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How to Get Great Cover Art for Your Book 

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If you’re a self-publisher like me you’ve likely done the research on what it takes to sell your books. You’ve spent aeons crafting the perfect story and now you want it to land in the hands of readers instead of drowning in the sea of other work out there. The undeniable fact is that readers do judge a book by its cover.

Take a moment to scroll through the books available on Amazon. The first few pages mostly contain books with artwork that, while clean and professional, is generally uninspired. Most covers are just stock images and text. Sure, the author’s name is big and bold, but the cover does nothing to separate the book from the pack. Now dig a little deeper and Google “bad e-book covers”. You’ll come across some pretty hilarious threads and some awful covers that should serve as a warning.

Having an awesome book cover is essential to the success of any book. If this weren’t so, all books would be sold clad in cardboard, but that’s not the case. An entire industry has sprung up around creating book covers because authors need them to sell the encased text. The cover for my novel, DISEASE, has received a lot of attention and has opened a lot of doors for me. I know that the small amount of success it’s had owes a lot to an awesome cover (not to mention the awesome writing inside…). I regularly receive compliments from readers and authors alike and it’s because of the cover that the book has been featured on many blogs and websites.

The problem is that book covers often end up being the last in a long line of expenses for self-published authors. After shelling out for an editor, proofreader, formatting, etc, not much remains for custom art work. When I was looking to have a cover designed for “DISEASE” I felt both overwhelmed and disappointed very quickly. The options for stand-out art on a budget are slim.

You can always hop over to Fiverr and have someone design a questionable cover for you for $5.00, or purchase a pre-made cover from any number of sites starting around $40.00. Going down these routes, while certainly the most affordable, will only give you results guaranteed to help you blend into the market.

The next option is to pay a little bit more for a custom design. Most custom e-book designs begin at $150. Paperback designs cost even more. While better than pre-made designs, most of these companies create similarly uninspired stock photo and text covers, just “customized” to your liking.

The best book covers shout for attention amongst the monotone of ho-hum designs. So, how do you get a cover that intrigues the potential reader and draws the eye away from competing books? You’ll have to dig a little deeper into those moth-filled pockets of yours, but trust me, it will be worth it.

Before you get started you’ll need to find out what exactly an awesome book cover looks like. Thankfully there are great sites out there where an author can find, and be inspired by, amazing designs.

Here are a few of my favorite websites for great cover art:

Paste Magazine

The Book Designer

Buzz Feed

The New York Times

And don’t limit yourself to just book cover designs. Check out movie posters and music album designs too:

Phantom City Creative

Mondo Posters

One thing you’ll notice right away is that most of the covers these sites have featured are very artistic illustrations. They certainly stand out from all the block text and stock images other books are created with. Another thing: they look like a budget was behind them, and there most likely was.

You probably don’t have the same budget as a huge multi-national publishing house backing its most profitable author; I know I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a book cover that competes with theirs! So, how can you do it? How can you avoid that terrible book cover hall of fame or, even worse, the pit of invisibility where no one even notices you? Here’s how.

START SAVING

You don’t need thousands. $300-$400 will get you the world. You might even be able to have the work done cheaper, but with this kind of budget you shouldn’t be disappointed. Remember all that time and effort you put into penning your manuscript? Writing is an investment and getting a cover made through Fiverr, while easy on the wallet, isn’t going to help you get a good return. You might need to eat Spaghetti-Os for a while, but at least if you have kids they won’t be complaining.

GET INSPIRED

You may not be the most artistically inclined person out there, but you can’t expect to turn up at this pony show with no idea how to ride. In other words, you need to come to the table with ideas, unless you want to shell out a lot more cash. Scour the web for great book covers, and great art in general. Create a reference folder of artwork you like, and slowly whittle it down to one or two styles you’re in love with.

TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR COVER

By this I mean decide what you’d like your cover to convey. Mood, tone, setting, and what exactly you’d like it to depict. Be sure to consider your genre. You probably don’t want a flowery, romantic cover for a dark, twisting thriller, even if the idea for it is super.

Try to get a clear image in your head of what your ideal cover would look like. You want to know what it is you’re going to ask your cover designer to create.

The more clear and concise you can be, the more easily the artist can create what you want. Remember that by making the artist’s job easy you’re making your cost cheaper. If your artist has to come up with an idea from scratch it’s time consuming and therefore expensive. When you come to the table with a clear idea and references, you cut the artist’s job (and your bill) in half.

Here are just a few of the many references I collected before contacting an artist about a cover for my novel.

As you can see I wanted to clearly convey a style to the artist. I sourced not only book covers but also general art that I felt would compliment the idea I had. I sent these to the artist, along with specific notes for what I wanted in terms of cover design.

FIND OUT WHAT SPECS YOU NEED

Where are you publishing and what are the minimum requirements for covers? If you’re publishing an e-book, right now I find that Smashwords has the toughest criteria for covers. If you have a cover that meets Smashwords specs your cover should work everywhere. Make sure you send these requirements to your artist!

If you’re publishing an audiobook or a paperback, you’ll need to find out what those requirements are as well. Most audiobook covers tend to be square, and a physical copy of your work will require a spine and back cover too. Here’s where you can save a bit of money if you know what you’re doing with photo-editing software like Adobe Photoshop. You can have just the front book cover created for you and then edit it to fit your sizing needs. This is what I did.

FIND YOUR ARTIST

Stop! Don’t Google “book cover designer”. No! Bad you. You don’t want to hit up the same places that make those boring run-of-the-mill covers. No, you want a proper artist. A real-life photographer or illustrator, depending on the cover you want.

Many artists are flattered that you like their work and are willing to collaborate within a budget to keep busy. For not much more than you would pay for a mediocre “customized” cover you should be able to find a true artist willing to create awesome artwork for you.

The best way to find a great artist is to browse the online portfolios they post in artists’ communities. Here you can search by things like subject, genre, and medium.

My favorites are:

Deviant Art

Art Wanted

500 px

Blue Canvas

As you browse, make a list of artists’ contact details and once you have a good database it’s time to start querying. Some of these sites allow direct messaging, so even better!

What you’ll be contacting the artist for is a commission piece. Be specific but brief in your e-mail. Be sure to include your budget. Here’s a sample query similar to what I’ve used in the past:

Hi (artist) I found you on (site). I really like the style of your work and I think it’s a perfect fit for what I’m looking for. I’d like to commission an e-book cover from you. I have a specific idea in mind and my budget is (budget). I’d need the final cover by (date). If you’d be interested in working with me on this please get back to me ASAP. Thanks very kindly,

SEAL THE DEAL

Once you get a response from an artist that you like, willing to work within your budget, don’t beat around the bush. Be sure to be upfront about what you need and what you expect, and be sure to treat them as a professional. Tell the artist exactly how many files you need and what the exact specs are for each file (remember those pesky specs I talked about earlier?). Explain the idea for your cover clearly and concisely, and send references. Be sure to discuss the terms of payment (when and how). Many artists have pre-established payment terms. If you like you can mention to the artist that you’ll include a “Cover Art By” credit in the beginning of your book, and that you’ll be sure to mention him or her when promoting the cover.

MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

You want to make sure you get something you’re happy with without sending the artist back to the literal drawing board an obscene amount of times. Expect that there will be some artistic interpretation of your idea, and be accepting of the process. Barring a glass window into your brain there’s a very low likelihood of the design being exactly what was in your head, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t love it!

If you need changes (and you most likely will) be specific and be respectful.

Here’s an example of some notes I made for the artist of my book cover. These notes were for the third and final revision of the cover. In the end only some of the things I wanted to try ended up being used for the final cover because the artist’s instinct was better.

Cover_wNotes

CHECK THE WORK AND MAKE SURE YOU GET EVERYTHING YOU NEED

Once you’re happy with your awesome custom-made book cover, be sure to receive all the files you need. Double-check spelling, picture quality, and other info. Not everyone keeps source files and if you have to go back to the artist in several months for a correction they may be unable to accommodate you without starting all over again – and costing you money.

PAY ON TIME AND CREDIT YOUR ARTIST

MFWAHL_Cover_FullIf you’re happy with everything, be sure to pay as agreed in your payment terms. You should also ensure you credit your artist accordingly, with a “Cover Art By” credit and the website of your artist on the copyright page of your book. You may even want to mail your artist a copy of the paperback (if you publish one).

Remember, not only has your artist worked hard on your cover, but there’s a good chance you’ll commission your next book cover from them. Before commissioning my book cover I’d previously worked with my artist on concept art for a screenplay. I also hired him to create illustrations that I used in my book trailer. It’s a great relationship to have, especially since I plan on writing a lot more books.

If you follow this guide you’ll soon have a stand-out cover for your book.

In case you’re wondering what my final cover ended up looking like, here it is. The artist who illustrated it is Tristan Cerrer and he is, of course, highly recommended from yours truly.

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M.F. Wahl is a self-published author and a proud member of the Horror Writer’s Association. She has recently released her first novel DISEASE. M.F. Wahl loves the macabre and both her horror and sci-fi writing delve deeply into darkness. She can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on her website.

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