As I often express in this blog, writing is hard work. If you’re an author, you know what I’m talking about. So let’s say the hard work is done. You’ve written multiple drafts. You’ve revised until everything is nipped and tucked. You surrendered your manuscript to a professional editor to catch all the silly mistakes you missed. Now, right before you send your hard work to the public there’s only one thing to do.

Slap on a poorly conceived, sloppily constructed cover with very bad font.

I was going to supply an example, but there’s something in me that doesn’t want to single out another author, no matter how awful the cover of their book might be. Suffice to say there are unfortunately endless supplies of bad book covers to choose from. You’ve seen them, and have probably shared a chuckle at them. In fact, an entire website is dedicated to finding and displaying hilariously lousy book covers. And sadly, nearly every example is from a self-published author.

Just the type of writer that needs every edge he/she can possibly get. So why, why would you sabotage your chances of attracting an audience by going with a repulsive book cover?


There were excuses in the past. Sure, I might not have awesome Photoshop skills. Sure, I might not be able to afford a custom design by an awesome artist/designer. Sure, I’m just starting out and just want to put my work out to the readers and hope for the best.

Doesn’t matter.

Contrary to the saying, we do judge books by their covers. Many readers browse through endless titles, and the cover is the first thing that draws their eye. So it pays to deliver an eye-catching billboard for your work, which is exactly what a good cover is. And no, you don’t have to break the bank to get one.

There are a few ways to do this. Let’s look first at perhaps the least expensive option:

Purchase royalty-free stock art/photography. I say purchase, though there are many avenues to use free stock photography, although options are more limited and you have to carefully review the terms of use. If you purchase royalty free work within the terms, you’re more worry free and the options and quality of work increase for the most part. Here are a few royalty-free images I’ve purchased and used in the past and the cover they were used in:


The Secret

I’m pretty proud of the final result because this is the only cover I’ve designed myself from start to finish. And it didn’t take genius Photoshop skills to do it, either. I used 123rf for the royalty-free images, the online photo editing site Ribbet for the blending tools, and the font templates at for the title and author fonts.

Ok, so I have a premium membership at Ribbet: 38.00 (grants all access, all tools, all year). The two pics cost around 5.00 apiece roundabout. The font design at Canva was free. So total the cost of this cover was around 48.00. And technically you can get similar results using the free version of Ribbet, so you can actually create a cover like this for around 10.00. (disclaimer: credit packs at 123rf start at 38.00, but I’m counting the credits I actually used for this cover.)

Look, I am in no way a wiz at this stuff. It took a while to learn to use the blending tools and experiment until I got the results I wanted. It is a grand masterpiece? No. But does it serve the purpose of telling a reader ‘this is a horror novel you might be interested in?’ I think it does. Notice you can still see it clearly in a small size. (which is how most readers see your book cover while browsing.) And best of all, did I mention it wasn’t expensive? And if you are not at all tech-savvy, there are many helpful tutorials online that can guide you through similar processes.

Let’s move on to another option:

Purchase/commission art from an artist/designer. This is where you browse online for artists and contact them to query licensing for already existing work, or commission them to design an exclusive piece for you. Granted, this can get expensive. You’re naturally attracted to beautiful art, but can find the actual acquisition comes at prices that can make your jaw drop.

But all is not lost.

The fact of the matter is there are millions of artists out there. And just like writers, some enjoy phenomenal success, while others experience varying degrees of recognition. Keep browsing long enough and you’ll find an artist eager to work with you. Just remember, their work is as important to them as yours is to you. Don’t expect anyone to offer to license work for free. As an example, I’ll highlight some gorgeous art from Art by Mel, who has provided both original and licensed art for my novels.


Check the above art. Like it? Imagine you’re a fantasy author with a badass female warrior protagonist who might look similar to the illustration. If you commissioned an artist for cover art like this, it would start at a few hundred. But the cost to commercially license this already created art?

Six dollars.

That’s right, for SIX BUCKS you can download the hi res image, and go to a site like Canva for font templates for your title and author name. Or pay an additional $15 for the exclusive rights, which included cropping, title and author fonts by Mel. Are you kidding me? She has hundreds of beautiful images at her site besides this one, all highly recommended for authors that need this sort of art. Two of my covers feature her work, one of which I commissioned exclusively. I love Art by Mel, and you should too.

Of course, not every artist offers such affordable options as Mel, so you might have to do some major browsing in order to find art you can afford. But trust me, it’s out there. But if you simply must have a fully commissioned cover that an artist creates under your direction, be prepared to put up more money than licensing already existing work. I’ve done it, so I completely understand the notion. The best advice I can offer is to plan ahead and budget for it. Don’t know where to start looking for artists? There are endless sites online. Personally, I’ve found great success at finding artists at deviantArt. You might want to start there.

Another thing to keep in mind: there are various outlets online where designers offer packages for cover design. You simply tell them what you want and they take care of the rest. Price options start around $300 and go up from there, depending on the site. Google ‘book cover design’ and you’ll be bombarded with options.

And there’s another option to discuss:

Pre-designed covers. This is where you browse covers already created for various genres by designers. You choose the best cover for your book, and they alter the title and author fonts to match yours. The cool thing is with the endless options, you will most likely find a close match to what you’re looking for, no matter what genre you write in. And every site I’ve browsed states they will take the cover down after purchase, making sure no other author will have a cover that is twin to yours. (Granted, some will be similar because some of the stock images are used repeatedly. But none will be exactly like another.)

Many of these covers are really fantastic, and definitely professional. Genre writers should take note. Costs start around $65 and go to around $200, though I found a few quality covers for less while browsing. Here are a few outstanding examples I found at The Book Cover Designer and Damonza:

Incredibly talented work. All you have to do is supply the author and title information. While I haven’t yet used any pre-designed work, I can definitely see myself doing so in the future. The very near future, in fact.

So there you have it. The great thing about the boom of independent publishing is the various options available for an author to improve his/her chances of appearing both professional and attractive to potential readers. The days of getting by from obviously homemade, shoddy cut-and-paste covers is over. Realize that your book is a product, one that you obviously want to expose to a wide range of potential readers. Granted, nothing is guaranteed, but you can definitely step your game up with an attractive cover. There are no more excuses.

And when it comes to budgeting, look at it this way: it takes a certain amount of time to write a book. For some it’s months, for others its years. So while writing, is it possible to put a little away for the purchase of cover work? A few bucks a month while writing can add up and make things less drastic than finishing a novel and suddenly looking at the cheapest way to get your cover done. Writing might be a passion, but publishing is a business. All it takes is a little planning, some browsing, and presto: you’re looking like a professional.

Ok, so authors: I’d love to hear from you. Share any tricks of the trade, or options that I failed to mention. And artists: please drop a comment if you’re in the trade. I’m sure that readers of this blog would love to know you and explore your work!



My name is Bard Constantine, and if you’re reading this you already know that Bard Writes Books.