A few weeks ago, I talked about the process of having a professional cover artist create my covers. For me, this is the biggest expense I have when publishing my books, but covers matter and I know I’m not particularly gifted when it comes to cover creation, hence why I’m willing to save up and pay. My first covers were done by my partner who has a degree in art, but eventually, I felt I needed to update them to stay competitive. A lot of authors starting out don’t have that sort of budget, so today, I wanted to talk about ways to do this on a budget.
$200 or less
If you have a small budget for your book cover, I might suggest checking someplace like Fiverr to see if there are any good budget cover artists out there, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s a scam and what’s legit or how much the added fees will be once you get your cover made. There are also plenty of new cover designers who have fairly low pricing since they’re just starting out. Once again, the problem is that you are taking a chance that it may not be what you hoped or expected.
Something that can be very useful to new authors is premade covers. A lot of cover artists make “for fun” covers or extra covers that they sell on their websites as is. You basically plug in your title and author name, and it’s ready to go. Most of these are $150 or less with the vast majority on premade cover websites under $100. These covers are typically ebook only, and it will cost extra should you want the cover to be altered into a paperback cover (which is why I made the budget in this section this high). If you write cozy mystery, YA, SFF, and romance, you typically have a lot to choose from. There are plenty of websites that sell these, but one I particularly like is The Cover Collection. They seem to have a nice mix, and the cozy mystery covers are graphic and gorgeous.
The downside to a premade is that it may not be exactly right for your book and you can’t change it. The other issue arises if your book is part of a series. You can’t brand the books perfectly if different people made the covers, which means you may end up with disparate styles between books in the same series. Some people try to buy covers together at the same time or buy a premade and reinvest their book 1 money on a cover for book 2 that is made to match. You might also consider rebranding in the future when you have more money and just using the premade as a temporary cover.
This always has me sort of tense up because I have seen some BAD do-it-yourself covers. I would suggest that if you aren’t halfway decent at Photoshop/CSP/other art or editing software, don’t try this yourself. Your cover is something people are going to see first online, and if it looks like a hot mess, they aren’t going to buy your book because they will [wrongly] assume the inside looks like a hot mess. If you have no budget, I might suggest bartering with a friend who has better graphic design skills than you. Please do not read this as go pester your artist friend. Most of them don’t make a whole lot of money either, so unless you’re willing to do something decently large for them (clean their gutters, watch their kids for a week, edit their manuscript, etc.), do not be upset if they say no. A simple but clean cover is far better than something that looks like someone did a bad job in Paint. Know yourself.
If you are going to forge ahead doing it yourself, I do have a few suggestions.
1) Look at covers within your genre on Amazon and other distributors. See what is often represented on those covers, the colors used, the styles of fonts, etc. Even if your cover isn’t perfect, you can at least sort of blend in. You don’t want to stand out in a bad way. It might also give you direction on what stock photos to look for, which leads me to point 2.
2) Look for stock photos. You cannot grab any old picture off Google and use in a book cover. Someone owns the rights to it, but using Shutter Stock or Pexels will give you tons of photos and vector art that is royalty free, meaning anyone can use it. You may need to alter them with editing software, but the photos are there for you to work with.
3) If you decide to go the Penguin Classics route and use an old painting, make sure you can use that painting on a cover. There’s a small issue with copyright when it comes to works of art. Museums and galleries have the rights to the images for many of them, so you may not be able to slap that picture on a book cover. A lot of museums, galleries, etc. do have websites where you can browse their pictures and see which ones are for commercial use. It’s a pain in the butt, but I’d rather not deal with copyright issues.
4) Show your finished product to other people to get their opinions before putting it on your ebook. Think of this like getting a tattoo. You want someone else to look at their artist’s portfolio with you in case they notice the flaws while you are enamored with the art. Your book cover will be out for everyone to see, so it’s better to catch a weird line or unreadable font now before it’s all over the internet. Be willing to take feedback from people because they will be your customers. The Courtney Project on Youtube has a great playlist of book cover critiques, which may be helpful in showing you what you should look for when making a book cover.
Your book cover is an investment in your brand and in your book. If I was going to spend money on one thing, it would be the book cover, BUT I am pretty sound with grammar and editing. If you aren’t great with those things, then, your money is better spent on editing.
At the same time, premade covers can be a great way to get a cool looking cover without breaking the bank. If you have no budget and want to make your own cover, I would definitely be realistic regarding your art/editing skills and make sure to follow the genre conventions for books within your genre in order to make something that will appeal to readers of your genre. Once you finish it, make sure to get feedback from others as you may not readily see the flaws in your cover design.