I recently had my third cover made. It was a couple months ago and was for my self-published flash collection The Adventures of Iric (which is available for purchase). That was my third time working with cover artist, as I do no feel capable of making marketable covers myself, each time being a totally different experience. The three experiences differed in many ways, from the amount of control I had as the author, to the level of contact I had with the artist themselves.
I feel I have learned a lot about getting covers made through these three experiences and wanted to share that information with all of you.
Let me begin with a short summary of the cover services you can find out there. There are generally two types of covers: stock art covers, and original art covers. Stock art refers to the pictures that are sold for use on sites like ShutterStock.com. Original art means an artist is (digitally) painting something totally new for you. Original art covers will likely set you back at least $500 as you are not only paying for design, you are paying for image creation. Artists generally get paid by time, so drawing something entirely new, then designing a cover, will take much more time than just arranging stock art. Also, you are paying for sole rights to new content, whereas stock art is available for purchase and use by many people.
Since my three experiences were all with stock art covers, I will limit my discussion to that side of the business.
On the stock art side of the cover market, there are more divergences. One such difference is the quality of the stock art used. Some artists only use free stock art sites like Pixabay. There will generally be a marked difference in quality between covers that use free stock art, and those that pay for stock images. This is because the best stock images are on paid sites like ShutterStock, and those sites also have a significantly larger library of images.
Another difference is whether the cover is premade or custom designed. Premade covers are ones that artists have already created. They simply put your name and book title on it. I am generally against premade covers since it is hard to find one that is a proper fit for the book. But it’s not impossible, and some artists do them very well.
These factors are going to affect the cost of your cover. A stock art cover can cost anywhere from $10-$500 depending on the artist, the stock art type, and the level of customization. You’re going to pay more for an artist that pays for stock art. You are going to pay more for a custom design, as it takes more time to complete. Typically, a good, original concept, paid stock art cover is going to cost you $100-200. But as I learned, you can find ways to save a bit if you’re willing to do some extra work.
Now let me talk about my three experiences with making covers.
The first was the cover for Call of the Guardian:
This cover was paid for by the publisher, Fiction Vortex. I did not have much input in the process, other than suggesting I wanted a protagonist stand-in and a dragon on it, and a lot of fire. Boom! This is what I got. It felt a bit like playing the lottery, but I was not too disappointed. I was told by the Boss Man that if I wanted to get this artist to do something for a personal project of mine, it would likely be around $200.
The next cover was for The Nightingale (releasing in April!):
This cover was also paid for by the publisher, Fantasia Divinty. Unlike with my first experience, this time I had more input on the design. However, I did not have direct contact with the artist; the publisher stepped in as a intermediary. There was a lot of back and forth through those channels. I suggested an initial concept, the artist sent something back, I suggested changes, and so forth.
At first it was a bit of a struggle, as I did not care for what the artist was suggesting. In particular, I didn’t care for the character models the artist was choosing. So I started digging around on stock photo sites offering suggestions. This was perhaps the biggest lesson I learned about making covers, which I will discuss in detail below.
To my surprise, though, my suggestions were rejected. It took some time for it to become clear that the artist was only using free stock art, and I was suggesting pictures from paid sites. Moreover, I eventually learned that the artist used only one specific site for their stock photos. But once this bit of information came to light, the process became much easier. I searched the site in question, and though I did not like the choices there as much as on the paid sites, I did find a few that might work. This took me several hours of digging, but I viewed this time as an investment towards having a good cover. Finally, we settled on the character model shown above.
I do not know how much the publisher paid for this cover.
These two experiences suggested to me that the most important thing for an author to do, when getting a cover made, is to be directly involved. Be involved as much as possible. I carried this insight with me when I began working with an artist for The Adventures of Iric.
I found the artist, E. Rachael Hardcastle on a Facebook group. She responded to my query about cover letters by sending me a sample and a quote. I was satisfied with what I saw, so we started working.
It took about a week to finish the cover. Much of this was due to our geographic separation and online correspondence. I gave her an idea of what I might be looking for, and she responded by tempering some of my expectations. But I knew right from the start how I wanted to work it. I asked her upfront what stock photo site she used. Then I started looking for things to use on the cover.
I sent her suggestions of art and design ideas, she either shot them down as not good or even doable, or worked the idea and sent back a concept. At first, I felt like things weren’t progressing, but she kept trying. She suggested photos to me, and I looked for more.
After a lot of back and forth, I stumbled on a paid site that gave out five free images by signing up. I don’t recall what site it was. I entered my credit card info, selected my five free images, then canceled the account. What I found delighted me. This was the image that I discovered:
My first reaction was, “This looks just like Iric!” Having been somewhat disappointed with how the characters in the two previous covers reflected those in the books (and being told that this doesn’t really matter, as the cover is more of a concept than a honest view), I was delighted to have an image that reflected what I saw in the character. It was also proper for fantasy.
I sent the image to Rachael and she also had a strong reaction. She did her bit of tweaking and artsy magic, and delivered me this:
In addition to adding the text, obviously, she also added a blue tint, shadows on the character’s face, darkened the hair, and many other things I would have never thought to do. It was mostly luck that the one image filled the page; usually the cover will be a composite of several images, as with the others shown above. But the end result was still a bit of a shock.
In the end, she spent hours on the project with me. She was ready to deliver a custom cover, on her own, had I not been so involved. She sent me at least four concepts before we settled on the one above. For that service I paid around $30.
Now I am guessing the lowness of that price is partially due to the effort I put in to help design the cover. When I asked her whether she appreciated my help, she told me “I think having the authors input helped. It’s their cover and they’ll all have a vision of what they want. Finding ideal images and keeping in touch with their own ideas makes my job easier and means I can design something suitable.”
That seems to me to be the hidden truth of cover creation. I could have simply rejected the concepts and asked her to do more, without any further input. But the easier you can make the artist’s job, the more willing they are going to be to go the extra mile. Also, they might charge you less if they have to work less, just like how premade covers are cheaper than custom ones.
So the advice I have for you, as I have learned over this past year, is to be involved with your cover design. Find the stock art that fits what you want and then let the artist turn it into something that will sell.
I certainly think I will be using E. Rachael Hardcastle’s services again if I self-publish another collection. But that is something to think about later. I have too many projects, and real work, to do right now.
I hope this helps you when you are deciding about covers and artists.