Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 11, 2020

Book Cover 101: How Much Should a Cover Cost?

by Melinda VanLone

We've spent quite a bit of time on various blogs here at WITS talking about what makes a good cover for your genre, and about why you should invest in one. Now that you're convinced you need one, what's the next step?

If you're reading this, I assume it's because you're not a graphic designer and you are in the position of having to hire one to do a cover for you. You are probably wondering how much a book cover costs. If that's you, then keep in mind the old saying you get what you pay for.

That doesn't mean you can't get a fantastic, effective cover for an affordable price. It just means that more of the work might fall on your shoulders. Below are examples of how you can make book covers more affordable.

Pre-Made Covers

Price range: approximately $29-$149
Advantages: Low cost, Low customization, Low Service.

In general, pre-made covers are a "what you see is what you get" proposition, with the only customization being the title and author name. Don't count on even being able to change the font, much less any of the artwork. These covers are low cost because the designer doesn't have to spend an hour tweaking it to fit your specifications. That said, it's possible to get a fantastic cover this way.

There are plenty of great designers making pre-made covers. The trick is to keep in mind what works for your genre and choose accordingly. The burden is on you, not the designer, to find the artwork that conveys your story in the right way.

Be sure to check that the cover you've selected is "exclusive," meaning it won't ever be sold to anyone else, and check to see if the price you pay includes a print cover as well as ebook. If it doesn't, be sure to ask how much extra the print version will cost you unless you have no intention of ever offering a printed version of your book.

One place to find pre-made covers is TheBookCoverDesigner.com, but there are many others out there. Some designers offer this in addition to other services.

This pre-made cover features both a background and a model that are readily available at several stock photography sites, along with a little photoshop grunge, none of which can be altered. The only thing that will change once your purchase is the title and the author name.

Semi-Custom Cover 

Price range: approximately $150-$600+
Advantages: Medium cost, Medium customization, Medium Service.

The majority of book cover designers fall into this category. These designers use photography from various stock sites (see my previous blog post for a list of good ones), and their Photoshop skills to create your cover. As you can imagine, the skill set varies wildly from designer to designer, which is why the price range is so large.

This type of design includes the following:

  • Designer will create artwork based on input you give them regarding your story.
  • They usually charge a flat fee.
  • Often includes 1-2 rounds of edits after the initial concept is delivered.

Note: Be sure to get the price for the print wrap included in your quote.

At the lower price points in this range, the designer might be fresh out of school and trying to build a portfolio, or someone just entering the field who is trying to get a stable of work built up quickly.

At the higher end, they might have expertise in Photoshop and design, plus years of experience backing it up. They might have marketing skills to offer as well, and will help steer you toward the right kind of cover for your genre.

A semi-custom cover gives you the opportunity to have a fairly custom look for a lower price than one might expect. However, the designer will most likely use a stock model or background that has been used on hundreds of other covers. While there's a lot of stock images out there, the number of suitable models for book covers is surprisingly limited per genre once you start looking for the urban fantasy girl or the beefcake guy. The designers on the higher side of this category are skilled at taking a stock image and twisting it in such a way as to disguise the fact that your girl has been on a hundred other covers in the last month. 

One of the best ways to find a designer in this category is word of mouth. Look for covers that you like and check the copyright page to see if they've credited the designer, or contact the author if they haven't.

Other options to find designers:

  • Ask around on various Facebook author groups, or among your author friends. 
  • BookCoverCorner.com is one place among many that offer this service.
  • Browse websites like 99Designs.com where you can list your project and have designers compete for your business.  

This Stronger Than Magic cover features both a model and a background readily available on stock sites, along with a custom logo in the background and Photoshop special effects on the logo, the girl and the water. This cover was fully designed and customized, but did not include a photoshoot.

Custom Cover

Price range: $599+
Advantages: High cost, High customization, High Service

A fully custom cover involves a photographer, a model (or two or three), and/or hand-drawn artwork, digital or otherwise, that can't be duplicated by anyone else.

These designs might use some stock photography for parts of the background, but the model will be one hired specifically for your cover. The shots obtained won't be used on any other cover, meaning the face that represents your story or series will be unique. Often they use their own personal photography for the background as well, or if they don't, they blend stock images in such a way that no one will ever know it was stock.

This cover for Raegan Reid - Rifter features a model located through my author newsletter, and included a trip to Atlanta in order to do a photoshoot with her, along with Photoshop work for special effects and background blending.

These one-of-a-kind covers are usually priced accordingly. That said, often a designer will negotiate costs if you are working on a series, and therefore will need more than one cover with the same general theme. One photoshoot of a model can go a long way, so the price per cover often comes down. BookCoverCorner.com (full disclosure - it's yours truly) is one place that offers a fully custom cover.

Final Thoughts

You can find quality covers at every price point with enough research. The real question is how much control do you want to have, and how unique would you like your cover to be?

How did you get your existing book covers? What did you like and dislike about the process? Do you have questions for Melinda, or tips to share? Post them down in the comments!

* * * * * *

About Melinda

Melinda VanLone writes urban fantasy, freelances as a graphic designer, and dabbles in photography. She currently lives in Florida with her husband and furbabies.

When she's not playing with her imaginary friends, you can find Melinda playing World of Warcraft, wandering aimlessly through the streets taking photos, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks.

Her elementary fantasy series, House of Xannon, begins with Stronger Than Magic. For more information on covers, visit BookCoverCorner.com.

Top Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay

24 comments on “Book Cover 101: How Much Should a Cover Cost?”

        1. Yes you can. 🙂 So can everyone else. Unless you bought one with exclusive rights, of course...which you won't find on most stock sites. You might purchase one from a photographer of course but in general it costs a lot more to do that. That's not to say it can't be done. Killion Group is one site that will let you purchase an exclusive shot which then is removed from their stock so nobody else can buy it. At least, they used to offer that. 🙂

  1. Word of mouth sent me to a 'just starting out' cover designer whose willingness to make as many changes as it took until we were both happy spoiled me. I was paying about $100. When he retired from cover design, I switched to The Killion Group. For my current WIP, which will be a stand alone, I used photos I took on my trip the the British Isles. My son, who's a nature photographer but is competent enough with Photoshop, made a composite of two of my shots as a Mother's Day gift, and I'm playing around in Canva to add the graphics. Whether I use it as the final cover hasn't been decided yet, but I should make that decision by the time I finish writing the book.

  2. I found a book cover I really liked on selfpubbookcovers.com. The cost was only $79, and the website gave me complete control of the font and text color, text size and text placement. The artist was also happy to make a minor change at no additional cost. Adding the spine and back cover for CreateSpace and IngramSpark would have cost an additional $149 If I had chosen to self-publish, my overall cover costs would have been <$300. Shortly thereafter I signed a publishing agreement with a regional small press, who asked if I had any cover art in mind. Who knows? I may get to use it afterall!

  3. Fiona Jade has done all of my cover and captures the essence of my books perfectly. She is very easy to work with and willing to make adjustments until both pdf you are satisfied. She falls into the semi-custom category. Her covers run around $200 per.

  4. Thank you for sharing this, and for the comments from authors on what's worked for them. I had a bad experience with who I hired for my first book, and so hope to be armed when I need a cover for my second one.

    1. I'm sorry to hear you had a bad experience with a designer. It can be frustrating to find one that fits everything you need and is also affordable. I would encourage you to have a conversation with the next one before you hire them if you can. Sometimes it helps...especially if you can Skype with them so you see the actual person. That wouldn't be possible with 99 Designs, but otherwise it'd be handy.

  5. For my first book, a work of nonfiction, I hired a book cover designer who designed covers for other authors I know. He did a nice job. My children's series is illustrated, so I had my illustrator help with the covers.

    I belonged to a marketing group for writers in Arizona. The topic of one of our meetings was book cover design, what works and what doesn't. That was very helpful as the cover is what our readers see first, our work's face so-to-speak.

    1. I believe the cover is the most important marketing piece for the story. It also sounds really cool to have a marketing group for authors! I wonder how many of those there are.

  6. I have very little in capital, on disability allowance, an d am using PicMonkey to make my own covers. So far, it has been a steep learning curve but the outcomes are starting to look better and better.

    1. You might give TheBookCoverDesigner.com a shot...they are pre-made covers and there are literally thousands of them, in all price ranges. I've seen some on there for $15-$25. It might save you some time and headache and you could still end up with a nice cover at the end, especially if someone runs a sale. 🙂

  7. Melinda, thanks for a great post! I did the cover for my first Surf City Mystery, Leave A Good-Looking Corpse myself and it was ok. Now that my new publisher is getting ready to release it again, we're getting a professional cover, and um, how shall I put this? It's easy to tell the difference. So, I guess my message is, yes, a good cover is important. Just don't let it hold up releasing or finishing the story.
    Thanks again.

  8. Melinda, I just approved a comment or two, so you might want to take a pass from the top. Just know, when it is time for me to create book covers, I'm coming to YOU first. 🙂

  9. I think you should definitely pay for a quality cover. When I was published by a small house, one of the authors created the covers. Composite book covers. On one, I think she threw everything on it but the kitchen sink, on another she picked an overused stock photo. Once, I did get to help pick a photo from a stock site. That one was actually the best photo and cover.


  10. Ha ha! And here I just had a man complain that I charge 55$ but was not willing to go all over the internet tracking down the copyright owners of the ten images he wanted blended together on his cover that he found via google image search. I need to start sending people here to see what the real world charges.

  11. Once you realized how much time and effort are required to create such covers, the prices make total sense. Also, I like the idea of upgrading covers as you go. That is, an author might start with a premade; when sales pick up, upgrade to medium; and if selling well, go for a fully custom version. At least, that my hope for myself going forward! Although I've primarily opted in that middle group. Great post again, Melinda!

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