How to Get a Cheap Cover – Part I

I’ve been running a series on my MySpace blog called “Adventures in Indie Publishing” where I tell everyone how I made a muck up of it all so that they don’t have to.  At the moment I’m exploring “How to Get a Cheap Cover” and, after a suggestion from Ruth, I decided to post it here as a series (because it’s a long, long post!)

This is actually a pretty huge topic, but I’m going to try to be as brief – yet informative – as I can be. The first thing you really need is some kind of an idea what you want for your cover. I know you may be thinking here, “Hey! I’m the writer! I’m not an artist! This isn’t my department!” but you’ve looked at books before, haven’t you? You know what you like to see and what you don’t. Right there is half the battle!

First, though, you do need an idea. Even if you have someone else make the cover, you should come to them with an idea in mind, no matter how sketchy. A good place to start getting ideas is to go to or Barnes and Noble and browse through books that are like yours. In my case, I checked out vampire books. One thing that leaps out instantly is that they’re all black. They usually have a woman, often with special emphasis on the curves of her neck. There’s generally an old tree, or a full moon and often there’s blood – or something blood red like a rose – to make you think of blood. This is a formula, if you will. The black is like the night, the red is the blood, the woman symbolizes the sex appeal, etc. Every genre has things like this, and the more covers you look at, the more you’ll be able to quickly pick them out. For instance you know a romance book the minute you see the cover, or a thriller or a mystery.

This is where you can decide whether you want to go with everyone else or whether you want to be different. Different can be good, but it can also backfire. Did I do well by choosing to go white instead of black, or by choosing a more minimalistic red dawn (which I am aware prints up slightly pink-ish) approach for the background as opposed to a creepy midnight scene? I have no idea. I know I went with white because my thought was if you had a stack of black books and one white one in the middle it would stand out more. However, I’m not sure if that really translates well into selling online. Is it immediately recognizable as a vampire book – or even a thriller? No, probably not. I guess time will tell. Anyway, I’d like to lie here and say that, before I designed my “daring” and “different” cover, I went on to research a lot of theories and such, but I didn’t. I looked at other covers. I screwed around in Paint Shop Pro over and over again and finally came up with what I liked. I’ve never been an “art theory” person. That’s not to say they aren’t right, but I always just go by guts. Something either looks good or it doesn’t.

One thing I do suggest, though, is that you don’t have too many different colors. Pick a few and go with variations of that “color”, like for instance you might have twenty shades of purple, but purple is still the main color. Also, just FYI, the most eye catching color combination is a cover that is ½, or more, black and ¼ white/grays with something bright red, preferably in the center. Yes, knowing this I still went white because the ever lovely Twilight designers also knew this, and I have enough idiots comparing me to that series without similar colored covers.

Again, the best design theory I can give you is to look at other covers. Imagine that the cover you’re planning was already made and on a book in a store. Would you pick it up? If you saw the thumbnail online would you click it? Does it even look good as a thumbnail? Because it really should if you’re planning to sell it online.

Here’s some links to get your ideas started:

The Book Cover Archive: (I don’t like most of these, but that’s MY taste)
60 “best bookcovers” –
Tips and Tricks for designing book covers: (some good stuff here!)
Tips for book cover design:
Dedicated to the appreciation of book covers:
Bad Sci-Fi book covers – (ie don’t do this, LOL!)

(Of note – if you check all these links you will notice that most of the “best” book covers completely IGNORE the tips and “rules” for making book covers found on the other pages. It’s that daring to be different phenomenon. A lot of the time it ends in disaster, but sometimes – well, it lands you on the 60 top book covers list. )


  1. Awesome post! I agree with scanning bookshelves or going online to see which covers best appeal to you when you’re looking at a way to design your cover. Too be honest, very few of those covers appealed to me. I felt like I was back in college with the textbooks. The bad sci-fi one had me laughing though because of how it worked with the title. But yeah, that’s pretty bad. LOL

    I think as long as your cover isn’t too different from what someone in your genre would expect, you’re okay. Naturally, a bunch of flowers and a house with a happy feel to it would not work for a thriller. So maybe it has to do with mood. Some covers scream light-hearted and other scream danger. The first thing I notice is the color. Then I see the picture and then the title. Wow, I never really thought about how much went into a cover or how I view it as a reader. So much of this stuff is subconscious.

    Considering that self-publishing does not always prove lucrative, I think finding a way to make a cheap but eye catching cover is the way to go. I hear you can spend between $300 to $500 for a book cover. I ended up buying a $10 picture from a place like Shutterstock or Dreamstime and attaching my name and title for the cover. I also learned not to make it too cluttered (after I did that and confused some of my beta readers–They kept asking, “What is that supposed to be? Where’s the title? Oh, there it is!”) You know when you hear enough of those comments that something is off.

    For my past two covers, I asked a friend who’s good at covers to do it and one of my readers actually offered in exchange for three paperback copies. Of course, I make sure to give them credit. I’ve found bartering is great. LOL

    1. Yeah, I wasn’t keen on most of the “top covers”. I thought some of them were down right hard to figure out, LOL! but there seems to be a new “trend” (i call it new, but it’s only cycled back around) of a very grass roots, badly drawn, kind of rough, non-professional feel to the covers. I know the first two bookcases in Barnes and Nobel left me thinking, “Wow, *I* can do better than this! That’s not right!” It’s a very seventies look, I think. And I don’t like it at all, LOL! but I guess I only have to wait. the slick look I prefer will be back eventually. Everything in art and fashion, and even writing, cycles around every thirty years.

      I really think emulation is a good way to go. I mean, don’t copy it completely, but you, know, imitate it. I actually have an art book from japan that says to do that, LOL!

      yeesh!! $500!? Man, I’m in the wrong business! I need to go into covers! *shudders*

      That’s some great advice! “Not too cluttered”! You’re right, simple is best! 🙂

      ha ha! now that my reply is as long as the blog….

  2. Thanks for the good informaton.

    1. You’re very welcome! 😀

  3. I don’t know how much he charges for book cover designs but Duncan Long at has what I think is some of the most eye catching designs that I have ever seen. And as we all know people judge a book by its cover. The cover some times makes the difference between them picking it up to take a look or not.

    1. He does do beautiful work1 This is from his FAQ: ( )

      “I’m pretty much in line with what other professional book illustrators charge: From $800 to $1,500 for a cover – the price is determined by the complexity of the work. Obviously a battle scene with a “cast of thousands” will cost more, while something like a simple country scene will be at the low end of the scale.”

      Very true! It is the book cover that catches the eye when a potential reader is scrolling through thumbnails, or browsing through books in a store.

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