You got options. We all got options, these days. Let's look at the possibility that you're going to self publish your story.
Maybe you're not doing this because you are abandoning traditional publishing. There could be several reasons that you're going down this path. I'm hoping it's NOT because you are desperate to have a published book in your sticky mitts. Self publishing (and making a success of it) has to be one of the hardest (and most expensive) ways for an author to see their book in print. Maybe you have a niche book .. you know your market, you can sell a lot of copies. Or traditional publishing doesn't appeal to you - you want to keep control of your book and sell it for many years to come. Or you have a good online base and are going to sell online. Or you love marketing and a challenge!
Whatever the reason it's becoming more and more of a requirement for your book to be as PROFESSIONAL as possible to succeed in an over-crowded market place. Whether your project is a physical book or an e-book, there's a whole support team you may need. No, wait, very PROBABLY need!
You've got a great story. Maybe it's a novel, non-fiction or a picture book. For reasons (as above) you are not submitting it to publishing houses. You're going it alone.
Route One - you use an 'all inclusive' publishing house. They do everything from editing to marketing. Read no further.
Route Two - you are going to put this book together yourself and hire all the individuals.
An editor. (Don't skimp on this one - an editor is a damned fine idea. God made them for a reason. OK, they have issues, but they are GOOD issues). You are the creator, not the editor. Publishing has worked good for this long for a reason. Everyone has their own job to do!
An illustrator. (Maybe you are also the illustrator? Fine) Hmm .. let's come back to that one.
An art director. Really? What the hell do they do anyway??
A book designer/graphic designer. (No, you can't just knock up the whole thing in word or similar.)
A proof reader. (Hire a pro, or maybe your editor will offer this service).
A printer. (Shop around.)
A marketing professional. (You, possibly.)
A PR person. (Nice to have.)
An understanding partner. And lots o' stamina. And not a small amount of investment (hence understanding partner.)
That's a lot of people right?
And here's the thing. Unless you are a professional artist/illustrator, most creators will need to hire someone to produce a cover and any internal art. Find the best you can. (That's the best, not the cheapest.) Don't be surprised if your favorite book illustrator isn't interested. They're usually busy working on their own projects. But good illustrators can be found to produce self-published projects. But expect to pay industry prices. Check references and see previous work.
You may be lucky and find an illustrator who can also do the book design. If not, then find a good book designer.
But wait, I was talking about art directors. You understand the need for an editor, but an art director? Hell, you know what looks good, why pay someone to tell you?
Because a professional art director can save you a lot of money in the long run. Without someone to oversee or place a guiding hand on the entire project, then your vision, (and all the money you're investing in it), may come to nothing.
You CAN get by without an art director. But I'd suggest, (just as any sane person would hire an independent editor), it's as important to have an art director look over the total design BEFORE it's produced or illustrated. Someone who can pull the project together, advise on any design issues and look at the art from an outsider's POV.
It could be the difference between a project booksellers can't wait to get on their shelves, or that festival organizers are begging to have at their events. A poorly produced book, however stellar the writing or art, will NOT get a second glance from a professional buyer. Or hold the attention of a reader. Think about it.
Seeking out these individuals is a bit harder than locating an independent editor. But it can be done. Ask your editor if they know an independent art director that would work on your project. If you hire an illustrator or book designer, they also may be able to refer you. Ask contacts or your local SCBWI chapter for any information they have. Get a copy of the Graphic Designer's Handbook and leaf through the directory. Also of help might be The Graphic Artist's Guild and the Art Director's Guild. And then there is always the internet - but check references! A great website to look at for talented individuals is http://www.creativehotlist.com/.
What I wouldn't suggest you do is call an art director at a publishing house. They are working for someone else!
Don't leave it to chance. It could be the difference between a successful book or the waste of a great story.
(Also ... if you know any, OR are a freelance AD, leave a comment!)
See my latest books at - http://hazelmitchell.com/Hazel%20Mitchell%20Books.htm
I'll be speaking next at the Europolitan SCBWI, Paris, France on 29-30th March.