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Indie Publishing: The All-Important Cover

Indie authors are always on the quest to uncover the secrets of creating a book cover that not only makes you happy but attracts readers. Great cover art is your book’s visual proclamation to the world that the content inside is amazing. Here are some considerations to think about before jumping in.

Self-Publishing: Cover Art

Do people judge a book by its cover? Yes. Every time whether consciously or subconsciously. With millions of books to choose from, a book needs to stand out. A professionally crafted cover elevates your book's perceived value. It tells readers that you take your craft seriously and that they're in for a quality read. While there is nothing better than great reviews and word of mouth, cover art is an important part of getting discovered. Because you are your own publisher, the success of your cover design is completely up to you.

Hint: Don't sweat it. Your book can succeed even with an imperfect cover.



PAY OR PAY NOT?

There are no guarantees that your book will sell like Harry Potter, though I have confidence in you. So, you may not recover much of the money you put towards your novel, particularly if you spend a lot. At the same time, without a catchy display of art, your masterpiece may never get picked up in the first place, meaning few to no sales.

If graphic design is up your alley, then saving the money and doing it yourself is your safest bet. If you don’t know where to start, then paying for artwork may be among your best investments...as long as you keep the costs down. Then there are the in-betweeners like me, who have to be careful.

Beware of the dreaded plain and cheap look. First-time authors who want to save time and energy often fall into the abyss of generic design. For example, Kindle Direct Publishing provides templates that you’ll recognize. These generic layouts and color schemes subliminally signal potential readers that the insides are generic as well. Further, these familiar covers make potential readers think they already read it.



NOW OR LATER

If you can’t afford it now, you might be able to afford it later. With most online publishing marketplaces that sell physical and e-copies, you can update your cover art later without requiring a new edition. New artwork can give new wings to your already published book.



DISASTERS

A poorly executed cover might turn your magnum opus into a visual tragedy. Here are some things to avoid.

Wrong Genre: Imagine a reader finding out they mistook a romance for a horror thriller.

Same Cover: What happens when a designer perfectly copies another book?

Wrong Size: A missized cover for a format (Kindle v. paperback) could cut off the words.

File Type: An amazing cover in a file type you can’t use isn’t worth a dime.

Misspellings: A typo on the outside is worse than ten on the inside.

Bad Fonts: If the font doesn’t match the genre or can’t be read, make a change.

Small Fonts: Your cover doesn't matter if people can't see your title.

Scams: Don’t pay until you see what you’re getting. Use reputable services or marketplaces.

AI: How would you feel if your art was made with AI? Please support indie artists.

Unlicensed Artwork: Using someone else’s artwork without the proper permission (licensing), I’m told that you open yourself to lawsuits.



TOOLS

If you have design experience, you can use a bunch of tools. If you don't, you risk your cover turning away potential readers. If you lack experience and cannot afford a cover designer, I recommend using Canva with images from Unsplash.

Canva: Unleash your inner artist with its user-friendly templates, and won't cost you a kingdom. (Free)

Unsplash: They have a ton of free photos and artwork. (Free)

Adobe Products: This is expensive ($$$), but if you have access to the suite for other reasons, it's top-notch software for pixel-perfect images.

Pixabay: They have lots of free/royalty-free images. Be careful of the terms.

Procreate: If you can draw/paint really well, this app is wonderful for drawing sharp covers. ($12.99/month)

AI: NOT RECOMMENDED. There are a ton of AI image generators. If you use one, you’ll have to declare it when you publish on Amazon and other places.



SOCIAL MEDIA

There are plenty of cover designers online. Post something on Twitter, and dozens of artists will reach out right away. If you go this way, I recommend seeing their portfolios and looking for references. If they work through a marketplace, you can protect yourself from fraud that way. If not, you take a risk. As always, communicate to make sure you get what you want.



FRIENDS/FAMILY

You may have an artistic friend or family. Sometimes this is great. Other times, not so much. There are a few things to consider when working with a loved one or even a friend of a friend.

  • How will they react if you don't like what they make? Will it sour the relationship?

  • Will you feel obliged to use their cover if it sucks?

  • Can they have digital design experience? Everything is digital these days, even physical books.

  • Can you guide them as directly as a stranger? Communication is key.



SERVICES

When engaging a service, please make sure they are reputable. I recommend using marketplaces where you can see reviews from prior authors. They often post their portfolios and list their prices, so you know what to expect. Communication is the most important aspect. You won’t get what you want unless you tell them.

Fiverr: Hire a cover artist on their marketplace. It's a treasure trove for all sorts of affordable talent. I commissioned the art for Day After Infinity here. ($50-$999)

GetCovers: I've heard great things. ($35-$300)

99designs: Dozens of experienced designers will offer proposals. ($279-$999)

Reedsy: A curated marketplace connecting authors with professional book designers, illustrators, and editors. ($500-$800)

Upwork: A freelancing platform where you can find and hire experienced graphic designers with expertise in book cover design. ($35-$90/hr)

BookBaby Cover Design Studio: BookBaby offers professional cover design services by experienced designers for custom covers. ($399+)

Crowdspring: Similar to 99designs. ($Don't Know)

Dribbble: Similar to 99designs. ($Don't Know)

Hint: Keep it as inexpensive as you can while getting what you want. Most first-time authors won't recover their costs.



PIXEL PERFECT

Pixel perfect means that every digital dot is exactly where it is supposed to be, which makes lines and text crisper, hair sharper, and formats fit the book’s dimensions. While DIY authors can over-pixel to get a similar effect, file sizes can be a problem. An experienced designer can do this for you. Never settle for too few pixels because your art will look cheap and blurred, or you may see each individual dot as a square.



FONTS

I encourage authors to make their titles stand out. This means choosing a legible font. To accomplish this, choose font colors that pop off the background (usually light on dark or vice versa), and a style that a five-year-old could read. Note that some genres like romance are expected to have wispy flourishes that may be nearly unreadable as a signature.

Hint: Don't use more than two fonts on your cover.



EYES SELL

Psychology tells us that humans connect differently when they see someone’s eyes clearly. As a result, readers are subconsciously drawn to books where they can see the eyes on the cover. A well-placed gaze can be your ticket to captivating a reader.



SIZES/TRIMS

You may have noticed that Kindle covers are taller and narrower than paperbacks. While all the other formats are rectangular, Audible covers are square. So, either your artist or you will have to adjust your cover for each format.

Hint: To simplify your life, choose the same size for paperback and hardcover versions. One cover can fit both formats.



BACK COVER ART

Paperback and hardback versions of your novels don't need artwork for online or brick-and-mortar sales. Very few people will turn away a novel because the back is a solid color. Potential online shoppers don't see the physical back until it arrives. Digital copies don't have options for them.

Designing the front and back just right isn't for amateurs, so it will cost you more than the front cover.

Verdict: Save yourself time and effort. Skip the back cover.



PARTING WORDS

As you wind down this path, remember that your masterpiece deserves attire befitting a king or queen. Whether you splurge on an expensive cover or craft your visual tapestry on a shoestring, make it uniquely yours. Cheaping out or going all in isn't worth it. Unless you have experience, stick to a middle-of-the-road commission.



FAQ

Q: What is the most important thing to consider when engaging a cover designer?

A: Communication. If you can't tell them what you want, you won't get it.


Q: Can I use a selfie for my book cover?

A: Well, unless you're writing the autobiography, let's explore other options.


Q: Do readers really judge a book by its cover?

A: Absolutely. It's like judging a pizza by its toppings—it sets the tone for the entire experience.


Q: Is it true that a mysterious silhouette on the cover guarantees bestseller status?

A: Only if your book is a guide to mastering the art of shadow puppetry. Silhouettes do provide opportunities for bold contrast, which can make a striking cover.


Q: Can I put a QR code on my cover linking to my favorite cat videos?

A: While tempting, QR codes are best reserved for your author website or, you know, secret treasure maps. You can always put it inside your book.


Q: How many fonts can I use before my cover looks like a ransom note?

A: Rule of thumb: if it takes a detective to decipher, maybe stick to one or two fonts.


Q: Are dragons still in or should I switch to unicorns for my fantasy novel cover?

A: Dragons are timeless, like pizza. But if you're feeling whimsical, sprinkle some unicorn magic on your cover—it's the literary equivalent of glitter.


Q: Should my romance novel cover have more abs or more roses?

A: Striking the perfect balance is an art. Consider a bouquet of roses strategically placed around a set of abs. It's like romance inception.


Q: Can I hire a psychic to design a cover that predicts future sales?

A: Psychic cover designers are a rare breed. If you find one, ask them how your book performs in the stock market too.


Q: Can I incorporate my amature artwork into my cover art?

A: While sentimental, consider whether your finger-painting masterpiece aligns with the tone of your gritty crime thriller. Nostalgia meets noir, anyone?


 

As always, I appreciate your support of indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.



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