Working With a Book Cover Designer: What Every Author Should Know

Any author self-publishing a book should plan to work with a professional book cover designer.

If you’re self-publishing your book, finding a good book cover is one an important creative choice.

A compelling book cover helps sell more books on stores like Amazon, while an amateur book cover puts potential readers off.

I’ve written and self-published several books across genres, over the years. I designed a book cover, worked with a friend to get a book cover I liked, used the popular crowd-sourcing service 99designs, bought a premade book cover and hired a professional designer. 

In this post, I’ll explain what you need to know about each option. I’ll also cover working with a book cover designer.

Working with a book cover designer what every author should know

Buy a Premade Book Cover

A premade book cover is a design or template created by a graphic designer for a particular genre, rather than for a specific book.

Several services offer premade book cover to indie authors, including The Book Cover Designer, Author Marketing Club and Fiverr.

Premade book covers have some pros and cons. If you’re an author on a tight budget, these types of covers will get the job done for digital bookstores like Amazon.

However, premade book covers rely heavily on stock photos, widely available fonts, cover art and other graphics. What’s more, a premade book cover can’t represent every book’s tone or emotional nuances.

Plus, as it’s premade, you’ll probably spot variations of this book cover online too. That makes it harder for your ebook launch to stand apart.

That said, if you want a premade book cover and have a small budget, say $40, you can choose from over 15,000 across many genres on Book cover designers on this site specialize in premade book covers for genres like and adventure, thriller and suspense and young adult.

In short: if you’re self-publishing your first book and have almost no money, opt for a premade book cover. Plan on a better cover when you can afford to work with a graphic designer.

Dear Sarah
A book cover for a short-story I created with Canva

Design Your Book Cover

When I was self-publishing my first book, I spent several hours trying to design a book cover using Adobe Photoshop.

What a waste of time!

I don’t recommend this approach unless you’re a designer, as you’re spending your time and creative energy improving the quality of your book or marketing it.

Also, a professional designer will be able to create something compelling faster.

If you insist on designing a book cover yourself, Canva provides free drag-and-drop templates. These are kind of like premade book covers, although you can change the font, cover art and other graphical elements relatively easily.

I used Canva to design a book cover for one of my self-published short stories. First, I selected a Canva template, and then I uploaded a stock image.

(Joanna Penn also explains in this post how you can use Word to create a book cover).

I didn’t spend much money self-publishing the short story, and I didn’t expect the story to earn much (short stories are hard to sell). In other words, this was an experiment rather than a serious creative decision.

In short: design your own book cover if you have the skills and time. Even then, an author’s time is better spent writing.

Hire a Graphic Designer

The Power of Creativity (book 1)
The cover of my book, The Power of Creativity (Book 1)

For my more recent books, I hired a graphic designer. You can find one easily enough in the Reedsy marketplace. There, you can browse work by dozens of talented designers, invite some to pitch for a job and agree on a contract. According to Reedsy, book cover design costs approximately $500-800 or more.

Alternatively, each month, the Book Designer hosts monthly ebook cover design awards. The winners are designers of compelling fiction and non-fiction ebook covers. You could reach out to these graphic designers directly.

On a previous book, I went through the last twelve months of these awards, picked five non-fiction book covers I liked best and then contacted these book cover designers. I asked the designers for a price, details about their approach and how long getting a cover would take.

One designer didn’t reply to me, and another wasn’t free to accept commissions. The other two designers were either too expensive or didn’t offer quite what I was looking for.

In the end, I commissioned a book designer who was within my budget and able to turn around a book cover within 2-to 3 weeks. Contacting multiple designers gave me a better idea of what represents value for money and what I could expect.

It cost me about $500.

Use a Book Cover Design Service

If you don’t want to spend any time looking for a designer but still want a high-quality book cover, consider a company that directly provides this service to authors.

ebook launch provides book cover design packages that start at $449. You get a book cover, source files, all custom images, artwork and more. They also create book covers with print and ebooks in mind and offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Author Packages offers a similar type of service. They’ll create an ebook cover for $330 and a print cover for $395. This service can also handle ebook formatting.

Run a Design Competition

99designs enables writers to run competitions for their book covers for approximately $200. It’s quick and easy to set up a competition, and dozens of designers will pitch for a job and supply ebooks and or print mockups.

Next, choose from their submissions and select a winning design. The designer will make any last-minute amends and provide the cover and source files.

A Handbook for the Productive Writer
A winning design from a 99designs competition I ran a few years ago

Research What You Want

Before commissioning a book cover, spend 30-60 minutes browsing Amazon and other bookstores to see what type of covers popular authors in your niche are using.

Note the most common images on these book covers and what you like and dislike.

It’s your job to get an idea of what a typical book cover in your niche looks like. For example, lots of thrillers rely on dark imagery and colors like red and black, which may be inappropriate for a romance novel. Similarly, business books use big fonts and bold color schemes. Cover art from a thriller would look odd in this genre.

As a writer, identify clichéd images so you can avoid using them in your cover. In my case, these were pictures of cogs, brains and lightbulbs.

And the first thing I told my designer?

No cogs, brains or lightbulbs!

Tip: Use Social Media For Your Research

Pinterest is a great research tool for writers and indie authors too.

First, create a board for agreeable book covers (here’s mine).

Then, when you come across an attractive book cover, pin it to your board. If you build up a collection of appealing book covers, you’ll have something to show your designer later on.

(Need some more inspiration? Buzzfeed compiled 34 great book covers here.)

You could also search Instagram with the hashtags #bookcover #bookdesign and #booktypography. Many designers share their latest works with contact information in their bios.

Prepare A Book Cover Design Brief

Most book cover designers will request a brief from you. In some cases, they may send you a form to fill out while in other cases, you can brief your designer over Skype or even face-to-face.

Typically, you’ll need to explain:

  • the title and concept of your book
  • the genre of your book
  • your target audience
  • the tone of your book (colorful, informative, etc.)
  • the book covers you like
  • the book covers you dislike
  • a synopsis
  • visual elements you’d like included in your book cover (tell your designer not to go over the top).
  • whether it’s for ebook, print or both
  • if it’s print, include information for the back and spine, e.g. a book summary

It helps to prepare all of this in advance before you commission a book cover designer.

Here’s an extract of what I included in my brief for my new book, alongside a 300-word synopsis of the book:

What is the Genre?

Non-fiction, creativity, self-help

Who is the Target Audience?

New writers, artists and musicians

What is the Tone of the Book?

Colorful and informative

What are the Main Elements?

This is what I need your help with. I’d like to avoid clichéd creativity images like lightbulbs, sparks, brains, spinning cogs, typewriters, etc.

What kind of covers do you like?

The 48 Laws of Power, Daily Rituals, The Creative Habit,

What would you like to see on your cover?

My website uses the colors black and #D60000. It would be great if you could work in an element of these choices onto the cover. However, sometimes I find the red tends to bleed if I overuse red text on a black background.

Agree On A Contract

Like with any good business relationship, a professional designer will send you a contract of what they expect from you, what they’ll deliver and how many revisions you’ll get.

The contract should also outline their payment terms and the deadline.

Review this contract to ensure you’re happy with the terms and the deadline.

Before you agree to the contract, consider if you want any extras. For example, do you want:

  • Social media graphics or website banners that match your book cover
  • A 3D mockup of your ebook that you can use on your website (ask for a PNG and JPG file)
  • A designed version that includes the back of your ebook
  • The source files of your book cover

These extras may cost more depending on the designer’s approach. Once you’ve paid a deposit (or the full amount), the designer will get to work.

Get Your Book Cover

After an agreed period, a designer will present you with two to three book covers to review.

I recommend showing the book cover designer’s concepts to friends, family members, colleagues or beta readers with a good eye. Ask them to suggest edits or improvements and combine them with your own.

Because you’re self-publishing, it’s up to you to pick the design that appeals.

Once you’ve explained your changes, your book cover designer should update the cover and send you back a final version (there may be some backward and forwards depending on the level of changes you want).

Once both parties are happy, ask your designer to send you the source files and not just the image of the book cover. A source file is basically a package of Adobe PSD or Illustrator AI files. You don’t need to have Adobe Creative Cloud or know how to use these tools.

However, owning these files means you can commission changes later on without reaching out to a book cover designer you’re no longer in touch with.

When you get them, pay your designer.

Book Cover Design: The Final Word

Your cover represents an investment in your book, so factor it in to the cost of self-publishing. It’s the face you show to the world, and it should look good.

The beauty of self-publishing is that you have full control over your book, and you can change the book cover down the road.

However, if you work with a professional book cover designer and you do your homework, you shouldn’t have to worry about changing the cover later on.

Instead, you should end up with a book cover that works.

And a book cover that works will intrigue potential readers, convince them to buy your book and help you earn a living from writing.

If you’d rather not work directly with a book cover designer, consider running a 99designs contest.

Book Cover Designer: FAQs

How can I design my own book cover?

Designing your own book cover is a lot of work. Identify what you want your book cover to look and feel like. Establish the conventions of other book covers from your genre. Purchase or create appropriate imagery and cover art. Pick an ideal font and typography. Create the design in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Check your design works using previewing tools from the like of Amazon.

What software is used to design book covers?

Book cover designers typically use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Spark.

How much is the book cover design?

A premade book cover starts at $249. A book cover design from a professional graphic designer starts at $500 and can cost over $1000 depending on your requirements and your skillset.