Authors just starting out as independents are often on a shoestring budget. They’ve written something they think is great (valuable, funny, sexy, moving, powerful, emotional, dark, imaginative) and they want to share that with the world. Going indie is a way to get that book out the door and into the market without having to get an agent. Even better, the profit margin is far higher than it would be with a traditional publisher.
I started looking around at the e-publishing world this summer, thinking of dipping my toes into the graphic design field for covers. And it’s a really amazing world right now. A lot of change, a lot of pride and excitement as the entire book industry begins to make a major paradigm shift with authors gaining power and autonomy. But as a design professional, I see a lot of confusion from authors on covers. Do they need a cover at all? Can they design a cover themselves? Should they hire someone? Is it worth it? What should they pay? And I see lots and lots of authors wanting cheap covers. Plenty of discussion on how and where to get a cheap cover. And I understand it. It’s the whole shoestring thing; you’re taking a gamble with your words that you hope will pay off, but there are no guarantees and there is only so much money you want to flush down that hole before peering in to see if something good floats up. Sometimes a hole is full of gold, and sometimes it’s just an outhouse well.
I admit it. I was (and still am) pretty shocked at the price fledgling indie authors seem to want to pay for an entirely original cover. It tends to range from about $20 at the low end to $150 or so at the top end. And there are a lot of complaints if stock art is used on more than one cover. “Bah humbug for using stock art more than once” said one poster the other day, in a thread where an author found the image she had paid a designer for used in several different covers. Most comments were complaints that stock art poses should only be used once, for one author, ever. Which is impossible with stock art. Original art can absolutely be commissioned, but authors should be prepared to pay for it.
I think part of the issue is that many fledgling authors just don’t really know how a designer works, what industry norm prices are, or what a fair price point really is for a cover. Don’t feel alone; some of the cover designers don’t know either! Some of them are seriously underselling their work, either in the mistaken belief that’s the only way to get a commission, or because they are amateurs themselves and don’t know how to price their own talent. (And some purported “professionals” are clearly not at all; buyer beware!)
For the purpose of this post let’s pretend everyone reading this has decided, definitely, they want a professional cover artist to do their cover. Good choice, since a spectacular cover will absolutely help you sell your book. Let’s also set the stock image controversy aside for a bit, I’ll take that up later. And let’s agree that by “professional,” we mean a person who does art/design full time; this is how they make their bread and butter and keep a roof over their head. (Not planning on hiring this person? That’s fine, I still think this post will help you understand cover design costs).
I’m going to make this really easy on myself and link to a wonderful blog post on this subject by Shaun Henser of Henser Creative. He covers average costs (including book cover costs), what goes into the costs and why designers charge what they do. I have a small difference of opinion with him on stock art especially wrt book covers, but it’s an excellent summary and I think will be really helpful to all of you.
As for my own prices, I’m not discussing them here and that’s not what this blog post (or the blog in general) is about. I don’t care if you get a cover from me or from another artist. I do care that you get a really good cover that showcases your writing, and I hope you care too. For most people, this means going professional, not doing it yourself. This is your project, your baby, your sweat and blood. Investing in a good cover is absolutely worth it.
Here is a final question to ask yourself. Do you want to hinge the success of your very hard work and hours of writing on your high school son’s friend, or somebody in your group of friends who volunteers to do your cover? I bet you are proud of your work and what you have produced. Doesn’t your book deserve a cover that reflects that? I say it does. And hopefully this post helps you know a bit more about what a professional cover designer or artist may charge.