Glad to see you guys are still with me! Today, in this little series on the cost/recoup of indie writing, we’re tackling covers. If you’re not sure what this is about, I’d suggest going back to the introduction of this series, and following up with the one I published last week.
So let’s talk about covers. I think there’s indisputable evidence that a book cover might be one of the most powerful tools for selling a book. The cover is often an indicator to readers of the quality inside the pages, which is why authors (or publishers) will change them up as a means of tweaking sales. If your sales are lagging, revamping the cover might be something to consider.
So let’s start off with some facts from the survey I conducted. Out of 122 responses:
- 24 paid $0 for their cover
- 14 paid between $2-$49
- 19 paid between $50-$99
- 21 paid between $100-$199
- 15 paid between $200-$299
- 12 paid between $300-$399
- 8 paid between $400-$499
- 12 paid more than $500 (I would note that I had one response at $13,000, which seemed very strange to me, and probably has circumstances around it that made the cost that ridiculously high.)
The average of all the numbers was $302.66, which isn’t terrible, but not the best deal out there. Personally, I charge $175 for the print and ebook cover combo, but I price at the lower end of the spectrum (because I know the truth of being a broke indie author). I know others that charge around $150 to $200 as well.
I would like to point out that just because there’s a $0 amount in the answer block, doesn’t mean the author has a shoddy cover. There are a few others out there, like me, that have an education or work background in graphic design, so they actually know how to make a really nice cover. Others who responded at $0 trade services with designers, so they may be paying their artists in other ways with their time or individual skillset. The bartering system can work out really well for people if the tradeoffs are balanced. Some may have family members that do them, also.
So here’s where you ask about the ones that cost $300 or more. Typically, the more expensive covers also include custom photo shoots. I generally work with stock photography, but I try to be careful not to use models I’ve seen over and over on other books. Not all designers are that conscientious, so make sure you educate yourself on covers within your book’s genre and your artist’s portfolio. Custom shoots can make you stand out, but they do get pricey. Keep that in mind if you’re looking around and pricing things. Also, investment does not guarantee success. The book’s cover is only one factor involved.
So how can someone on a shoestring budget get a striking cover without breaking the bank? The bartering option is good if you have valuable skills to trade, but if not, here are some things to try on your own.
- You can do it yourself. That’s not to say you SHOULD, but you can. If you choose to go this route, I’d highly recommend having a test group of honest people around you that will tell you straight up if your attempt sucks. There are lots of indie writer groups around that can help with this.
- Make friends with a designer who might be able to give you some quick tips or feedback. I always make sure to tell people that my graphics come with a price tag, but my advice is free. Be warned, however: if you’re not prepared for brutal honesty, you might not like what you’ll hear.
- Get software that can do the things to make a proper cover. Please don’t use Microsoft Word. Unless you’re a graphics whiz kid, the results are going to be terrible. I have never seen an exception to this. NEVER. Photoshop is your best bet, but it’s really expensive. Try these options instead:
- GIMP is a decent PS alternative, and 100% free. It IS buggy and has a steep learning curve and can be clunky to use, but it’s better than nothing. There are tutorials all over the place, YouTube is a good resource, so be prepared to learn a lot of stuff.
- An Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. This is an excellent cheap option for people who can’t afford the $$$ price tag of Photoshop. For $20 a month, you can get access to a full version of the software. Again, there are TONS of free tutorials and resources around the interwebs.
- Stock photography can get pricey, so you have to dig to find stuff for cheap. DO NOT DO A GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH AND JUST USE WHAT YOU FIND THERE. That’s stealing. You’re violating copyrights. Try these things instead:
- Unsplash is an amazing resource. They upload new photos every 10 days, and they are high resolution (a must for cover design) and free to use in any way you want. Make sure you sign up for email notifications when new photos go up. You never know what great images you’ll find there!
- Death to the Stock Photo offers some free, commercial use photos as well. I haven’t found them quite as useful as Unsplash, but they are definitely worth checking out. Also: free, so there’s nothing to complain about.
- Paid stock sites like Deposit Photos, iStockPhoto, and many others will offer free images every month or week (varies from site to site). Troll all of the paid content sites and you’re likely to find something there that you can download for future use, but, again, it’s hit or miss. I’d point out that iStock also offers free music tracks and videos if you’re looking to make a book trailer.
- Get your friends involved. You might not think you have models for BFFs, but you don’t necessarily have to show faces. Maybe you’ve got a friend that has hair exactly like your main character… get a photo of her from behind in a setting like your story. Maybe another has a necklace just like the villain’s… covers don’t always have to have people on them. Do keep in mind that you’ll need a high resolution photo, however. Your phone camera isn’t going to cut it.
- Creative Commons is another place to look for images, but, again, make sure you check the terms. A lot of them require attribution, which you’ll need to put in the book somewhere.
- DeviantArt has a lot of Creative Commons licensed work there, and also a lot of free-to-use digital elements. The terms on those vary from person to person, so make sure you always check the profiles if they aren’t listed on the page of the element you want to use. Some are available for purchase as well, but if you don’t see anything specified, don’t assume. There are ways to contact the artists, so do that if you have any doubts. Always. It’s better to ask and get told no than to get sued later. CYA.
- Fonts! Fonts are shiny and awesome and there are millions of them out there. I’ve stopped buying big font bundles as I rarely use but a few and they clog up my computer. Now, I look for fonts from job to job if I don’t have anything on hand that’s suitable. DaFont is an excellent resource for this, but make sure you’re searching for public domain and 100% free fonts if you’re using it for commercial purposes (even in an advertisement). You can include Donationware and Shareware fonts in your search if you’re open to paying for them.
- I subscribe to a lot of email lists that offer design bargains like Mighty Deals, Inky Deals, and AppSumo and find some real gems. My favorite is the package deals for Deposit Photos. For $99 you can get 100 credits, which is one high-res photo per credit. As I use a lot of stock, I grab them when I see the deals come through. I don’t think the credits ever expire, but if they do, you have at least 1 year to use them all. These are great for teaser images and covers alike.
If anyone else has tips for cutting cover costs, please post those in the comments! More information is always helpful, and I think sharing these things will only help the indie community gain credibility and hopefully make sites like Lousy Book Covers obsolete.
Next time, we’re talking about editing and the importance thereof, so stick around!