Maya is anxious.
It is 8 PM and she is alone at work. But she is not working.
She is browsing Amazon. Pouring over one book after the other and thinking, “Gosh! What beautiful covers!” And with each click to another book, she gets the butterflies.
“How will mine stand out?!!”
She knows no matter what others may say, readers, do judge a book by its cover. And she wants a perfect one for her first novel. Rightly so. 89,511 words in 8 months have taken a lot that only she knew.
But she doesn’t know where to start. How do I find the right fit? What do I need to be careful with? Should I ask a friend, post a job on a marketplace or just buy a premade?
If you relate to the story above, you are most likely a new author and have the same worries as Maya. And you are not alone. Every new author who chose self-publishing to start her authoring career is anxious, confused and frustrated. There is so much to do and so little time.
In this post, I intend to help you get one of your issues sorted – Get your first novel a perfect book cover.
So let’s get started, shall we?
The Book Cover Design Basics
There are essentially 3 parts to any book cover design.
- Front Cover
- Back Cover
- Spine (the binding that holds the pages together)
For eBooks, you just need the front cover. For print, you’ll need all three.
Self-publishing authors have 3 ways to get their books a perfect cover.
- Pre-made Book Covers: As the name suggests these are ready-to-use, one-time use only book covers that authors can buy online.
- Custom Book Covers: This is where you hire a professional designer to design a unique cover for your book.
- Do-It-Yourself: If you are trained in design with a good eye for what works, you can do it all by yourself and save some $$.
For the first two above there are either online marketplaces or freelance graphic designers you can hire to do the cover for you.
What you choose to go with is a matter of personal choice, comfort level, and budget.
Here is the list of alternatives available for you to choose from. I hope you’ll find this useful to kickstart your book cover design project on the right note.
A simple, easy and safe way to get your book cover design right. Your personal and professional network.
More often than not we have a family member, a friend, a colleague who knows someone, who knows a book designer.
And it works. After all, we all are just separated by six degrees.
In fact, the Internet and social media have made it far easier for us to reach our network for help.
Just publish a private post on facebook. Or tweet to your followers.
In fact, if you’ve been on twitter for a while, it is highly likely a few book designers may already be following you.
Browse her portfolio and if you like her work drop a personal message.
If you are on LinkedIn then give a shout to your professional network on LinkedIn.
It is simple and easy since the amount of effort you need to put in to vet a book cover designer is reduced to half or even less.
And it is safe since you are reaching her through your own connections. And why would a friend or a cousin point you in the wrong direction?
But this does not mean you can due-diligence a pass.
Make sure you do your homework, review the designer’s portfolio, her experience doing work in your genre and clearly outlining your requirements.
Want custom cover design on a budget? Fiverr is the place to go.
Fiverr is an all-in-one marketplace for people on a budget to get help with stuff they can’t or don’t want to do themselves.
You can get all types of skilled (and fake) professional freelancers here, including some really talented book cover designers.
Agreed that you are on a budget, but please do not try and cut corners. You cannot do justice to your hard work with a book cover for $10 a pop.
In fact, there are higher chances of being cheated if you jump in for the cheapest one without doing your due-diligence. More often than not, quality doesn’t come dirt cheap.
Now, I don’t mean to scare you away.
For those on a budget, Fiverr can indeed get you a really decent designer to give justice to those countless late night writing marathons.
I suggest you go with Fiverr Pro.
Fiverr Pro is a value-added service, where buyers get to hire top quality freelancers they can trust. Fiverr assures secure transactions as well as provide 24/7 VIP support.
Yes, you won’t get these at $10 but if you really want to do justice to your creative work, spend some more and buy yourself peace of mind.
However, you still need to do your homework and due diligence and ensure you get it right the first time.
Another all-in-one marketplace for authors on a budget.
Upwork (called Elance earlier) is the big daddy of the freelancing world – the gig economy as they say. Older than Fiverr and quite similar to the way in which buyers of services seek sellers on the platform.
Unlike Fiverr the key difference is that sellers bid for requirements posted by one or more buyers.
Since this is a bidding platform, be prepared to be flooded by seller proposals as soon as you post your requirement and a lot of them are guaranteed to be trash.
Though, the one good thing with Upwork is that you can invite sellers to bid for your requirement.
But there is also a downside to ‘invited only’ approach. They may choose not to bid for your assignment for some reason or the other.
Many freelancers stay away from working with new clients. Or they simply do not have the bandwidth. You’ll end up wasting time.
To avoid such a scenario it is best to keep your bid ‘open to all’.
Also, it is important that you quote professional estimated budget and keep it fixed bid.
For example, if you keep your bid/budget at $20, I guarantee you won’t see any bids from the really good graphic designers on the platform. Show respect, get respect.
If you want access to a group of graphic designer’s on a single platform then 99designs is a good choice.
A slightly better alternative to the all-in-one marketplaces out there.
Their USP is that they take only design related projects.
You post your requirement and designers on the marketplace and designers with samples or ideas that hopefully match will bid for your project.
Another interesting feature on 99designs is that they also let you run a contest to hire a designer.
Doing contests are perfect when you are seeking some new ideas and inspiration for your first book’s cover.
Protip: Don’t deviate from the design theme in your genre just to have your book cover stand out. It will most certainly hurt sales.
It goes without saying, that be prepared to be overwhelmed with submissions.
To reduce the frustration of finding the right designer, be clear and crisp with the synopsis of your book. And don’t lead the designer or micro edit her work.
Finally, you’ll need a decent budget on 99designs. eBook covers start at $199, whereas print covers are $299 as it includes front, back, and spine.
Reedsy is a book publishing related niche marketplace. Ideal for authors to hunt for professional quality book cover designers. You can also find freelance professionals for work other than book cover design such as editing, book formatting etc.
Reedsy is a step ahead when it comes to finding outside help for your first book’s cover design.
To me, their key differentiator is that they vet every designer they allow on the platform and that is probably the reason why you’ll find some of the best in the business on Reedsy.
You’ll not only be able to search book cover designers but also review their portfolio and author ratings for the quality of their work.
Obviously, the prices here will be comparatively higher than what you’ll typically find on the generic marketplaces.
You can invite up to 5 designers to bid on your project. Unlike 99designs, here designers bid for your project.
You want to try this out only if you have a budget upwards of $150. And if you do, make sure you start the process well in advance – at least 3 months before your planned book launch date. Most quality designers on Reedsy or any other place have their calendars full well in advance.
We’re all on social media. Well, almost all – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or Pinterest.
For book cover inspiration, Instagram and Pinterest are the best platforms followed by Facebook to search for designers.
The approach to search for a designer is more or less the same on each social platform.
For example, visit facebook.com and search for “book cover design” and Facebook will list out pages, links, photos and groups and everything that matches with the search query as shown in the image below.
If you notice, on the right, Facebook also shows a related searches box which you can use to further narrow or broaden your search.
The search results may include Facebook pages by design studios or profile pages of designers. The rules are the same as we discussed above.
Take the time to review their portfolio. Most mention a link to their website. So take your time to visit their website and review their portfolio.
Pro Tip: Do an image search for a couple of the designer’s book covers on Google. If Google shows a few images linking to an online retailer such as Amazon – go ahead and shortlist the designer.
Whichever platform you choose to do your search, be aware that these platforms are not a commercial marketplace like Upwork or Fiverr. So you want to tread the terrain with care.
I’m saying it again. Do your due diligence.
We visit google.com everytime we have a question.
So when you are looking for outside help to get your first novel a perfect cover, you can also give Google a try.
There are two ways you can do this.
The first is the usual. Visit google.com or google.co.uk or google.in or the one with your country’s top level domain.
Just type ‘book cover designers’ and voila. Enough to get you started with your research.
You can also narrow it down and search for your genre.
For example, if your novel is in the suspense thriller genre, you can change your search query to say, “suspense book cover designer”.
You’ll be surprised what shows up. Like in my case, I tried the query above and Google showed me a link to the Pinterest board of a professional thriller/adventure book cover designer, Holly Heisey.
The second approach is to do an Image search. Just click on the Image tab on google.com and then type your query.
The difference here is that you’ll get to see images instead of links to websites as in the earlier example.
It might seem overwhelming at first but just have patience and browse through the results.
The images might be pointing to a social media account, publisher/author website or even a book designer’s website.
It’s possible that you may really like a cover of a novel by another author in your genre who may put you in touch with her designer. Problem solved!
If this is the first time you are venturing remember to never think of using any covers that you see on Google. It will be a violation of copyrights and land you in some deep trouble that you don’t want to deal with at the start of your authoring career.
In addition to premade book cover design marketplaces, there are many book cover designers who publish really cool book cover designs on their website to be sold as pre-made book covers for new authors on a budget.
For example, while searching for premade book cover designs I came across PixBee Designs, a small yet cool design studio in Romania that specializes in book cover designs.
On their website, you’ll notice they also have a collection of pre-made book covers available for sale to interested authors.
Almost all book cover designers make premade book covers available for sale on their website. Go for the one that suits your taste and your book’s genre.
Lastly, make sure you review the designer’s terms & conditions before adding the cover to your cart.
DIY Tools to design your book covers should be the last option left for anyone and that is why I’m keeping it in the end.
There is no comparing the fine touch of a professional.
But I am aware that there may be many of you who have their own reasons besides budget, to do it themselves.
So just for you, I’m going to cover 3 key tools that I’ve used myself (not necessarily to design book covers).
I’ve included 4 different tools here:
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)
This is the open source cousin of world’s most popular image editing software – Adobe Photoshop. It is open source, so it is free to download and use.
If you are familiar with Photoshop, learning GIMP won’t take much of an effort.
If you aren’t you’ll need a tutorial or two to get your hands dirty. There are many free tutorials available on Youtube that you can check out. Here’s one I liked.
And yes, you can also make 3D mockups of your first novel book cover. But then again, this tool, like Photoshop is only meant for the Bravehearts.
For those who wish to give GIMP a miss but still want to keep their designer hats on, there is this really cool tool called Canva.
Highly unlikely you haven’t heard of this tool but just in case you haven’t its the easier version of professional image editing software for people like you and me.
The basic version is free to use.
The tool has book cover templates, free images and really simple to learn and use tools to give your book cover a professional touch.
Yes, you read that right. The tool that most of you used to write your first novel can also do book covers. Isn’t that cool?
I seriously didn’t know this was possible a couple of weeks ago.
Again, you’ll need a high resolution, genre-specific image to get this done.
Here’s a cool “how to” video from a pro designer, Amanda Kulp on how to do it in Microsoft Word.
Since you are making the book cover yourself, you’ll need a quick and easy way to also have 3D mockups of your book cover.
A really simple and easy to use tool for a specific purpose. You can literally get a 3D mockup of your book cover done in under 5 minutes!
The base version is free and it is likely that will be all you need.
What I liked about this tool is that it has all possible templates for creating mockups, 3D Print, hardcover, spiral bind, compact discs, stacked paperbacks, tablet, smartphone etc. plus other user-friendly features.
A must use software tool if you are (and you should be) thinking of running ad campaigns on social media.
There you have it. 9 different ways you can give your first novel or second or third a perfect cover.
Do not underestimate the power of good design. If you want people to read your work, a good book cover is the first step to help your reader do that.
And, just because you are on a budget doesn’t mean your book doesn’t deserve all the love it can get. It is your hard work. Give it the respect it deserves.
Signing off and waiting to hear you succeed. Cheers!
Disclosure: I do not have any commercial interests or arrangements with companies or individuals I may have mentioned and/or linked to in the post above. In case I do in the future, I’ll be sure to update this disclosure.