The truth about premade book covers

All the designers I know who are decent at book cover design charge over $500 – but the majority of indie authors think paying $200 or so for a cover is “reasonable.”

I don’t like setting a price threshold on publishing, or saying that if you publish you HAVE to pay a lot of money to do it professionally. You don’t – pay what you can afford.

I’ve put out templates and tools so people can make their own covers.

I also follow some amazing designers and have recently started buying premades, for around $100/$250, because they’re awesome, and I like supporting designers, and I like keeping covers that are different from my own style.

But the majority of premade book covers out there suck.

The majority of sites with cheap premade covers (under $100) have a lot of garbage. And even if the art is not that bad, the designers ruin it with amateur text placement and fonts.

It’s not that hard: good designers space out elements, kern letters, add more spacing between letters, use fonts appropriate to the genre, don’t choose clashing or conflicting covers or fonts, don’t use heavy dropshadow or glow effects or bevel (yuck to all three).

The problem is new designers who have to sell their work cheap don’t know any better.

But if you’re an author, YOU need to know better. It takes a few minutes to watch my free videos on cover design and learn to look for problems. Don’t assume because you’re paying for a premade cover from a “designer” that you’re not getting a shitty, homemade looking book cover, because you probably are.

When authors ask me for feedback on a cover like this, which happens often, my response is, ‘get a new designer, everything needs to be redone.’ It’s not a few simple fixes (or it WOULD be, if you had a designer who could do it). Sure it would take me 5 minutes to re-layout the text and make it awesome, and I do offer that to a lot of authors. But then they’re paying some crappy designer, getting an ugly cover, and letting me fix it for free (basically cheating me out of the $829 I would make if you actually hired me).

But that’s no way to make covers, having one designer tell another designer exactly what fonts and colors to use, and where to put everything. And I can’t do that for everybody, and I really need to stop offering so I can focus on my own projects. I charge a lot because I’m awesome at what I do, and I have plenty of people who want to pay full price.

I do it sometimes out of charity, and because I hate ugly things and I like making them beautiful. And I don’t actually mind that much (I’m thinking of doing a free cover a day, for a year, but haven’t committed to it yet). It’s faster and easier for me to just MAKE a cover, instead of trying to communicate to you or someone else what’s wrong with your cover and how to fix it (a process that usually leads into ever-uglier covers with no hope in sight, and sucks up a lot of my valuable time).

To recap: SOME premade covers are amazing, and a really great deal, and can be epic. But most of them suck. You need to learn the difference. If you don’t have a budget, fine, but it’s no excuse for an ugly cover, because if you take the time to learn, you can get it right.

2018 updates: This post sounds a bit harsh, and in the last few years there have been some amazing new designers who make premade book covers. In fact I’ve developed a bit of an addiction to buying premade covers, because if I can get something amazing for $250 or so, I’ll buy it and write the book later. It’s easier for designers to make something great without having to please authors; which means premades can be BETTER than custom covers. Also, most authors do everything wrong and try to get a cover that matches their story – all you need is a cover that attracts your readers.

You should still learn all you can about cover design.

A LOT of premade book covers actually come from illustrators, who may make awesome art but often screw up the fonts, or use the same generic fonts for every premade. I’ll usually buy the premades and ask the designer to take all the fonts off so I can redo them. Sometimes I’ll also buy art that’s “pretty good” but I want to Photoshop and fix it myself: illustrators are artists and don’t like people changing their designs (personally, as a cover designer, I don’t mind if you want to improve on my design). Anyway, so I’ve learned I need to be careful when buying premades because they often come with limitations. If you’re not a designer, watch out for poor fonts or design: I have a book cover design checklist you can download at www.diybookcovers.com.

 

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About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book editor turned book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors write and publish bestselling books. FREE GUIDE: Sell your work without selling out.