A review of Self-Publishing.com’s Cover Design Prices

I’m looking over Self-Publishing.com’s prices. At first I see “Standard Paperback Cover” – $250. And I think, “That’s a pretty good deal.”

But wait – that’s a cover using just one photo. So all the designer is doing is adding text.

You have to pay $475 to get a “Deluxe” cover, which gives you only 2 designs to choose from and – wait for it – up to one hour of Photoshop work.

Damn, I’d love to make $475 an hour. In contrast, for my paperback print covers, I go through about 10 or 20 unique designs, dozens of font and color choices, and roughly 10 hours of photoshop work.

Self-Publishing.com’s “premium” book cover design is the closet thing to what I do, but you only get “up to three hours of Photoshop work”, and it costs $895! (Although you do get a two-hour phone consultation). Wouldn’t you rather be paying your designer to work on your cover, rather than talking to you about it?

Interestingly, I can’t find any sort of gallery or portfolio of cover design work – how do we know if they’re any good!?

Either I’m charging too little, or everybody else is charging way too much.

How much should I pay for book cover design services?

When I started designing covers, I charged a few hundred bucks and couldn’t believe some designers charged over a thousand dollars for book cover design.

Here are some factors that impact how much designers charge.

  1. They’re process and how long it takes.
  2. Whether they offer unlimited variations and changes
  3. Whether they’re also including promotional graphics
  4. Whether they are working for themselves or outsourcing to cheaper designers
  5. Where they’re from (average cost of living)
  6. Amount of traffic and reputation they have
  7. Specific knowledge of the industry
  8. Marketing experience to know which covers will actually sell books

I started by pricing cheap and have built a profitable business by creating lots of great content. Now I have enough demand to charge enough that I can focus my time on making a handful of clients happy, rather than trying to keep out with the demand at a lower price point.

Pricing is a matter of how much someone is willing to pay for what you’ve got.

In general, $600 can get you a great cover, and you might be able to find a cover for $300 (though those designers sometimes don’t have as much experience and can get things like the text and fonts wrong).

I charge more because I end up being a publishing coach and marketing consultant for all my clients, which is more valuable than just the cover alone. But I also put out cheap or free resources on cover design (including cover design templates and DIY videos) for indie authors who don’t have the budget for professional cover design.

For your first book, I don’t recommend spending too much on a cover until you’ve gotten beta readers in your target market and see how they respond to it (strangers, not friends and family). But, a great cover is also important for all of your marketing… so get the best you can currently afford, rather than going cheap and spending a lot on marketing or promotion, which will fail without a great cover.

Before you hire a designer, make sure to learn the important elements of book cover design so you know what mistakes to avoid. I have resources that will help at www.diybookcovers.com

Carol Kilgore’s “In Name Only” Mystery Crime Book Cover Design

Working on a book cover design for Carol Kilgore’s “In Name Only”. Based on the description (pink building that catches on fire, handsome firefighter, protected witness always relocating, some danger/intrigue) I came up with these samples. Some of them are pretty good, and finally we ended up choosing the last one below).




















In Name Only by Carol Kilgore, full SYNOPSIS

Rookie server SUMMER NEWCOMBE is doing her best to remain inconspicuous when fire breaks out during her shift at the Pink Tortilla on Padre Island. She shepherds her customers to the door and returns to retrieve the cash register a few steps away. The next thing she knows, she’s flat on her back in the parking lot exposed to the world. The media will show up, and they’re the last thing someone in the Federal Witness Security Program needs. Though she’s in the program because of her dad’s testimony against a crime boss, she learned there’s no statute of limitations on revenge.

For the past five years, she’s assumed one identity after another, and in two separate incidents she watched her parents die from the vendetta. Her hope died with them. She has no one except the U.S. Marshals.

Corpus Christi Fire Captain GABRIEL DURAN knows something is special about the woman he rescues from his father’s eatery. When she comes to and he sees her eyes shining in her sooty face, he falls hard for her. But important problems weigh on his mind. An arsonist has destroyed his dad’s eatery and the last physical link to his mother. Since her death, he and his father have been at war. He is resolved not to become involved in another relationship until he and his dad get back on track. Otherwise, both relationships will die.

Mere hours after the fire, a man shines a bright light into Summer’s home as she’s going to sleep. She watches him, and the next morning breaks into the condo she saw him enter. Hundreds of photos of her are plastered inside his closet. His name is JIM PACKETT. Besides stalking her, he’s conning a local energy venture out of millions by selling stolen data about their new project. He’s a real winner, but creepy as the photos are, nothing indicates someone sent him to kill her, which is both her biggest fear and part of her criteria for notifying the marshals.

Later that morning, Gabe checks on Summer and finds her more provocative than the night before. It’s all he can do to keep his hands to himself when she kisses his cheek. Then he talks to his dad about the arson investigation. He approaches him about their lack of a personal relationship and is rebuffed. By that evening, Gabe decides it’s time to lay everything on the line. Either they agree to work through their differences or agree to forget they were once members of a vibrant family. With the emotions brought to the forefront by the destruction of the Pink Tortilla, he knows he can’t continue with their feud.

He shows up at his dad’s with a six-pack and a strong will. It takes all night, but they hammer out an imperfect understanding and decide to celebrate with a fish fry the following night. Because they’re on the road back to father and son, Gabe feels confident in taking the first step to a relationship with Summer and asks her to the fish fry. She accepts.

The following morning Summer arranges to meet with one of the partners of the energy venture. She hopes by providing them with the information she found, they’ll contact the police, Packett will be arrested, and she’ll keep her low profile. On her way out, a marshal stops her. They arrested a computer administrator in D.C. for selling protectee information. It’s likely the unknown man who’s been trying to kill her is in the area and knows where to find her. Worse, they can’t relocate her because all clean identities have been compromised. Nor do they have enough manpower to give her full 24/7 cover.

After all her years in the program, she’s tired of running, tired of hiding. She’s happy not to have full-time babysitters, even if it ups her risk. Determined to live her life with as much normalcy as possible, she continues to the meeting. The partner assures her they will handle the problem with Jim Packett. She hurries home to get ready for the fish fry. Gabe never arrives or calls, and both she and his dad are upset. Although she’s known Gabe only two days, she felt an instant connection the first time they met. She’s disappointed.

The next morning, Gabe shows up at Summer’s door holding the latest kinky gift from Packett. He couldn’t make the fish fry because the arsonist torched the energy venture’s lab. She says she believes the arsonist is her stalker, Jim Packett, because the energy partners were at the eatery the night of the fire and Packett was causing them trouble. Gabe validates her suspicions.

Before Gabe leaves, he kisses Summer and asks her to dinner. She accepts. But when her lips stop tingling, she kicks herself. No matter what her heart says, she can’t get involved. She could vanish from his life at any time. Besides, she’s killed one man and caused the death of a second in order to stay alive. Her track record is world class, in a bad way. Dinner is out of the question. She runs to tell him she can’t go, but he’s nowhere to be found.

At dinner, the man who changed a flat tire for her the day after the Pink Tortilla fire stops to see if she got the tire fixed. That day on the highway, she’d been so tense she almost pulled her Beretta on him. He makes her creep alarms go off because except for a nod at her introduction, he ignores Gabe.

After dinner, she and Gabe go for a walk on the beach. Holding hands under a full moon, they talk, kiss, and make silly plans for the next few days. Her guard is down. She wants more than anything to get to know this man who makes her laugh and quiver at the same time. And who promises to teach her the two-step.

A man approaches. Packett–and he has a gun. Together they outwit him and take his Glock. During the scuffle, her wrist is broken. Gabe restrains him while Summer calls the marshals for help. She tells them that by the time they arrive, Gabe will know about her life. She’s fallen in love with Padre Island. And with Gabe, but she wants no secrets. He needs to know the truth. Even if he wasn’t in the business of saving lives, what man would want anything to do with a killer?

With Packett’s gun aimed at his back, she tells Gabe how she became part of the program. When she gets to the part about killing a man, she plunges ahead, certain he’ll run screaming into the night, though she’s vowed never to kill again.

As Gabe listens to her story, the mystery that surrounds her makes sense. His feelings for her deepen. Not only does she turn him on so much it hurts, he understands how someone would kill to protect a loved one.

While they talk, Packett slumps to the ground. Summer checks–he’s dead, shot through the heart. Gabe calls her name. The man from the restaurant who changed her tire is holding Gabe by the arm with a silenced pistol to his side. She fires Packett’s Glock without thinking until the man hits the sand.

A bullet has grazed Gabe’s rib, and she fears it’s hers until he tells her it came from the man’s gun. The marshals arrive and one shows her a just-emailed photo–it’s the face of the man on the sand. The man they’ve protected her from the past five years.

She and Gabe get patched up, and the marshals tell her the worst should be over but to remain alert. She will always be a member of the program unless she opts out.

Summer tells Gabe he’s free to leave at any time, that she understands he doesn’t want to be tied to a killer or someone who might be gone when he gets home. Her heart melts when he doesn’t have a problem with any of her fears and tells her he thinks she’s braver than he will ever be. He’s not going anywhere.

How to design your own amazing, cheap and easy book cover

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.

States of Air: Political Satire Book Cover

United States of Air is a political satire; the author wanted to use a US flag with the stars forming a swastika, and it’s about (on the surface) a power-hungry government convincing people that they don’t need food to survive and can live on eating air only… based on that, I started with these samples:

Round One Book Cover Designs




Not bad, but those didn’t have the punch/obvious satire/patriotism that was needed, so we kept working on round two, which led to some of these finalists

Round Two Book Cover Designs





There are some good things going on in these, we’ll pick one and tighten it up.


How to make a sci-fiction book cover in photoshop

I’m finishing up a science fiction book cover for Cameron Mcvey’s “Nova Sol” – it’s fun to see how far it has come since the initial mockups. Based on the description (a moon crashing into earth/green planet, with lightning, maybe a person watching) I came up with these:

Cameron liked the 3rd one, so I reworked it into these, adding detail and text effects, and changing the man:

(I really love this one of the road, but maybe I’ll use it for something else).

The following will probably be the winner:


What do you think?


Free book cover critique: “Marked”, a paranormal werewolf book cover

Suzanne Cox sent me her book cover design for “Marked”. Nice idea, done in Gimp. I tried to recreate it in photoshop.

What I changed: I like the pale/whiteness, as it makes the red stand out, but the background pictures of trees is unclear and uncompelling (emotionless). I didn’t see a reason to fade around the top of the head so I just left it all wolf on the top half, then blended in some other tree pics that I thought were more mysterious.

The original cover had a border (stroke) around it – this is fine but I prefer covers that are all photo, so I left it off. Suzanne liked the title font (“Seans Other Hand”) so I left it. The original had some kind of bevel+shadow. I’m almost always anti-bevel, but I changed it to an inner shadow plus a red gradient for the text. Not a huge difference but I like it. I also made the text a lot bigger. Text can be small if it fits into the design, but with this much white space, there was no reason to keep the text so small.

It is entirely possible that the author will still prefer the original, which has more of a mysterious, sad and lonely vibe – I haven’t read the book yet so there may be elements in the original that I didn’t capture in these updates; however, since the book cover has to grab attention and sell the book, the cover matters more than the story. These new versions are bolder, with stronger contrast between light and dark, clearer images, more emotion and bigger text that’s easier to read… so while it may not as adequately capture the mood of the story, it will probably at least get more people to buy the book and begin reading.







My most challenging book cover design project yet!

Tonight I started working on a book cover design for David Keith’s “It was 1975: Rages to Riches and Sometimes Voices”. David has put together a very detailed montage/sketch of his book cover vision, as well as a highly complex set of directions.


The title of the book is: IT WAS 1975 (Rags to Riches and Sometimes Voices).  I want the cover design to replicate the attached design I made.  The story is about a long struggling journey, which includes hitchhiking across the U.S. in the character’s early twenties.

  • I want the backdrop to be a foreboding desert landscape, with a smaller saddened hitchhiker wearing a green army jacket and his white small dog (30 pounds) near his side.  Maybe have a couple buzzards circling above. 
  • A few years later the character has a religious experience but it is not the main theme of the book so on the right is an almost faded country church that has some illumination. 
  • The present day middle aged man with my likeness bursts through the canvas and behind him peering out and one trying to reach for him are two ominous dark shadowy people (eyes seen), who have been the voices in his head for years.  The backdrop inside the tear has micro-fine red random words of doubt or ridicule, some of which over lap outside the tear.  
  • The man has an overjoyed expression as he finds a mountain of riches (can be money, jewels, gold, etc.). 
  •  I would also like somewhere in the cover an iconic representation of the 60s/70s, such as a peace sign.  Better yet, next to the road where the hitchhiker is, have a tilted road sign with a peace sign sprayed painted on it

Now normally, my first instinct would be to say “Your idea is waaaay too busy. There’s no way to pull this off.” But instead, I want to see if I can exactly replicate David’s cover, and manage to make it look awesome. I think sometimes the effort that goes into designing a cover like this – finding all of the perfect elements and blending them together seamlessly – is vastly underestimated… so I want to show the process of how a book cover gets developed from a very specific plan like this into a real cover.


This is a rough mock-up based on the images I was able to find. It is pretty busy, but it’s not too busy. If this design gets the go-ahead, I can clean everything up and blend it together so it looks more realistic. Some problems:

  • Couldn’t find a hitchiker in a green jacket
  • The church doesn’t fit into the background, because this scene bends down rather than up as it recedes.
  • For the same reason, I can’t put the church that high up (it would be too far away to see) so it has to go lower, but then the center tear-demon-gold elements has to be in the middle. May be able to fix this with a different background.

Updates coming soon!