(My first book, published by Doubleday in 1977)
If you write a book that gets published by a traditional publisher, it can take three years to find an agent and for the agent to find a publisher who will accept you and produce the book. In this long process, one of the last things that gets done is cover design.
The author may have some input, but the publisher has the final say on the design -- and even on the title of the book, which can certainly influence the way the cover looks.
If you are working with a self-publishing company, the time between writing and printing is compressed from years to months, but the cover still comes after the writing.
In independent self-publishing, I've found (speaking after self-pubbing about 20 books) that it can be very useful to have a cover design even before the first word is written.
- Living with a cover design over a period of months while you write can be very useful. There can be, and should be, an interaction between the exterior and interior of the book. Exterior and interior will evolve together.
But even if your books are going to be sold online only, and no purchaser will read the back until after the book is delivered, the back of the book can be very useful to you. It's a summary -- maybe even a statement of principles -- that should help to keep you focused and remind you of what you had in mind when you first conceived the book. (Remember, you can show the back cover on Amazon.com -- so make it powerful and useful.)
- It's normal for the words on the cover to change as you write words for the inside. Sometimes the title may change. Sometimes you just have a "working title" and the final title emerges from deep inside the book. Sometimes you'll come up with a new subtitle, or even swap title and subtitle.
Below/left is the latest version of the 'Mona Lisa' cover. It has a new title and is now part of a series of books with comic-book style covers.: