Book covers — I understand the fear that comes to first time writers who think covers will be some expensive part of the publishing process. Wrapped up in this fear is the thought “I can do it for cheaper, and it’ll look good.” The fact of the matter is, if you don’t have graphic design experience and understand cover trends, you’re costing yourself time, headache, and a lifelong blip that will follow your name and that title forever — Yes, forever.
How do I know? Done it, a few times. Learned from it. Won’t repeat that mistake again.
This post will break down what a cover does and the stigma and expectation around covers.
Usually, I’d save this point for last, but in this one, I think it’s important enough to hit head on.
Covers don’t have to be expensive. You have two options for covers. You can use stock images from places like Deposit Photo or you can have exclusive pieces.
Most authors use stock images. These images aren’t exclusive, and there can be a rash of similar genres having similar elements and models. It’s okay. Seriously, it’s okay.
Funny Story: Stock images aren’t just for books. I recently discovered the stock image on Strings Attached was also being used by a product called BabyDance. It would have been more hilarious if Strings Attached had been about a couple trying to get pregnant.
Stock images can cost a few dollars (usually under $20, and even cheaper if you go on monthly plans or get credits.
A cover designer who uses stock images is around $150 for eBook and print, though I’ve seen some go for $300 and some as cheap as $25. I use Novak Illustrations and Amy Hunter Designs for my covers (kariholloway.com and lilithsinclair.com). They take stock photos and manipulate them into a cover. A good designer can change a character’s hair color, change outfits on the model, and even manipulate the background.
Exclusive pieces are images or designs that are only available for your book. No one else will have access to them. These are expensive. If you’re looking at particular models, the cost will start around $600 and go up. I follow plenty of photographers, and $600 is just the model fee and the photographer fee for a single image. That doesn’t include location, travel, or the actual cover designing if you’re requesting even more “exclusive” shots. (https://furiousfotog.com/ is an example of exclusive shots, and I highly recommend him if you’re wanting to go that route, even for a first-time author.)
Now, you can also go to places like DeviantArt and have custom illustrations crafted. I’ve seen prices go from around $150 all the way up into the thousands. These are artists, no different from you, pouring their sweat and time into these. Do not mistreat them by undervaluing them. You don’t like to work for free, and I would hope that you would not ask that of them. Many of these do not come with typography/cover crafting, so that would be an additional expense.
Parts of a Cover
With a single glance, a cover conveys an emotion that translates what is expected within the pages. Is it a steamy romance? Historical? Sci-Fi? Military? There are subtle differences between subgenres, and all of this is processed in less time than a single blink.
Covers aren’t just a picture. They contain typography. Typography is a hard thing to master. It must reflect genre, be readable as a thumbnail, and not conflict with the image. It’s the difference between writing and being good at calligraphy. This micro object overlaying the image can change the subgenre as quickly as changing the stress on words when speaking.
To gain an understanding of what your cover could/should/possibly look like, go to Amazon and look at the top 20-50 covers in the genre you hope to be marketing your book in.
Now, exclude any author whose name you recognize (example JK Rowling, Stephen King, James Patterson, Nancy Drew). Those authors are a brand. They could slap a solid cover on their book, leave off a title, and sell copies just because their name is on it. You’re not at a point where you can compete like that.
Look at the covers that are left. Do those covers have common layouts? Common colors? Multiple people? Solitary person? What elements do those covers share that make a reader go “that’s x-genre” so they click on it to read more?
Tips When Working With Cover Designers
- Know what your target audience is and have examples of the top 20 in that genre ready to show your designer.
- For some designers, they’ll ask you for the general plot of your story and the descriptions of your main characters. What season is it? Cityscape? Rural?
The ones who do this, in my experience, try to find stock images that complement your ideas and change them to fit or manipulate the ones you provide.
- Don’t be afraid to say, “This is my idea. Can you do it better?”
- If you enjoy a design on Fiverr, always reverse search it on Google and contact the author to make sure that designer did that cover. On Fiverr, there have been a string of designers claiming covers as theirs when they didn’t do it.
- If you’re getting a paperback wrap, have your blurb polished and know your trim size, page count (has to be formatted first to know it), and if you’re using cream or white paper (cream paper is a little thicker). Most designers will gladly adjust these things/use place holders until you get the info, but I’m trying to help streamline your process.
I really recommend that you purchase the stock images yourself, that way you know 100% that you have commercial licenses to use those images.
This point is a little more drawn out that this, and I’m not able to explain it in a manner that I think would translate well to understanding. It deals with image rights, licenses, and legal responsibilities.
The closest thing I could equate it to is this, a client can give me a font to use in their books, but I don’t have the legal right to use that font on someone else’s book without having the licenses myself.
- How do you know that I obtained the legal right to those fonts?
- What happens if you can’t get a hold of me to verify that I had the rights?
- What if you change cover designers?
It’s a complex matter that most people will never have an issue with, but then you have issues like Ms. Hopkins and Cockygate. Save yourself the headache and purchase your stock images. You can have the designer send you the URL of the files or you can purchase them first and send them to the designer.
Updated 10/2019—Thanks to Golden Czermak, the man behind the camera for Furious Fotog along with many other things, I learned something new about covers. You can check out his post here: https://www.facebook.com/golden.czermak.5/posts/689732834867613.
To give a quick overview of the post, make sure the cover images you are using do not contain trademark/logos/etc. This could be the Nike swish on a shoe, World of Warcraft on the handle of a massive axe, NFL on a football, or Calvin on a band of underwear. Without the company’s written permission, these type of things can’t be on book covers.
As Golden put it in a reply on his thread “By leaving it on, you’re implying you have consent and that Nike approved use of their trademark on your commercial product and the contents. For romance books, this is territory that can be legally considered “adult”, so you’ve also stated Nike as a corporation approves of the issues, concerns, scenes, beliefs expressed in your work. Nike could then issue a cease and desist for that book (and even request $ damages).”
Ebook Covers Vs Wraps
If you will do a physical copy (paperback or hardback) please pay your cover designer for the wrap. If you try to use the ebook cover and use Amazon’s “cover creator” to save money, there are a few issues you will run into.
- eBook covers are in 72DPI and not 300DPI. This is dots per inch. The more dots, the smoother the picture and the higher the print quality. At 72DPI your physical copies will look very pixilated and ugly.
- You have licensed the eBook cover for electronic publication and not paid the license fee for print.
- You have not gained permission via the designer to turn their cover into a physical copy. Without the designer’s permission, you are stealing from the designer. It does not differ from someone paying for the eBook copy of your book and then printing it out, binding it at their local office store, and then selling those copies.
Covers don’t have to be expensive to be effective. The average author changes their covers about every 18 months. Sometimes they realize that the trend has shifted, or they have dialed in their marketing better and realize that the cover doesn’t capture the attention of those readers.
If your target reader sees a crappy cover or a not-on-point genre cover, they might not realize that your book is their type of book. Look at brands you recognize, the packaging they come in, and the overall impression of the products. As much as you want your book to stand out, if you look like a clown applying for the funeral home makeup applicator, your audience isn’t going to be interested in your services or your book.
Your friends probably think it’s “cool.” Are they professionals? Are they your target audience? Are they brushing you off because they really don’t have experience on the subject and don’t know what else to say? Are they trying to spare your feelings? This is just another example of where networking with professionals can save you a ton of time and headache— Indie Cover Project is a good group for blurb and cover feedback from a variety of professionals in the field (https://www.facebook.com/groups/20CoversTo50k/).
Covers are not for you, the writer. They do not have to reflect a scene in your book or look just like the characters you imagined when you wrote it. They are meant to invoke emotions in a split second and encourage a reader to look deeper, to read the blurb, and decide “This is the book I want to read now.” This is the one part of business most writers struggle with until they fully grasp that it’s a business decision and if you’re seriously going to go into writing to make it a career, you have to get out of your own way.