For a self-published book to sell, the cover is key. Regardless of how eloquent or entertaining its text may be, a book will have trouble catching a buyer’s eye or being taken seriously by reviewers if it looks homemade. Thankfully, authors have more ways than ever to give their books polished, good-looking covers.

Hire a Professional

The first step for any author looking for a great cover is to get some outside help. While self-publishers tend to be confident and capable do-it-yourselfers, unless they are also highly skilled artists, it’s best to hire someone who does graphic design for a living.

“A novice will spend way too much time working on the cover, and in the end it will just look handmade,” says Ron Pramschufer, owner of author consulting service Self Publishing Inc. “You will wrestle with a design all afternoon, while a professional designer will take the idea and send something beautiful back in ten minutes.”

Instead, the author should look for a skilled designer with experience. These designers can be tracked down through a number of ways:

  • Seek out layouts similar to what you want for your book and track down the designer through his or her agent or personal website. Try to stay genre specific in making these design decisions.
  • Use online cover services such as KillerCovers or Okay Creations.
  • Use design-bidding sites such as crowdSPRING, 99designs, or Elance, which allow visitors to post the job they are looking to assign and choose from the submissions.

Pramschufer advises that authors should expect to pay a few hundred dollars for a quality cover, but no more than $1,000.

“You should never pay more than that, no matter how many awards the designer’s won,” he says. “Your text is the value added, the designer is there to keep you from getting embarrassed.”

Doing It Yourself

If an author is determined to do the cover on his or her own, there are plenty of services available. While Adobe Illustrator is a standard software used by professional designers, an author can also use online services such as Gimp, a free alternative to Adobe; Amazon’s Cover Creator through CreateSpace; or Cover Design Studio, among many others.

But more likely than not, the author would be better served focusing his or her energy on just providing the designer with plenty of graphic elements, from fonts to images, to give a clear sense of the look he or she is seeking.

To help generate ideas, a few good sources to consult are:

Other Considerations

When appropriate, short selections of critical praise of the book should be included on the cover. The single best line of praise or the one from the most prominent source should appear on the cover itself, with additional comments on the back cover.

Think of the cover blurb as something of an extra subtitle, clarifying what readers can expect from the book, with the added benefit of a personal endorsement. This makes it important for the author to reach out early to bloggers and reviewers in the book’s genre, as well as get advanced reading copies to any prominent connections that may be open to providing a blurb.

One of the advantages of e-book covers is that they can be updated. So, if a good blurb comes in even after the book has been out, it is a simple enough process to update the cover to include it. Similarly, if the work is nominated for some kind of award or hits a bestseller list, this should be added to the cover as well to help catch the eye of readers. Of course, choose what is placed on the cover carefully -- clutter should be avoided.

Alex Palmer is a freelance journalist and the author of Weird-o-Pedia.