom. But I would love to go back to school at some point in my life and learn more about my field of work.
Q: Can you give us a step by step picture of what your design process looks like? How does it look to complete a graphic design project from start to finish?
A: The process of every designer you work with can and most likely will differ. But mine always starts with a meeting. I meet with my client either in person, over the phone, over email, and sometimes over text, and I ask them a million questions. Questions like, Tell me your story. What are you trying to accomplish with this project? Who is your target audience? What feelings or emotions do you want to invoke with this project? What have you seen recently that you like that we could use as inspiration? What attitude do you want this project to take?
From there I move in to conceptual design. This is a rough mock of what the client wants. I make sure to let them know that some images and text are just place holders and are not the final design. I just like them to be able to see what direction we’re headed in before we get too far into the project. This ensures that they can make changes in the preliminary stage.
From there we move to final concepts. In this stage, the only changes that usually happen are things like making a font bigger, changing a few color elements here and there, small things like that. We call this “making final tweaks”.
After that, it’s export time! Once the client fulfills their invoice, they get all of their final files and they’re ready to go make a statement with all their new material!
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
A: I draw my inspiration from literally everywhere. A lot of times when I’m out places, I’ll take pictures of a cool coffee cup I saw or a painting because I like the color palette. Sometimes I’ll be at conferences or other places and I’ll see a trifold or booklet that has a super creative font layout. Architecture holds A LOT of inspiration as well. More often than not though, it’s nature. God, as the ultimate designer, has the best work I’ve ever seen. You’re hard pressed to find a color palette in nature that doesn’t impress, thats for sure!
Q: What kind of music do you listen to when you design?
A: I listen to all different kinds of music. (Except for country music because I have standards.) But what I really like to do is listen to music that will get my brain in the correct setting for the project I’m working on. If I’m working on marketing material for a Crossfit gym, I’ll listen to dubstep, hard rock, pop rock, and hiphop. If I’m working on a project for a resort or spa, I’ll listen to house music, acoustic albums from artists that I love, and artists like OwlCity and Kygo.
Q: Why is visual representation so important?
A: Visual representation isn’t important, it’s the only thing that matters. When you’re doing anything, whether it’s starting a business or publishing a book, visual representation is what entices your audience to invest in you and your product. People assimilate visual representation with quality. What I mean by this is that if your visual representation looks like a dollar store clearance bin, people think that your product’s quality is from the dollar store clearance bin. If your visual representation rivals Apple’s, people feel like they are getting an extremely solid, long-lasting, highbrow product. Visual representation is literally everything. Visual representation can push crappy products to the top, while amazing products go completely unnoticed.
Q: If a writer was going to hire a graphic designer or an artist to create a book cover for them, what should they look for in a good artist?
A: There’s a lot of traits that you want in a graphic design artist or an artist in general but one of the most important things I would say you should look for is a strong portfolio. That can mean different things to different people. A portfolio full of super realistic landscape pieces may be exactly what one person needs but not even come close to what another client is looking for.
I’m in a category called “minimalism” meaning you won’t see a lot of crazy detailed pieces in my portfolio. I use a lot of negative space and minimal design elements when I work so I generally don’t fit well with the client looking for a hyper-realist pencil sketched drawing of their dearly departed macaw for their logo. All artists can generally work in all stylistic fields but I can guarantee that every one of them, myself included, has a style that they specialize in and you can find that style in their portfolio.
You have to really think about what you want, in order to find the artist that can execute your idea for you exactly the way you want it.
BONUS ADVICE: If you are working with an artist that only has 2 or 3 pieces in their portfolio, be cautious. They may be a little new to the game but remember, everyone (including you) has to start somewhere.
Q: What should a writer be prepared to spend on graphic design or book artwork?
A: About $50,000.00…JK. This all depends on the quality of work. If the artist is newer and using your project to help build his or her portfolio, about $15 – $20 an hour is pretty average. The longer you have survived in the design world, the more you’re worth. I’ve been doing design for about 11 years now so I charge $75 an hour for my work. I’m sure that little fact is blowing your minds right now but you have to remember, I work about 10 times faster now as I did when I first started.
Q: What should a writer expect when working alongside a graphic designer, and what questions should they be prepared to ask?
A: You should expect (and push for) a lot of communication. Stay in touch with your designer. Don’t give them a few vague details about what you want, leave them to work for 3 months, and then get pissy when you’re not happy with your product. Get involved! Ask your designer to keep you up to date as they work. This will also help you know how much it’s most likely going to cost you or when you should have the designer hold off till you get more funding together.
You should also encourage your designer. When they send you stuff that you really like, don’t email them back with. “Cool!” or “I like it!”. Expand on what you like about it. When we know what really caught your attention, we’ll continue to move in that direction. If we’re not sure what you’re really thinking, it makes it extremely difficult for us to continue building in a specific direction.
NOTE: When you’re trying to communicate changes you’d like to see, for the love all that is pure and holy in this world, DO NOT send your designer an email that says nothing more than “See attached”. Nothing tells me that you’re uninterested, unattached, and lazy like the dreaded response “See attached”. Sending attachments is perfectly acceptable, as long as you can also show your designer that you’re as invested in the communication as they are. The designer is giving you their time and their talents. Give them the same in return. (Also, we know you’re a writer and your entire existence is to verbally communicate beautiful descriptive ideas. Put some of that into your responses to your artist.)
Questions you could/should ask:
-What is your average turnaround time? Or What do you estimate your turnaround time on my project would be?
-What files/formats do I get when you’re finished?
-What software or medium do you use to do your work?
-How many concepts do I get to look at?
-Do you charge for the hours spent on all the concepts you send me or just the hours used on the final design?
-Will I be able to work with you AND my printer to get the final print-ready file I need or is that something I need to do on my own?
-Can I get a list of fonts and hex codes (Hexadecimal Color Codes. It’s a real thing. Google it.) that you used when you’re done so I can keep my brand as consistent as possible?
-Whats the best way I can refer you to people I know? (We love it when you ask us this. It’s the verbal equivalent of your secret crush giving you an unexpected hug.)
Q: What’s one of your favorite quotes as an artist?
A: “If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” – Banksy
Thank you so much Adam, for offering to spend time with the writing community and give us some much-needed advice!
Check back next week for Part 2 of my First Impressions Are Everything series, where Adam will give us some artistic visuals along with do’s and don’ts of graphic and image design.