If you’ve written a book, you’ll need a cover. Pretty simple, huh? Except, where do you go to get a cover? How hard are they to design? Or, does it make more sense to hire a graphic artist or cover designer?
I’m guessing you want the best possible cover you can find. After all, you put a great deal of time and energy into writing the book, why saddle it with a crappy cover? Based on my own experience working with first-time novelists, your best and safest bet is to hire someone to do your cover. How much you’ll have to pay depends entirely on your budget.
Whether you design your own cover or pay someone to do it for you, you’re going to need some basic information you probably already know: your title and your exact by-line (whether or not you choose to use a pen-name). In addition, you’d be well advised to also come up with both a subtitle and a tag line. Combined with your cover image, these are the essentials.
If you’re like most independent publishers, your marketing efforts are going to be skeletal. Most of us lack either the time or the money to invest in marketing, despite knowing that proper marketing is crucial to success. But at a minimum, you should try to find a good subtitle for your book. Why? Because people looking for books on-line use a search engine of some kind, even if it’s just the Amazon search box, and that software generally doesn’t look beyond the title and subtitle. By using a subtitle, you automatically double the chances of your book popping up as the result of a search.
The tag line has a different function. It gives you the chance to plant a question in the mind of a potential reader. You want to deliver something that goes along with the theme of your cover but sticks in the reader’s mind. Make it short and snappy, like these:
- “When a Lifetime Isn’t Enough”
- “Size Really Does Matter”
- “Never Make Another Bad Investment”
Your tag line ought to make those potential readers desperate to open the book and find out what you’re only hinting at on the cover.
If I can’t talk you out of doing your own cover, here are some things to keep in mind while doing it on your own. They’re culled from a variety of knowledgeable sources. You ignore these at your own peril. Don’t say you weren’t warned!
1– Establish a focal point for the cover—Your book is about something, and the cover should reflect that idea. Find one element that takes control and demands attention. Resist the temptation to create a scrapbook page. A cover is NOT the place for multiple illustrations, photos, maps or any other cutesy crap. Instead, think of it as a billboard. Cars zip by; there’s no time for a lot of text. Drivers must get the message in just a few seconds.
Is it fiction? If so, what genre? Is it non-fiction? What’s in it for the reader? Will this be an easy read or will it require effort? Advertisers use slogans because they do all these things.
2– Make everything count—If you’re going to introduce a graphic element, make sure it will make sense to the reader. Look for something that expresses the mood, historical period, or overall tone of the book.
3– Limit your colors—If you know what you want, great. If not, look at some of the color palettes available online to find a selection of colors that works. Most web page design formats come with a set of colors known to work well together. Check them out.
4– Look at the competition—You don’t want to copy someone else’s cover, but you may be able to capitalize on some of their techniques. You can find inspiration and ideas by just examining the covers of bestsellers.
5– Make your title big and easy to read. Don’t mess this one up! If your title isn’t clearly legible on your screen, it won’t look any better on a customer’s screen, and more than likely, that’s where it’ll be seen first, not in a bookstore.
6– Check it out as a thumbnail. Most readers will see it that way first, so it’s got to be good in miniature, too. And don’t forget to examine it in black and white (grayscale); many book lovers are still using older, non-color e-readers.
8– NEVER use your kid’s artwork, OR your own! You might get away with it if there’s an accomplished, professional artist in the mix, otherwise forget it. It’s almost always a terrible idea.
9– Don’t use clip art. This is the kind of stuff that comes free with Microsoft Word or as part of some cheap layout programs. Quality stock photography is fine. iStockPhoto is one reliable source for quality images; 123rf.com is another. There are many more.
10– Avoid gradients and garish color combinations. Though usually intended to grab attention, such covers generally turn people off. If you’re specifically looking for readers drawn to the weird and bizarre, then go for it. (But don’t expect me to look at it!)
Once again, this is probably a good time to urge you to hire someone who knows what they’re doing. At the very least, take a look at some of the free cover design guides like the one on Createspace.com. You can also find talented cover designers who will do excellent work for a reasonable fee on Fiverr.com. If all else fails, do a quick search for “cheap book cover designs.” You’ll probably generate a list of hundreds of potential cover sources.