If I were to tell you to be like John Hammond and “spare no expense” on only TWO aspects of your book… it would be editing and cover art. There are a lot of places you can save money and “do it yourself,” but these two are so essential to your success as a published author, that I would caution you against cutting corners in these places.
The cover of your book is your first impression.
Despite the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” if we’re honest with ourselves, when it comes to actual BOOKS, it’s exactly what we do. Now, there are many ways a reader can happen across your book… perhaps they have read your books before and will pick up anything with your name on it and give it a go. But if you’re just starting out, chances are your name is not going to be the big draw. That leaves you with the need to come up with a snazzy title and an awesome cover.
Book covers are more than just a pretty picture with some text slapped on there. When choosing a cover artist, you may want to find someone who can not only do beautiful artwork, but also graphic design, since putting text over pictures takes a whole different kind of skill. There is a big difference between beautiful Cover Art and a pleasing Book Cover!
There are a couple of ways you can go with this: you can find someone who will do some original artwork for your covers, which is a great way to go, but also going to be the most expensive. You can find a digital artist, also a great option, and not as expensive, or you can find someone who can take stock images and put them together in unique ways using Photoshop (also called Compositing). If you wander through a brick-and-mortar bookstore, you will see examples of all of these. The Big Publishers use all of these types of artists for their books, so the good news is that each one is a viable option for an indie author!
I would caution you against having a small child draw you a picture and using that as your cover. Unless you are specifically writing children’s books, this is the quickest way to make your book scream “AMATEUR!” I have a few books like this on my shelf, and while I love the stories inside, the covers make me cringe.
I’m not going to do a slide show of “good covers” vs “bad covers” here… I know too many authors and am meeting new ones online all the time and have no desire to accidentally hurt anyone’s feelings. If you want to see examples of book covers that will probably prevent a reader from picking it up, you can check out THIS SITE.
When it comes to things like the placement of the graphic elements (title, your name, series title, etc) there appears to be no industry standard… this is going to be a preference thing. I recommend wandering around a library or book store and taking note of what YOU like on a cover. Do you like the author’s name to be BIG? Do you prefer the title at the TOP of the cover? You’ll find every combination imaginable. Have fun!
If you’re writing a series, you’ll want to make sure that the covers for each book go together, and that the graphic elements look similar and have consistent placing on the book and spines.
Now, just for fun, I want to share with you a few covers that I think are absolutely beautiful and aesthetically pleasing and look professional. (Obviously I think my own covers are lovely, but I’m biased, so for this exercise I’m going to share covers for books I had nothing to do with). I have read some of these, but not all of them.
First Category – Original Artwork -
Second Category – Composite Artwork -
Third Category – Symbols -
Personally, the composite covers are the hardest for me to find examples of ones I like. They often include beautiful pictures, but I can see where the images have been stitched together, or I don’t feel like they are blended well, and that detracts from the cover itself. Actually… now that I think about it… I think The Last Motley cover is actually a superbly well done composite….
Something that you can see in the above images is a vast array of different styles and layouts. Here are a couple of takeaways and considerations:
1. Be careful of high-contrast images, these can be difficult to place text over and have it still be readable
2. Don’t be afraid of using a box graphic to put your text inside. When done well, this can look professional and aesthetically pleasing.
3. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The covers I like best may not be your cup of tea. When in doubt, get a couple more sets of eyes on it.
Now, to answer a few of your questions, dear Reader:
How do indie-authors specifically go about getting cover art for their books? Is it hard to find an artist? Can you do it yourself? Is it hard to get it to look professional and appealing to readers?
First of all, I would strongly recommend against trying to create your cover yourself. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but this is one most people I’ve talked to all agree on… even authors I know who have degrees in graphic arts or similar credentials. It might just be one of those things you are too close to. It’s like trying to do all the editing yourself. Your brain will fill in what you thought you wrote, and it’s easier than you’d think to miss a ton of problems.
When it comes to finding a cover artist, there are quite a lot of them out there, and these days you can find people willing to make covers for just about any price. A lot will depend on what you want and what types of art you are interested in. A custom painting will easily run you several hundred dollars, and that’s before getting it formatted and having graphics placed on the actual cover. There are such things as “pre-made” covers that you can browse through on sites, where you can purchase them for $20-$50 and just put your own title and name on them. A couple of places where you can find pre-mades and artists hoping for someone to hire them for a custom piece are DeviantArt and Fiverr.
Another way to find cover artists is to join a group of authors on social media somewhere. Get to know them, encourage them, ask questions… and see if you can get recommendations for cover artists. You can browse through covers by other indie authors and see what you like, then perhaps reach out to that author and ask who did their cover art (or you can usually find this info on the book cover somewhere, or on the copyright page) then you can contact the artist and see if they have time in their schedule to work on your project. Networking is a great way to find professionals with whom to work.
Is it hard to get it to look professional and appealing to readers? I would say, “Yes.” There are plenty of “bad” covers to steer away from, but there are also a lot of mediocre covers out there. But even traditional publishers struggle in this area. I was in a bigger name brick-and-mortar bookstore the other day, and as I walked through the YA Fantasy/Sci Fi section, I was struck by the sheer number of book covers that all looked nearly identical…. and not one of them made me want to pick the book up and see what it was about!
In the end, covers are important. If you are an author looking for a cover and feeling at a bit of a loss how to proceed, feel free to ask, I have a couple of artists I can recommend! But remember, just as you have put hundreds to thousands of hours and effort into your own art, and would feel offended if someone expected you to give it away for free… art also requires creativity, time, passion, and painstaking work, and the artist doesn’t make a royalty or see the sales numbers or get reviews, and often most readers won’t even know who is responsible for the artwork that surrounds the story they’ve fallen in love with.
A few recommendations added in here after the fact, because I didn’t have time to look these up when I first wrote the post…
I really like this artist’s work, and he did the cover for Dragon Friend
This artist did The Last Motley, and The Story Peddler, as well as a few others I like.
Bulbous Squirrel covers are always gorgeous. I prefer the “symbol” covers to the “composite” ones, but that’s just my personal preference.
DragonPenPress does a great job, and if you are looking for quality that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, she also has a good eye and won’t break the bank. She has some very nice pre-mades, and as a bonus, she does paperback (front/spine/back) covers at an extremely reasonable price. (I am partial to paperbacks, since that’s about all I read… so it’s important to me)
I also really like HSJ Williams’ artwork. She has some unique covers as well, and I look forward to seeing what else comes from this designer!
Another pre-made designer I’ve liked is Ginger Snap Dragon. She did the Mythical Doorways cover, which I LOVE!
Anyway, those are a couple of places to start! There are, of course, tons of other cover artists out there, these are simply the ones I have some familiarity with. A lot depends on what you like!