Creating covers for my books makes me crazy.
cra·zy[krey-zee] AKA CRAYCRAY, BONKERS, WHACKED
1. mentally deranged
2. totally unsound
3. passionately excited
4. very enamored or infatuated
5. intensely anxious
Yes, all of those.
As an indie author, I love having the freedom to decide my own cover, don't get me wrong. A great cover, or even dreaming of a great cover, can juice my excitement about releasing a new book. And having had a publisher pick a cover I don't like and can't change... that is much worse than any anxiety that goes into making my own covers. But the anxiety that goes with deciding on a cover artist/approach, the endless looking through stock photos, and struggling with the right concept for the cover can drive me to distraction. This is partly because a cover is tremendously important for book sales, but also partly because being indie means I have to pay for it too.
The balance is tough.
But here are my lessons learned about covers, for what it's worth:
Covers almost always pay for themselves.
A novel NEEDS a good cover to sell. $300-$400 may seem like a lot, but you'll make that back if you sell even 200 ebooks... and if you're not planning on selling that much, you are aiming too low. You don't have control over sales, but if you've got a good product, you're going to sell more than that. And having a good cover is part of having a good product. Where I struggle is with short stories, but my experience (so far) has been that even my short stories will sell enough to justify spending $50-$100 on cover art. Even on a 99cent short, you only have to sell 300 of those to cover art.
My take away: spend the money on art! Stop agonizing over it! (I mostly listen to this.)
Covers must convey genre and concept, not story.
Authors fall down when they try to design a cover that tells the story of their book. That's what the blurb is for! Covers convey genre, set tone, and sell the concept of the story on an emotional level. Reader's responses to covers are almost entirely emotional/instinctual. You have to heed that response, no matter how "accurate" you may think your cover represents what's inside.
This says: Contemporary Romance
This is my friend Leigh's book. It's awesome. Go buy it.
This says: Cool Science Fiction
This is my friend Lee's book. It is also awesome Go buy it.
This is some gorgeous art, and I almost spent a bunch on acquiring it for the cover for my east-indian, steampunk fantasy romance novel. Why didn't I? East-indian? Check! Steampunk? Check! Fantasy Romance... not so much. I was missing a key genre in the cover, so no matter how beautiful (it is! look at it!), I decided I had to pass.
My take away: Spend time thinking about the concept/genre you're trying to convey with your cover as much as how you would like to portray the story or what stock art/artist/artwork you would like to use for it.
Get A Professional to Help
I try to get my ideas together first for a cover. I look at top 100 bestsellers. I think about concept/genre. I troll stock art sites and download scads of images to peruse. But in the end, I go to my cover designer and ask for help. Creatively collaborating with an artist to bring your vision of a cover to life? That's the part I like! And the cover designer will have fantastic ideas about how to draw the audience into the image itself, how to make it shine, and how to make it look professional.
My take away: having a professional in your corner is also worth the cost.
Trolling stock art sites still gives me a headache. Just sayin...
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Series, which includes three novels, three novellas, and a trailer. She's currently writing a steampunk fantasy romance, just for kicks, but she keeps getting distracted by a future-noir series of novellas that want to be written. Finding covers for an entire series of novellas has pushed her over the edge in the stock-art-looking-department. At which point, she usually goes and plays on Facebook until she feels better.