Professional or Homemade Book Cover Design For Indie Authors

by Vanna on December 14, 2011

I spent almost the entire weekend poking about the various stock photo websites and watching a few you tube tutorials on how to design a book cover. The process left me with an ache in my shoulder from bending over the laptop along a nervous apprehension that I probably can’t do this alone.

I have a little sketch of what I wanted on the cover. A sketch I drew myself, and which I will not share here. As I searched for a fitting photo to use on the cover, I realized that creating the image I envisioned would require a lot of photo manipulation knowledge. There wasn’t a single image that would fit my idea exactly; all would need to be altered.

This left me with a burning question. Should I still attempt to design a cover on my own, and only decide if it works or not once it is done?

After some deliberation I decided against it. Because I do not know a lot about designing covers and do not have time to learn it all if I wish to publish my fantasy novel Protector in early 2012.

Now, before I go any further, I would like to say that I know a lot of indie writers are designing their own covers, and I’ve seen some excellent examples. I’ve also seen some fails. So your mileage may vary on this. If you have the time to learn how to design book covers, and the eye to do it, then you should go this route. I don’t.

Or rather, I could likely learn the basic of cover design and photo altering. Probably learn it well enough to get a workable cover together. But that would take precious time away from my revision efforts, which I am doing a good job of avoiding as it is.

So I decided to hire a professional book cover artist/designer. Or, rather, an aspiring professional book cover artist/designer. The real pros tend to be expensive and I am only an indie writer. (A good place to search for an affordable designer is the Kindle boards on Amazon.com, the DeviantArt.com forum or Twitter.)

My reasoning behind this decision is twofold. The cover is the first thing a potential buyer sees and it largely influences their decision to buy the book, or not. So, I want this first impression my book will make to be as good and positive as possible.

The second reason is that if I were to design the cover myself, it would likely look amateurish. Because of this, any potential buyer would have the association that the book is also amateurish. With the stigma of poor quality that is already attached to indie, or self-published authors, it is not a very good idea to compound it with a poorly designed cover.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Cary Caffrey December 14, 2011 at 11:37 am

Dear gawd, yes. Hire a professional! And a good one :p

There’s a terrible trend these days, and you touched on it: the ‘stock-web-photo.’

Right now, everyone and their grandmother is putting out an eBook, which is fine, but they’re all making the same cover. They go to iStock.com (or similar sites) grab a photo of some model and slap a photoshopped background in behind and publish.

Everyone ends up with virtually the same cover. And worse, it seems, everyone’s cover ends up looking like a romance novel–and the same romance novel!

Hiring a professional designer is such a small investment, considering the time and effort you’ve put into your work. I say this, after having worked as a professional graphic designer of 15 years (I don’t do it anymore, so I’m not trying to solicit work here).

As someone who’s done hundreds and hundreds of album covers and book covers, I constantly shake my head at talented artists who slave to create wonderful books or records, only to turn around and throw together the most gawd awful covers.

I urge people to take a moment (months before you’re ready to publish – not a week before), and start searching the web for good design studios. There are lots. And you don’t have to pay through the nose.

Remember, your cover is the first thing people see. It’s almost invariably the reason people either buy your book or pass over it. It makes little sense not to consider making an investment in your cover.

Even though I’ve been designing professionally for 15 years, even I decided to hire someone for my own book cover. I do mostly rock and roll album covers, and My novel’s science-fiction. I knew I wanted a cover that was beyond my own abilities. I got a beautifully illustrated cover (no photos), that really stands out. It seems to be a hit too. Now I have a beautiful and, more importantly, an original cover.

One word of caution: What a lot of people don’t realize when they buy stock photos off the web are the licensing costs. You might be able to buy a photo fairly cheaply, but if you look at the licensing (or usage) costs, you may end up paying over $500 (depending on the site), and that’s just for the photo, not the design. That’s another reason not to go the stock photo route.

Well, that’s my two cents!

Reply

Vanna December 14, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I couldn’t agree more! You’ve actually explained a few things much better than I did in the original post ;) (and coming from a graphic designer, it also carries more weight). The whole usage rights issue of stock photos, for example, which I don’t understand entirely.

I think the money you may save by designing your own cover probably comes out of your sales in the end. Though I suppose that as the indie publishing market starts to mature, more authors will opt for a pro cover design.

Anyway, I went to check out your cover, and I must say it is absolutely stunning. Good luck with your book!

Reply

Daniel R. Marvello December 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Smart move, Vanna. A cover makes a huge difference. There is a lot of inexpensive talent out there. You mentioned KindleBoards, which I know has a few talented cover designers who are reasonably priced. Some of them critiqued my cover, in fact. ;-)

One thing to watch out for is the fact that many cover designers (particularly the low-rate ones) use stock images themselves. And sometimes they re-use those same images for multiple covers! If your designer uses a stock image, be sure that image has been modified substantially from the original in some way.

Another thing to watch for is how well the cover looks as a small black-and-white image. When you get back the proposed design, shrink it to 100 pixels wide (or even smaller), and change it to greyscale. If the image turns into a meaningless blob, rethink your design.

Congratulations on getting to the cover! That means the book is almost done. I can attest that’s an exciting time, since I’m right there with you.

Reply

Vanna December 16, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Excellent pointers thanks. I did shrink the test covers I got back from my designer and converted them to greyscale, and it does show the image in a whole new light (i.e. how it will look like as a small icon online ;) )

And it is an exciting process. I do still have the final edits to do, and find an editor, but all in all, I’m almost published! Good luck with your book!

Reply

Owen Borseth December 20, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Good write up. I’m struggling with this issue myself. I do some photography so I’m thinking of a highly stylized photograph for the cover art but I am concerned about how the B&W thumbnail version will look. However, I also want chapter art and artwork for my website. I have characters that I want bios and portraits for, world maps, city maps, etc. I’ll have to check out the resources you mentioned and see what I can find. I figure I have about another year of writing left, so I’ve got a bit of time :P

Reply

Vanna December 20, 2011 at 11:05 pm

If your a photographer you could probably do a good job with your own cover, though I do think it’s best to hire someone to do it for you. I tried to design my own cover, only to realize there is a lot that goes into producing one (placement, lettering, background, colors, …) and that it would take me too long to learn it all.

I’m still looking for someone to do the map for me. So if you find a good artist for it, I’m all ears ;)

I’m about ready to unveil the cover I comission. I think my artist really captured the feel of the book with it ;) And it’s nothing like what I could have done myself.

Reply

RinRin December 24, 2011 at 6:31 am

This is just my opinion as a reader.

To be honest, the cover is NOT what I look for when choosing a book to read. Most of the books I read when I was younger had no dust-jacket and so the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ really has meaning for me. It’s the TITLE that needs to grab me and your WRITING that keeps me reading (and even if the title is just average, I’ll probably read it anyways!).

I’m going to keep an eye out for your book!

Reply

Vanna December 24, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Thanks for your input ;)

As a reader, I have to agree with you that it is the title and description of what the book is about that ultimately leads me to buy it. Often times, the cover can also be misleading and suggests a different story than what you find when you read the book. But a good cover does catch the eye ;)

Reply

Daniel R. Marvello December 24, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I figure that having a great cover never hurts, unless it is misleading.

I recently downloaded a book that had a fantasy cover on it and a blurb that described a fantasy story. The blurb mentioned a love interest, but I didn’t realize until I started reading that the book was definitely a romance (and not a particularly good one, either). If I had paid for the book, I would have returned it (and possibly written a brutal review), but I got the book for free, so the “delete from device” option gave sufficient satisfaction.

I agree with both you and RinRin that a good cover is not enough to make me buy a book, but when I’m looking through those tiny Kindle thumbnails, a good cover makes me more likely to click through and read more. I have to see the blurb before I make a final decision.

Reply

Vanna December 26, 2011 at 4:43 pm

That’s exactly what I meant: a good, catchy cover will get you that needed click ;) . Though it can also be very subjective. What appeals to me, might not appeal to someone else.

Writing good blurbs is definitely an art. I think it’s quite possible to unintentionally write something that doesn’t really reflect what your book is about. But I relate to your problem, it’s very frustrating to think you’re buying one sort of book and it turns out to be something else.

I’ll admit that I’m quite nervous about coming up with a blurb and description for my book. Hopefully, I’ll be able to nail it ;)

Reply

Daniel R. Marvello December 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm

The blurb worries me too. If it makes you feel any better, virtually every author I’ve communicated with on the subject dreads writing the blurb.

The best advice I’ve seen for coming up with blurbs is to look at bestsellers and imitate their approach. My plan was to look at a few of the Kindle top 10 for inspiration, go write my blurb, and then go back and look at the bestselling burbs again to see how I did.

We’re also supposed to come up with a “storyline” sentence. You can find examples for those on the NYT bestseller list. In some ways, I think storyline sentences are harder because you have to strip the entire book down to just “somebody does something.”
For example, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is described like this: “A hacker and a journalist investigate the disappearance of a Swedish heiress 40 years earlier. ” I haven’t read the book, but I’ll bet most people think that description is a gross oversimplification! ;-)

Vanna December 26, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Thanks for the advice! I’d planned to Google the subject to find as many tips about writing the blurb as possible, but your idea sounds like a very good way of going about it ;) I do have a sort of short synopisis of my novel already written (a sentence), but somehow I don’t think the way it is now will sell many copies.

When I was looking for a cover artist, I can across an ad that offered blurb doctoring. I might look into that, if it’s not too expensive ;) It’d be good to have pro go over it.

Reply

AE Marling December 28, 2011 at 8:12 pm

A good title is key but a well-designed cover that works at a small scale is a necessity for an Indie writer. People compliment my cover frequently on social media sites, and it’s great having something visual you can share on facebook etc.

Reply

Vanna December 28, 2011 at 10:26 pm

You do have an excellent cover! I’d definitley click on it to read the description of the book ;) And thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting.

Reply

Marcy Kennedy December 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Interesting post. As much as I hate to admit it, I do judge a book by it’s cover. And sadly I think a lot of people are like me because the market is glutted. Readers are looking for ways to quickly cull out items not worth their time, and the cover is an easy place to start. Not everyone’s taste will be the same, but most people can tell the difference between a cover that was professionally done and one that wasn’t. Plus, like you said, we’re writers. If we take the time to learn everything we need to in order to also be graphic designers, where will we find the time to write?

Reply

Vanna December 30, 2011 at 11:51 am

Exactly! You can only be a jack-of-all-trades up to a certain point. I think when it comes to indie writers and designing our own covers, that point is recognizing good cover design work from the bad and the mediocre ;)

Reply

Robbi Sommers Bryant December 30, 2011 at 1:52 pm

I got my cover from istockphoto and have been very happy. Check it out on my website, http://www.robbibryant.com.

Reply

Vanna December 30, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Wow, that’s a really cool cover! You got that as is from istockphoto, or just the seperate images?

Reply

Owen Borseth December 30, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Took some advice I saw here and posted on the Deviant Art forums looking for artists. Here is the job offers forum: http://forum.deviantart.com/jobs/offers/. Found http://unrealsmoker.deviantart.com/ and so far it’s been great working with him on the project. It’ll end up costing me $80 for the finished product which I think is great. If all goes well I’ll end up using him for artwork on my site as well: character portraits, scenery, etc.

Reply

Vanna December 31, 2011 at 12:21 pm

He really does excellent work, the artist you found! And the price is right too;) Let me know when you get the final images, I’d love to see them.

I also found my artist through the DeviantArt boards. I chose to go with a photo manipulation book cover designer, since the price was right ($100 for two covers), and I liked her work. I’ll be posting the final version of the cover for the first book soon, to get some feedback and such ;)

Reply

Owen Borseth January 3, 2012 at 2:48 am

Cover art for “Legends of Nuvia: The Soul of Kaesh”

http://owenborseth.com/2012/01/02/cover-art-for-legends-of-nuvia-the-soul-of-kaesh/

Can’t wait to get the text on there and see how it looks.

Reply

Vanna January 4, 2012 at 8:56 am

Wow! That looks absolutely awesome. I think I might contact your artist for some work as well ;) He really is very talented. Did you say he was doing all the maps for you as well?

Reply

Owen Borseth January 4, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Ya, he is good. Be sure to tell him I referred you if you do use him :) I’m not sure if I’ll use him for maps since he doesn’t have any map work in his portfolio. I have found a few really awesome map makers on Deviant Art though.

Reply

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: