From Rick:

After last week’s blog, I’m guessing that some of you were asking some serious questions about designing covers. I’d bet that these were among them:

(1) Given what I read from The Book Designer, would it be better to let a professional design my cover?

Not necessarily. First, you know your book better than anyone. Unless you can find a cover designer who has the time to read your book (or at least enough to get a proper feel for it), then all that designers will have to go on is your input on the book, which could be biased in a good way or a bad way. This is how most designer do it.

You probably saw a few of the cover designs done by professionals on The Book Designer’s blog that Mr. Friedlander still found fault with. A designer is only as good as the information you provide, but even good designers can make missteps. This happens all the time with commercial publishers, and this is why you, as an indie author, should know what goes into a good design even if you’re not doing it.

(2) How much does a cover designer charge?

It’s my experience that covers range from $100 to $500. Some simple covers may cost less. While I’d love to say that “you get what you pay for” is always the rule, it’s not. I’ve seen excellent covers done in the $100 to $300 range, with many falling around $150-$250. Cost depends in part on the licensing cost of any stock images used in the cover. If you and the designer are clever and work together, you should be able to get a high-quality cover for a very reasonable cost. But if your budget is limited then…

(3) Do I have the skill it takes to design a good cover myself?

That depends. For sure, you or someone you know should be up to speed on some decent design software (like Photoshop or GIMP). Even more important, though, is that, whoever designs it, YOU need a good sense of objectivity in judging it. You have to be able to tell the difference between “that cover is gorgeous and I love it” versus “that cover sends the right message to potential buyers.” “Gorgeous” is not the first factor you consider in a good cover.

The first job of a cover—its only job—is to grab the attention of the right reader for your book.

It goes without saying that your cover needs to look professional no matter who designed it. This means that

–the cover must be understandable (everyone looking at it should be able to tell readily what the cover depicts)

–the title (at least) must be easily readable not only at full size, but at thumbnail size (an inch or two high). Go out on Amazon.com and look at the size of the covers displayed. Can you read the titles on all of them? As you browse the books, keep in mind that some of them were may have been originally designed for full-size print books, not as e-books. But I’ve seen some titles on print books that couldn’t be read easily either, which reflects poor font choice.

Even if the cover was done in Photoshop, it must not look like it was. That is, images should blend in a way that it looks like a whole, not like they were all shoved in wherever they would fit, and they need to form a unified theme. I’ve seen with four or five images stuffed more or less randomly on the cover because the author took an “all of those are important in my novel” approach.

A good cover makes judicious use of color, a limited color palette, and colors fit the genre. Unless your novel is about rainbows, resist the temptation to overdo the colors.

A good cover projects the correct genre. A gorgeous woman in a flowing dress on a cover on a spy novel is probably not a good choice of cover images (not even if the spy is a gorgeous woman) because male readers seeing it could well think it’s a romance.

I find it interesting that the original cover for The Bridges of Madison County made it look more like a literary novel, which it wasn’t. An e-book with that cover today likely would not get a second glance (just my opinion, though). Compare that cover with the cover of the DVD from the movie. Ignoring the fact that Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep are on that cover, look at how it projects the correct genre.

Again I invite you to look over the e-book cover design awards and to study the cover images. Which covers attract your attention? On Amazon.com investigate the ones that attract you and which seem to be in a genre you like to read. Do the book descriptions match up with the covers? Perhaps look at some books whose titles suggest a book that might interest you (irrespective of the cover) and consider whether the cover does the book justice.

It may seem as if I’m dragging out this cover design tutorial and giving you little of practical use. You have to be a reader before you can be a writer, and before you can design a cover (or judge a cover’s worth) you need to study covers and learn to determine why (and if) they work.

I will repeat what I said last time: There is no single perfect cover for a given book. Your goal is to craft ONE good cover that will sell your book.

Next week I have an excellent guest blog by Adam Fenner on writing action scenes. After that, I promise we’ll start to get into some practical aspects of cover design, including what to do when you have no clue (or way too many clues) about what your cover should be.

–Rick