How to pay less for a custom book cover

Hard times call for a new approach to custom design.

When advised on how to cut costs when it comes to book cover design, indie authors are often told to go with pre-made covers or DIY using various software from Word to Canva. While these approaches will save money, the outcome is often not the highest quality.

I decided to examine my process of working with authors, to see if there’s any fat that could be cut to make custom cover design more affordable. I’m a sole trader with very low overhead costs. I also live in New Zealand, which makes my pricing more affordable to those who reside in countries with stronger currencies. So, that helps. But when times are tough, that might not be enough.

Here are three things you can do to get your cover done beautifully, on a tight budget. But please beware–you, the indie author, will play a big part in making this possible.

1. Prep REALLY well

Have a look around the web and decide what you’re after. Find other cover designs in the same genre and style you think would work for your book. Make sure they are professionally designed titles that sell well and rank high. Keep your references tight. In other words, make sure they’re all in similar styles and use the same concept, for example type-based, character-based, or prop-based. If in doubt, narrow it down and only send your designer 2-3 references that are all in the same vein. It’s enough. Trust me.

In an ideal world, your designer would love to do all of this for you. Browsing Pinterest is fun. But it’s not essential. Let your designer know you want to do this yourself.

I created these three cover design options for a client recently. She chose the type-based one, which was edited further. You can check out the final cover (and this lovely book!) on Amazon.

Character focused

Type focused

Location/scenery focused (although not heavily)

2. Go for just one option

Normally, I would work on 3–4 options. I would send them to my client, who would hopefully tests them on a bunch of potential readers and decide which direction to go. But, producing 3–4 options, even ones that aren’t finished art, involves quite a bit of work. I will essentially create some cover designs and ideas that never see the light of day. Many designers love doing this work, but if you’re on a very tight budget, it can be skipped.

Circling back to Step 1, it’s vital that you’re confident about the style you’re after. Vector illustration is fairly time consuming. Based on your references, your designer will focus on drawing compelling characters, magical scenery, a detailed prop or a beautiful, custom word title. Obviously, your cover can include all of this, but the focus is usually on one of two of these elements, while the others are in smaller size and/or in the background.

The ‘one option’ approach works especially well if you write in series. Once the style has been established, it’s easy to create the next one, with no time wasted on exploring different styles. I created these covers for a wonderful Scottish author Emma Baird.

3. Relax with the ’truth’

Many authors spend unnecessarily long (i.e. waste money on) perfecting their cover design because of a common misconception. They think that their book cover has to perfectly match their book. Don’t get me wrong. Your cover should absolutely reflect the genre and style of your novel. It should be unique. It should have the right feel, which sets the right expectations. But you shouldn’t get hung up on details like your MC’s hairstyle, whether the house has the right kind of a Juliette balcony and whether the flowers in the planter box are begonias or petunias. I know it’s hard to let go of how you’ve imagined these things in your head, and in some cases, how you’ve described them in your book. But in the grand scheme of things, readers don’t care if the details on your cover perfectly match the details in your book. Your cover’s only job is to sell the book to a reader who likes the genre/style you write in. After that, it doesn’t really matter any more.

So, save your hard earned money by relaxing with the ’truth’. There may well be changes you feel strongly about, and in some cases, they are worth making. But before you write that email, stop and ask yourself ‘Is this going to help attract the right readers and sell my novel?’. That question should guide every change you make.

Not being too specific allows your designer to use some pre-made elements. I don’t usually do this without customising them in one way or another. I find that it only really works with secondary elements like flowers, plants, fencing, skylines and such. But it can really save time, allowing me to spend longer on what really matters.

Here, for the sake of illustrating a point, I’ve used a pre-made pub vector from Vectorstock.com to replace a custom illustration I created for Emma’s book cover. Obviously, it’s not as nice, but could have worked as an alternative in the background, saving some time. 

Custom illustration, based on a photo of a local pub provided by the author.

The original Vectostock illustration.

A slightly edited Vectostock illustration.

Need help with your book cover?

I do illustrated custom designs for romantic comedy, chick lit, women’s fiction, cozy mystery (and other related genres), as well as non fiction books. 

Hi! I'm Enni.

I've worked in the creative industry for nearly two decades. I was born in Finland, but currently, live and work in New Zealand.

As a designer, I love beautiful book covers. As a reader and writer, I love women's fiction. Call it 'chick-lit', call it whatever you want. It is an amazing, worthy genre and there is some serious talent out there!

This website is my way of connecting with fellow writers and offering what I can do – beautiful, yummy book covers.

We're stronger together, so let's connect!

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