After you finish a book, you probably don't decide whether you liked it or not based on its cover. But when deciding whether to buy a book, especially by an unknown author, most of us do judge by the cover.
In some ways that’s unfair, but there’s not a lot else to go on. There is a book description. But odds are if you don't like the cover, you won't ever pick up (or click on) a book to read the description.
The cover should tell you as the reader about the book, including:
- Is this the type of book you like to read? Whether you like or dislike romances, for example, you can probably pick one out immediately by the cover.
- Does the tone of the book match what you like? I love mysteries, but I’m not a fan of satire, farce, or cute stories. So if I see a cartoon-like illustration or a cat on the cover of a mystery, I pass. Someone else, though, would grab the same book in an instant.
- Is the book likely to be well-written and edited? A confusing or sloppy-looking cover suggests the writing will follow suit.
If you're publishing your own work, the great news is you get to decide what your cover looks like. The bad news is, that’s not always easy, and it usually costs money.
The most expensive approach, and most effective, is to contract with a professional graphic designer who has a lot of experience in your particular genre and with ebooks if you are publishing in ebook format. This can cost anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars, though you can get really nice covers for under $500.
The difference in price in part has to do with how in demand a designer is. But more of the price difference is how much you hire the designer to do.
If you want someone experienced to create original illustrations, you’ll need to pay at the high end of the range. If you want the designer to use stock photographs (you can find those at istock or similar sites), that will cost a little less.
One way to lower costs and still get a professional design is for the design to be based on a single photo. I had two covers designed this way at cost of a little over $110 each.
For the first, When Darkness Falls, a supernatural suspense novel, I chose a stock photo and sought the designer’s input on whether it was a good one. She said it would work, and she then modified the colors and heightened certain aspects to fit the genre before adding the title and author.
For the second, a collection of short horror stories, I told the designer I wanted to use a photo of the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower). I pointed her to a few I liked, but I left it to her which one to choose.
My favorite designs came about when I found Damonza.com. I really loved their sample covers. I showed the designer assigned to me my first three covers for the Awakening series, gave her information about the story for the fourth book and samples of the covers I liked by other authors, and left the rest to her.
She came up with the concept, offered me several choices, took a different approach based on my feedback, and offered me more choices. Below is the one I settled on.
I liked it so much I asked her to go back and redesign my previous covers. The four Awakening covers cost me nearly $500 each, but I think it was worth it. These are my best sellers, and sales increased dramatically with the new covers.
Design For A Lower Budget
Another option if you’re on budget is to use a premade cover. Many designers have covers they created for various types of books. If you like one, you pay for it, and the designer inserts your title and author name. You can look at those covers on the designers' websites. For instance, the designer who did The Tower Formerly Known As Sears has premade covers here. These are $85 right now, but I've seen premade covers on other sites for as low as $35.
You also can hire someone to design a cover off the website Fiverr for as little as $5. I have not done this myself, but I know that some authors use this option.
Doing It Yourself
You can put together your own cover. I did this for a nonfiction book I just released. How The Virgin Mary Influenced the United States Supreme Court is based on a paper I wrote for a seminar I took called Reason and Religion. Enough people were interested in the topic that I rewrote it and published it as a Kindle ebook.
People generally buy non-fiction by topic rather than by author or by cover, so the goal is to get the topic across, which mainly means your title being clear. This topic is geared toward a limited number of people, and I don’t expect to earn a lot, so I figured I’d try creating a cover myself.
I did this one on Canva.com. You can set up an account for free. Canva has ebook layouts already available and also has access to stock photos. Many are free, some are available for a low fee. The above cover cost me $35 total, as I needed to pay for a couple of the photos in the background.
The cover below, for a book on plot structure I’ll be releasing next month, cost nothing, as the background photo was free:
Actually, it’s not true that the cover “cost nothing.” Both these covers cost me time. I had to learn Canva, play with font sizes, photos, and colors, and experiment. But I felt it was worth it because I plan to release several non-fiction books on writing this year, as well as a book of essays. If these covers work (as in, if sales are what I hope), I can use them as templates. If not, I’ll need to decide how much I want to invest in my non-fiction catalogue.
In summary, while I'm willing to try creating my own covers for non-fiction, for fiction, I recommend a designer because it's so vital to convey the genre and tone of the book via its cover.
If you have questions about covers or would like to share your experiences, please add a comment. I'd love to hear what you've been doing with your books.