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Business 101 for Writers: The Book Cover

So far in this series, we have covered a whole lot of ground. You have written the best book you can, revised it, and now you have hired an editor. Currently, they are working on one of the four rounds of editing your book will go through before a proofreader goes over it one last time.

If you are not writing your next book, you are sitting at home wondering what you should do next. The answer depends on your path to publication. If you are going the self-publishing route, it is time to source a cover by hiring a cover designer.

By the way, I don’t care if you are a graphic designer and if you design covers for other people as a part of your business (one of your multiple streams of revenue I am sure you have set up). You should never create your own book cover. Or at least most of the time you should not. I have known a few exceptions: authors that could both write a book and create a cover for it, and sometimes it turns out okay.

Most of the time it doesn’t. Your cover will come out very narcissistic and probably too busy. You will want to include too many elements of the story in one place rather than focusing on one central theme.

You should, however, know enough about cover design to know a good one when you see one. You should be knowledgeable about several design elements, and you should get second opinions about your cover before you give the artist the final yes.

The Bad

We will start with the bad, and sometimes funny covers people have either created for their own books or had their four-year-old sister create for them using a box of crayons. A cover can be awful for a number of reasons: font, the photo, poor Photoshop skills, lack or relevance, wrong genre, or even horrible typos.

The problem with the above examples? They are real, taken from Amazon and other sources. It’s not just that they are bad, but that someone thought they were good and good enough to publish.

Rather than just laughing though, focus on the different elements of each cover. Ask yourself what is wrong with them. Which elements are off? Is the font wrong? What about the photos used? Are they high quality? Cheap? Do they violate copyright laws? (more on that in a few moments)

The Good

There are also some great book covers out there. The design is simple, the font is ideal, they stand out on a web page, the images fit the genre and are appropriate, and the words are spelled correctly and there are no mistakes.

Look at the above examples. What elements stand out? What fonts are used, and what emotions do they evoke from you? Do those emotions fit with the genre of the book?

In today’s market, book covers must have some things in common, but they must be unique enough to stand out. You can buy a stock cover cheaply, but you might see another book with the same cover, just with the author and title changed. In fact, you might see several.

  • Your title should be short and accurately describe your story.
  • The picture should be clear and simple, relating to one main element in your story.
  • Your name should be legible and large enough to read.

Keep in mind that you are not the cover artist: you are the author. The cover artist is also a creative, so let them be. Come into the design process with maybe one or two things you would really like to see incorporated into the cover, and let them do the rest of the work. After all, that is their job, not yours.

How do you find a good cover designer?

These answers are really like the ones regarding finding an editor. You simply need to take a few simple steps:

  • Find covers you like in your genre from self-published authors, and ask them who they used. Word of mouth is still the best advertising, and the best way to find the help you need.
  • Search professional job boards or places like LinkedIn. Avoid Fiverr and cheap sites like that. You get what you pay for when it comes to book covers, and too cheap to be true means you will lose on quality.
  • Find covers on books you like, and look in the acknowledgments. Authors often thank cover designers there.

The search may take you some time. Look at sample work. Have the cover designer create a mock up for you, so you can determine if you like it or not. Just because a cover designer worked for one person does not mean they will work for you.

Remember, the cover is the first impression people will get of your book. Make sure it is a good one.

How much should I pay for a cover?

Okay, so here is the deal. If you are not paying at least $150 to $200, you are probably getting an inferior cover. It takes at least a few hours for the most talented of book designers to work up a mock-up or two, and then a few more to finalize the cover when they are done. They deserve to be paid for their time the same way you are when you go to work.

If you are paying more than $1500, you are probably paying too much unless you are paying for a hand-painted, specially created cover for a fantasy novel or something along those lines. If you do want that kind of cover, just understand a few things first:

  • Most books are purchased digitally now. It is unlikely your reader will be able to see or will notice tiny details.
  • You must make money too. If your biggest expense is the cover, you may have a hard time doing so.
  • Most great covers are simple: like many other things in writing, keeping it simple is a much better idea, especially early in your writing career.

Essentially, you should pay between $150 and $1,000 roughly for a good book cover. Anything outside of that range is probably due to special circumstances, and only you can decide if the tradeoffs of either side of the scale are worth it.

The Publisher’s Choice

If you are traditionally published or published through a small press, they probably have their own cover designers. You will have to go with their choice, whether you like it or not.

However, some will give you the opportunity to have input on what your cover will look like. Take advantage of this, but understand that the publisher will have the final say.

Hire a Professional

I have used a few different cover designers through the years, and some have not been as good as others. Currently, I use Elle Rossi for many of my designs. Here are some ways to tell the professionals from the amateurs.

  • Amateurs are on Fiverr and other cheap sites, desperately looking for work.
  • Pros are busy most of the time.
  • Amateurs do not have a portfolio, a website, or references.
  • Pros have all the above, usually a portfolio hosted on a website, social media presence, and references they can give you. (Elle’s is EJR Digital Art)

A professional will offer you a quote, a mock-up or two for you to choose from and elaborate on, and will work with you until your idea is portrayed the way you want it.

Choosing a cover designer, like many other parts of the process, can be arduous and time-consuming, but is a step that is essential for you to get right. The first impression your readers have of your book will be one created by someone else. It is your responsibility to make sure they get the right one.

Published inAdvice for AuthorsAuthorpreneurWriting as a Business Series