Prices are going up this month!

I just wrote a pretty long post about book cover design on my blog and figured some things out.

One of which is that I’m not longer competing with other book cover designers.

As a 1-person business, I no longer have to appeal to a big range of authors with lots of price points.

And because I’m really good at what I do (and it’s instantly obvious by comparing my portfolio to others) I don’t need to compete on price.
It doesn’t matter if I’m “in the range of” other cover designers of my skill level.

I don’t need to be cheaper than the big mainstream options.

I’m not saying you should work with me – because maybe you shouldn’t. There are lots of other options, and I have a big list of other cover designers on my resources page who are amazing. What I am saying is that I can focus on providing the value I’m best at, and charge a higher than average price, and I will continue to get clients because they want the best book cover they can get.

It’s late, I’m rambling.

My main point is this: rather than offering a bunch of stuff, I’m going to start offering one-size-fits all packages.

While my stand alone cover design prices may seem high, my formatting+cover publishing packages are going to be very average, compared to the mainstream big services like Createspace, Lulu, or Author House, or small presses.

Which means a lot of authors can choose me, instead of them, for the same price and get much higher quality design.

But I’m ALSO going to offer something totally different; a hybrid publishing option…

In that scenario, authors will partner with me 50-50; I’ll do everything for free and guarantee them a bestselling book, and we’ll spit the proceeds of book sales (basically, just like a traditional publishing deal works, except you’d be earning 50%, which is much higher than traditional publishing contracts).

Tentative Pricing Plans

The main thing is that I’ve been trying to offer options (with formatting, without, extras, etc.) And I don’t like formatting, so I was almost ready to remove that option – the problem with that is then authors have to get it done elsewhere, like through Createspace, and the formatting won’t match the cover, and that means my covers are on less professional books.

Since nearly all authors need formatting, I’m just going to make formatting mandatory (ie if you want one of you covers, then you also need to let me do the formatting, so that the whole book will look great, not just the outside). I’m also going to include things I know authors need and want. If you compare my prices to other book cover designers, they may seem expensive (but so what – I can charge more because my reputation and talent is in demand). On the other hand, compared to publishing packages, you’ll get everything you need from me for about the same price – but everything will be much higher quality (because you’re paying me directly, rather than a big company that is going to farm out the work and make more money by giving you cheap design).

Ebook Package – $999

  • Ebook cover and ebook formatting
  • Unlimited revisions, unlimited image insertions
  • Help with distribution/publishing options
  • Help with title and subtitle, keyword research
  • Help writing/editing your sales copy and author bio
  • A blog header, Facebook or Twitter backgrounds
  • Advertisement boxes
  • 3D book mockups
  • One-on-one author support

Print Package – $1999

in addition to everything above…

  • Full print book cover and formatting in InDesign
  • 200 bookmarks and 200 business cards

Marketing Package – $2999

in addition to everything above…

  • Help building your social media platforms
  • Help getting your first 10 book reviews
  • Research partners or blogs for guest posts
  • Help writing/sending a press release (if it makes sense for your book)
  • Targeted Facebook ad campaign (managed for you).
  • Guaranteed #1 bestseller in your genre on launch day
  • Guaranteed 250 copies sold in first month*

*for this to work, you’ll need to give me a lot of control over the ebook pricing for the first month; and I probably can only take on books with real commercial appeal

Add ons:

  • One round of expert-quality copy editing and proofreading – $1000
  • Well designed and professional author website – $1000

I was a full-time book editor for many years and now run several book editing companies: I don’t really do book editing any more but I’m better at it than anyone I know, which is why I normally wouldn’t edit a book for less than about 4cents a word. $1000 to edit a book is a lot of money, but less than you’d pay on any of my editing sites. But it’s only for clients who buy a package.

I’ve been making WordPress websites for a long time; my sites are polished, work well and start getting traffic right away. I can help you set up your url or domain, hosting, install WordPress, pick a theme, add plugins and extras (email optin form, etc), help you organize the right pages, excerpts, links to Amazon, buy buttons, etc. What I won’t do is move everything around to where you think you want it. I’ll make it look nice, match your book or theme, and make it focused on selling the book or building your email list. It will be better than 90% of the indie author websites out there.

The full package

I can probably offer a full package deal, like everything included for $4500 (so you’d save $499).

If I’ve done my job right, you won’t have to pay for publicity or promotion, you won’t have to figure anything out or go with a small press for extra hand-holding, everything will be finished and taken care off.

You’ll have full access to me for any extra help or questions for a full year (I usually charge $500/hour for consulting).

I’ll try and take on 3 to 5 clients per month.

Why book cover design is the best job in the world

I get stressed and busy sometimes, but some nights (like tonight) my job rocks.

I’m working on one cover, the author wants a sketch of pre-1757 London in black and white, with a color photo of a girl, dressed as a boy, wearing a tricorn hat.

Another cover, I need an ancient Persian tent in the desert with beautiful stars (I was having trouble, but I just got in touch with a group that does desert tours in Dubai and they have the perfect image, which they said I could use).

I also need a fantasy dragon type of cover, which is tricky because there isn’t much good “dragon” art, and of course there aren’t any stock photos, but I’ve got it mapped out pretty well in my mind: ancient castle door, sweeping view of mountaintops, a stream of fire burning down from the sky… mostly it’s just searching the internet until I find enough material to start putting things together.

How book cover design works

I think most authors think that book cover design is just like art: you just tell the artist what you want and they can make it, like magic, from the end of their pencil. But that’s not how it works.

Unless you’re illustrating everything – which I don’t recommend unless you are doing children or very young adult books – nice photomanipulated covers work better.

But we have to have the raw materials to work with.

I can blend and change colors, I can crop and paste, I can move and rearrange – and after it’s all done I can get things to look pretty awesome together by applying some filters over the whole piece.

But for example, if we use a model with strong shadows and the light is coming from one direction, everything we add to the picture that doesn’t have the same lighting will look funny (especially if there are several models put together). We can fake it, but changing shadows isn’t something you can do easily (this isn’t 3D graphics, just 2D images).

We never really know how things will work out until I’ve found a bunch of images and tried them out. Often they come together and look brilliant. (Of course they do, I’m awesome). But they weren’t exactly what we “had in mind” when we started.

Anyway, I usually blog over on my main site, www.creativindie.com, but I haven’t posted for awhile here and thought I would.

Why I’m so expensive (how much should you pay for book cover design revisited)

When I started designing book covers a couple years ago, I remember looking at designers who were charging over $700 for a print cover and thinking they were charging way too much money. How could they possibly justify such high prices when there were cheaper options? I can make a full print cover in a few hours; why does anyone deserve to earn that much money?

Now I’m in a very different position.

I’ve kept raising my prices to keep up with the demand. Every time I raise my prices I’m surprised when I get my first few orders – surprised people are willing to spend so much on book cover design. And sometimes I think I’m not worth it – that authors could (and maybe should) buy a cheaper cover elsewhere.

But when I look around at other book cover designers charging less money… I can see why people keep coming back to me.

Though they have glossy and stylish websites, they only have a few dozen samples and most are boring, average or are heavy on stock photography (I also use stock, but I try not to use those photos I know other people are going to use… or I try to photoshop enough that it won’t be so obvious… still, stock happens).

The difference between a mediocre, not bad, pretty good book cover and an amazing piece of art that makes your soul dance, is potentially huge. It’s hard to measure two covers side by side and say why one is better than the other. It’s something you feel. The design just works. The art is moving. The text layout feels clean and well spaced. You can’t see it, but you feel it instinctively.

Here’s something I worked on recently – after reading “WormWood” I wanted to help the author by redesigning the cover. A lot of the story takes place in high places, and I had this painting by Friedrich (1818, “Traveler above a Sea of Clouds”) in mind as I worked on the art.

(Mine is the one with the crossbow).

book cover art

I love the art for this cover. I want to print a poster just to put it on my wall. But I made a few options, including this close up.

The close up (in the middle) is more powerful and immediate. It does a great job of enticing the right readers who like the genre (paranormal/angel romance), and is simple enough to let them know what the story is about. It would probably sell a ton of books. But the scene with the mountains is more distinctive, more memorable, more touching somehow – there’s so much emotion in that space, so much tension and conflict and longing.

 

wormwoodmakeover2

Compared to the original (simple black cover, using William Blake’s renders of Paradise Lost) I expect either of the new covers to easily double or triple the author’s sales – we’ll have sales data in a few months.

High prices improve the quality

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the last few years.

1. When I charge lower prices, I have a ton of work. I’m stressed and busy. I can’t finish everything. I don’t remember things. I don’t enjoy it so much.

As of June 2014, I’m still getting enough work but maybe half of what I got a year ago. I feel more relaxed. I still have a lot to do, and I still have trouble getting everything done and staying organized, but all my clients are happy and the quality of my covers are improving. I have more time to reflect and improvise. If we don’t get things right the first time, I’ll come up with new ideas.

2. The second thing I’ve learned, is that entering a relationship with a client is personal, and long-lasting. I have some clients that took a full year to decide what they wanted. Sometimes, after rejecting all of my samples, they want me to try a lot of other stuff, and sometimes we end up with something better. Other times, in the end I convince them that my earlier samples were the best and will perform the best for their book, and we use what I had made originally.

Then they need help with their marketing plan, uploading files, preparing their ebooks and POD formatting, navigating distribution services, editing their sales copy. After the interior is finished we’ll rework the print cover – then there are problems, or the page count changes, or they want to start over and use a different picture. I’m not just describing a few needy clients – this is a pretty typical client/designer relationship for me.

Some people tell me I need to say no more often, or charge for revisions, or stop giving away so much free help and advice… but I’m not going to do that. I like helping and I love designing books. My high prices are kind of like a retainer; I become an always available publishing consultant.

(And damn, really when you compare my covers to Createspace or Selfpublishing.com or the other “big” author services offering cover design, I’m still charging less! Maybe next year I’ll be charging double.)

When not to pay for a cover

A cover is really important, and can make a huge difference, but it won’t make a mediocre book successful. If you’ve written a book with no audience, in an unpopular genre, and the book isn’t amazing but just ho-hum, or the writing isn’t great… investing in a cover isn’t a good idea. Fix the writing. Hire and editor. Write another book. The story matters more than the cover, ultimately.

If you’re unsure, get a cheap cover, publish the ebook, and advertise enough that you get 100 buys or downloads… then watch the reviews. If you start getting glowing reviews from genuine readers, it’s time to double down and invest more.

If you need a cheap, DIY book cover solution, check out www.diybookcovers.com.

Right now, there are MS Word templates, but I’m building the WORLD’S BEST online book cover designing software, it’s going to blow you away.

Another long (but satisfying) book cover design process

I’ve been working on Brian Smith’s thriller “Purified” for a couple of months. Like most challenging projects, we reached a few dead-ends before pushing through and finding something that really works.

There’s a sci-fi element – a new being of humans is being created, and they have wings and four arms and legs (kind of). I thought I could pull it off, but these are two literal and the author didn’t like them.

purify7purify8

So we focused more on the subtitle (and changed the title name to fit)… “Imagine waking up Purified.”

We focused on a top secret bloody hospital bed….

purifiednew2purifiednew8purifiednew11purifiednew15purifiednew16purifiednewA

Brian wanted to mix a couple covers and add this guy:

purifiednewH

For awhile it was our final choice, but I thought it lacked action (he’s just sitting there) and was a little boring.

I tried a few more and really like the strong contrast in the first one below.

creep9 creep12 creepnew3

I told him if he wasn’t going to use it, I would – because I’m confident it would outsell the others. I probably still like my version, with the lighter text (stands out more) and the syringe replacing the “I”, but with compromise we ended with this – a little darker, a little more subtle:

BRIANfinalF

More about the book:

I would call Purify a thriller.  There’s some sci-fi, crime, fantasy, love; but above all of that, it’s a thriller.  As far as target audience goes, it’s adult fiction, but I think it would mostly appeal to non-skilled, non-professional earners who aspire for something better.  Mason was a factory worker who only wants his old life back, but he arches into someone who is ready to deal with being better physically than anyone else.

Purify is the name of the drug–the protocol that is being developed in an unauthorized, underground experiment.  It takes a living body into a sub-coma state, then repairs it, totally purifying the immune system to create a body that will never become infected with any disease again.  That’s the theory behind the drug, but the story is really about a man’s struggle to deal with the effects of the drug after being forced into the program when he thought he died.  Purify also relates to the theme which is “forget the past; live for the future.”  All Mason really wants from being alive again is to get his old life back, but Purify is not about that.  It’s about a new start with a new, purified body that will change mankind.

A mistake I’ve been making in all my book cover designs

I was browsing a bookstore today (a recreational hobby + business training) and noticed, not for the first time, that almost all the books have “COVER DESIGN BY …” with the designers name. Although I’ve been designing covers for a few years, and although I know it’s standard, expected, and for that reason essentially mandatory for indie authors who want to look as mainstream as possible, I rarely add my name on my covers.

Probably due to humility, insecurity, politeness or something like that.

But then later today a client emailed me back, once the cover was finished, to request that I add my name on the cover: and he’s right.

There’s no reason not to list the book cover designer’s name on the cover (unless you made your own cover, in which case it can be a little strange – something for which I’m prepared to solve for authors using my DIY cover templates by allowing them to use my name and brand).

So from now on I’ll add my name onto all my covers and force myself to get into the habit. It’s good for me, it’s good for the authors, it’s good for everyone.

Oh the difficulties in choosing a final book cover design!

A problem I often face with authors is paralysis of having too many options. 3 options to choose from is good. But I usually make at least 10 samples, in each round. So we are always selecting and dismissing different versions of the cover. And sometimes, what we end up with is unexpected.

Here’s an example from a rather challenging cover I did for Isabel Burt’s Toxics.

The book itself is a YA fantasy/adventure, with sapient plants and talking animals (sort of, I’m really not doing it justice). Mystical, fantasy, and romance. Based on a beautiful world – very raw and natural. Female teenage heroine. Lots mystical energy and light.

This was my first batch. Some are not great.

toxics4   toxics20  toxics15   toxics8      toxics13 toxics10

My favorite are the last two: in fact I’ll save one and write the book for it later, because I’m sure the cover would sell like crazy.

But Isabel didn’t like them, so I made some more:

toxicsnew9  toxicsnew11 toxicsnew12 toxicsnew2 toxicsnew3  toxicsnew5 toxicsnew6 toxicsnew7 toxicsnew8

It was hard to choose between these too. The solid yellow with the bold title is appealing. So is the pink forest. Isabel really loved the green forest path (with yellow text), but after checking with the artist, it wasn’t available to use, so we hired him to make something custom for us. First he made this one, with a dark river valley and sunrise; he hadn’t finished all the lighting yet, it would have been pretty cool, but Isabel didn’t like it (too manga/cartoon). He made another one that I quite like (still my wife’s favorite):

toxicsnewA

But neither were right for the author, who wanted to go back to an earlier version which had tested well in a group of children.

And so now we’re just playing with font and text choices for the title.

In the end it’ll be really hard to choose – the title text and color matters and will attract different kinds of readers, but it’s hard to guess which will sell better or which matches the book the best.

toxicsfinalB toxicsfinalC toxicsfinalA

I love these final covers. I think we made good choices and the evolution was continuously towards improvement (often authors will go the other way, and direct changes that lead away from good design and towards something less than ideal).

But some readers will have preferred the earlier illustrated version, or different layouts. Side by side, everybody will have different opinions about what’s the “best” cover. But between several very different but equally well-designed covers, choosing is very difficult. Get a ton of feedback. Run one for a couple weeks and then try another one to see if sales pick up. Little differences can impact sales, and cover art matters, so choosing can be difficult.

What you don’t want to do is obsess over little details and keep changing and changing based on your own preferences. Don’t trust your gut or mood. Get the best designer, let them do their best, then get a lot of feedback (from hundreds of people, not just your friends and family).

 

SYNOPSIS OF TOXICS

Felicity Penfold, a girl of 14, finds herself mysteriously deposited into an alternative world. In the misty opening scene she links up with Reuben, an ‘Orion’ embarking upon a quest in which it seems Felicity is prophetically implicated.

This ‘Old World’ is in a state of impending crisis. Its entire ethos was one of balance; this has been irrevocably altered by the illegal birth of a new species, called ‘Toxics’. Each plant or beast has an ‘enharmonic’ which is its counter-species balance. The Toxics had none. Their exclusion over the years has led to them becoming bitter and by the time of Felicity’s arrival, very dangerous. Their leader, Arrass, seeks the destruction of the traditions of the Old World which he feels has betrayed them. His final destination: the Sacred Caves.

These caves contain the roots of all knowledge, and they are guarded by the ‘Taureau’.

The story follows Reuben and Felicity as they are joined by other key troupe members who seek to save their precious world by joining Reuben’s quest to protect the Roots, and shift the Old Ways to include the Toxics; thereby restoring its balance. The salvation of the Old World and ultimately of the Toxics becomes a race between the gathering of the quest troupe and the gathering of the Toxics.

What I’m giving everybody for Christmas (book cover design makeovers for indie authors)

I’ve had an exciting year. I keep raising my prices, and people keep ordering, and my book cover designs keep getting better… which means it’s a constant upwards spiral. I started out a couple years ago as a cover design amateur with better-than-average skills.

Right now my skills are well above average and improving all the time. My most recent 20 covers are pretty amazing. But they also take more time and attention to detail, which is why I can price higher than other designers. But I also keep up my policy of trying to do free cover makeovers for indie authors, if they ask and if I have time.

These are authors with ugly covers who know they need something better but can’t afford it right now. It’s fun for me to try and do a quick makeover – on the condition that they can’t be picky and I basically get to do what I want (a freedom I don’t also have with my regular clients, which allows me to really have fun and be more creative).

Unfortunately I haven’t had time for awhile to do any makeovers, and I probably have 25 requests right now.

So my Christmas goal, even though I’m working on a bunch of new orders, and the DIY book covers package, will be to finish all those requests. Ideally I’ll just take a holiday week off and focus on makeover projects only. I’ll add them to my ‘makeover’ section when I’m done.

If you have an ugly cover and want to send it to me to redo, you’re welcome to – although I probably can’t add many more requests to my plate.

How long does book cover design take? Until it’s DONE: lessons from a challenging cover design case study

Most of my covers take a few weeks. This one took almost a year.

The author paid in November of 2012.

The title is “The Oppressor’s Toolkit” so I started with these:

tools10tools8tools7tools6tools5

 

Karim wanted to focus more on a toolbox, so I made these:

toolsnew4toolsnew1toolsnew9toolsnew9

 

But he thought the toolboxes looked out of place and would be better on a road, maybe with blood, set against a background of ruins.

toolsnewBtoolsnewA

 

I really liked these, but he didn’t.

I made some more:

tools719Btools712Ftools712Dtools712Btools712A

My favorite was the purple one with the T’s as hammers.

He liked the shadow hammer and wanted to focus on that:

 

tools719Gtools719D

 

I thought those were pretty good. He wanted the shadow hammer to be coming from a microphone – more symbolic.

tools831Htools831Gtools831Dtools831Ctools831Btools831A

 

But neither of us really liked those either.

At this point we were stumped. I offered him a refund so he could try some other designers; we were also thinking about putting the project on 99designs.com to see what they came up with.

But then, freed from the responsibility of producing a cover based on Karim’s suggestions, looking back over the project with fresh eyes and a deeper understanding of what the author was looking for, I made these.

 

tools916Btools916E tools916Dtools916C

 

 

These are much nicer covers  than anything I’d come up with before, and Karim agreed (although he requested the silhouettes be specific historical figures).

The final will probably be something like this…

toolsfinal3

How to make an ugly book cover: a guide for the visually impaired

The temptation to make your own book cover and saving money is strong. And it can be done.

There are no inherent drawbacks to doing it yourself; but without the experience you are likely to make amateur mistakes that scream “self-published!” to would-be readers.

Actually, the truth is, nobody cares about that anymore, so instead you’re announcing, “I’m too cheap to invest in producing a quality product!”

Most readers will assume that, if the cover is ugly, the rest of the book isn’t very polished also.

But how do you know if your homemade, DIY book cover is ugly? This simple how-to guide for making ugly book covers should steer you in the right direction (if you’re doing any of these things, you’re on the wrong path).

1) Use a personal photo, not a professional one

Even though you can get cheap, high quality professional pictures on 123rf.com, bigstockphoto, and dozens of other places, you should take one yourself of your backyard.

The image doesn’t have to say anything about the book, content, plot or characters. Bonus points if it’s washed out, unclear, boring or blurry.

images-backyard

 

2) The picture doesn’t have to cover the whole thing

If the picture isn’t the right shape or size, it’s fine to just leave a big chunk of white space. White is clean and easy on the eyes. Lots of space is good, so it’s not too crowded.

3) Make a long, rambling title with no meaning

Avoid any keywords that people would actually search for. It should be a bit pretentious and try to be poetic and literary. It still doesn’t need to say anything about what’s in the book or what the book is about (readers love surprises!)

4) Make your author name really small

It shows your humility. Besides the author isn’t that important, and you’re not famous… and it makes you feel safer somehow. So make it little and unnoticeable. You can even change the color so it doesn’t stand out so much.

uglycover2

5) Use the basic fonts already installed on your computer

It’s looking good, but let’s change it up with some fun, fresh fonts! You are drawn to Mistral and Rage Italic. Or maybe Comic Sans.

6) Add some text effects to make the text stand out more

You can use bevel, drop shadow or add a stroke/outline to make the text “pop.” In fact, do everything you can to make the cover “pop.” Poppiness is good!

 

ugly3

 

7) Add “Bestseller” because you  know it’s going to be one…

People are going to love this book, and it’s going to sell a million copies. Soon. Plus you’ve chosen an obscure Amazon category and got 10 of your friends to buy it at the same time, and it was #1 for 5 minutes. So why not just write “Bestseller” now? It’ll save you work later. Make sure to use all-caps and a heavy drop shadow to make it “pop.” And use a lot of exclamation points, because you’re awesome.

8) Add all your book award seals

You know, the ones for those book contests that you paid to get into. Use anything, even “runner-up” or “finalist” or “7th place.”

Don’t be choosy, they’ll all fit.

ugly4

9) Super! Now email it to everybody!

You’re ready! Your book isn’t finished yet, you’re about halfway done, not sure if you want to get editing. But that’s no reason you can’t start to market your book and raise awareness. Plus you need to find beta readers. So start emailing your cover to everyone you know, add it as your Facebook profile pic, and Retweet it every 4 hours with a few catchy excerpts or links to your “coming-soon” page on your unfinished website.

 

PS) #8 isn’t a slur against book awards contests, although they can be scammy and are definitely for profit, and I don’t think they have much business on a book cover. Some are respectable. Feedback can be valuable. Some readers like to see them, even if they don’t know the organization. In my opinion they are part of the cerebral/rational buyer response and should go on the back of the cover, rather than the instant/emotional response you need to make with the front.