We’ve all heard the saying “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.” The truth is, most readers do just that. Your cover is the first thing a potential reader sees. If it doesn’t catch their eye, they’ll be moving on to the next book in 0.3 seconds. Your cover should make them stop, take a second look, and draw them in so they read the blurb and can’t resist buying your book. If your cover looks amateurish and sloppy, then they are going to assume what’s inside is just as amateurish and sloppy. Your novel may be the next Gone With the Wind but if your cover looks like a 6 year old slapped it together with magazine cutouts and a glue stick, they’ll never see beyond the bad artwork to find out. You want your cover to look like it can hold its own next to the NY big girls’ books. It should be classy, eye-catching and professional. Unfortunately, a lot of self-published book covers look homemade and scream "Look at me. I'm a self-published author." And these are the same authors who wonder why their books don’t sell. So here’s what you can do about it…
Invest in good stock photographs. This is the backbone of a good cover. There is a plethora of stock image photo sites out there. These are places where professional photographers upload their images for sale. Most have a standard license agreement that will allow you to use the image on your website, book covers and any marketing materials for a reasonable price ($2 - $20 an image). Here are some of my go-to sites:
Seldom is a single stock photograph going to be perfect for what you need. Once you’ve purchased your stock images, likely you will have to manipulate them in some way. Maybe the photo of the girl is a blonde and your heroine is a redhead. Or the couple is perfect, but since it’s a romantic suspense, you need to add in a dark and stormy sky in the background. Well, you’ll need a good graphic software program to do this.
I personally use Photoshop. It’s a wonderfully powerful piece of software. But it’s not cheap and there’s a steep learning curve. I’ve been doing graphic design for 25 years and I still learn something new about the program every time I use it.
Many people who can’t afford Photoshop use GIMP (http://www.gimp.org/). It’s freeware. I’ve never used it myself, but I hear from others that it has a stiff learning curve of its own, so be prepared.
My advice is, if you don’t know how to use basic graphic software and have no artist/design ability, hire a good cover designer.
With the surge of self-publishing has come a new side business -- cover designers. There are some very good ones out there who do beautiful work. I’ve heard of prices ranging from $50 into the hundreds. Here’s just a few recommended cover designers to get you started:
While Deviant Art isn’t a cover design site, there are many talented artists who post their work here which you can purchase. There are many stunning, cover-worthy images available. Contact the artist if you're interested in using one.
To Sum It Up
I can’t stress this enough -- If you aren’t an artist and can’t design a good cover, please don’t try to save money and do it yourself. Hire a professional cover designer to do it for you. Browse their sites, look at their portfolios, ask other authors who have striking covers who their cover artist was. Remember, your cover is a selling tool and a wise investment. Plus, anything you spend on it (stock images, cover artist) is tax deductable. Don't skimp. The cover is the first thing a reader sees and unless you’re Nora Roberts (who could have a black and white cover with just her name scrawled on it and sell millions) readers will judge your book by its cover.