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Creative Briefs Explained To Non-Creatives

The Brief, In Depth

Creative Briefs Explained To Non-Creatives

The Brief, In Depth
This article is part of the Jobs Board Series, informational guides aimed at non-creatives seeking direction on how best to approach, communicate, and work with a professional book cover designer.

Blog post cover illustration by Allison Filice

A thorough creative brief is a designer’s best friend.

We analyze them when deciding whether or not to accept a new job. Once we’ve signed on, we refer to them over and over again during the design process in order to make sure that our work is on track.

This is why it’s important to take time assembling your brief — because your design depends on it. A sloppily made brief can send a project in the wrong direction for no reason.

If you’re using the INABC Jobs Board to create and post a creative brief, you’ve come to the right place. Please refer to this guide as you compile these useful elements for your brief. This post was written with non-creative-types and first-timers in mind. We hope you find this helpful!


What does this mean: In this section, please explain when you would like to review Round 1 cover designs from your designer. Keep in mind that your timeline does not begin the day that you post a job listing or send someone an email inquiry — the clock begins the day that the designer accepts the job. Timeline Suggestions:

  • Anything under two-weeks would be considered a rush job. With a turnaround time this short, you should expect to pay a rush fee.
  • 2 Weeks is the industry standard, or rather, the industry minimum. If you can offer more time, that is advisable.
  • 3 Weeks is the next most common industry standard.
  • Suggestion: If you know that your budget is lower than the industry standard, try offering 4 weeks for a designer to deliver Round 1. It’s possible that a busy/popular designer will consider a lower-paying-job if they know they have ample time to work on it (and can therefore fit it into their packed schedule)

Why is this important: Book cover designers have full calendars. A certain designer might have accepted 8, 9, or 10+ book cover assignments in any given month. Knowing how a new project will fit into an already busy schedule is essential. *Remember, projects with longer turnaround times may be more appealing and will therefore receive more bids.


What does this mean: The terms hardcover/jacket are interchangeable. Paperback refers to anything softbound or perfectbound (trade paperback, mass market paperback, French flaps, A-Format, B-Format, etc).

Why is this important: This is important because certain designers may ask for additional fees depending on the number of editions you are producing. Why? In traditional publishing, a freelance designer is paid for each edition that a publisher puts out. A designer is paid 50% of the hardcover fee for a paperback edition that uses the same design. For example, Designer is paid $2,000 in 2023 for the hardcover/jacket edition, then paid an addittional $1,000 in 2024 when the paperback edition is released, picking up the same hardcover design. Agreements between designers and smaller presses or self-publishing authors may differ depending on your terms, but if a designer stipulates extra money for extra editions, this is why.

Trim Size

What does this mean: The trim size of a book refers to the final dimensions of the book after it has been printed and bound. It is the size of the pages themselves.

If you have not chosen a trim size yet, check to see what sizes are offered by your printer. You can also look at books on your shelf, choose one that feels right to you, and measure it.

Do not ask your designer what trim size they recommend. Complete your own due diligence and choose the right trim for your project.

Extra Info: When we talk about the jacket trim size, we’re specifically referring to the dimensions of the pages inside the book, not the actual hardcover itself. All jackets/hardcovers are slightly larger than the page size so that the flaps can provide protection. If your jacket trim size is 6×9″, your experienced designer will know to design your cover at 6.125″ x 9.25″. However, when a designer asks for the trim, we’re asking for 6×9.

It’s important to note that the page trim size can be the same for both hardcover and paperback editions, but this is not always the case. If you’re printing multiple editions, make sure you provide the trim of each.

Why is this important: It is frustrating for a designer to change the dimensions of a meticulously designed cover at the last minute. Imagine how much extra work Micaela would have to put into a custom design like this (one where the illustration adheres perfectly to the edges of the cover) if the trim size suddenly got taller at the very end. To avoid situations like this: Do your research, Choose a trim size, and Commit to it. If the trim size could change, notify your designer at the beginning.

Front Cover Text

What does this mean: This refers to ALL of the copy that will be included on the front. Most covers only include the title and author name. Some books feature a lot of additional text. It’s important to nail down this information before your designer gets started with Round 1 designs so that they can design with every piece in mind.

  • Title (self-explanatory)
  • Subtitle: For a nonfiction book, this is self-explanatory. If this is a book of poetry, are you including the words “poems” or “poetry” on the cover? Other subtitle examples include “A Novel,” “Essays,” “Stories,” “A Memoir,” etc. List the right indicator in this section.
  • Author (self-explanatory)
  • ‘Author Of’ Line: Do you want to include information about the author’s previous work? Or their profession? If so, write something like “Author of the bestselling novel Harry Potter” or “Harvard Professor of Economics” in this section.
  • Bestseller Line: Example “Over 1 Million Copies Sold!”
  • Endorsement(s): A quote or statement of recommendation provided by a notable person, typically an author, celebrity, expert, or respected figure in a particular field, meant to encourage a reader to buy a book. If you know that you will be including an endorsement on the cover but do not have said endorsement yet, provide your designer with a placeholder quote.

Why is this important: Every single word that appears on the front cover is an important part of the overall puzzle that a designer is piecing together. It’s super annoying for a designer to work on designs for weeks only to be told at the 11th hour to “fit this quote on there somewhere.” We know from experience, as this has happened to all of us at least once.

Please give your designers placeholders/dummy quotes from day one so that they can adequately account for where it will fit within their design.


What does this mean: (self-explanatory)

Why is this important: Whether or not a designer wants to work on your book hinges on the synopsis. This might be the second most important deciding factor, second only to your vision and comp covers.

Comparative Covers, General Likes & Dislikes

For information about choosing the right comp covers and properly explaining your vision, jump over to this article here.

Choosing a Stock Imagery Budget

For information about stock imagery (starting with: what is it?), jump over to this article here.

How to Set a Realistic Overall Cover Budget

For information about what range to offer the top-tier cover designers that visit this site, jump over to this article here.

To start filling out your own creative brief, click here!

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