Searching for the right book cover

For a long time I'd like to write an article regarding book covers. As an illustrator/graphic designer/writer I think I could contribute a bit to that subject and help aspiring new authors, self or traditionally published.

I'll try to be as objective as possible; I believe that a book cover plays an important role in the book sales. Of course a good story defines its long-term success, but many good books get "buried" because of a bad first impression - which means a bad cover. As a reader, the first thing I look at when searching for books is the synopsis  on the back cover. The second thing is to study the cover, and I thing that many people do the same. So a book cover affects the buyer's decision - mostly subconsciously.

Let's take things from the start. I spend many hours every day in sites like goodreads, amazon, etc. searching for books, and I've seen thousands of book covers by now. I often see books  by self-published writers, and I'd say that most of them are indifferent to me or just wrong. I've also been a self-published writer and believe me, I understand how difficult it is for new writers to publish their books on their own. In practice, they have to do all the things a publisher would do, and most of those are out of their expertise. Furthermore, they have to pay an editor/illustrator/graphic designer themselves. There are many things to take care of in order to create a decent final product to the audience.

For your convenience, I've written a FAQ about book covers.

Q. Where can I search for an illustrator?

A. There are a few options:
  • Search in online art galleries/communities, such as deviant art, itartmag, cg cosiety cg hub or behance. There are plenty of freelance artists in there who make book covers. Browse various artist profiles of search for keywords to find more easily what you're looking for.

  • Contact an agency that represents illustrators, and they can suggest a handful to you after you describe your book's story/style. However, that's usually more expensive, so mostly publishers do that.

  • Search in online book stores for books similar to yours. If you come across a cover that you like in terms of style and quality, just contact the artist that made it.

If you're a writer who's going to be published by a traditional publisher, you can also suggest an artist of your liking to your publisher, after making your research.

Q. How much does a book cover cost?

A. There is no definite price list, because that varies greatly from one artist to another ($300 - $5000). Apart from that, it depends on many factors, such as:
  • The amount of elements involved in the scene

  • The amount of complexity of each element

  • The amount of detail and the overall resolution of the image.

In other words, the cost of a cover depends on the amount of time that the artist needs to spent for it.

Q. What's the best way to describe what I'm looking for to an artist?

A. Send a short synopsis of your story (half page max) and also describe your idea about the cover, but don't get way too descriptive. Personally, I love reading the entire books, but most artists don't have the time to do that, since they work in multiple projects at the same time. Also, try to show a serious and professional image in general.

Q. Can a cover artist also add the cover text, such as title and author?

A. It depends, so you'll have to discuss that with the artist. If the artist has graphic design knowledge, then he/she can do it. If not, you'd better search for a graphic designer to do the job. Personally I'd recommend not to use a very common font, but not very complex either. The ideal would be to have a custom logo made for the book's title, so that it stands out from the crowd and look more special. Don't use more than two different fonts in general, because it doesn't look cohesive. I'd also prefer the writer's name to be much smaller than the title (unless it's a famous writer); it expresses timidity and discretion.

Q. I'm self-published and I don't have the budget to hire an artist for my book cover, but I've found an image online that suits my needs; can I use that?

A. You can, as long as it is royalty-free. However, the vast majority of the images online are copyrighted, so you'll have to contact the owner/creator of the respective image in order to ask for permission. In any case, you are obliged to give the full credits for any image you use. Also, if an image is royalty-free or a stock photo, make sure it wasn't used again as a book cover. Being unique is always better.

Q. I'm writing a fantasy story and I've found many artists that I like, but I'm not sure who's best for my book. Any suggestions?

A. You'll have to choose the style which fits better with your book's audience. For example, if it's a children's or middle grade book, the book cover needs to have more vivid colors, because it is targeted at younger ages. Children also like to see characters of their age. In epic/high fantasy things are different, as the colors could be darker (not necessarily though) and the general mood more mature.

In general, a good cover should have an appealing illustration, sketch, or anything that fits in your book's category. 
  • It should have simple (but not simplistic) and balanced typography and composition.

  • It should be clean and "readable" even in thumbnail size and have a clean focal point. Overly complex compositions usually create a mess.

  • It should trigger the viewers' interest and make them want to read the story.

  • It isn't necessary to feature the main characters in your cover, but any element related to your story.

  • Avoid using scenes from your story as book covers and go with something more stylized - like a movie poster.

  • Trust your illustrator's opinion, he/she has more experience than you in book covers and compositions (especially if they're graphic designers too). Many times the cover may be great, but the style could be wrong for the book's audience.

  • Remember, quality over quantity.

I hope my article was helpful, good luck!

© Marilena Mexi

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