Finding Cover Art for Your Self-Published Book

It’s just as hard for visual artists to make a living these days as it is for writers. They’re faced with many of the same challenges:

  • there are lots of good artists working for free or next to nothing in order to get their work out there and build a reputation;
  • there are artists pumping out good work at a phenomenal rate;
  • any images artists put on line could be lifted or altered and used without permission or regard to copyright by bloggers, tweeters, social media creators, writers, or other artists.

These are just a few of the thousand reasons why it’s hard for visual artists to make a decent living. In order to do so, you have to specialize, and one area of specialization is book cover designer. I can’t even count all the sites devoted to cover designs. For self-publishing authors, there are an almost overwhelming number of options for where to get bookcovers.

Finding Cover Art - Different Solutions for Everybody:

If you have cash to invest, there are lots of brilliant artists looking for work who will design a cover for you for anywhere from about $500 to $2500. These are professional artists who sometimes work directly for major publishers. You can sometimes find artists trying to launch their careers who will work for even less than that – but it would probably take some shopping and more than a bit of good luck. There is an element of risk whenever you hire an artist to do your cover -  that you won’t like anything they come up with, or will like the idea but not the execution. Some artists will work through that with you to the bitter end, but most give you a limited number of revisions.

There is less risk, but also less creativity and exclusivity when you buy pre-made covers. First, you need to find one that’s perfect for your book, so it helps if you have an open mind and don’t demand perfect fidelity to your story. Better to come up with something vague that reflects a single important aspect of your story – or simply had the right mood and sensibility. Authors can generally pick up customized cover designs for anywhere from about $50 to $300. Some even offer a measure of exclusivity for that price.

There’s a difference between design and illustration. An illustration can be beautiful and perfect – but can be undermined or even destroyed by bad typography. An ugly or inappropriate typeface, poor placement or colour selection of typographic elements, misspellings, poor colour balance on the illo itself, a wraparound the breaks the image poorly; all these things are vitally important aspects of cover design.

If you create or buy an image for your cover and set out to do the design yourself, you run a high risk of running into this problem. Unless you or a family member are really good at it. I have a publisher friend who always buys existing art (one time rights can be surprising affordable and can sometimes even be public domain).  His covers are some of the best I’ve seen. I designed my own cover for my story collection, Psychedelia Gothique, but as adequate (I do produce the odd truly striking image, but can’t count on it) as my illustrations generally are, I have somewhere between no and very little mastery of fonts and actual book design.

Pre-designed covers are created with no concept of the books they will be used on and no idea of the title or authors name, it is very difficult to design off-the-shelf typographic book covers, where the title is built into or is the basis of the design. This helps explain why the yearly lists of the top ten or top 100 book covers every year go overwhelmingly to typographic designs. The judges know that these covers were actually designed for the books they are used on.

But I don’t think that off-the-shelf cover designs are inherently inferior. Some of them are very effective indeed. They just have more limited design possibilities and are less likely to stand out on shelves or on book sites.

For The Human Template, I hired a first rate artist who was affordable largely because she’s related to me (my stepdaughter). Carly is also creating a variation on the first cover for the second book, so that the series has a visual identity/brand. I am paying her, but am getting a pretty good deal.

One thing I’m hoping is that the books become popular enough to allow me to create special editions using different cover art. But that’s a project for the future.

For single cover, the first thing you have to do is set a budget. Your cover is an important element that could bring or lose you sales. The first thing to consider when you’re looking for a cover is budget. Give yourself a range, and research what to expect when you work within that range. Then you have to think about what you would like to see on the cover. What kind of images would you prefer? Do you want it realistic, artistic, or in-your-face? Do you want a photograph or a painting, romance or blood, elves or businesspeople, or just words? Once you know what you want, you can start looking.

FREE: There are site like Adobe Spark and Canva that offer you tools and templates to “create your own beautiful cover” for free. Be skeptical. The apps may help you make a document more presentable or even impressive in a boardroom setting – but covers you create with it may not be as salable as you think – especially when you discover 50 other books with covers identical to yours.

There are the previously mentioned pre-made book covers from sites like: and (This is not an endorsement, I chose these completely at random). They sometimes sell one time rights so multiple authors can use them. Or if you pay a bit more you can get exclusive use (although there may be an endless number of variations on the market).

There are an increasing number of sites like Upwork, Fiverr and Reedsy that enable you to hire professional designers and illustrators who will charge you anywhere from $5 to 200 an hour.

When I’m shopping for a bookcover – I need to see an artist’s work before I talk or even think about hiring them. Many of these “hire a professional” sites require you to fill out so many fields, answer so many questions and promise a certain level of commitment before you have ANY idea of what they have to offer. This certainly puts me off. I may hire an editor based on their mugshot, rate, and resume. But I’m not going to hire an artist that way unless I’m familiar with their work. The more hoops I have to jump through before I’m able to see their work, the less likely it is that I will consider using that service.

Reedsy seems to have figured some of this out by making a major effort to build community (Through aspects like the Goodreads-inspired “ReedsyDiscovery.”) Then they offer the various services to their community. After you’ve joined it's much easier to use their services and Reedsy gives you a reason to join.

One of my rejected self designed covers

Get the scoop on my first novel, The Human Template at


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