Second opinions can be good.

They can also be disastrous.

When it comes to second opinions, sometimes an illustrator’s clients can be the client’s own worse enemies. That’s the reason I always shudder when I hear a client start a statement with, “I asked my [son, secretary, neighbor] what they thought about the book illustration and they said…”

Now don’t get me wrong.

Often the advice offered will be good.

But sometimes the person consulted will feel that they are required to make suggested changes and will simply grasp at straws to come up with some suggested change. They come up with something – but not necessarily something that really needs to be changed.

So the first question you should ask if you’re trying to assess the merit of a cover design or book illustration should never be, “What needs to be changed?” but rather “Is this working for my story concept?”

Only if there’s a “No” answer should proposed changes be asked for.

Poor suggestions and comments will head a client in the wrong direction and perhaps even doubt the abilities of the person they’ve so enthusiastically hired for the job just days before, and doubt their own taste as well. The cover that they loved suddenly is transformed into something less pleasing — not because of the client’s feelings but because someone else has made a negative comment about it. And once that occurs, it more or less casts the client (and the artist) adrift at sea because the standard for quality is no longer in the eye of the artist or the client but handed over to whoever happens to give the last critique of the cover concept.

Here’s the thing: Second opinions are only good when the person offering that opinion is really qualified to do so.

Just as you wouldn’t get a second opinion on your upcoming brain surgery from a plumber (I hope, at least) but rather from another skilled surgeon, you should also only get a second opinion regarding a book design and the artistic merit of the illustration from someone who is a skilled artist in their own right (and whose art is of a similar style to what is being pursued for the book cover design).

Any other advice is as likely as not to send you in the wrong direction. And leave the artist you hired loathing the changes that transform a promising design into something mediocre.

One of my favorite quotations: “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.” There’s an important truth to this when it comes to picking a book cover illustration and designing the cover layout. Someone should have the final say, and if you are in charge of the book cover, then that someone should be you. You should have the vision to know where the project should be headed. Because once a committee is assembled for input, things can go downhill in a hurry and the vision be lost.

Getting second opinions can be the first step toward assembling such a committee and clients who are spending their money for a book cover illustration or design should think long and hard before asking someone for advice.

Otherwise, a poor second opinion may kill your quality book cover concept just as surely as having your plumber recommend putting a six-inch length of copper pipe into your head instead of fooling with that expensive surgery thingy.

Duncan Long is a freelance book cover illustrator for HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, Solomon Press, Fort Ross, and many other publishers and self-publishing authors. See his cover illustrations at: