Do you absolutely need a book cover designer? No. You can probably do it by yourself, if you follow these simple steps:
1) Resist the urge to put everything INSIDE your book on the OUTSIDE. The book cover is about getting interest and creating an emotional response. Sometimes, human figures/faces can do this very well. But so can a beautiful landscape. The trick is to find one amazing photograph that can represent a scene, object or person in your book, and stick with it. DON’T try to put all of the important things on the cover (ie the jobs of each character, all of the main scenes and places, and everything that happens.)
2) Get an awesome, royalty free image. There are lots of great sites to find excellent stock photography. Keep in mind that the most interesting/unique photographs will probably be used by other Indie Authors and will be easily recognized. So go for something more subtle (maybe cut out the model’s face, stick with her side/arms). Get a photo that matches the mood of your book – light, dark, funny, mysterious, etc. You can find photos on flickr under the creative commons, or get a friend to take something.
3) Use a simple, clean font. It can be a free font, but the more unique and bizarre it is, the more likely it will stand out (in a bad way). Find something subtle and crisp. Avoid basic free fonts. Do a search for fonts that fit your genre (mystery fonts, country fonts, action fonts, etc) and download a few. Avoid all text effects, like drop shadow, gradient, stroke… place the text in parts of the picture that make it stand out naturally (put white text in dark areas, dark text in light areas). It doesn’t even really matter if it doesn’t stand out that well. (Check out all of the books being published these days, that use small, minimal contrast text, like white text on light backgrounds.
4) Forget about the thumbnail!
Authors always tell me that the text or certain little details can’t be seen from a thumbnail and that this is a problem. If you’ve chosen a beautiful photograph, that photograph will still be beautiful as a thumbnail. If the cover is too detailed and complicated, and it ONLY looks OK when you can see the whole thing closely, it’s probably too busy. Yes, your thumbnail is important – it should be nice enough to make them want to click and see what it is. Readers don’t have to actually have to see/understand your thumbnail clearly though, there should just be some nice bold colors or intriguing picture to make them spend that extra second to see it up close. Again, the best way to have an excellent thumbnail is to start off with a beautiful royalty free picture.
To sum up. ONE amazing picture, with a little bit of text on it in the right places, equals a beautiful cover.
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