The old saying is, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover.’ Was that ever true? For e-books in particular, the cover is the first thing you judge the book by. If it doesn’t grab your attention, you’ll skim right by it and on to the next. The cover, just like in a physical book store, has got to make you want to (virtually) pick it up and take a look inside. So it’s a pretty important selling tool.
The indie author has basically three choices for covers: premade covers, custom-made covers, and self-made or do-it-yourself covers.
Premade covers come in a full range of prices, from $15 up to $100, with the majority in the $40-60 range. I’ve also seen covers on Fiverr for, obviously, $5 (more for extras, as usual at that site). I’ve never tried them because I’ve mostly seen covers for non-fiction there, and at present I’m sticking to fiction. On the Kindle Forums people have reported at both ends of the spectrum regarding their satisfaction with covers from that venue. You can find premade covers easily by doing a Google search; pages and pages of cover designers’ websites will come up. If you’re lucky you’ll happen upon someone blog page about cover designers which may have multiple links to cover designers all in one place.
I was pretty naïve when I first started looking for premade covers. I thought the artists were actually making the covers in their entirety themselves, using their own original artwork. Maybe that’s because I have some relatives who are artists (one actually making his living that way) and have seen the beautiful artwork that seems to just fall off their pencils and paintbrushes. I also have a photographer in my family (don’t we sound like an artsy-craftsy bunch?) so I figured the cover designers were taking their own photos too. Wrong. Maybe some of them do that, but the majority use stock photos, maybe making some tweaks to them or doing some cropping. The cover designers’ websites will usually state that they will only sell that cover image once, but that doesn’t mean that some other cover artist won’t buy that same image and use it on a cover they create. This happened to me, or semi-happened, because when it did, it no longer mattered.
My first cover, for a book then-titled Twice Blessed, featured a blissfully happy-looking couple. I loved that cover because to me it epitomized how the characters in the book were at the end. But then I got feedback that the blissful couple and the title made it seem like it was going to be a Christian book, and it certainly wasn’t that. So I found another cover with a steamier picture that fit in more with the content of the book, and retitled it Uncovering The Truth. A few weeks after that, I was looking at a presentation that Mark Coker of Smashwords had made at a convention. There, on a slide of covers of Smashwords books, was my cover — or so I thought. I got pretty excited thinking he was using my book in a promo, even though by then my cover had changed. But zooming in on it, I found it had an entirely different title (which I don’t recall now). I realized then the photo was a stock image, and some other cover designer had also purchased it and made a nearly identical cover. (By the way, I learned from the photographer in my family that you can go to a website called tineye.com and upload any picture and it will tell you the source of it. The picture on that particular cover had come from Germany and the site also showed the original version of the photo, which was actually nicer looking than the cropped version on the cover.) Since I had already replaced my cover, it didn’t matter to me that someone else used that cover too. However, now I know that could happen again with my current cover, or any other premade cover. So if you do buy a premade cover, be aware there’s a chance you could see one almost like it on someone else’s book.
If you want to avoid that, there are artists who do original covers with original artwork, and to your specifications. Of course you are going to pay big-time for something like that. I’m talking in the $200-$500 range. Face it, if you’re going to spend that kind of money for a cover, you’re going to have to sell an awful lot of books just to break even. If you sell your books at a newbie’s price of $2.99, you’ll only make about $2.00 per book once they deduct the distribution fee (I think that’s what they call it, basically a charge for electronically sending out your book to the buyer) from your royalty, so you’re looking to sell 100 copies if you paid $200 and 250 copies if you paid $500 for your cover. Even if you’re optimistic about sales because you’ve got a million Facebook friends or Twitter followers and they’ve all said they will buy your book when you publish, you can rest assured that 99.9% of them are lying. (Still, if you do have a million followers, that .1% who might actually follow through and buy it would pay for your custom cover.) But generally speaking, custom covers cost quite a bit with no guarantee you’ll earn that money back.
Some people chose to make their own covers. The book I mentioned a couple posts ago, Publishing E-Books for Dummies by Ali Luke, has a chapter about making your own covers using a free download, paint.net at http://www.getpaint.net/download.html I’ve never tried it because it looked complicated to me. I did, however, try making a cover from instructions I found on another blog, http://www.williamking.me/2012/02/22/create-your-own-ebook-cover-step-by-step-with-pictures/ You use Power Point for this, and a stock photo (or one of your own). It wasn’t too difficult or time consuming, but despite the artists in my family, I have no artistic eye myself. The cover was just okay, and it did give me a chance to see a book cover with the title I was considering, but ultimately I purchased a premade for that book (and retitled it).
KDP offers a self-made cover option on their publishing page, with a small selection of stock photos to choose from. It’s pretty simple to do and they do offer a variety of typefaces and tweaks to the layout, but there is always the chance there’ll be a cover very much like yours on someone else’s book. Another disadvantage is that you don’t really get a copy of the cover for your own use on your website or on Facebook, though I suppose you could copy and paste it. You probably can’t use that cover if you also publish on Nook or Smashwords because of it saying “Kindle Edition” and “Look Inside” on it. But making a cover on KDP is a cost-free alternative for Kindle e-books.
If you do want to try making a cover yourself and you aren’t going to use one of your own photos, Google royalty free and copyright free photos to find stock image sites to scour for a suitable photo. (BTW, when I spent some time scouting out stock photos, I recognized so many photos from covers for sale that I had looked at online.) You want royalty free so you don’t have to pay the photographer a fee for each copy of your book you sell, and you want copyright free because you don’t want the copyright holder making Amazon pull your book because you’ve violated his/her copyright by using it. (That happened to somebody just this last week per the Kindle forum.) Some of these stock photo sites actually offer free photos but be sure to check the requirements for using a free photo. One site, freedigitalphotos.net, requires that if you use the free copy of the photo, you must attribute it to both the photographer and their website on or below the photo itself. I can’t imagine it would look very good to have your cover showing Title, Author’s Name, and then Photo Courtesy of (Photographer’s Name) on Freedigitalphotos.net right on the cover. The cost at that site to buy the rights to use the photo only run about $8-10 for the size needed to make a cover, which isn’t that bad a deal. Some places have you buy ‘credits’ or ‘units’ or something like that and each photo has its own price in whatever term they use; there are also stock photo sites that want you to subscribe to them, by the month or by the year. You could also use your own original artwork for a cover, but make sure it’s pretty professional looking. A couple weeks ago I saw a cover where the author did his own artwork for his cover: stick figures. I kid you not. Two stick figures and a hand-printed title and author name. It looked like something you’d see at a first grade open house, and it was not a child’s book.
One other thing to watch out for with covers is their size. Each of the major distributors has their own size requirement. The first covers I bought said they were for Kindle books, and I assumed they would therefore be for all e-books. They worked fine for Kindle, as expected, worked for Nook, but then when I tried to download it at Smashwords, I got a warning that the size was wrong. Smashwords requires 1600 x 2400 pixels. But as I discovered after Googling the problem, you can use Microsoft Office Picture Manager to resize the photo. (I don’t know this for a fact, but someone told me that Microsoft has discontinued that feature on Office 2013; I certainly hope that is not true.) Also be aware that you can’t use this feature to buy the smallest size photo (which at Freedigitalphotos.net costs something like $3) because the resizing involves the program automatically adding more pixels to the photo based on what’s there to increase the overall pixel size. This can result in distortions of the photo. (This is per the photographer in my family.)
I thought that this would be my last installment on e-book publishing but there is something else to address before I get to the publishing part: writing the book description. That’s the sales blurb you use when your cover has enticed a reader to click on your book and see what it’s actually about. I think (and I’m sure a lot of authors, indie and otherwise, would agree with me ) that it’s easier to write an entire book than it is to write a description of that book. Nook and Kindle give you 5,000 characters with which to write your description (that’s characters, not words. Smashwords actually requires two descriptions, a short one (400 characters) which they use as a sales tool to the places they distribute to, and a longer one (4,000 characters). What you write will depend on what your book is about (obviously), but at a website called Authormarketingclub.com, in exchange for signing up for their free membership (their paid membership costs something like $150), you can get a PDF download called: How To Sell More Books with Awesome Amazon Descritions. It’s not the Holy Grail but it does have some helpful hints like using a headline to grab attention and using action words at the end of the description to urge the viewer to ‘Scroll Up and Grab A Copy Now.’ (Every time I see that on a book description, I know what they’ve read!) My personal advice would be, don’t give away too much of your plot in the description. There are descriptions I’ve read which have convinced me I don’t have to read the book now because they’ve basically told me everything in the plot already.
Now for a bit of blatant self-promotion: I just published a new book, so here is a link if you want to check it out: http://amzn.com/B00L4L0QJY
Next week, publishing! (Finally!)