Book Cover Design, Part Two

So, you’ve done a fair bit of research on what kind of style you want for your cover. Maybe a few colors, or even a full list of Brandon Sanderson books that you want to look like you could sandwich your own title in between. Wish lists aside, you have a decent idea of which book covers in your genre you like, and you’ve seen a whole boatload of truly horrible designs in the process. You even found a few of them that you loved.

Nicely done, you. Let’s find a photo of something adorable so you can forget all that awful CGI you had to look through:

My Sleeping Dog, Mundo

My Sleeping Dog, Mundo

Cute, isn’t he? Feel better? I’m glad.

Now, let’s be honest with one another. While you were on all those websites looking for ideas and inspiration, you couldn’t help yourself. You clicked on the services button. And that happened to lead to the pricing button, and, while you were there you found out how much they charged and suddenly lost the ability to breathe.

Yes, a lot of these websites charge a princely sum. Let’s talk about why…

How Much Money Will a Book Cover Cost?

I see anywhere from about $5 to $1,500 on a regular basis. It’s quite a large range, I know!

Think about it this way: It’s not a question of every design being equal, what you expect  – and receive in return – will generally scale with the pricing that you see. When you see a number like $499, what you don’t see is that it’s a bundled price. That price tag involves a lot of steps, a decent amount of time, and some misc. rights that can be quite pricey for a layman to buy as a single purchase.

You’re paying for something like this:

  • Someone else is about to take the time and thought it takes to interpret the book you just spent x number of years to write. (Give them good information, for heaven’s sake)
  • Often book cover companies hire multiple artists, and have to pay them by the hour for their work
  • Using stockphoto? This one can be a huge expense. Companies can shell out thousands of dollars a year for the right to use images. Free ones… well, there are reasons they are free.
  • Changes, changes, changes – it takes a lot of time and drafts to make adjustments
  • Formatting – They had to learn somehow! Or buy the software to do it, and learn…

So yes. Sometimes the higher quality work comes from companies that charge more.

The Range of Pricing

It’s overwhelming, but don’t panic. Let’s look at a few of the companies who want to design your book cover:

The $5-$20 Range

Graphic design students fresh out of school will practically do a design for free. Someone who’s just learning will do a lot of work for less money for the practice. Now that’s a dangerous and risky temptation. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea if you want a cheap book cover design! $30 for two $15 book designs is still better than no book cover design.

Fiverr.com is a great place to start looking if you’re on a tight budget.

I spent a good bit of time myself combing through, and was tempted by a few artists with promises like ’24 hour turn around’ ‘thousands of happy customers’. Was the quality of their work equal to what I could do myself, or better? For many of them, yes. Did certain genres show up as better represented than others? Absolutely. See ‘Book Cover Design Part One‘ for my gripes on finding a decent fantasy cover.

So… if you’re not on a strict timeline, but you are on a tight budget, a website like this one would be a good place to start. A great one, even, for the indecisive. Have someone do a mock book cover design for a few bucks, and find out what you like or don’t like about it.

Don’t pin your hopes on anything falling into your lap, but it never hurts to check.

The $50-$300 Range

This budget range is a tricky one. Just a little more, and you could be in luck with a much more experienced and higher quality designer. But, if your budget is set in this range, I would not recommend a book cover design company. I would recommend working directly with an artist. Be frank about your budget, and let them know what you’re looking to achieve.

For this range, I would recommend posting a job on a website like Upwork. (I should do a separate post just on this website, it has a lot to offer but with caveats)

I used Upwork to find both my editor and the artist who designed the map for my fantasy world. Let’s use this as a good example of what quality can mean.

A little embarrassing, but here’s my new map compared to the original, coffee stains and all. Actually, this is a great example of how having a rough sketch was incredibly helpful for the artist to know what I wanted.

What any fantasy author dreams of as their map

What any fantasy author dreams of as their map

What I used for years as my world map

What I used for years as my world map

If I can get a map this beautifully done for about $150-$200, then there is someone on Upwork who will do your book cover design in this range.

This sounds perfect. Why doesn’t everyone do this option?

A few reasons. First of all, book cover design companies often have a 100% guarantee or your money back. You go through many drafts, and even then can still walk away. There is a certain undeniable appeal that if you don’t like the result, you won’t lose your entire budget in the process.

With Upwork, you have to be very specific when you set up your job posting, and include details like when you will pay the artist (Up front? At the end? Half now, half on delivery?), and how. There is more trust involved, and no system is perfect. It’s riskier.

Also, when you post a job on a freelance artist site, be prepared. You will be flooded with offers, and many of them will not be even close to a good fit. You have to look through every. single. one. And that takes a lot of time and mental energy. The results can be great, but you have to have a much better idea of what you want than when you work with a book cover design company – They have a system set up. They do the same types of designs repeatedly. All of that has value.

The $400-$800 Range

This range is a more comfortable one for getting a design that a traditional publisher would use. Simply put, once an artist has a following, or a book cover design company has a decent backlog of clients, they can afford to charge this much (or more) because people will pay it.

As an author in the fantasy and sci-fi genres, I found that only when I increased my budget to this range did I find options that made me happy. My standards were pretty high, and I tried a fair number of options before finding one I liked (I’ll write more on that later)

Here are a few of the options I tried or considered, and that I still think have a lot to offer:

Book Fly Design came up a lot in my general searching for fantasy book cover design. I see a decent number of blogs and writers recommend or use them, and they have many fiction and fantasy book covers that I find stunning. They charge between $550 and $700 currently for ebook or ebook and paperback designs, and when I contacted them back in November the earliest they could fit me in was May. A six month waiting period. Clearly they are in demand. I wasn’t able to wait that long, but would definitely consider them in the future if my budget allows.

Damonza was a company that I tried, but ended up deciding against after a few drafts. Nothing personal, but the designer wasn’t understanding what I wanted from my cover, and I didn’t think we were a good match. That was very hard for me, but a good lesson learned. Don’t force it if your gut tells you that something isn’t working. However, I still think they’re worth a look.

One of the things I spent several hours considering was their pre-made cover designs. Several are quite nice, and they’ll make slight changes, and sell you the ebook design for about $200, and probably the paperback version for another $100 or so. They have enough tempting extras like facebook banners, flyers, and marketing add-ons, that I’m going to put them in the $400 range. But you could do much worse for a $200 investment in a pre-made cover.

CreateSpace Book Cover Services – Just kidding. Please, for the love of the written word, don’t use them for a book cover design. They were my default choice at first, when I knew absolutely nothing about book cover designs. But, if you actually read their fine print, the $399 you pay gives you absolutely no rights over the work, and no free changes. Hope you like the first draft, or you’ll pay through the nose to customize a design with them. Take a read if you feel you need proof in print.

99Designs isn’t technically a book design cover company, but I feel I need to mention them because that’s who I ended up choosing in the end. They are similar to Upwork, because the company handles a network of freelance artists. However, I like their structure and their customer service very much. You set up a contest with your information, a number of artists submit drafts of different designs, you can request changes, and then commit to paying the winning artist.

I found a good number of options there. I chose their cheapest pricing option for both ebook and paperback, which was $449, but they have a basic package for just ebook I think that’s around $199. They always seem to have a different promotion running every few weeks that provides a good perk or savings as incentive.

Because I used them, they did offer me a $99 powerpack discount to share with friends. I like saving money, and this will give your posting some upgraded visibility and help more artists find your contest!

Note: affiliated links with 99designs or other companies will support the author and artists who use them.

An alternate suggestion for using their website: Check out what other authors are posting for their book cover design contests, find artist submissions you like within your genre, and contact the artist directly. Then you could perhaps negotiate a better price.

What Does The Purchased Book Cover Design Service Include?

Here are a few more questions to ask yourself – and the company or artists with whom you will work – that will definitely affect the price you pay for your cover:

  • How much control do you want? Lots of changes to find the right look?
  • Exclusive ownership of the designs, where the artist gives you all the rights?
  • Everything formatted and ready to go for just an ebook?
  • Both an ebook and a paperback?
  • Do they include or bundle other services you would want? How much would that save you?

No, a lot of cover designs are not cheap. But you can still find a balance of a nice design on a budget, and I hope this gives you a better idea of how to plan your expenses.

I’ll be working on sharing still more information on book cover design, so stay tuned for Part Three on how long this whole process takes!