In Part 1, I talked about finding your reasons for wanting to self-publish, as well as your goals and ambitions for your upcoming author career. I also talked about just how important it is to have your book professionally edited in multiple rounds. This week, I'm going to be talking about something that you should definitely not overlook either!
While you are getting your book properly edited and proofread, you can start thinking about the cover that the book will have, and be ready to throw away your prejudice, because regardless of what people say, everyone judges books by their cover.
Book covers are marketing material. They help sell the book.
When readers enter a bookstore, they can’t possibly scan all books with their eyes, so they pick up those with the covers that appeal to them the most. The cover is an invitation for the reader to pick up the book and, at the very least, read the back cover blurb.
For self-published books, it’s no different. Unless you don’t want like Amazon, you will be selling the vast majority of your books on it. Amazon is a major retailer, with millions of readers already browsing, predisposed to buy books. Just like in bookstores, there are many books out there, and readers will undoubtedly be more tempted to click on those whose cover it appeals the most.
But there’s a lot more to it than the cover being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Instead of using those words, which are unhelpful, you should ask “does this cover help sell the book that is inside?” This is where reader expectations come into play. Go to Amazon and browse the best seller charts for the books in your genre but especially in your subgenre. Then check their covers. Chances are, part of the reason they are best-sellers is the fact that they have a good, appropriate cover that the readers like enough to click on.
Having a cover that is misleading or doesn’t tell the reader what to accurately expect from the book is a recipe for failure.
If your novel is a cosy romance, having a couple in the cover is probably a good bet. If it’s a steamy, smutty romance, a sure bet is to have a male model’s abs as the main focal point. There is no shame in this, in tailoring a book cover to market. The same goes for other genres: if you’re writing epic fantasy, magic and creatures and swords are probably a good bet. If you’re writing thrillers, dark pictures with bold lettering are probably expected.
I highly recommend you do your research. See what the best-sellers are doing, because that’s what you want to aim for: why settle for less, especially if you’re fronting all the costs? You want your books to sell, not just people patting you on the back and telling you how smart and intricate the cover is while you have zero sales.
So, we’ve established that covers are extremely important and probably the first marketing tool you will ever wok on as a self-publisher. Make sure you get your cover right. So, how in the world can you even do that? Where to even start?
I’m going to recommend you do the same thing you did when looking for editors. Open up books or samples of recent and self-published books which you think are quite similar to yours in style in subgenre, which are selling rather well based on Amazon rankings, check who the cover artist or designer is find their websites and social media. I will say more about this later.
For now, I want to emphasize ‘recent’ and ‘self-published’ here. That is because you want your book’s cover to be up to date with the most recent trends, and not aligned with trends from five years ago or even two years ago. And the same for self-published. Self-published books and traditionally published books have generally slightly different covers and reader expectations typically vary, so don’t align your cover style with that of a traditionally published book when you are going to self-publish.
That being said, you want your cover to look 100% professional. Again, self-publishing is a business, and doing it the right way, professionally, requires a professional to work on it. I’m not talking about your buddy who used to be really good at drawing in high school, or your uncle who had a web design business a few years back.
Book cover design is an art in itself, and these artists and designers who do this REALLY know what they’re doing. They know what covers sell and which ones don’t, that’s why you’re paying them. If you have graphic design experience, you can buy stock images online and photoshop them into a cover all by yourself, but I still wouldn’t recommend it because you are not as familiar with the trends as these people are.
And who are ‘these people’? They, or shall I say, cover design services come in all shapes, sizes and budgets. Since ebooks became massive over the past ten to fifteen years, many services emerged specialising in book cover design. Here are a few you might find while looking for them:
These are typically the low-hanging fruit. There are several cover design services out there who make covers without being commission to do so and post the designs online, and eager authors can snag them up at a relatively affordable cost, usually around $100-150. The big advantage with pre-made covers is that they are cheap, viable, and usually designed to market, tailored to meet genre expectations. If your budget is really stretched, this might be a good option, as long as you remember beggars can’t be choosers, so if you want to make any changes to the cover art, font, etc, that won’t be possible.
If you’re writing books in a series, it will also be almost impossible for you to find compatible covers that fit the next books in the series in a way to keep them all consistent between them (professionalism!). Also, these covers are usually more generic, and I would say that because they’re pre-made, they usually fail to highlight what makes your book standout from the rest. You want to fit in, yes. But you also want it to stand out, otherwise, readers are less likely to click anyway.
Cover design services
These are by far the most popular among self-published authors, also because there are so many of them. For anywhere between $150 and about $700, you can get your cover designed by professionals while you sit on the art director’s chair. You get to send them reference pictures, make requests about what kind of colours you’d like to see, what kind of font, what kind of images in the background, anything you want. If you have no idea what you want, you can also leave it up to them and they will come up with something themselves, which you can then usually tweak to fit your needs and preferences.
I use one of these services for my book covers, MIBLART. I love them because they come up with original concepts based on my initial ideas, and then I can tweak them however I see fit until I’m completely happy with the final product. They can do ebook covers as well as the full spread for paperbacks and hardcovers. That being said, if you’re looking for an original and custom-made art piece or illustration for your book cover, these design services won’t do that for you. They’re designers, not illustrators.
Custom-made art illustrations
There are artists out there, especially in the fantasy and science fiction genres, that specialize in gorgeous, amazing art pieces that look like movie posters or something you rarely ever see even in traditionally published books these days. That’s because of their cost. If you go for newer and less proven artists, perhaps you can get a custom illustration for around $800. If you go to someone very coveted and experienced, it will set you back at least $1,500. Some of the top tier illustrators charge even more, as high as $3,000 or higher.
If your novel is anything other than fantasy, you probably don’t really need to consider getting a custom illustration for your book cover, but if you are... sometimes investing in an epic cover alone can be enough to kickstart your sales into a frenzy that is less likely to dwindle. It’s not always the case, but sometimes there is a correlation between success and investing in an expensive cover upfront. A brilliant, expensive illustration won’t save your book release if the rest of the book and your publishing strategy is all over the place or misaligned.
The downside of these customs illustrations, in my opinion, is that you are working with actual artists, so you get a lot less input into the work even though you’re paying for it, and because they usually have massively long waitlists of authors lining up to hire them, they are even less likely to want to work with an author who keeps asking for changes or for things. This can then lead to the artist no longer wanting to work with you for future covers, which can be a massive consistency issue if you’re writing a series. If you do hire an illustrator, always be polite and accept that your cover art will be art, and that you are outsourcing the entire thing to somebody else and have little control over it.
That’s a lot, isn’t it? Look at your budget, explore your options and see what’s out there. Just like Editing, a good, professional cover is essential, so think it through: do you want to invest more in an amazing cover that hopefully will get readers excited? Or do you want to invest in something professional, adequate but less exciting so you can spend money elsewhere? You can decide what’s best for you.
Assuming you spent about $1,000 in editing and proofreading, and assuming you go with a typical, middle-of-the-pack cover design service, your current expenses are probably at $1,500. I’m aware how much money this is. I was terrified at first. What if I pay all this money and no one buys my book? Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but if you didn’t believe your book could sell, you wouldn’t even be looking at any of this. But you do! Your book is great, it’s very well edited, it’s proofread and it’s got a really nice, fitting cover that is amazing at telling your readers what to expect while also hinting at what makes it unique. That means you’re almost there! You almost have a full, professional product you can market. You will soon see that when you consider all of this, and that you can pretty much sell the book for all eternity, $1,500 isn’t all that much.
So, beyond the actual book and the cover, what are you missing? Formatting!
(Continues in Part 3!)