If you’re lucky enough to get a publisher for your book, they will handle the cover art. You may or may not have a say in the matter. But if you’re self-publishing, you’re on your own for the cover. If you have any skills, you may try to design one yourself. But I’m guessing most writers (and I don’t have data, so I don’t really know) will need help.
There are a lot of designers out there to sift through, and many will offer a custom book cover for a few hundred dollars. This is nice because you can work with the designer to get more or less what you envision. But there are also sites that offer pre-made covers for a lot less money. Many of these sites promise that, once you buy the cover, it will no longer be offered to others. So there’s no risk of seeing your cover on someone else’s book. Though, to be fair, there’s still a fair chance of seeing a lot of the same stock photo art used in different ways so that many of the covers begin to look similar.
For The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller, I thought I might be self-publishing, so I went ahead and commissioned a cover. I used 99 Designs and had some fabulous options. 99 Designs allows you to put up a call for entrants, and artists will make covers based on your specs. Then you offer feedback and narrow down your options until you choose the winning cover. The Peter cover is amazing, and I’m glad the publisher opted to go ahead and use it. Otherwise that’s $300 I would have been out.
But for the Regency romance I’m writing—and it’s been a blast, I’m loving it—I began exploring pre-made cover options. The quality varies widely, but that’s true of things like 99 Designs as well. The problem I’m finding with pre-made is that so many come close to being “right” but there will be one thing that doesn’t work. My heroine has dark hair, and I’ll find a cover I like with a blonde on it. My story takes place in spring and summer, but a cover I like has a Christmas wreath in the background. And since it’s pre-made, I don’t have the option of requesting changes. And mine is, as I said, a Regency romance, which I’m discovering is not a common pre-made theme. Lots of bodice rippers, fewer women in Empire-waisted dresses. I did find one that I sort of liked, but the woman was dressed more Victorian than Regency. “Does it matter?” my husband asked. “It does to me,” I said, and I feel like it will to the kinds of people who enjoy Regency romances, too.
It’s important that the cover of a book not make any promises it can’t keep. So I can’t have a steamy cover that promises a lot of sex when this is a rom-com of manners. I might sell more books with a sexy cover, but I’ll also have a lot of angry readers who feel like they didn’t get what they paid for.
In the end, it’s looking like I’ll go back to 99 Designs so I can try to get what I really want and need. But I’m curious what other authors do in regards to covers. Let me know via the comments!