Before I was the illustrious author I am today (haha), I worked many years as a graphic designer, and studied fine art a majority of my life as the daughter of an art teacher. So as far as judging a book by it’s cover, I am the worst offender, but it is a very sad and true fact of publishing that a book cover can and will attract or deter potential readers.
If you go the traditional route, you will likely have little to no say in your book cover. Your publisher will send it to their marketing department, who will hire a designer who’s work has sold to their target audience before. They might hope you like it, but they probably don’t care much if you don’t.
One of the perks of being an indie writer is that you have complete control (if you like that sorta thing) and you can pick or design your cover yourself. You can hire it out to a friend. You can use your favorite artists work (with their consent of course, lets avoid lawsuits here). You can make that cover exactly what you dreamed your book cover would look like someday!
Not even a graphic designer starts out knowing good flow so if your not hiring a professional book cover designer for your book cover, you need to familiarize yourself with some basics that will allow you to save money on expensive art that will not work well as a cover and still look professional and attractive.
Keep it Simple!
This is the first and most important piece of advice I can give you. Do not try to incorporate every exciting aspect of your novel into your cover. Do not fill up the space with images. Do not use fancy fonts. Do not blast your potential readers with psychedelic colors. Just don’t.
Yes, there are awesome book covers that do all those things but they were designed by professionals who have an established record of great, inspired work. You are a writer. Your inspired work is behind the book cover. If your doing the cover yourself, choose a simple image with alot of blank space. Use a simple font. (Baskerville, Bell Gothic Trajan Pro, Impact, just please don’t use Comic Sans), Make it bold and easy to read. Keep everything relatively centered. Keep colors to a minimum pallet
Use professional Art and Photography
This can cost as much or as little as you want. There are sights out there like unsplash that offer beautiful professional photographs with no attributions or costs required (although I would suggest you attribute it to the talented artist anyway because, well, karma). You can also scroll deviant art and ask if there is an artist who would be willing to sell you the rights to their work or you can contact your favorite artist and talk to them about using their art for your cover. Keep in mind, however, that they are working artists too. If their prices are too high, do not get angry or frustrated and DO NOT try to use their work without their written consent. Artist, just like writers, are trying to make a living with their art. We’re all in this community together.
Paying for beautiful work will pay off for you, if you use it correctly. A poorly illustrated cover will immediately deter a reader. Cheesy and amateur character drawing that look like Sims Screenshots are a surefire way to shout to your readers “HEY! DON’T READ THIS BOOK!”
Make your Dream Image work for you
If the photo, painting or illustration you love for your cover is too busy, Do not try to cram your title and name into tight corners, or slap them over top of the art in garish red letters. Work with a designer or mess with it on your own to make it work. Crop, fade, adjust.
Get Honest Feedback
Not your sister or your besties. Put it out on Twitter. Put it somewhere where people will be brutal. Much better to hear it now than to find out after you haven’t sold a single book for over a year.
If the idea of DIYing your cover is intimidating to you, don’t fret. There are hundreds of websites that offer blank covers just waiting for your title and name. Prices range from $15-500 for professional, ready made book covers that you can scroll through to match to your book.
You have options. Do not let your book cover prevent you from getting your work to your audience.