Imagine you're a baker, opening up your shop for your first day in business. Potential new customers file in, eager to sample your breads, pastries and cakes. They walk up to the counter and gaze at the plate of buns. But the buns are lumpy, disfigured and uneven.
“I'm sorry, that's the best I can do,” you say, noticing their expression.
or, even worse, “What's wrong? They look fine to me.”
You know they taste great, so if only the customer would see past their appearance and try them. But you can't even give them away. Long experience has taught customers that if something looks unprofessional, it's not likely to be worth their time.
This is how it is with book covers. One of my biggest frustrations with the indie author community is that still, after so many years of general improvement, many authors still believe that 1) they can design their own cover and 2) their best is good enough.
This betrays an insular attitude. It's all about them and what they're capable of, whereas it should be all about the reader and what they expect and deserve.
I am sick to the back teeth of authors in the Facebook groups I'm a member of asking for comments on a blurb for a back cover and attaching the art, then not liking it when more experienced authors tell them the cover art isn't good enough (my standard response is “How does your cover compare to your competition?”).
Even in recent weeks, I've seen some truly hideous, amateurish covers and I struggle to understand how any author can imagine they're good enough. But I'm sure they justify it with a plea of “It's the best I can do” with a side serving of “I can't afford a cover designer.” Guess what? You don't get credit for it being the best you can do, and nor do you get sales. This is a complete lack of an ability to put themselves in the shoes of a book buyer (I mean, do these authors even buy books?). Would they buy a book with a crap cover from an unknown author when Amazon is promoting the latest Stephen King for 99p?
There are two options for authors. The first is to learn how to design covers.
As someone who's done that, I can tell you it's a time consuming process, even though I have been producing graphics for over twenty years. And even then, the vast majority of my covers are produced by someone else. I'm proud of my Robot Empire covers, but they've been through several iterations as I learned and improved, and I would have made more money by having a pro do them in the first place.
Oh, and by the way, you may be thinking this makes me a hypocrite, but I judged my covers against the competition, not against my skill level. With the Robot Empire, I was able to achieve a professional result. With other genres, I have not – so I've hired the work out.
The second option, then, is to pay someone. How much does it cost? It can be £500 for a true master/mistress of the craft, but I've recently tested getcovers.com and am blown away by the quality of the results (see the image at the top of this post). The cost? $25 for ebook and print. I also had a good experience with 100covers.com.
Now, there is an argument to be made that $25 is too low, and undermines other designers. But it's not my job to keep more expensive designers in work. A £500 cover would definitely be better than my $25 one, but it would have a marginal effect on sales. I did have to do a lot of the research for the cover myself but, frankly, I see that as my job whether I use a designer or not. My experience is that cheap designers work when you are writing in a clear and well known genre – if you've gone off-piste then hire a more experienced/expensive artist.
What matters is the end result, whether you get there by doing it yourself (unlikely) or by hiring someone. What you want is readers who are scrolling through Amazon to be attracted and intrigued by your cover. The message should be that they want to check out the blurb and then it's the job of your copy-writing to get them to buy.. But if the cover is amateurish or off-genre, then the effort you put into your blurb is wasted as they'll never see it.
We have to accept that we can't be pros at everything. We're authors and our job is to be awesome at that and to surround ourselves with professionals (a copy editor and cover artist at a minimum) so that our books have the best chance of selling despite the tsunami of releases every day.
Don't be like that baker.