Wednesday, December 07, 2011

How to get a cover for your ebook for less than $200

Have a friend do it. Oh wait. You don't know any artists with alot of free time, who do exactly the kind of thing you'd like to see as a cover? Me neither, so I had to improvise.

When I decided I was going to self publish my novel Rock of Aeons on the Kindle, I had no idea how to get a cover made. I knew that my skills with photoshop were probably not up to the job. I didn't know how the pros did it. The closest I'd gotten to that was a friend a friend who commissioned cover art for a dead tree game back in the nineties. From a friend of his.

We keep circling around to the subject of friends, personal contacts. So the first thing I tried was personal recommendations. I remembered that Tim Pratt recommended a design group awhile back, but search as I might on his blog, I couldn't find the link. So I asked a friend who had self published a great novel on Kindle, and done it with a pretty good cover. She kindly passed me the contact information for her guy, and I surfed over to their page only to find that they were no longer taking new clients. Hmmm.

The next logical thing was to try the net. A couple of Google searches later, I found four companies that were advertising their services as creators of ebook covers.

eCover Makers
Author Support
Absolute Covers
99 Designs

The first three sites all had fairly straightforward deals going on: you work with them to develop a cover for a price.

eCover Makers charges $97. After you place your order, they will contact you by email or phone to discuss your design.

Absolute Covers starts at $47 and goes to well over that, depending on the on the number of drafts you order and what additional work you require. For instance, if you wanted a back cover for a possible print edition? That's extra.

They sounded fine, but looking at their sample covers didn't stir me. They looked like grocery store packaging, and skewed towards non-fiction.

Author Support charges a whopping $400 for the bare minimum work, and you supply the art. For what I wanted, a full design where they chose the art, they charge $750. Their covers looked better, but by no means 7 times better.

99 Designs had something else going on. Apparently, there's a whole niche of websites that offer design "competitions." On 99 designs, you offer a fee, ranging from 150 to 600, and designers compete to win a portion of it. They're probably art school students, but when I looked at some of their winning designs, they looked very good, comparable to the cover the propelled Amanda Hocking's Trylle to a million sales. When I was originally looking around the site, it looked like the contest I wanted would run about $200. The contest I ended up running cost $150.

Crowdspring, which is linked to Amazon's create space, looks like it offers a similar service.

That $200 set the ceiling for my expenses, in my head. I decided to look around for other designers, and see if I could find a good one that would do it for less, but if I didn't find one in a couple of days, I would go back and launch a contest.

There are probably other shops than the first three. I'm a very lazy librarian, and didn't search very far. But $200 seemed reasonable, and the other searches I had done hadn't turned up great options. So I decided to try to go local.

I put an ad on Craigslist.

I am looking for an ebook cover for an Urban Fantasy novel. I would like quotes for service. I need price, turnaround time, and links to a website with examples of your designs. I will send more specific details after I receive a quote.

I recieved 13 replies within two weeks, 7 in the first three days, the rest starting about six days after. Of the first 7, I really liked three, would have looked at two, and didn't like two. However, none of them quoted me a price less than the 99designs contest I was looking at.

I gave it three days, and launched my contest on 99 designs. The process was pretty easy, much like joining any other site, with, of course, the $145 fee for the contest required up front. The standard length for a contest is 7 days, so they seemed confident of a quick turnaround.

This was my contest spec:

I need a design for a book cover, titled Rock of Aeons. The book is loosely taglined: "It’s the angels versus genies in the fight to determine who controls the future of mankind, with one apathetic bounty hunter who can’t keep a boyfriend deciding who wins."

The main character is female and a redhead the angels look like angles, the genies do not look like I Dream of Genie or Mr. Clean. I know alot of Urban Fantasies with female protagonists show alot of skin, but I don't think that would be right for this title.

It should be 500 pixels wide by 800 pixels tall, and RGB, and .JPG

I got nothing for a day, and kind of forgot about it. I received email from the 99 designs site on the second day. It told me that I had 10 entries, and when I went to look at them, a couple were suitable. It was very gratifying. I felt like a pretty pretty princess, with everybody courting me.

After talking to one of the designers, who asked a lot of good questions, I added a comment to the contest.

It's an ebook. I use a lot of white and gold when describing things in the book, but I'm not really a designer and am interested in anything. I tend to prefer more rounded font styles. Abstract or contemporary would be fine. The story takes place in an modern, urban environment. I would probably prefer illustration to photos. I don't think genies photograph well. But anything exciting is... exciting.

I'm aware that there are probably limitations to a contest like this, especially at the level I'm participating, so I'm hesitant to ask for specific images. I know Trylle did quite well on Amazon with an abstract cover, so I don't think I'm too anxious about non-representational art. In fact, a really good non-representational cover would probably trump okay illustration.

That said, If I had my pick, I though it would be cool to have an illustration of a baboon in mortal combat with a naked angel holding a laser gun that shoots lightning bolts. :) That's probably too ambitious. I've also thought gold magic circles, the kind you use to summon demons, would look nice on a white background, or spatters of white and gold blood intermixed.

(Also, as a note, I am liking the photos I am seeing very well).

After that, I got a lot of more interesting entries, including the two I ended up choosing between. I ended up with 55 entries from 17 designers. A lot to choose from!

All in all, I found 99 designs very satisfying. There were some drawbacks: I'm not sure how fair it is to force designers to compete for a prize. But, they did. Also, I failed to ask them to show the design at large and thumbnail size, so although I got a great cover design, I am unsure how it will look as a thumbnail on Amazon.

It was a really exciting process, and pretty inexpensive. The cover was the biggest out of pocket expense for the entire process.

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