Brand new self-published authors are going into business for themselves, and that business is selling books. Mediocre covers cost you money in sales, that’s a fact. While it’s hard to overestimate the importance of a cover, it’s also hard to overestimate the value of each dollar when you’re starting a new business. So what’s a good cover worth to a newly minted self-published author?

Take Stock of Your Visuals

The first thing you’re going to have to decide about your cover is will it use stock photography or an original illustration? If you don’t have strong feelings already, take a look at other books in your genre. Some genres gravitate to one option or the other. For instance, traditional fantasy covers tend to lean toward original illustration whereas urban fantasy covers tend toward stock photography.

Another way to decide is through your budget. A cover with an original illustration is going to cost you at least another $300 to pay your illustrator (who may or may not be your cover designer as well) and could cost as much as $1,000 or even more depending on what you think your cover needs.

The Love of Art May Be Free, but Art Ain’t

Let me digress a bit to say something that ought to be obvious to a self-published author: Pay the other artists who help you publish your book.

Do not go looking for an illustrator with a promise of “great exposure.” Think about how that would sound to you if somebody asked you to ghostwrite their novel for the same payment. Great exposure is great, but it’s not as good as money.

You can feel free to bargain shop, though! Go to Fiverr or Craig’s List and see what you can get from a hungry illustrator. Just know going in that this is one of those areas in life where you’re likely to get what you pay for.

Lock, Stock, and Squirrel (Your Money Away)

If you’re money-conscious, then stock photography is the way to go. Remember from the last time we talked about covers, you’re still going to want a professional designer to take that photo and add the right kind of magic that’ll turn it into a cover.

If you don’t mind giving away some of your creative control, there are even services that have sets of pre-designed covers available. One of these is They start at $69 and go up from there. They’re customizable to you and guaranteed not to be exactly duplicated (although you may see other covers using the same stock photography).

You could also look for professional cover designers that cost a bit more than you want to pay and watch for sales. Those of you familiar with Joe Konrath know that his cover designer, Extended Imagery, sometimes runs sales. I’m sure there are others, so please mention them in the comments.

If you want to have covers designed specifically for you and your novel to your exacting specifications or requests, that’s going to cost you more. You might take a look at Brett Grimes from our Partners Page. Or if you want plenty of options to choose from, visit Bibliocrunch and buy a subscription to their service for access to all the choices you can stand. But keep in mind, while they’re beautiful, custom covers will cost you significantly more.

To Sum Up

So depending on your various wants and needs based on genre and creative control, you’ve got quite a wide range of prices to choose from. You can have a professionally designed and beautiful cover for as little as $69 or for as much as, well, infinity dollars. To be honest, though, if you’re paying more than a grand (and that’s for a professionally designed cover that includes a high-level illustration), you’re almost certainly wasting your money.

That’s a pretty wide range. But now you have a floor to start from and a ceiling to keep in mind while budgeting for your cover. Come back next week and we’ll tackle the cost of editing.