The Indie Author’s Guide to Book Cover Design
As a self published/indie author we have to be involved in every aspect of our book creation process. Including the book cover. The bad news, is that it can be a very frustrating process. Where do you even find book cover designers? And of course, it's going to cost you some coin (a lot of coins).
The good news, as an indie author, is that you'll have complete creative control and the final say on your book cover. That's a big deal! I've talked with traditionally published author's who had no say in the book cover designed for their hard work. And many were disappointed to the point of tears at the cover adorning their book. So although it's nice to have a big publisher's graphics team whisk away your manuscript to create your book cover, it's not so nice, if you don't like the output and you can't do anything about it. You're stuck with it.
As I mentioned in this post, the book cover is one of the most important factors in your book marketing. You will be judged by your book cover. Especially if you're an unknown author. Prospective readers/customers searching Amazon for new books to read, don't know who you are, so the pressure is on your book cover to make them stop and click on your book (title is also important but that's for another post).
The process to find a book cover designer was a daunting one. How much should I pay? Will they run off with my money? Where do I find these book cover designers? These were all questions floating around in my head for a long time. I'll be walking you through my process and providing you with resources so hopefully, you don't have to start from scratch, not knowing what to do.
When should I start the book cover design process?
The earlier, the better. Don't wait until your book is ready to be published. This will delay it from being published. At the very minimum, while you send your manuscript to your editor, have your designer start working on your book cover. This means your vetting process for finding a book cover designer was completed long before you typed "The End".
Where do I find a book designer?
I looked everywhere and found some great designers doing the following:
It's in the Front Matter (maybe). Looking in the front matter of a book cover you like. Sometimes the designer is listed there. Sometimes it's just their name, so you'll have to Google them to find their website and contact information.
CraigsList. Go to CraigsList in your local area and search for "book cover designer". You'll be amazed how many have posted ads for their services on CraigsList. If you live in a small town or a country that's not on CraigsList, search one of the larger cities listed on CraigsList where you're likely to find book cover designer's posting their ads. Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Minneapolis, etc.
Word of mouth
If you have friends who are authors and you like their covers, ask them. Many will be happy to send extra work to their book cover designer. When I started out in this process, I didn't know any fiction writers, but I found another excellent source for electronic word of mouth:
Most of the main online forums where authors hang out feature sections where designers can post their services and their portfolio. Author's will also post their book covers for critiques or just to show off their awesome cover. A happy author with a great cover is usually excited to give props to the designer and provide their contact info to drum up more business for them. I've seen this happen a lot. I've even done it myself.
My favorite forum for writers is the Writer's Cafe section within the Kindle Boards. They're extremely self publishing friendly and many of the top self published/indie author's hang out there. This is the forum that self publishing super star, Amanda Hocking was active in before she signed her big publishing deal. They even have a "yellow pages" section on the Kindle Boards where you'll see many book cover designers posting their services.
Absolute Write is a popular writers forum, but a lot of their members are extremely anti-self publishing. Even down right nasty and condescending. Don't dare call yourself an indie author there, you'll be lit up with all sorts of nastiness. Scare you? Sorry, just a warning. They do have sections where you can find book cover designer recommendations there so it's worth checking it out.
Deviant Art. This forum is geared towards artists, but you'll find a lot of talented book cover designers on there with many samples of their work posted there.
The Freelance Job Sites
These are sites where you post jobs and you have freelancers bidding for the work. Here is where I found my book cover designer. I recommend two sites: oDesk and eLance. I posted my job for a book cover designer on both sites to get more exposure. I received 49 applications. Most of them didn't cut the mustard, but did I end up with a decent pool of designers to consider.
I was very happy with the book cover designer I hired. He created an ebook cover version and a paperback version ready to be used with CreateSpace. I found him on eLance.
Here is my book cover:
One of the major benefits of these freelance sites, is that they handle the payment. You pay the website, which then escrows the agreed upon payment. That payment is not released to the freelance, until you're happy with the work and you agree to release payment. It's a great way to ensure you won't be ripped off. Using the freelance sites is free to you. Sites like Elance make their money by charging the freelancer a percent of your payment, but it's always free on our end (posting jobs). Some freelancer will mark up their bid by the percent Elance charges them, but that doesn't bother me as long as it's still within my budget.
That's one of the most common questions I get about this process. The cost will vary wildly. I've seen folks recommend micro-job sites like Fiverr for their book covers. That's crazy talk though. You want a professional who can get that idea you have into your head and transfer it into a beautiful book cover. That's not easy work nor is it dirt cheap. During my search the pricing went as low as $5 on Fiverr to over $2,000 for some big hitter book cover designers. $5 to over $2,000, some range! I'll break down my experience and I'll recommend a more manageable range in a bit.
I set a budget of $150.
On oDesk, you can put down your max budget, so the bids where right around my specified budget. I received 34 applicants on oDesk with an average bid of $88.86. On eLance, the pricing it s a little different since they just allow for ranges, not specific dollar amount. So I selected the "Under $500" budget. This actually worked out better, since I received bids from much better qualified applicants. The lowest bid on eLance came in at $80 and the highest at $435. Most where in the $100-$300 range. That's when I noticed the designers with the best portfolio and experience where in the $200-$300 range. I was absolutely impressed with Damon's work. His bid was $200 which was over my budget by $50, but I said what the heck. It's going to be worth it. So that's how much I paid. Your mileage might vary, but I recommend setting a budget of $200-$300 for your book cover. The price included the ebook version and the paperback (using CreateSpace) version so make sure you're clear on what you expect.
How does the process work?
I've only worked with book cover designers via the freelance websites, so this section offers that prospective only.
During the hiring process, it's imperative that you provide a complete and detailed job description so the bidders know what you're looking for. You will save a lot of time by ensuring your job description is top notch. Be detailed. Be specific. It will save a lot of aggravation.
Since I used eLance, once hired, the entire work process and communication took place in the workroom area they provide. That's a great way to manage communications, milestones, upload files, documents, etc.
Elance provides a great work room area where all communications are managed. All files and documents are uploaded and reviewed here. After providing Damon with the idea I had in my head for the book cover, he went to work. He provided a mock up and I asked for a few revisions. After three revisions I had the book cover I wanted. I closed the job, downloaded my files and released payment which Elance takes care of. I don't have to deal with taxes, paperwork, or any of that stuff.
As you can see the process can take awhile, that's why I urge you to start before you're finished with the final draft of your manuscript. Having a great looking book cover that you love is a great motivator to finish your book!
I hate to sound like a broken record here, but your book cover is so important, don't take short cuts and don't skimp on it. You have to look at this cost as an investment. A well desgined book cover will yield a nice ROI (return on investment).