Hiring a professional to design your cover art is probably the best investment you can make in your book.
Do I really need to explain? Writers are (usually) not graphic designers. There are a lot of complex factors to consider in designing a cover, which is best left to someone skilled who knows what s/he is doing
That said, my family is poor. We live on one modest income so that my husband can stay home with our son, and economic conditions are making that one income dwindle. I don't mind being poor. All I really want to do is write and spend time with my family, and both of those things are free. However, it does mean that I have to look at my budget and decide, "Would I rather have my teeth worked on or a fantastic cover?" (I'd rather have a cover, actually, but my teeth are kind of important too. Heh.)
So! I design my own covers. If you're doing it like me, you have to take your time and try to do it right. Your cover is very important.
I've designed a few covers before. Only one of them has made it onto a Published Book Which Shall Remain Nameless, but I try to get practice in when I have a free weekend. It's time consuming, but I enjoy it. A few thoughts before we begin:
- Keep it simple, stupid. When you don't know what you're doing, a simpler project is more likely to come out looking good.
- Do your research. Look at as many NEW books in your genre as you can to get an idea of what's popular. Read up on graphic design. Learn about layout and typography.
- Use quality source material. If you buy stock photos, get good ones in the highest resolution possible. Buy high-quality stock art, brushes, and textures. Don't skimp. It will still turn out cheaper than hiring someone.
- Do multiple treatments. Your first cover may not be the best design, even if you're totally in love with it. You can go back to it if you don't make anything better.
- Get outside opinions. Find a few people who will give you their unbiased thoughts on the design. They don't have to be professionals-- most of the people buying your books are readers, after all.
- Be realistic in your expectations. There are some stunningly gorgeous covers out there. You probably won't be able to make one yourself without a bigger time/money investment than you're prepared for, and certainly not on your first try. Professional cover designers have access to photographers, models, and tools that you do not.
No? Still poor like me? Great! Let's get to work!
Analyze Your Book
What genre is it? What are your themes? What are the most important, distinctive elements of the story?
I'm currently working on the cover for "Six Moon Summer," which is about a girl who survives an attack from a monster and begins transforming into the thing that nearly killed her. It takes place at a summer camp in the mountains. The main elements I might want to include are:
- wolves (werewolves, to be precise)
- the teenage characters
- the mountain/forest
- the summer camp
- a journal, which is heavily featured in the story
- the moon, of course
Analyze the Market
"Six Moon Summer" is young adult, but it's also romance, fantasy, and a little bit horror. We must consider our target audiences here. Visualize your ideal reader and think about what kind of covers would appeal to them.
Start looking around at recent releases in your genre. Book blogs are great for this. It seems like abstract covers featuring a single strong element (usually a photograph) are pretty popular right now, probably because of the Twilight books. You'll see this on books like Bumped, Blessed, and Switched. Attractive, moody people on the cover also seems to be in vogue, which is something you see a lot in adult urban fantasy as well. I noticed this on books like The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group, Dark Mirror, and Beautiful Dead. Notice that even the attractive moody people are usually alone on the cover. Simplicity isn't just fashionable; it's good design.
Don't try to directly emulate another cover. Not only are you at risk of plagiarism, it prevents your book from distinguishing itself from the rest. It's okay to deviate from the trends, too. Who knows? Maybe you'll be the first to catch the next trend.
Conceptualize the Cover
Now that I have some idea of what similar books look like and what elements I might want to include on mine, I can come up with a few ideas for designs. I'll usually try out at least five or six concepts before I start doodling.
Since the book is called "Six Moon Summer," it would seem a little strange if I neglected to include a moon on the cover. I will likely focus on this as my primary element.
- A close up on a wolf's eye reflecting the full moon
- The mountain with several phases of the moon passing overhead and the camp visible in the back
- A girl writing in her journal in front of the moon
- The phases of the moon-- six of them, perhaps ;)
- A journal in the forest with the moon overhead and a pool of blood beneath it
- A moon with glowing wolf eyes
Next up: The rough draft