Bargain Book Covers for Self-Published Authors

I love books. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you the same. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to both write my own books and read every single other book that pops up in Amazon or my local bookstore. So, like everyone else out there who ever visits a book store, I judge via covers.

Yes, I know. Childhood lessons about not judging books by their covers, yadda yadda. It’s a great anti-bullying rhetoric for kids, not-so-great advice for adults trying to split their time between spending money and making money. Everyone only has so much time on their hands, and unlike my mother, I can’t finish reading an entire novel in a day.

She’s amazing, I’m not even kidding.

Since I am a (soon-to-be) self-published author, with no connections to a publishing house, I have to handle all the different aspects of publishing a book myself. That includes the tasks that a publisher would handle for me (if I had a publisher). Now, I like to think I’m good at writing. Hell, I like to think I’m even good at editing. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be writing for a living. Those aren’t my problems. They take a bit of practice, but they’re doable.

My big problem is the cover design. Most traditionally-published authors don’t get much say in their cover design, since that’s one of the parts that the publisher handles. But those of us who rely on the benevolence of KDP and other self-publishing services need to handle that ourselves. That means either A) hiring your own professional artist, possibly for hundreds of dollars, B) praising the god of your choice for all those years of art practice and putting your own art skills to use, C) throw together something simple-yet-amateurish and not very likely to impress readers, D) take advantage of stock photos and free software like GIMP, or E) hope to get lucky on Fiverr.

I’m a newbie to Fiverr, and I won’t deny it. Best I can tell, it’s some sort of rent-an-artist website, like all those home advisor commercials on TV. I literally just searched “ebook covers” and found several dozen freelance artists putting their services out there for $5 a pop, with a reasonable time frame and great reviews. I didn’t actually message any of them, because I got distracted away by re-learning the intricate magic of GIMP after having last used it in my 11th grade Graphic Design class, but $5 per potential book cover seems like a good deal, especially since the first place I found sold them for $230-$300.

If you’re really lucky, you might find the pictures you’re looking for on Wikimedia Commons, which is (mostly) free to use, so long as you credit the artist in your book somewhere. The problem with Wikimedia, however, is that it’s free while most stock photo sites charge at least a bit for use. Why put something up for free when you can get at least some money out of it? I should have known, given the age-old adage about trying to get something for nothing, but I couldn’t find any really good pictures on Wikimedia. At least, not pictures relating to my topic.

Or you can hop onto pretty much any stock photo site out there. The one that comes to mind first is iStockPhoto, but it’s not the only one. For those of you who don’t know, stock photo sites are places where people post pictures they’ve taken or drawn in order to offer other people chances to use them, in return for a small payment per usage.

I tried messing around in GIMP for a bit, experimenting with making my own art, but I’m not an artist, and it showed. So I hopped on to iStockPhoto and copy-pasted a bunch of pictures into GIMP, still with the watermarks, just to see how it looked and if I could get a decent picture that way. I like what I came up with, but I’m going to do a bit more looking before I spend $40 on stock photos.

Here are some of my basic rules when designing the cover for my first book:

  • Don’t spend any more than $100 on a first book. We want it to look good and professional, but not break the bank. Personally, I’m not planning on spending more than $50 on my own first book, but $100 seemed like a good general limit.
  • Don’t go overboard — keep it relevant but neat.
  • Plenty of white (or, in my case, black) space. Modern readers like a clean, stark look. Why do you think modern books have so many more paragraph breaks than, say, Jane Austen?
  • Try to get as many public domain or otherwise free-to-use assets as possible, but don’t settle for crappy just because it’s free. Your book deserves better, even if you can’t spend hundreds on it just yet.
  • And, if all else fails, just get it out there and work on the next book. The beauty of online self-publishing is that a book can be removed from Amazon, redone, and re-published in just a few clicks, when you’re better known and have more money to spend on stock photography or professional cover designers.

I love my current book, but it is the first part in an 8-10 part series. It’s a big undertaking. The second book is almost finished, ready to be released in early 2017 (hopefully), and the third book is underway as well. I’ve got to keep my perspective and remember that I can worry about prettying them up and re-releasing them all when I actually have a whole series to worry about.

For now, I’ll focus on my book and trying to make it as best as I can with my current budget. And, with any luck, I’ll be able to offer it to my family for Christmas.



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