When To Pay, When Not to Pay: Book Covers

Since I’m on this great self-pub journey with absolutely no savings or income to utilize, there’s a constant struggle to gauge what is a worthwhile expense and what isn’t. How much can I really afford to pay on this book cover? Since I can only muster up so much cash, should I do it myself and pour all of that into source files or hire someone else with more skills but higher rates for everything? Can I afford a line editor? Ads?

All of those questions and more swirl around in my head every day. If I’m struggling with these questions, probably someone else out there is struggling just as hard, confused and frustrated by the wealth of information urging indie authors to SPEND HERE. Welcome then, to the “When To Pay, When Not To Pay” series on Blargle Splect outlining some of the places I’ve decided to invest my limited financial resources and why.

Book Covers

Do you have any artistic abilities? Can you scrapbook like no one’s business? Are you proficient in an image editing program like photoshop? A lot of advice out there suggests that authors should go ahead and create their own bookcovers (I think I’ve even seen a few that suggest you can do it in Paint or powerpoint) but with your book cover there’s a lot to consider.

Let me start out with a story.

When I was working behind the scenes at one of the largest VOD (video on demand) distributors in the country a lot of videos would come in either with covers designed by amateurs or no covers at all. At first, those movies with no covers at all would get a rudementary cover made using a screencap of one of the scenes and a basic template. These covers as well as the amateurish efforts of some of the companies – looked terrible and made horrible sales. You could spot them at ten paces and customers avoided the vast majority of them like the plague (unless they were into that sort of thing).

When it came time to pick videos or even studios for promotion, any with a vast majority of these poorly constructed covers were passed over. There literally wasn’t a way to promote them without making ourselves look bad in the process.

Eventually we got a better team of graphic designers and started letting them craft covers for those videos that came in without any. My gods, the difference was staggering. On occasion we actually had to ask the artists to do a slightly less awesome job because they had fixed up horrible screen-caps to the point that those featured in the image looked like glamor models when in the videos they looked like they were missing a few vital chromosomes. People complained. Of course that was after they bought the bait for a movie they wouldn’t have looked at twice before with a crappy cover.

Now insert the word “book” before cover in the previous tale. See what wonders a little money spent in the right place could potentially do for your sales? I’ve actually got four years of classical arts training under my belt – I still recommend paying someone to create a professional book cover in most cases, because I don’t have a similar grasp of digital media.

In most cases does not mean in all cases!

A professionally done book cover can cost more than a thousand dollars.

A professionally done book cover can cost more than a thousand dollars. Panicking yet? I sure as hell would be if I didn’t happen to know a great graphic artist who’s happily working with me at a much lower price point. Not something everyone can pull off though. So then how the fuck did I do it?

List It

Another of my famous lists! List of a few graphic artists whose work you enjoy and think might make an awesome cover for your book. You’ll definitely want more names than just one on that list but shoot high and ask anyone whose work you really and truly admire even if you’re a little leery of insulting them with a lower budget than they’re used to.


When you start contacting artists for your cover it’s vital that you’re realistic about what you are able to spend on the project. Be open, up front and honest about your budget! Some things to never say while trying to negotiate a price within your budjet are:
It’ll be great experience for you! It’ll really look great in your portfolio! or This will be great exposure for you!

Some Idea Is Better Than No Idea

Having even the most vague sense of what you want to do for the bookcover is better than approaching a graphics designer with no idea at all. So even if it’s as little market research as browseing the Amazon top 100 and writing down the similiar elements in the covers of the top 100 that you’d like to integrate into the design, that’s still a concrete starting ground for your graphic artist to run with. Also having a concrete idea of when the deadline for publication will be is vital in the design process.

The bottom line is, you want the most appealing professional looking cover you can get. The book cover is the first and most vital visual ad your book is ever going to have. Everyone knows, first impressions count for a shit ton.

I definitely think it’s a place worth spending some of your funds but don’t worry, for those of you absolutely certain you have the graphic arts chops necessary to create your own covers anyway – I’ll be back with some tips on that eventually too.

3 thoughts on “When To Pay, When Not to Pay: Book Covers

  1. Nothing worse when you are browsing book on amazon and a self-published book with a really terrible covers plops up. Good artists does not grow on trees though. Maybe the UK is too cold for that kind of tree. I have the same problem when I think of a new website/app/program and you want it to look sexy and professional. Very difficult without a good graphics designer.

    Easier to just write reviews of books. They usually come with covers 🙂

    • You can find lots of great professionals on sites like guru.com – unfortunately it’s not the best way to pick an artist since you can’t see their work. I like going to sites like Deviantart or Renderosity to find artists I might like to work with. Or you can just cheat and check out my graphic artist’s site here: http://www.larrywestproductions.com/

  2. Pingback: When To Pay, When Not To Pay: Self Publishing Edition | Blargle Splect

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