by Kate M. Colby
Readers do judge books by their covers, and your cover is your #1 marketing tool. For new independent authors, acquiring a book cover is a thrilling, but daunting, task. Once your book has a cover, it looks like a “real” book. The cover is something tangible you can show your friends and family — I know for me, my book cover reveal was the moment when my loved ones realized I had actually written a novel.
So, how do you find a talented and affordable cover designer? And when you do find one, how do you ensure that you end up with a great design? I’ll cover (pun recognized, but not intended) all of that in this article.
First, I want to clarify my position on self-designed covers: unless you’re a skilled graphic designer or have ZERO budget to spend, designing your own book cover is an unwise decision. Self-publishing doesn’t mean that you do everything yourself. It means commissioning other professionals to do what you cannot. You wouldn’t try to fix your car’s transmission without any mechanical knowledge, right?
Select Your Strategy
In independent publishing, there are two ways authors approach book cover design.
1. Save Now, Upgrade Later
Authors on a budget will often get the cheapest cover they can afford, with the intention of upgrading it once the book starts to make money. This saves you upfront, but could harm sales by giving readers an unprofessional impression.
2. Spend Now, Save Later
Authors who can (or want) to get the best cover available will do so from the very beginning. They will spend more and therefore lose money on their book upfront. The idea is that the professional cover will pay for itself over time and be the best marketing tool for the book.
Find a Designer
This is the hardest part of the cover design process. There are thousands of awesome (and not-so-awesome) designers out there. Where do you even begin? Well, here are my suggestions:
1. Set a budget
Cover design can get pricey, and you need that number set in stone before you fall in love with a design(er) you can’t afford. Consider how many books you would have to sell just to break even on the cover (let alone formatting, editing, etc.).
2. Ask around the community
Which designers do your author friends use? Does anyone in your friendship, family, or professional spheres do graphic design (a former coworker did my nonfiction booklets — for FREE)? What do members of forums or groups say?
3. Look at your favorite books
Browse Amazon (or your bookshelf) and pick out covers that fit with your genre or that appeal to you stylistically. Check the copyright page and/or acknowledgments for the designer. Some designers work for both traditional publishers and indie authors, so it’s always worth a look.
4. Search online
That’s right: head to your favorite search engine and fire away. You’ll get flooded with options, but it’s worth doing the research: your cover is the FIRST impression readers receive of your book. Try searching for contests/awards also to find the top designers.
Choose a Designer
You’ve used the strategies above and have found a promising designer. How do you decide if this designer is right for your books? Here are things to think about:
1. Check out the portfolio
Are the covers well done? Do they catch your eye as a reader? Are there examples that fit with your genre? For example, if all the covers have bare-chested male models, this designer may not be great for your post-apocalyptic thriller.
2. Check the pricing and packages
First off, do the services fit within your budget? Second, what are you getting for your money? Does the designer only do ebooks, or can you get paperback and audiobook covers too? Do they offer any marketing materials, like banners or bookmarks?
3. Look for pre-made covers
Sometimes, designers offer pre-made covers. These are designs they’ve done for fun, or designs from other projects that were rejected. They’ll be cheaper than a custom design, but you may be limited in the revisions you can make.
4. Consider the policies
If you are unhappy, do you get a refund? If so, how much is it?
What down-payment is required? When is final payment due?
How many revisions do you get? What constitutes a revision?
How long does it take to receive a first draft? Is there a waiting list?
Do you get all the rights to the cover? Are stock image fees included in the price?
5. Read testimonials and reach out to other authors
Find out who the designer has designed for and send them an email to ask about their experiences. Most authors will be happy to share.
The Design Itself
Obviously, your cover designer should know how to bring your vision to life. But when you receive that initial draft, it’s important not to fall in love at first sight. The design may be gorgeous, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your genre or book.
1. Does the overall design communicate the genre?
Show the design to a few people. Can they tell what genre your book is and/or the tone it conveys? If your design were on your category page for Amazon, would it look out of place?
2. Do the fonts and coloring communicate the genre?
You probably won’t want “Chiller” for your romance novel. Nor would you want a fancy cursive for your horror book. Likewise, your thriller will need dark, gritty colors, while your children’s book will need vibrant shades. There are exceptions, of course, but they’re rare.
3. Are the images fighting each other?
Make sure your cover has a single image that stands out as the star. If there is too much going on, it’s going to look muddled.
4. Speaking of the image, is it clear as a thumbnail?
On retail sites, your cover will be tiny when it appears in a search. Is the imagery still clear and eye-catching at thumbnail size?
5. Will this design style work for other books in the series?
Series covers don’t need to be exact replicas of each other, but they need to have similar elements that connect them (fonts, basic layout, etc.). If your book is the first in a series, consider whether this basic design will work for future books, too.
And there you have it! Those are my best practices for finding a designer and receiving an awesome cover design. If you have any questions about the cover design process, or have any other tips to share, please leave them in the comments!
Guest post contributed by Kate M. Colby. Kate is a writer of multi-genre fiction and creative nonfiction as well as a writing-craft blogger. Kate graduated summa cum laude from Baker University with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, Creative Writing, and Sociology.