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.



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.


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….


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


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:


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.

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:



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



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.



I really liked these, but he didn’t.

I made some more:


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

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




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



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…


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.



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.


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!




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.


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.

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

Free Createspace Book Covers: Using the CS Cover Generator

What’s the purpose of your book? Why are your writing it, and who do you expect to read it? Recently I’ve met several authors who don’t plan to pay for a book cover, because they can get a free cover made with Createspace’s cover generator. Many self-publishing authors may feel that the purpose of their book is to get their writing into the hands of interested readers – and that those readers won’t really care what the cover looks like.

Maybe your book isn’t intended to be “mainstream” or “commercial” – so why should you spend any money on a book cover when you can get one for free?

Here’s why: Writing a book is about much more than the text itself. That book is a calling card, a reference point, that will be used to judge you and everything your ever do or write in the future. If you have a book cover made by a program like Createspace’s free cover generator, people will assume you are an amateur, and what’s worse, that you don’t take pride in your projects.

If you want anybody to read it, you’re going to have to send it out to reviewers and get some positive reviews – but many reviewers will pass on books with obviously cheap covers.

Maybe your writing is brilliant. Maybe people love it despite the cover, but imagine them introducing it to their friends like this: “Yeah I know the cover is ugly, but the writing is actually very good!”

Conversely, having an amazing cover can draw attention to your book regardless of the quality of your writing. People may share and talk about a book’s cover even if they haven’t read the book!

However, spending a few hundred dollars on a book cover may not make sense if

  • you’re only planning to sell a few copies
  • you just want a couple copies for yourself
In which case, using Createspace’s Book Cover Generator is an easy way for you to get something on the front of your book. Below are some examples of the templates you can choose from – with patience and some very good photos, you may be able to hack together something decent.