One of these I did myself...can you guess which one?

Book Covers for Self-Published Writers

One of the banes of self-publishing is the need to do everything else besides writing your book, well, yourself. You’re the editor, the marketer, the publisher, as well as the writer. In my case for the first paperback draft, I was also the cover artist. This would have been a very bad decision if I were to use this paperback version for anything other than a hard copy for editing.

You can probably tell right away which cover is my original and which one I paid for. That first cover, believe it or not, took hours of painstaking effort in Microsoft Paint to produce. I quickly realized drawing the graceful curves of the Firefly starfighter from my story was beyond my ability. So I settled on the angled ship you see here, inspired from the 1995 PC game Gravity Well (YouTube clip). As alluded to above, I did this for fun, for a draft of the book I was handing out to alpha readers solely for the purpose of having something to write notes in vs. a PDF.

You Need The Best Cover Art

This article is really aimed at self-publishing authors who are debating what to do about cover art. In some rare cases, a super-talented individual who has been blessed with a visual art skill set as well as storytelling ability might be able to pull off their own cover. For the rest of us, cover art is something you should not do yourself (unless you don’t really want to sell your book).

See, the cover is what grabs potential readers. It needs to stand out to that person searching for their next read, and it’s got to compete with traditionally published books. Publishing houses have staff artists that do spectacular work, with the sole intent of selling that book to someone on the merits of the cover alone.

As a self-published author, your book needs to do the same.

 How to Get a Stunning Cover

Sagitta E-Book Markup by Warren Design

In order to get that awesome background image, you need an artist. Preferably, an artist that specializes in book covers–someone who is also a graphic designer who can put nice drop shadows and cool fonts on the cover (not necessary in all cases, especially if you are just uploading a background image into Amazon’s cover creator tool). These talented people can be found simply by searching the internet, posting in writing forums, reading this Goodreads thread, or looking up artists of traditionally published works and stalking them mercilessly (not recommended).

Prices for this type of thing vary wildly, from a few hundred dollars for a custom cover to $1000+ for a full wrap (including spine and back cover). I think this is the best option, since you can work with the artist to get a cover that fits your book best. The downside is the cost.

Enter the third option…premade covers.  These are sort of like stock photography, and are sometimes assembled from stock artwork. Here, the author loses the ability to have a cover designed just so, but sometimes a premade design will be good enough to get the point across.

After scouring the internet with a budget of $50, I found my updated cover at Covers were searchable by genre, and it was relatively painless to find one that stood out and conveyed the general idea behind my book, which was crazy space-opera sci-fi action. The ships don’t really match the ones I describe, but for $49 who’s complaining? If the cover gets someone to buy it, it did it’s job (please everyone, judge my book by its cover!)

Make Sure Your Story Is Up To Your Cover’s Standards

If you get a good cover, you should do everything you can to make sure the story inside is up to the same level of quality. Else, you’ll be letting your readers down. In the case of SagittaI put the first draft on Amazon not to sell but to be able to hold a real paperback in my hand for editing purposes. This draft was so rough that the original homemade Microsoft Paint cover was all it needed (and deserved).

With the beta version of my book out, the story is complete and most of the typos fixed. It’s not a great story, but I feel it can earn generally positive reviews. After another round of edits and some character re-work, it will be time to actually advertise its existence. For this, I felt it deserved a real cover.


Cover art is what sells your book, at least at first. Maybe eventually word of mouth will take over (this is the ultimate goal), but to make that first sale, put some sweet art on that book! Now that self-publishing is becoming more common, an entire art industry for us DIY writers is popping into existence. It’s also a great way to find another creative soul whose dream you can help realize by asking them to put a face on your book.


Sagitta cover art by Warren Design

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