Self-Publish Like a Pro: How to get a quality book cover on a budget PART 3

So far I have covered the simpler, faster, and cheaper ways to get a beautiful ebook cover – a DIY or a premade cover. Unfortunately, for many authors these option’s don’t work. You may have something specific in mind for your cover, and no single stock image or a premade template captures it. In that case, you’ll need to work with a designer or an illustrator.


Designers work like this:

– You share your vision of what you’d like to see on the cover, including key elements and general mood

– The designer picks one or more stock photos, manipulates them to create the desired image, and adds a genre-appropriate font. Usually designers are subscribed to a stock image supplier and can download an unlimited number of photos at no additional cost for them

– There are several rounds of revisions, where you can give back your cover and request changes

Some designers won’t charge you if you’re unhappy with your cover and decide not to use it. However, some do, and you may need to pay around 50% deposit when commissioning the cover.

The premade cover websites I discussed last time also offer custom design options. Let’s look through them and see if their offers are worth while:

These guys have some amazing premade covers, but if none of them work for you, they can also offer you a custom design. Their custom packages come with two options:

Basic cover – you pick 1 stock photo from the site they are subscribed to, and the designer does some minimal Photoshop work – $150

Premium cover – includes advanced Photoshop work and unlimited images – $300

And this is where they lose me – $150 for a cover with a single photo, using minimal Photoshop work? Come on, that’s a 10-minute job. And the customers are supposed to select the photos themselves, so it’s not like the designer loses any time searching. I’ve seen designers who offer similar options for more reasonable  prices, but we’ll get there.

The Premium cover option sounded promising, if pricey, so I decided to look through their portfolio and see how good they are. The first thing I noticed was this cover:

The picture looked extremely familiar. I remembered I had seen the original stock while looking for pictures of long-haired men for my book trailer. I dug through the websites I’ve visited and tried to replicate my searches, and finally I found it on Dreamstime:


It looks like this cover used the Basic option – the designer has simply cropped the original, changed the color balance to have more red and less yellow, and added the text. The job is nicely done and the cover looks cool, but I still think the price is unreasonable for the work involved. Also, I was a bit stunned to see this cover. I admit that when I saw this image, I considered buying it. With a bit of work, I could have made it look like one of my characters. Now I’m very happy I didn’t!

The original stock has been purchased 5 times on Dreamstime, and it’s possible it’s also available on other websites. I don’t know if any of the other buyers used it for a book cover, but it’s likely. And while two book covers with the same photo on them looks bad, I believe two covers with the same illustration is even worse. When you see an illustration on a book cover, you assume it’s custom drawn for this specific story. However, that’s not the case here. It’s a general stock illustration that the artist is selling to many people. If you see two books with the same illustration on them, it will certainly look like one of the authors is stealing the other’s images even though no one is doing anything illegal.

I looked through the rest of the gallery, and they do have some lovely covers:

beetiful3beetiful1 beetiful2

These are all very well done. Another advantage of working with Beetiful is that if you get a cover from them, you get an author profile on their website. If someone is browsing through their portfolio and notices your cover, it could lead them to your website or places where they can buy your book.

Overall, I think Beetiful has some really nice premade covers, but the custom covers are not really a bargain.

I love Damonza. Their covers, both custom and premade, look professional and can easily set your book apart from the indie crowd.

damonzacustom6 damonzacustom1 damonzacustom2 damonzacustom4 damonzacustom5 damonzacustom3

I can’t tell you enough how much I admire these covers. The Photoshop work is flawless and the typeface blends perfectly with the picture. I have yet to see anything from them that looks like “bad Photoshop”, which is a problem for so many indie ebook covers. Just look at the half-tattoo half-real butterfly. I’ve seen some atrocious tattoo Photoshops on ebook covers, which makes me admire this one even more.

Are Damonza too good to be true? Unfortunately, they seem to be. They charge $495 for an ebook cover, and $595 for a paperback. And that’s excluding what they call “character creation.” If you want them to add a character with a specific look, the service starts at $200 extra. My advice? If you have a huge budget, and you have decided you prefer photos to illustrations, go for it. Otherwise, seek other options and spend the rest on beta readers. Even the best cover won’t save you if your book is poorly edited.

These designers offer custom covers for $180, or $150 if it’s a following book in the same series. These include unlimited stock photos. Also, you can turn the ebook cover into a paperback for $75.

A little aside here – if you need a paperback cover, don’t pay $75–$100 extra. Just give your ebook cover to someone on fiverr, and they’ll add a pretty good matching spine and a back cover for $5. Unless you want a complete artwork that goes around the book, like I did, I don’t think it’s worth it.

Now, back to EbookIndieCovers. I like how these guys work. They try to help indie authors and offer many nice extras. Their covers might not be as stunning as Damonza’s, but some are still nice. They seem to specialize in people on the cover if that’s what you are looking for.

Some stunning designs here, priced at $150 for a custom ebook cover and $200 for a paperback.

A few cool samples from the gallery:

alchemy1 alchemy2 alchemy3

Definitely worth checking out.

Another thing I love about Alchemy is that the designer offers a “quick cover” option. If you have your own images, you can provide them and get a fabulous cover for $60 (1 image), $70 (two images composite), or $80 (three images composite). Alternatively, you can choose the photos from a paid stocks database the designer is subscribed to, and you’ll get your covers at no extra charge.

And, of course, you can always order a custom design cover at fiverr, starting at $5. Note that for $5 the designer will likely use free Common License photos, or ask you to provide your own, but if you already have a quality photo, this might be a good option. Also, you can purchase extras, and for $10–$20 you could get a cover designed with premium stock images. Beware – some designers on fiverr simply grab images from the web that could be copyrighted, and you could get in trouble. Make sure the designer uses Common License or purchased royalty-free images, or simply provide your own to be on the safe side. Also, quality on fiverr can vary a lot. Always check samples of the designer’s work before you order anything and don’t always trust the hundreds of positive comments.


Many designers will tell you that you don’t need an artist for your book cover. You need a designer. Designers know what sells and how to create an eye-catching cover for you. I’ve seen this claim a few times, and I still don’t believe it. Illustrations can also create powerful images, and, depending on your book’s genre and subject matter, might even be more appropriate for you.

One of the advantages to being an indie author is that no one can tell you what to do. You have complete creative control over your book, and you should pick a cover style that feels right to you. Most of all, create a book that you like. If you don’t, you can’t expect anyone else to like it.

So, an illustrator? Where do I find one?

DeviantArt is a place where both amateur and professional artists share their work. My advice is, type “book cover” in the search field to see what artist have already done covers. Browse through their works to find a style that matches what you are looking for. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to artists, who’ve done book covers, or even to artists who have taken paid work before. Find someone whose style you like, contact them, and ask to commission them. Surprisingly, illustrations can be much cheaper than photo designs, and you get many added benefits.

Why did I chose an illustrator over a designer?

I love art and the idea of original artwork on a book cover. I believe it can give your book a sense of magic that a photo can rarely capture. Still, I first considered all the options I had described above – making my own cover, using stock photos, premade covers, or custom designs. Ultimately, the nature of my book and what I was looking for wasn’t suitable for any of these.

When thinking about my cover, I came up with a specific image in my mind. I wanted to have the following: A cloudy, dark sky with a full moon, over a forest of dead trees. A medieval castle on top of a hill. A girl walking towards the castle, with a stake in her left hand and a book in her right. She has dark-brown hair held up, Mediterranean complexion, and is wearing a wine-red ball gown.

If I had gone with a photo design, I would have needed at least 4 stocks:

– a cloudy sky with a full moon

– a dead forest

– a castle

– a girl

I would have skipped the stake and the book, or I could have found separate stock images for them, and then the designer could have Photoshopped them in the girl’s hands (assuming it wouldn’t have looked ridiculous). These two elements were important to me, as they signify the physical and intellectual weapons my character has for fighting the enemy – the pen and the sword. Still, let’s say I could have done without them. I would have still needed the 4 stocks above.

The first 3 are easy enough to find. The girl, however, is quite a problem. As I looked through various stock photo sites, I relaxed all the appearance criteria – all coloring and such could have been fixed later on. All I needed was a girl in a gown, walking away. Even that proved hard to find. None of the models was in the right position. Moreover, they were all obviously posing, and looked like the focus of a picture, instead of a part of a bigger scene. Also, all their poses seemed to say, “Look at me!” or “Look at my dress!” and not “I’m on my way to kill vampires!” which was what I was going for.

So I took on to DeviantArt and found the talented TheSwanMaideN. I told her what I wanted on the cover, and I got this:

Kingdom of Ashes - E-book - webI also got a complete artwork, that wraps around the paperback’s back cover. Even better, now that I’m working with an illustrator, I can get portraits of all the main characters drawn in the same style.

I’ve had an amazing experience with TheSwanMaideN, and I would definitely recommend finding an illustrator for your book.

Custom photo shoot

I think that’s not an option many indie authors go for, but I thought I should cover it in case you think it might be good for your book.

For a custom photo shoot, you get specific sets, props and models. The models wear appropriate costumes and strike a certain pose that captures your idea. The rights belong to you, and the photographer can’t upload the picture to stock image websites.

This has obvious advantages. Not only you don’t have to worry about clone covers, but the image is unique and related to your story. It probably won’t have this generic “stock image” look, but will tell something specific about your book.

However, doing this properly is likely more complicated and costly than any other option. I found this agency:

Starting from $650, including photographer and model fee, they’ll shoot a book cover for you. Note that the price is based on a minimum $300 for a single model. Some models may require more, and if you need a second model on the cover, you need to add another $300 (or more).

For $450 they offer to shoot and license a picture for your cover and promotional materials. This doesn’t include any model fees. Also, you have to provide any props and costumes yourselves.

Also, images are not royalty-free, and you need to pay the agency a certain percentage from sales.

Overall, I don’t think it’s a good bargain.

Other options:

Note that I haven’t covered every single book cover option out there. Some self-publishing providers, such as Amazon and Smashwords, also offer free cover creation tools. These could include adding text on a simple background, or on a stock image from a selected portfolio. These may be free, but never turn out good and I haven’t seen a single such book on the bestseller lists.

This concludes my overview on book covers. Future posts in the Self-Publish Like a Pro series will examine editing, ebook and print formatting, book marketing, self-publishing platforms, and more.

Thanks for reading! I hope the info was useful to you!


One thought on “Self-Publish Like a Pro: How to get a quality book cover on a budget PART 3

  1. Pingback: Traditional vs. Self-Publishing: Which one is right for you? | Kingdom of Ashes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s