Book Covers: Some thoughts for Self-Publishers

Eoin Purcell

A lot of traffic
Comes to this site looking for answers about book covers. Generally, I’m guessing, this is more from self-publishing authors than traditional route publishers. I say this because it is rare for traditional publishers* to leave cover choice to the authors.

I thought I would add some thoughts for those visitors. Feel free to ignore it or to get in touch with questions.

Essentially there are five steps

1) Decide what genre your book fits into
I don’t want to hear that your book is unique. To some degree all books are. Responding that your book is unique indicates either laziness or lack of knowledge of the market you are writing for. Should you be going ahead with this project if that is the case?

Take some time to investigate the market, search for books that have similar themes or writing styles and try and think how you can fit into those genres. The questions you need to ask yourself are, is this a definable genre? That could be as broad as General Fiction if you like, or as narrow as 19th Century British Merchant Shipping if you prefer. But make sure you know what it is.

2) Figure out how you are publishing the book
This may seem trivial, but it will have a direct impact on your work-flow. Some publishing routes are easier than others, some may require you to have cover files ready earlier than internals, some may not offer you customized covers.

Whatever way you choose find our how they want cover files submitted. This will be be as .jpg, .tiff, .psd or perhaps even .pdf. Be sure that they also tell you what DPI and size the image/file should be. All of this information will be vital to making the cover look perfect at the final stages.

I’d use this opportunity to ask them about paper weights and make decisions about gloss, matt or demi-gloss stock. No option is necessarily the right one, but each has its uses. As with 1) take some time to search out the types and styles of covers that your competition favours.

3) Write a designer brief
I’d counsel drawing up a draft designer brief to give to whoever is designing your cover, even if that person is yourself. Why?

Just putting together the details about the book will help focus on the task at hand. I have drawn up a very loose sample you can use if you like. It’s here.

4) Hire a designer
You probably say this one coming but here goes. Many people who are pursuing self-publishing feel that they should be free to design their own cover, and indeed they are. However, the cover is THE key selling tool your book will have. Online and in-store, the cover is what the buyer sees first.

With that in mind, a professional, pitch perfect cover will sell more copies of your book than any other factor. Search for a good designer and pay them for their work. Don’t even dream of paying more than you need to though. A good design should cost you between €600 and €900 and not more.

There are cheaper options available and places like elance.com are great sources of freelance ability.

5) Allow time for a proof or even a rethinking of your cover
Whatever your timetable is, make sure that you plan all of these steps to ensure you have sufficient time to rethink a cover. Perhaps when your designer is finished you will not be happy with their work, or it will need serious tweaking.

Don’t be too worried. Even trade publishers rethink and comprehensively rework jackets at the last minute.

Wrap up

I am speaking from a trade perspective. I have heard that some academic houses do allow for authors to decide on covers if they don’t want a plain or series cover. I think the money is better unspent on the authors part in such cases.

A lot of this advice is only worthwhile if an author is intent on selling copies to a wide audience. If the market is limited to a few friends, then feel free to designer your own cover in whatever way suits!

Tired but happy to be finished driving for the weekend,
Eoin

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2 comments

  1. Hi Eoin,

    I’m a regular reader of your blog and as a designer with clients within the publishing industry I was interested in your post about self-publishing and book covers.

    I was just wondering how you came up with the figure of €900 as the maximum anybody should pay a designer for a book cover. Surely as it a free market the price is for negotiation between the author and the designer. And it is ultimately the author’s decision as to whether a particular designer is worth their fee.

    I do realise that you are talking about the self-publishing market and that the economics are entirely different to the publishing house model but I sill think it’s misleading to quote such hard and fast numbers.

    Thanks.

    JL

  2. Hey JL,

    Thanks for the comment.

    You are of course right that it’s a free market and that if a designer and author agree to a price higher than €900, so long as everyone is happy, excellent!

    On the other hand, if one knows that the going rate for certain given tasks generally lies in the band I’ve suggested, then why not make it obvious that higher than that is either a special price or too much?

    Eoin

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