Self-Publishing: Book Cover Art: Fiction

Every writer’s journey is unique. This one is mine.

Go to any website or watch any video on book cover art and they will all say the same thing: Online, a book IS judged by its cover.

Being a self-published writer in fiction is hard. You not only have to write a great book, edit it (or hire someone), do the book design both inside and outside (or hire someone), do all the marketing (or hire someone), and find great cover art, which almost always requires hiring someone. This blog is about my journey to great cover art. (Apologies up front for the length.)

Like most self-published authors, I imagine, I began my exploration of cover art by searching Google, reading several dozen websites, and watching hours of videos. A special shout out to Kindlepreneur, which is a fantastic resource for just about any subject related to self-publishing (I have no financial connection to the site and have never communicated with Dave Chesson.) I also really like the self-publishing videos by Dale L. Roberts, Paul Marles, and Holly Dunn Design. Again, no financial or other connections to them. Just really informative videos.

When I research, I don’t listen to one site’s advice, I look for multiple sites and key in when they recommend the same thing. While I try to do most things myself, mostly because I’m not rich, I knew I would have to hire a cover artist. Many sites highlighted and similar sites, so I investigated Fiverr. The site is easy to use and I quickly found about 20 artists selling Science Fiction Book Cover Art and Design. Note: Art and Design are two different things. Cover art is the actual artwork. No surprise there. Cover design is how the title and text will appear on the front, spine, and back of the book. I narrowed down the search to five artists who also did cover design and provided Kindle-Direct-Publishing-ready covers. Of the five, one was in Ukraine, and given what’s going on over there and her great reviews, I chose her as a way to help, and hopefully get a great cover.

Given the time zone difference, the language difference, and the fact that Fiverr wants you to communicate with the artist through them, communication was difficult. My inexperience with cover art and design didn’t help. She took some of my suggestions too literally, and others she didn’t seem to understand. It took 7 iterations of the design to get to the final product. Bless her heart, though, she was always patient and professional with me, and she delivered on time and on budget. The artwork and design were good. Total cost was about US $550. You can see the artwork and cover design above.

People who’ve read my earlier blogs will know that first cover didn’t sell well. And that’s okay. Self-publishing is a learning experience. Most telling for me were the marketing statistics provided by Amazon KDP for my very modest ad campaign: over 19,000 impressions (number of times my ad was shown), only 14 clicks (when someone clicked the ad), and one sale. I knew from my internet research that the cover was the most likely reason I wasn’t getting more clicks.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to do. In Colorado, I belong to several writer’s groups and I searched for cover artists/designers there to no avail. There were other sites similar to Fiverr, but I really didn’t like the requirement to hold all communications through the site. In (a bit of) desperation, I noticed that I really liked the cover of the book I was reading at the time (“Unreconciled” by W. Michael Gear, one of my favorite authors), and I found the cover artist listed on the copyright page. Googling the artist, Steve Stone, I quickly found his website. Figuring “what the heck, all he can say is ‘no’ or ignore me,” I contacted him with a very short email saying I was looking for a new cover artist and would he be interested? For the record, I tried this with several other A-list cover artists. None of the others responded to me. Steve did.

We struck up a conversation in email and eventually had a WhatsApp call, and I quickly realized several things: 1) speaking the same language and fully comprehending each other made a big difference (as much as an American and an Englishman can speak the same language😊), 2) Being able to talk directly with the cover artist and not having to go through a mediating service allowed for much faster, more in-depth, and frankly more enjoyable conversation—We got to know each other as people, 3) which meant he got a good feel for the right cover art for my stories, and 4) great cover art from an A-list artist comes at a cost. Still, for everyone who has seen the results (above), the cost was well worth it. Another note: Steve did the artwork. I had to find a cover designer separately. Steven from Tostemac did the title and text work.

So, what did I learn? (These observations are specific to covers that require professional artwork).

  1. You need to talk with the artist! For this reason alone, I will likely not use a third-party service in the future. Fiverr was a good resource for someone just starting out and learning the process. For covers that don’t require extensive artwork, it’s definitely a good resource. However, for me, the ability to have actual conversations without a mediating third-party service made a massive difference in getting great art.
  2. Let the artist do their job. In other words, don’t micromanage. Talk to each other, tell the artist the things you’re looking for, listen to their ideas and suggestions, come to an agreement, then back off. The first draft of both covers I ordered from Steve only required minor changes and were done in 2 iterations.
  3. You likely won’t get great art on the cheap. Just like you’re a great writer, they are a great artist. 😉 Respect that. Steve’s artwork means my books can stand against anything from the major publishers. That is worth every penny.
  4. Finally, be bold. Writing is hard. Rejection is part of a writer’s life. Don’t be afraid to cold-email or to introduce yourself at a meeting or convention to an artist whose work you admire. Yes, some will ignore you. Others will tell you they don’t work with self-published authors. So what. Keep asking. You only need one great artist to say, “Yes.”

Happy to hear other’s experiences. Please share.

See you in the next blog. Have an Awesome day!

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