Occasionally I follow advertising links to keep tabs on how much writers are being persuaded to pay for things that should be pretty reasonable. Like cover art, for example. I love to play with images and art, and even make up covers for books I want to write someday, like this one for Falling (in my defense, I found the photo while looking for another on a stock photo site, and it was so perfect I had to buy it and make up a cover with it immediately. It now resides in my Kyan and Melanie file, waiting for me to get back to their story.)
Lots of authors are self-pubbing their backlists now, and not everyone is as crazy as I am, so it's logical to assume that many of them are going to hire someone to design it for them. When I went to this design site, though, and found they charge almost a thousand bucks for one cover, I was stunned. I had no idea it cost so much these days. Naturally I went right to their portfolio, thinking for that kind of money I'd see the most exciting, eye-catching, state-of-the-art covers of all time . . . and found a collection of ho-hum boring stuff I could have done myself in five minutes with standard clip art and Felix Titling fonts.
Even more troubling, it's not the only site charging an arm and a leg for cover art. I did a search and found five others offering the same kind of yawner art for prices that range from astronomical to appalling.
When I make cover art for my e-books -- and I do design and put together most of it -- it generally costs me $0 - $2.00 U.S., depending on if I use my own photos or buy an image from a stock photo site. The fantasy landscape image I purchased for the cover Ravelin, one of my favorite e-book covers, cost exactly one dollar. The most I've ever paid for a stock photo was $50.00, and that was a one-time deal to extend the usage license so my publisher could in turn use it for their digital publication of Master of Shadows. One cautionary note: I was promised full reimbursement for that particular license expense, but the publisher never paid me for it. So if you do supply your publisher with cover art you've paid for, get a check before you send it to them.
I know people believe quality has to cost a lot, but spending many hundreds or even thousands of dollars on cover art for a self-pubbed book is an unnecessary expense, especially if the author is footing the bill. Here's a thought: why not first try to create the cover art yourself? You can do what you want, you don't have to show it to anyone, and you may discover you have more talent for designing than you realized.
If you don't care to fiddle with photoshop programs, stock photos (and the sometimes complicated licensing involved with them) or you simply don't have the inclination to create your own cover art, then you should take some time to compare prices and services before you hire anyone. I've paid designers to do two of the covers for my free e-books (one I got by making the winning bid for her services via a charity auction.) Not only did I pay a very reasonable fee both times, I got exactly the covers I wanted for the books from those designers. I had a terrific experience working with Deena Fisher, who designed this lovely cover for the 2009 reissue of Sink or Swim.
Also, ask around. Author Shiloh Walker blogged about having Angela Waters design the cover for her self-pubbed novel Beg Me, in which she mentioned that Angela's standard fee was $150.00 U.S. (Added: corrected the blog link to take you to Shiloh's post)
If you'd rather work with a company than a solo designer it still pays to shop around. Self-pub companies often provide autonomous cover design services, and I found the ArtBookBindery.com charges $350.00 to design a four-color cover from your art or their stock photos. That's still a bit pricey to me, although it's definitely better than a thousand bucks. I also liked that they posted their fee upfront versus providing a phone number to call for a quote, which is highly annoying. My only other gripe is that the samples they showed were thumbnails (to me a full-size image portfolio gives you a better idea of the quality of the art, because you can actually see it.)
However you decide to handle the cover art for your self-pubbed book, do me a favor -- don't assume paying a thousand bucks or more is going to guarantee you a bestseller. Another thing I noticed about all of the portfolio covers at the very expensive design site? I'd never heard of any of the titles -- or the authors who wrote them.
Do you know a cover art designer who offers great work at reasonable prices? Please let us know (and if you have them, post links to their design service) in comments.
Falling cover art photo credit: © Geo Martinez
Sink or Swim cover art credit: © Deena Fisher
Ravelin cover art photo credit: © Bertrand Benoit | Dreamstime.com