I’m a writer, but I’m an artist too. Not much of one, I’m still in school, but an artist to some degree. I’ve done a couple of covers this year for friends and fellow bloggers Eileen and Laura. Both have been freebies, since they’re friends and I owed ‘em anyway. Eileen “commissioned” me to do the cover for the online litmag she’s part of (this was the more exciting of the two freebies) and Laura I did the cover for her trio of flash fiction stories.
I’m going to take the side of the artist right here and say that if you have a particular vision for what you want the cover to look like, why not mention it to the artist? (If they shoot it down, ask why, and be nice.) I can’t speak for other artists, but I personally like having some parameters to work in, because then I know that what you’re getting is something that a) you will like and b) will fit the story.
When I did the cover for the litmag, I had pretty much total control. I was told to do something “apocalyptic” so I went with a photomontage style, with a tank and planes and all in black and white and gray. I liked it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was serviceable. But when I sent it off, I got the response that it wasn’t what they’d been looking for. Ah. The words “steampunk” and “train” got dropped, and I latched onto those—my parameters. Would have been nice to have those beforehand, but ah well. I cranked open Photoshop and got to work. (And then when I was about done with the second version, PS crashed and I hadn’t saved. Yippee. Always save the file, people.) The second version was what they wanted and what was used, and all was well with the world.
The second cover was a favor, and as such I had a fair bit more freedom over it, since I was doing it of my own free will. I wouldn’t even be offended if Laura decided not to use it. I whipped something up and sent a couple versions of it to her so she could pick which one she liked, if she liked either. Well, one was a big hit (I liked it, she liked it, win-win!) and is in use.
Writers, talk to your artists. We can’t read minds, and if you give us free rein then we’ll take it, and you have to deal with what comes out of that. If you want something, mention it (or insist on it, if you must) but please keep an open mind. What you want might be too difficult, unclear, or just plain bad.
Artists, talk to the writers. Listen to what they ask for and don’t get frustrated if they nix your first design. Make sure to ask if they have something in mind, and see if you can work with it if they do. Don’t be afraid to explain why their ideas might not work.
(Again, I am NOT a professional either of those things! These are just my thoughts on the subject.)