Shoestring Publishing, Part Three

In continuing our discussion of items on our budgeting list, we’ve come to one of the most important and also one of the most potentially problematic. That item, of course, is the cover art.

7. Cover art

Here’s where we state the obvious–that the cover art is the first thing most people will see of your book. It generates an immediate first impression, and so of course you’re going to want it to look good. This means that if you don’t have skill at designing covers and if you’re not an artist, you may need to plan on spending some money to buy good cover art from an artist online.

If you are already an artist, particularly if you have an eye for graphic design, then cover art may not be an issue for you. If you know a good artist who could potentially create your cover art, then you are also a bit ahead of the game. But if you aren’t an artist or already used to graphic design, then you may have more of a challenge on your hands. The last thing you really want is cover art that looks as though it was created by an 8-year-old with a box of crayons. (The caveat to this may be if you’re publishing a children’s book or a book about children, and you actually think an elementary school drawing style would be perfect for the cover.) Most of the rest of the time, though, you want a cover that looks attractive, catches the eye, says something meaningful about your book, and gives your readers a good sense of what it is you’re writing about.

Hiring an artist is certainly an option. If you Google for “book cover art” or “freelance artists,” you can find many different people out there who do in fact design cover art as a business venture. There are even some who will do so for relatively low cost. Here are a few at random, and again, I can’t personally vouch for any of them:

I looked at all but one of these sites, (Fiverr has so many artists advertising their services that it would be an impossible task for me to chase all the links.) Many of the covers in the portfolios on these sites are gorgeous. But as with anything for which you pay money, be an aware and informed buyer if you choose to use any of the artists.

As I said, I haven’t personally had experience with any of the above artists. The links are just meant to give you an idea of what’s out there in the way of cover artists. Now, it’s possible/probable that some or even many of them are primarily creating or offering ebook cover designs rather than full print book covers. In that case, you might be able to buy just the front cover part and then have a plain spine and plain back cover, and do all but the front cover part yourself. Or it may be that some of the artists could design the whole print cover for you (which of course might involve a higher fee.) You’ll just have to contact some of them and see what they tell you. From what I’ve seen, many of the ebook cover art offered online ranges in price from around $50 to maybe $75, though there are of course some who go up into the hundreds. There’s a wide range of prices out there. Fiverr is a rule until itself, and I know that some people have had success in using that.

By now you’re probably wondering if I picked an artist for my own book covers. The answer is no. Bear in mind, however, this was my personal best choice at the time. In future, that will most likely change, and I will no doubt find an artist who can create any cover I need. If your budget is a bit larger than mine was and if you can afford cover art, I encourage you to pick a wonderful artist and get yourself a great cover that you’ll be happy with. I would have liked to do that, but it didn’t work out for me to choose that option at the times I was putting together my first two books.

When I created the cover art for my first book, my choices were incredibly easy. On a trip to my childhood home, I had taken a wonderful photo that I knew without a shred of doubt was meant for my first book cover. Given the subject I was writing about and the way the photo had turned out, it was absolutely the right choice to use it.

I was able to get a free layout program that not only helped me format the interior of my book, but also helped me format the cover art. That free layout software is called Scribus, and it can be found here:

At first, I was daunted by the notion of having to learn a whole new software program, but I had every incentive to do so. One of the most popular commercial programs for layout is InDesign, but as you might expect, this industry-standard program is Very Expensive–a prepaid year of use of InDesign on Adobe’s Creative Cloud is $239.88 for a single app, or $599.88 per prepaid year for the more popular “all apps” version. Not something I could afford. Yes, you can also pay for a plan where you only use it a month at a time and pay as you go, but here was a software program that I had no idea how to use. I didn’t want to get stuck renting (not even owning!) this for a few months while I went through all the effort to learn how to use it. Sure, you can get a free trial version that lasts for 30 days, but the whole notion of trying to learn how it worked while my free trial was ticking away just felt like too daunting a prospect for me. Besides, Scribus had been dubbed by some as “the poor man’s InDesign,” and I was more than willing to give that a try.

I downloaded Scribus, and found a couple of helpful books that got me through the learning curve relatively unscathed. They are as follows:

Creating Print On Demand Interiors & Covers Using Scribus 1.4.1

Using FREE Scribus Software to Create Professional Presentations

These books told me nearly everything I needed to know to use Scribus to do what I wanted, and what few details they didn’t cover, I looked up on the Scribus site Wiki.

I followed a few rules of thumb: I kept the cover simple and clean in design, chose harmonious and appropriate colors, and edited, edited, edited. I learned the craft. I measured, rearranged, and started from scratch when necessary. In the end, I had a first book cover I could be proud of, and because the photo I used was one I took myself, I didn’t even have to worry about paying someone for the right to use it. Given that with the photo, I didn’t have to do any drawing or painting, I was pretty sure I could manage to create a good-looking cover if I could learn how to use the free layout software, and still produce the cover within the small time frame I had left before publication.

As I was online shopping for free fonts to use for the cover, I found one that I absolutely loved but which wasn’t free. It was available via license, however, and I think the license cost $39.00 for lifetime use. I’ve always felt it was well worth the cost to get the font that I really wanted for the book.

I also bought those two Scribus instructional books, so to be fair, we have to add their cost in to the total of my expenses, but I also had to keep in mind that they would be useful again and again if I needed to refer to them while doing future books. That has indeed been the case, so the expense for then was well worth it. One was $5.99 as an ebook, and the other was $30.00. Now, you can get that one in used form for about $23.00, so it’s the used price we’ll be figuring into our budgeting.

My cost for cover art now came to about $53.00–about the same amount that I’d have paid for a single premade ebook front cover image. Instead of hiring a cover artist, I chose to invest my time and money into learning how to create the covers myself, so that in future, I’d know how to do it and could do it again. I also found that I really enjoyed the artistic side of putting the cover together.

My first novel was far more of a cover challenge than the first nonfiction book was. Photograph covers are easy, comparatively speaking. But for an epic fantasy novel, I needed something different. I needed actual art. A painting, if I could get it. However, I had a problem. Given my projected date for publication of the novel, I didn’t have time to wait for any artist I might hire to get the job done. Even if they could turn it over in a month, it would still not be soon enough.

Word to the wise here: don’t do as I did. Truly. I have a bad habit of putting off the most daunting part of any process until the very last. Consequently, I created my first two covers as the last item of production, close to the advertised publication date. I didn’t leave myself any time to hire an artist to do a custom design if I hadn’t been able to manage the cover art myself. That meant that at this stage of the process, my only option would have been a premade cover which might not have really fit the theme of my books. Don’t do what I did; don’t wait too late. Whether you’re painting it yourself or hiring an artist, get your cover art done sooner rather than later in the process. It’s what I plan to do from now on. Plus, having the cover art earlier in the process makes for a better chance at advance marketing/advertising for the book.

So, to wrap up this story, I painted my own cover for the epic fantasy. Had I ever painted a cover art painting before? No. How did I do it? I went to YouTube and looked up many videos of technique, and then followed the instructions like a student in an art class. I’ll probably post something about the art/painting process later in this blog. For now, suffice it to say that the painting was a huge challenge, but I was satisfied with most of the elements I ended up with for my first fiction cover. Most elements, not all, but we live and we learn.

True confession time: Do I think my fiction book cover is all the way up at pro level? No. Definitely not. Do I think it’s horrible? No. I think at least it isn’t terrible, and I do think the colors and design itself are highly appropriate to the subject matter of the book. There’s certainly room for improvement, but no, I’d have to say it doesn’t look as though it was finger-painted by an 8-year-old, so it’s good enough for the time being. Do I plan to do better next time? Absolutely. And maybe one day when I can afford to hire an artist to do a full custom cover art spread for each book in the series, then I’ll do a cover art upgrade and change all three of the covers at once. I will, however, have to budget a few hundred dollars for this, because custom work generally costs more than premade cover art.

That’s all we have time for this week, so we’ll keep on with our budget list every week until we’ve gone through it all.