How Much Should a Custom Book Cover Cost?

This illustration on The Way of Love is a photo-collage of 2 copyright-free images: a photo of a classical sculpture & a photo of a pink rose

Whether you are publishing just an E-book or in print, you will need a book cover. This means that you will have to hire at least one design professional.

There are two people traditionally involved in book cover design:

1. The illustrator/photographer provides the artwork.

2. The book designer pulls together the art and the text/typography into a beautiful, eye-catching design.

Some books can get away with just design. A good rule of thumb is to assume that material set in a contemporary period or for material that references modern issues probably only needs design. In fact, an illustration may actually detract from such a book.

Genres that probably don’t need illustrations (or even photos) are self-help books, business, books, and some kinds of contemporary fiction.  Historically-placed novels require custom illustration. Here’s a chart of genres and what they need.

Action and Adventure YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL depends on time-period of material
Business YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL use only very contemporary design/illustration
Chick Lit YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL use only very contemporary design/illustration
Children’s Picture Books YES OPTIONAL NO in general, photography is not used in this genre
How-to YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL may be necessary to show visual of topic on cover
Contemporary Fiction YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL use only very contemporary design/illustration
Fantasy YES YES NO use top fantasy illustrator for cover
Gothic YES OPTIONAL NO use top Gothic illustrator for cover
Graphic Novels YES OPTIONAL NO normally illustrated
Historical Fiction YES YES OPTIONAL painting from historical master is a good choice for the illustration of a historical novel
Horror YES OPTIONAL NO photography for horror cover would probably be in bad taste, and title may be refused by distributors
Humor YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL humor can benefit from cartoons or other simple illustrative style, including a graphical treatment by the designer
Literary Classics YES OPTIONAL NO hire top designer, see notes for Historical Fiction above
Mystery YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL if mystery is set in past, then illustrate, otherwise, hire top designer with contemporary style
Picture Books YES OPTIONAL NO most picture books are illustrated since they are for children, however adult picture books may require photos
Inspirational YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL hire top designer with contemporary style, let them decide whether you need photos or illustration
Romance YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL if your romance novel is set in past, then use illustration, use photo for contemporary novel
Science Fiction YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL in general, Sci-fi is illustrated, no matter the time period
Self-help YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL no photography or illustration needed
Short Story Collections YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL no photography or illustration needed, just good design
Thrillers and Suspense YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL if historical, use illustration; if contemporary, use photography or just design
Western YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL design, illustration, photography or combination
Young Adult YES OPTIONAL OPTIONAL depends on time period of material

As you can see, all books benefit from good design.

Hire the designer first, then allow him/her to help you choose the illustrator or photographer, if you need one.
The designer will be the illustrator’s “boss” and make sure that the project turns out right. Many illustrators are not capable of design, and the natural hierarchy is for the designer to command the illustrator.

Think of it this way: the illustration is put inside the design. No matter how good the illustration is, the book will suffer if the design isn’t up to par, or if the design style is inappropriate for the genre.

It is reasonable to expect to pay anywhere from $600-2000 for a custom design.
(not including custom photography or illustration).

  • The low-range of the above price range would include self-help books with only a typographical treatment, and photo of author supplied by client or copyright-free photo obtained by the designer.
  • The mid-to-high range would be for a cover that utilizes photography in a creative usage (see illustration above). Higher prices reflect more work by the designer.

What you should expect for your money:

  • Any cover should include at least one revision.
    A higher price should reflect more potential revisions.
  • All covers should include a digital Ebook version.
    3 sizes for Ebook cover, advertising and icon (postage-stamp version).
  • If you provide the artwork, then you could probably fit into the lower price.
    However, sometimes this works against you. Always allow the designer to decide whether your artwork is appropriate.

Remember, that the designer of a book cover is responsible for the front, the back and the spine. Also, she is responsible for the color fidelity, and this requires a hard proof in all cases.  Never does the design on screen match what is in print, and all printers are unique. I know, for example, that Lightning Source tends towards magenta in the final print. (CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black; all color prints are made of all 4 colors).

Even if you are only doing an E-book, have the designer design a cover for the print version: that way, you will have it in a size large enough for a print version, should you ever decide to go to print. This will save you money in the long run.

I highly recommend that any publisher use a professional designer for their book covers, if not for the interior. After all, the cover is the most important selling tool that you have as an author.

There are many things that a designer knows that can make your process go much smoother. In the long run, unless you want to go to school to become a designer, it will be cheaper to hire one.

Custom book cover design


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