Updated: May 24, 2021
If professional editing is what will get readers to recommend your book to others (and/or buy your future books), then a good front cover is what will make them pick it up in the first place.
The old saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is incredibly valid on a philosophical, and metaphorical, level but from a practical and literal standpoint, it is somewhat futile. People do judge books by their covers and always will.
If you are self-publishing a book for the pure joy of writing it and then getting it out there ‘in the wild’, then you could consider creating the cover yourself. If, however, revenue from your book sales are important or you're hoping to make a living as an independent author, then you will need to attract the attention of the wider market, convince readers that your book is a serious piece of professional work and get them to part with their hard-earned cash. In this case, you cannot skimp on the front cover.
When I was becoming an indie author, I joined the writing communities on Twitter and Facebook. Fellow writers and authors are very supportive of one another and often do things called ‘writer’s lifts’ which are opportunities for authors to promote their own work. In practical terms, this means dropping a (usually Amazon) link and a brief blurb about your book.
A quick scroll through Twitter/Facebook and you will see countless books being advertised; your eyes will be immediately drawn to the front cover. You can tell the ones which have not been professionally done a mile off. Obviously, if you are a digital artist, illustrator or an actual book cover designer then this may not apply to you in quite the same way, in which case the DIY approach may work well for you (and save you some cash).
A good designer is likely to create book covers for a living and, in doing so, will cover many aspects which us writers (usually) won’t have a clue about. I didn’t realise this before I started out, but it is significantly more complex than simply creating a cover that looks good.
There are many aspects to consider: specific marketing, appropriate style, what sort of imagery resonates with the genre, the type of font used, the spacing of letters, reader expectations for that category of book, colour schemes which are currently in vogue, and so on…
Your cover designer will ask about your target market and will want to know details about the book’s content. This is because they will delve deep into the covers of existing books in your category which are selling well, so they can incorporate those ideas into the design.
The front cover isn’t only important for getting readers’ attention from the shelves; it will be the central tool you use to market your book thereafter and, trust me, you’ll have a LOT of marketing to do. If you are trying to do it with an amateur looking cover, you will be making an already difficult task, much harder.
FINDING A COVER DESIGNER
There are a lot of cover designers and websites out there; the number of options is quite staggering. The best way to start is to get a high-level vision of how you want the cover to look and be prepared to be flexible on this. Once you have an idea of how you want your cover to look, start searching online for cover designers who work in your genre.
SEEKING OUT A DESIGNER
When I was looking for a designer for my Adventure Quest series, I had a clear idea of what I wanted for my first book, The Tower of Melgoth. In my mind’s eye I saw the main character stood (back to the reader) facing the ominous tower of the dark wizard, which was in the background. I imagined this grizzled, seasoned looking adventurer carrying his weapons.
Having searched and searched, I stumbled across the website of Jeff Brown and instantly fell in love with his artwork. Unfortunately, I spent a long time drooling over his covers when I should have gone first to his pricing page. Jeff charges $2000 USD for a package of covers, which was way outside my budget.
Fortunately, he had a section of his website where he recommends the services of some of his designer friends. It was here, that I stumbled upon Fenix Designs. Alexandra Purtan, who runs Fenix Designs, specialises in certain Fantasy and Sci-fi genres. One image on her portfolio stood out as exactly the style I was after. Having got in contact with Alex she, very honestly, told me that the age range I was targeting was outside her area of expertise and recommended someone she knew, called Ricky Gunawan, who would be more suited for the demographic I was targeting.
This shows the level of customisation and speciality out there. It is not just about grabbing any old designer and getting a cover done. There is a layer of skill, research, suitability and marketing that goes on behind the scenes which I didn’t appreciate originally. At this stage, I was beginning to realise that the vision I had for the cover was not suited to the age of the target reader.
I approached Ricky and the rest is history. I couldn’t be happier with his cover, the service he provided, his communication throughout and how quickly he turned around my tweaks and revisions. Instead of drawing just the main character, he also drew the four ancillary characters.
The characters he drew are incredible but, crucially, they have a teenage look about them. The characters need to resonate with my target audience (children aged between 6 and 10) which is why Ricky drew them as youthful, rather than rugged and rough - how I originally saw them in my head.
Ricky charged me $450 USD (roughly £325) for eBook and Paperback covers, although I do believe his price has now gone up to $500 USD (£360). This seems a pretty standard price point in the industry.
COVER DESIGN CONTEST
There are alternatives to approaching a cover designer and paying them directly. The first is to use something like 99designs.co.uk and start a book cover design contest, which is what I did with my fantasy football book (FPL Obsessed: Tips for Success in Fantasy Premier League). It was actually great fun.
First, decide how much you want to spend and select the appropriate package. I went for the Bronze package which cost £319 (for eBook and Paperback covers). I filled out all the details which would be on the front cover, gave a design brief for the contestants, and then sat back and waited. Then, one by one, the book designs started to trickle in.
It was really exciting. Some of them (I won’t lie) were awful, others were on the right track but needed a couple of tweaks, and some were pretty awesome even at the first attempt. During this ‘qualifying round’ you then rate each design and give the designers feedback on what you did and didn’t like about it. This gives the designers opportunity to tweak the cover and add revisions back into the mix.
This whole process takes just over a week and then you are required to select six designers (not just the designs) to move into the ‘final round’. Before this point, you can end the contest and get your money back. When you move into the final round the contest becomes ‘guaranteed’ which means there will be a winning design and you will part with your money.
When the final round kicks off, you will have 14 days to select a winning design. During this stage you can run a poll which can be shared on social media (which is also a good marketing technique), so that members of your potential target audience can have a say in what the cover looks like.
This worked really well for my fantasy football book (winning design below):
The other alternative, and great if you are on a tight budget, is to purchase a pre-made cover from one of the many websites out there. Once you have bought it, that particular design is taken ‘off the market’ so effectively you won’t get someone out there with the same cover. I have no experience of this but it seems a good halfway house between paying for a bespoke cover and designing one yourself, so long as you can find one that suits your project.
In summary, if you are going to invest money in your book, and can afford only one thing: make sure it is a professional looking front cover.
Please share your front covers or design stories in the comments below.