Cover art is typically the first introduction to a book that any reader sees. Naturally, you would want to put your best foot forward. You want something that represents your book, your brand, and your genre – and you want to make sure you have the legal rights to use any images!
Let me take you through my process of choosing cover art with these four tips.
*Do not use any of the below as legal advice. I am not a lawyer. I am sharing from my own experience only. If you have legal questions, contact a copyright or contract lawyer.*
Premade vs. Custom
This tends to be the place where most people start. A premade cover is one that an artist makes because they have an idea already in mind and they sell it to the first buyer. Some artists will offer to tweak colors or font styles, some offer an e-book only cover or one that can be turned into a paperback wrap later on.
Premades are a fantastic option for many self-published authors like me. They are often drastically less expensive than the custom option, sometimes by as much as 90%. You can find premade artists by browsing Facebook groups (which is what I did) and joining the groups of artists you like, or by doing a Google search. I prefer to choose from artists who are already fairly established and have reviews and a broad portfolio already in place so I can see the work they’ve done.
However, I have to say that there’s nothing quite like a custom cover. All three of the Aligerai series covers are custom, made by the amazing and talented Regina Wamba, and I love them dearly.
But talented artists of that caliber also come with a cost. I wish I could afford to go custom every single time, because given the choice, that’s exactly what I would do, without question.
Sadly, my budget doesn’t agree. I started using premade covers for my work under my pen name. I realized that if I was going to publish as frequently as I planned to, then I couldn’t do it by going custom. I searched for a few cover art groups, joined them, and browsed around their portfolios a while until I saw a cover that fit exactly what I was looking for.
If you plan far enough in advance, you can find a cover that fits your needs. You might need to jump on it quickly, since good premade covers will sell fast, but I’ve found that by joining these art groups before I needed them, I could find covers that fit my book, fit my style, and fit my budget.
Make Sure It Fits Your Genre
Whether it’s a premade or a custom cover, make sure your art fits your genre. None of us really likes to admit it, but I think we rely more on cover art than we realize when choosing what to buy. It’s the first hook, the first attraction, the sweet appetizer to the savory main course.
A romance-themed cover on a fantasy novel might attract the wrong audience, for example. A sci-fi novel with a horror theme to its art might not send the right message.
If you aren’t sure what fits your genre in the current market, browse some of the new releases for the past year. I remember when the fantasy genre used to see a lot of artistic, drawn, or painted covers, especially with Tor books. They were gorgeous, and I kind of hope we return to that at some point. Elizabeth Haydon’s early novels in the Symphony of the Ages series come to mind. But now we see more digital art as well as some preferences for objects on the cover rather than characters.
I cannot stress this enough. Make sure you have the rights to use any image you download, purchase, or share for your novels.
Image copyright is serious business. You do not want to land in trouble for using an image you don’t have the rights to. This is not an area in which you would not want to do your homework.
Always check the terms when you purchase cover art. When buying custom art, part of your cost may be going toward using the artist’s custom imagery that they shot themselves, or to usage/distribution rights, etc. With premades, you may not be getting an image that the artist actually shot themselves, but was purchased from a stock site and turned into a unique cover that you are buying the rights to.
If you aren’t sure about the rights, or if you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask the artist about copyright and distribution rights. Know what you’re purchasing and what you have the right to do with the image you’re buying.
Doing It Yourself
If you have any inclination to DIY your cover, you can try your hand at it. There are services that make this easy, such as Canva. They make it easy to size an image correctly, find free and premium stock images, and layer on text. What a site like Canva doesn’t offer (generally) is the ability to manipulate an image or add transparency to layer portions over each other. For heavier image manipulation, you would need to use something like Photoshop or GIMP.
You could also sign up for a course on how to make your own covers. I know that some artists offer courses in which they teach you how to do this yourself. Regina Wamba is one. If you have Photoshop and are sure you want to make your own covers, this could be a good route for you.
Again, be sure check the usage rights for any stock image you use. Canva is good about laying out how you can use the stock images on their site in their legal section. I can’t speak on any other sites, as I’ve really only used Canva – but be sure to check the fine print on any stock items you want to use.
Doing your cover on your own can be a quick and cost-effective way of generating at least an e-book cover. If you really don’t have a budget to buy cover art, going the DIY route might be an option and you could put together a fairly decent cover.
How have you found your cover art? Are there any artists you would recommend?
*Do not use any of the above as legal advice. I am not a lawyer. I am sharing from my own experience only. If you have legal questions, contact a copyright or contract lawyer.*