Publishing your first book can be the most exciting thing you have ever done. But if not done properly, it can turn out to be the biggest headache in your life. As you go through each step, from finishing the first draft and editing it to finding a cover that sells your book, it is important to not go in blind. The smart thing to do would be to read up on advice from the industry professionals so that you don’t inadvertently sabotage your writing career.
(Summary of the article as well as resources mentioned are stated at the end of the article in case you don’t have enough time to read through the entire article)
Below are seven things you should absolutely do before contacting a book cover designer.
1. Know your budget
The very first thing to do is to have an honest chat with yourself and decide how much you can afford to spend on your book. This will make things easier along the rest of the process. You get really amazing covers in the $100-$300 range and that’s why I recommend a minimum of at least $50. The best designer I know does covers for around $700, so going above that, especially for your first book, isn’t advisable. You can always change your cover later down the road.
If you happen to not have a budget for book covers after editing and formatting, then you can make your own using Picmonkey and Canva. I don’t really advocate this option because most of the time it ends up looking amateurish and harms your book sales. If you would still like to make book covers (without making it appear thrown together or amateurish) let me know and I could post a tutorial on that.
1. Choose the type of cover service
There are three main options you can choose from:
a. Pre-made covers
b. Custom covers
c. Typography service
If you don’t require very specific details that are exclusive to your story, then pre-made covers are the way to go. Most designers, including I, have a pre-made section in our sites where you can get amazing book covers for pretty cheap rates. There are also sites like selfpubbookcovers.com and thebookcoverdesigner.com which feature a lot of designers and a variety of design styles to choose from.
The major difference between the two sites is that one has almost zero contact between you and the designer and in the other, the final cover is delivered by the designer after input from you. In the former one, you are given blank covers and within the site itself, you can add in your title and by line. You can choose everything from the font to the font colour and placement of text. Once the cover is to your satisfaction, you can download it immediately.
In thebookcoverdesigner.com, you can buy a cover and then give the details of your book (like title, author’s name, tagline and such) as a note to the designer. The website notifies the designer, upon which the designer sends the cover or in case you haven’t sent the details, contacts you for it.
Something to keep in mind in case your book is not a standalone; contact the designers before the purchase and find out whether they are willing to do the covers for rest of the series and at what price. If there are minor changes that you want, like a different font or maybe a different overall colour, don’t forget to ask the designer for the conditions. For example, if the changes are slight, I do it for free but some designers charge a small fee. It varies from designer to designer. So, do make sure to ask them beforehand or read through their shop description or FAQ.
The most crucial point to keep in mind if you are taking this route is to make sure you find a designer you are comfortable with. Talk to them before you hire them; be positive that you feel at ease talking to them and sharing your ideas. This is essential because making a custom cover is a collaborative process. You can also get some honest feedback by doing an online poll of the cover before finalising it. This way you can know what your audience wants. Another way is to hold a cover contest in sites like 99designs.
It doesn’t matter how great the background image or illustration is; wrong typography can be destructive. In essence, typography can make or break your cover. So, if you are choosing a designer just to do the typography, make sure their typography portfolio is good and your background image of the cover is strong.
You can buy exclusive illustrations from artists and then hire someone else to do the typography or you can use your own photo or maybe a stock photo as your background image. If you are using a stock photo, then there is a possibility that you’ll see the same photo used in lot of covers across a variety of genres. So, it’s better to make sure the typography is really unique or avoid using a stock photo at all.
2. “I want this specific scene on my cover”
It is not unusual for you as an author to wish a particular scene from your story be the cover art. However, 99.9% of the time, that beautiful scene you have envisioned in your mind would be doing no one a favour as a book cover. Therefore, it is vital that you go into the whole process of designing a cover without a stubborn set mind. As I mentioned before, creating a custom cover is a joint effort. It requires co-operation from either side.
If you don’t like certain aspects of the cover, share your concern. Just don’t insist on putting that magical necklace along with a scene of the protagonists kissing along with an image of the antagonist trying to magically obliterate the lead protagonist and maybe a flying unicorn on the side. I know I know, it’s a very exaggerated example but most of the time when you go in with a specific scene or request to collage multiple scenes, this is what the end result feels like.
Give your designer a detailed synopsis and mention the major elements that you want included. Most of the time it is possible to include them without taking attention away from the central image by using typography or shadow play cleverly. But if it clashes with everything else, it will have to go or the cover will end up looking like one not-so-hot mess.
3. Decide on your marketing materials
Unless you are planning on making your own banners and graphic teasers, make sure that the designer you are hiring provides them and at rates that are affordable to you. Majority of the designers make social media kits and other marketing materials only if they have done the cover for the same.
Go through the services offered by designers to know the rates of the items or ask them directly for quotes. Make sure they fit your budget before hiring them. If that is not the case, you can hire them just for the cover and make your own marketing graphics using sites such as Canva and Picmonkey.
For starters, get a few graphic teasers you can share on your social media, a banner if you want.
If you are going to do a print version too and are planning a giveaway, then get custom bookmarks done too. Everybody loves bookmarks. They are useful to readers and are great for passive marketing.
4. Know when not to buy a cover
Never buy a cover when you are on your first draft, unless you just want it for inspiration.
Many of my clients have mentioned that having a cover makes the whole process that much more real and has inspired them to finish and publish their book. Most of the times these covers are pretty cheap and are never the final cover for the book. This is mainly due to the fact that by the end, a lot of details would have changed and maybe half of the plot would have shifted.
I had a few clients who were in the initial stages of their drafts, and as their story went through edits, they had to request for further alterations; from changing eye colour to changing the protagonist’s power.
I don’t charge extra for such edits because they don’t usually happen that often, but when they do happen, they take up both the author’s as well as the designer’s time. Most designers either charge extra or refuse to change the cover once its completed, which is quite understandable. Days of work usually go into making a cover and to change an element later is not always practical; at least not if you want the cover edited immediately.
So, wait till you have completed your story or are one hundred percent sure that the details will not change.
Stalk the other book covers that have similar stories or themes to your own (on Amazon or Goodreads). Ardently follow the websites of designers you like. It will give you an idea of what elements your cover should have and what it would look like as well as the designing style of the designers you like. Looking at covers in your genre will give you a sense of the invisible guidelines that govern it. They are not set in stone but if you stray too far from it, the readers of your genre will not recognize it as a book of potential interest and the other genre of readers it attracts would end up giving your book a negative review because the cover misled them as to what the story would be.
For example, if you see a cover with soft colours, beautiful scenery, a handwritten or calligraphic font and a couple holding hands or kissing, you would expect it to be a sweet romance with a happy ending; not a story of how one of the protagonists dies and the other ends up drinking themselves into oblivion in an attempt to forget the pain. That would have a darker colour palette and a completely different vibe.
Therefore, know what your genre entails and discuss with your designer how to make a cover that stands out while still sticking to the genre guidelines.
Make a Pinterest board of your favourite covers from your genre. If you like some elements of certain covers, save them too and note what you like about them (like colour palettes that caught your eye and such). These are not completely necessary but if you are someone who likes to have some control over the design or have ideas but do not know how to convey them, making a mood board or collection of book covers you love from your genre is a great idea.
6. Not put all your eggs in one basket
This is some valuable advice from C. J. Rodgers, author of Orphic; talk to multiple designers, know how much time they take to complete a cover, what their process is like, how they are (as people) and then choose someone that you feel comfortable with and that you think will do the most justice to your book, both in terms of preserving the essence of your story as well as making it stand out in an oversaturated book market.
Do a lot of research, look through their portfolios, listen to authors on YouTube, read marketing blogs, and I could go on and on. All of these sound daunting, not to mention tiring when read together but the steps are pretty simple. They could actually be done in a day or two. Compared to the time it took to write and perfect your story, it isn’t a lot, so make sure you give your book the cover it deserves.
1. Create a budget. Decide how much you are comfortable spending on a book cover. It’s preferable to set the minimum to $50 so that you get at least a decent pre-made cover.
2. Choose what type service you require
b. Custom Cover
c. Typography services
3. Don’t go in with a very specific idea or scene. Be open to what your designer suggests. Even if your book cover depicts a scene in your story perfectly, it might not be interesting enough to stand out as a thumbnail and attract your readers.
4. Make sure the designer you are hiring makes marketing materials that fit your budget or make your own marketing materials using free resources like Canva and Picmonkey.
5. Don’t buy a cover until your edits are near completion or you know the main details of the story which are to be represented in the cover are not going to change.
6. Stalk books in your genre on Amazon and Goodreads as well as the portfolio of designers you want to hire. This is to get an idea of the type of cover your genre requires as well the designing style of your designer.
7. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Contact multiple designers and find someone you are comfortable with and suits your needs the best.
For designing covers and graphics on your own
For Pre-made covers
Did you find this article helpful? Share it with authors who might need it.
If you have any doubts or need more information about any of the points mentioned above, please let me know in the comment section below.
About the Author
Amala Benny is an avid reader and professional book cover designer who has designed for multiple award winning and bestselling authors. She spends her free time Fangirling over Ilona Andrews and Leigh Bardugo.