Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cover Shock

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 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 |


  1. Frauke from CrocoDesigns -- reasonable and beautiful artwork. She does covers for Loose-ID and Carina Press, among others.

    Tara O'Shea from Fringe Element. Again, really really good.

    They both did covers for me and you can see them on my website.

    Frauke did Destiny Entwined and Carnal Secrets and Tara did A Happily Ever After of Her Own.

  2. I love making covers for the projects I'm working on. Granted I am not published (yet), so these are mock covers for personal usage, but when I do find stock images I like, I look at the licensing and I email the photographer to let them know I'm using it for personal use (and I link them to the cover).

    I like to browse the stock images on Deviant art; a lot of the artists their are phenomenal and are usually willing to let one use their photo for a self-pub for a really reasonable price (usually the cost of a donation to them, anywhere between $5 and $10).

    I'm also not a photoshop person. I don't have the program at home, but I like using Paint.NET, which is a free program that does a lot of the basic photoshop tools. I also use which is a free site that allows you to enhance your images.

    I actually just got done making a mock cover for my newest writing project. I used stock photos from Deviant Art, altered them in Picnik, and then mashed them together in Paint.NET...

    You can see it here:

  3. We've been discussing this in my family recently. The explosion of backlist ebooks means there's a demand for new covers, especially when it can be tricky (or undesirable) for an author to negotiate artwork rights with the publisher.

    One thing with ebooks - it's vital the cover still looks good as a tiny thumbnail, because that's how it'll usually show up first. People only get the full effect when they click the link, so the miniature version has to stand out.

    Speaking of family, my wife & eldest daughter are both accomplished artists, and I promised to mention my daughter to a writerly contact or two.

  4. Choke, gasp-I'm picking my jaw up off the ground.

    A thousand bucks? Are they NUTS?

    Nadia, I was going to mention Frauke... lol.

    Mandy Roth/Natalie Winters does awesome covers, but I dunno if she freelances anymore... just in case,

  5. You tell em girl! Nice covers you created by the way. Well if you have seen mine, I create myself, but I'm an abstract artist, I like them to not look so polished. I want that unfinished look to look like a water color or a painted acrylics look. Sure I could probably do them a little more prestine, but I like them. The sharp image of a photo isn't where I'm at I have come to notice in my arty self, so it becomes me like another facet of myself and my readers from that, I hope comes to know me and my style thats completely individual.

  6. Ack! $1000! Yep, gasping with shock too! Interesting post, Lynn. Thanks :-)

    I know Reece Notley (wedschilde) does some fabulous cover designs. Not sure how much she charges (but I'm sure it's reasonable. She did Liz Williams' new cover for The Iron King which is wonderful. Her deviant art page has got some of the ones she's done:

  7. Keita Haruka11:31 AM

    Well, DeviantArt has been mentioned, which is what I was going to suggest. You'll find that a lot ot artists there would be only too happy to provide artwork at reasonable prices. Some may even be willing to give it to you free just for the free advertising they receive by providing a well-known author with a cover. On one art site I frequent, that kind of trade is commonplace.'s a musician trading cover art for his indie albums for free publicity. It seems to work out well for all concerned.

  8. Judy Bullard with Jaebee Designs and Matt Elliott, who can be contacted at

  9. I love working with art and making up stuff. When I was a newspaper book editor, I would take AP art and modify it to go with a book review.

    For the "Annotated Whose Body?" project, I comped up a cover that I'll use.

    By the way, while exploring cover art, I approached a fellow name Rick Geary, who is one of my favorite artists who had done a number of book covers. He would have done my cover for about half what Lynn was being quoted. The only reason I couldn't accept was for personal reasons I can't say. But if the Kindle version shows signs of selling, I still want to hire him.

    So here's my two cents: If you know of an artist whose work you like and think might be sympathetic to the idea, shoot that person an e-mail. You might be surprised.

  10. Anonymous1:25 PM

    I'm floored by the prices. Oh my goodness!! I make mock-up covers for my own use for projects I'm doing, and I pretty much always use free stock images. is a free program, similar to photoshop, but not quite as refined. is an online photo editing site. It has a lot of cool fonts and filters you can stick over the images you edit in something like gimp.

    Those are just the things I do on my own. If you're looking for someone to design your cover, look for students, like at the Art Institute.

  11. $1000 is crazy! That is the kind of money that major publishers would likely pay.

    Kimberly Killion with HotDAMNDesigns does stunning covers. And they are so cheap. $100!

    She has pre-made covers too and sells stock images at:

    I second the suggestion for DeviantART! Some of the artists on there are so talented and willing to work with cover artists who are interesting in their work.

  12. Another vote for Kim Killion at She designed a cover for me and I'm in love with it. She is beyond fabulous. Her work is beyond fabulous.

  13. Shi -- Frauke's fantastic, but she's usually busy, so I think you have to be lucky to get her to work on your cover, esp. if you need one ASAP.

    Shawntelle -- I totally second your rec! Kim makes amazing covers!

  14. I really wanted to say a lot more here, but I won't.

    Here are some links to other artists (Kendra, Amanda, Valerie (me), April, Eithne) who won't charge $1,000 for a cover. Even though we'd like to. A lot. :)

    I know there are more artists out there. If one of us can't do the job, we'd be happy to refer you to someone who can.


  15. As an artist, I'd like to provide my side of this.

    What good is free promotion if the next author to come along also expects free or cheap artwork? I did a cheap book cover ($180) and not only had to go through multiple revisions, but having my name in the book and all the websites advertising it has garnered me zero new jobs. The author isn't good at marketing their book, so I don't have anyone seeing my work and my name. (To answer your comment about never seeing books in stores by the authors who paid high prices.)

    This is the cover of your book, it is the majority of your marketing process. The book is what grabs people's attention. Everyone judges a book by its cover. It's part of what sells it. You should be willing to put some money into something so essential.

    As for why it costs $1000- usually this isn't just the picture/art on the cover. It includes text, layout, front and back covers, and inner flaps if it's hard-cover.

    Even if you are paying only $250-$500 for artwork, you are paying for their time talking to you, making sketches, painting it, and then changing it when you want it.

    And before you think "but using Photoshop doesn't require paint or supplies" it does indeed have costs. Photoshop costs at least $200 to buy, I use a tablet that costs another $200, I don't know how much my electricity bill and internet bill was for this month, but it sure as heck wasn't cheap. Even if I used Gimp and a mouse, my electricity/internet bill for my office wouldn't be covered with your cheap prices.

    As for your $0-$2 covers, they look like it. Using Papyrus as text is literally laughable. It is a punch-line to anyone who knows anything about typography.

    I understand complaining about high prices if the art isn't even worth it, but in that case, you don't want to work with them anyway.

    I am willing to negotiate with self-published authors because I realize their budgets are low, but if they are really serious about people buying their book, they need to have some sort of budget available.

    The sort of people who complain about artists charging so much for hours or days of working on a cover are the sort who pay $3 for a cup of coffee without a second thought.

    I work hard and make sure my clients are happy. I am willing to get paid less if I feel the client is treating me respectfully and they deserve it. Empty promises of promotion don't work. It doesn't pay for my food, and it doesn't cover my costs to even continuing working.

  16. Joy, I always welcome contrasting points of view, even when they're left anonymously like yours. I don't agree with you, and I think some of your statements need a bit more backing up than bold lettering, but I'll let that slide as well.

    Now, the half-dozen other anonymous folks who also just tried to post comments that are pretty much identical to yours, or in support of yours, strongly resemble a contrived pile-up. I don't permit that on my blog, so those comments have been rejected. And will continue to be rejected ad infinitum.

    Best of luck, thanks for stopping by, and have a nice day.

  17. I only made them bold in case someone decided to skim, as I will admit the comment was a bit long.

    What parts would you like backed up?

    Thank you for posting this, I feared you might not. As for ones similar to mine and the pile up, it's because this post was linked to on a professional designers' forum discussing how much/little cover designers are paid. I'm sorry they were rejected en masse, but I'm not surprised since as you said, it seemed contrived.

  18. Joy wrote: Thank you for posting this, I feared you might not.

    I'm a professional writer; being insulted by strangers is a big part of the job.

    One thing I should probably tell you is that my sucky and laughable $0-$2 covers were all made for books that I've given away for free to every reader on the planet who wants to download them. I haven't made a penny in profit from them or the other 30+ original novels, novellas and stories I've published on the internet. I wrote them for fun, for the love of writing, and to give something back to my readers. Sometimes it's just not about the Almighty buck.

    As for ones similar to mine and the pile up, it's because this post was linked to on a professional designers' forum discussing how much/little cover designers are paid.

    I thought that might be the case. Writers do the same thing, just in private because any time we speak openly about how little we're actually paid for our work, how much it costs us to cover our overhead while waiting six months to a year to get paid and all the while having zero job security, benefits, career support, etc. we get ripped to shreds by every non-pro and failed writer out there.

    When it comes down to it, we're not all that different, Joy.

    I'm sorry they were rejected en masse, but I'm not surprised since as you said, it seemed contrived.

    I think a lot of people look for anything that makes them feel as if they're being insulted so they can vent at someone else's expense. Ten years ago I used to try to talk to them, but they're never interested in meaningful dialogue.

    As for backing up your statements, you can't. I've put my business name out here with my opinion in my post, just as I do with everything on the blog. I also take whatever professional hits I have to (and trust me, I've taken a bunch over the years) because my experience and reputation are just as important as my views. They back it up; I am the real deal. That and my people are worth it.

    For me to argue with anyone who hides behind an anonymous comment and doesn't back up their statements by putting their name and professional reputation on the line along with them seems like an unfair fight. And pretty pointless.

    This is also why I'm going to close comments on this post now. I apologize to any cover artists and/or designers who feel they've been insulted by my views. That was not my intention, which is also why I didn't provide links to the over-priced sites I found. I'm not interested in taking business away from anyone; my goal here at PBW is always to provide free or reasonably-priced alternatives to writers who are not yet earning income or who are on seriously limited budgets. Which is 90% of us.