How to Find and Hire a Book Cover Designer for Your Self-Published Book

POSTED ON Aug 30, 2019

Jake Gunnoe

Written by Jake Gunnoe

Home > Blog > Design, Publishing > How to Find and Hire a Book Cover Designer for Your Self-Published Book

If you're self-publishing a book, you will need a professional book cover designer to improve the chance of your book's success.

Yes, you will need to hire a professional book cover designer as a self-published author. 

In the world of online publishing, book covers are everything. A survey of over 500 readers shows 79% of them say book covers play a crucial role in their purchasing decision.

A good cover is the difference between selling 15 books a month or 500.

The big question is, how do you make sure your book cover attracts readers and drives sales?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a golden rule. Book covers change like fashion trends. That’s why best sellers re-release new editions in an attempt to capture a new audience with updated cover art.

Forget about the trends and the dos and don’ts of book covers. You don’t need to be a design expert to be successful – you just need to hire a professional book cover designer.

As a writer, your job is to focus on your ideal reader. Make sure your book appeals to them inside and out. 

Which is why you need to find a book cover designer that can elevate your book’s visual appeal, so that you can focus on what you do best: writing books.

In today’s digital marketplace, hiring a book cover designer doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. You can find a high quality graphic designer at a reasonable price. 

Once you determine your budget, you can start taking the steps towards scouring the web for a professional graphic artist that you can trust for your book’s cover design. 

Let’s take a look at the exact process I use and recommend to any self published author looking to find and hire a book cover designer.

#1 – Research your target audience

Before you think about which style of design you want for your book, spend some time in the shoes of your target audience. 

Your target reader is who will be buying and reading your book, so it’s important to consider what attracts them in a book cover. 

Come up with a good idea of what your audience likes. 

To make this process easier, keep a list of target readers you know personally. If you already have an email list, pick your most avid fans. If you have a few close friends/colleagues that like your genre, add them to the list.

If you don't have anyone to ask in your network, go to Amazon or Goodreads, find the top reviewers from similar authors, and message them to see if they wouldn't mind helping you out in exchange for a free copy of your book.

 If all else fails, recruit some people on Facebook pages or subreddits.

Here are some ideas for locating people in your target audience

  1. Reach out to any people in your networking circle who enjoy reading books in your genre
  2. Research book lover platforms like Amazon or Goodreads to find top reviewers in your genre
  3. Be active in Facebook groups related to your book genre and topic
  4. Engage with the reading communities on Twitter and Instagram
  5. Browse through relevant Reddit and Quora discussion forums

Once you have researched your target audience and have an ongoing list of contacts, send some emails and messages with simple feedback questions to help get an idea of what makes these readers pick up a book based on the cover.

Questions you can ask your target audience are: 

  • What do you like about your favorite book cover design? 
  • What do you dislike? 
  • What do you notice first when you look at a book? 
  • What makes you pick up a book at the library or bookstore? 

Take note of your target reader’s answers, and compile these for future reference. See if you can draw any connections or commonalities between the individual responses. 

#2 – Brainstorm cover designs within your genre

Now that you have some feedback from your target audience, it’s time to move to the next step. 

Next, spend a few looking for book covers within your genre that inspire you. After all, it’s your book, and you want to have an idea in mind of what type of cover would fit well with your topic or story. 

Think of the different needs you might need if you're learning how to write a children's book and need to find a good illustrator, versus simply needing a nonfiction cover for an eBook.

#1 – Start by searching best sellers from similar categories on Amazon

Make sure you’re only focusing on self-published authors who’ve seen good success. 

Don’t worry about best sellers from publishing houses, they’re playing a different ballgame than you. As you look at other books, you can tell which ones are from a big publisher because they have a “Sold by” section above the buy button.

Amazon Product Details

#3 – Research book cover designer's styles

Browse case studies and get familiar with styles and strategic design choices.

As you do this, you’ll figure out why you like the covers you chose in your research. You’ll also get a sense of the styles you prefer.

Once you get an ongoing list of covers you like within your genre, narrow down your list of target covers to 2-5 examples. 

Book Cover Designer: Goodreads Book Cover Design Research

Reach out to a few people from your ideal reader list and have them vote on their favorite.

Compile these book cover ideas, and save them in a document so that you can show your cover designer which style you’re going for. 

Now that you have a few crowd favorite design examples, it’s time to find a designer that can recreate the cover for your book.

#4- Know where to find cover designers

This is the easiest part of the process. There are thousands of designers out there with a wide range of style and experience. There are even marketplace sites solely for author services, with book cover designers and illustrators ready to work their creative artistry. 

Here are the top online sites to find book cover designers: 

  1. 99 Designs– a network of designers
  2. Ebook Launch – services specifically for eBooks and print
  3. 100 Covers – cover design and book production services
  4. BookBaby – another publishing suite
  5. Fiverr – freelancers of all sort
  6. Upwork – another freelancer website
  7. Deviant Art – a network of freelance artists

Everyone has their preferences, but I don’t think you can go wrong with any of those websites. 

Options 1-4 are all package-deal services—you pay upfront and they design your book cover using their network. You also have the option of hiring a professional cover designer for your print book, and using a template for your eBook.

I prefer to go completely freelance using Fiverr and Upwork—it’s riskier and requires a little more effort than the other options, but it’s more cost effective and gives you more options.

#5 – The strategy for selecting the best cover designer 

Once you know where to find a book cover designer, it’s time to commit and start the selection process to hire.  

In graduate school, I spent hours hiring service providers from a wide range of industries, from multi-billion dollar companies to Facebook ads. In every situation, I’ve used the same proven method.

This strategy is called the Best Value Approach, developed at the Performance Based Studies Research Group and Arizona State University (I know, it’s a mouthful). 

This approach was developed over 26 years on 1,800+ projects. Every project was vastly different, but the process saves between 10-30% on the vast majority of projects (98% to be exact).

The success of this approach hinges on one core philosophy: you are not the expert, the vendor is

When hiring a designer, use this mentality: “I will pick the best expert that I can afford.”

If I need to micromanage a designer and send back a bunch of revisions, then I’m obviously not valuing their expertise.

 As you look for potential designers, you’re looking for the most expertise for the best price.

#6 – Begin the selection process

As human beings, we tend to treat all decisions as an emotional process. As you choose a designer, avoid this tendency. 

Cut out the emotion. Your decision should be done based on cold-hard logic. 

When hiring a book cover designers, there are five points of criteria to rate your designer on:

  1. Agreeableness—how well the designer “fits” me. Do we share the same vision for the final product? Do they match my style? Do I feel comfortable when I talk to them?
  2. Level of Expertise—the designers’ ability. Do they have proven performance metrics? Do they have a proven track record designing covers for books similar to mine?
  3. Timeframe—the length of their service. Does it fit my schedule?
  4. Price—how much their service costs. Do they fit within my budget? 
  5. Audience Appeal—my ideal reader’s opinion. Does my audience like their designs?

As I review potential candidates, I evaluate all of them based on these factors. Then, I implement a rating system, which we’ll cover in the next section. 

How To Find And Hire A Book Cover Designer

#1 – Agreeableness

Rating an editor on agreeableness comes down to a yes or no question: Do they see what I see?

The first step to rating agreeableness is when I post a job or reach out to a designer, I send them my books cover information, a short blurb, links to my ideal reader’s preferred covers, and any other design requests I might have (e.g. my books about cats so I want a picture of a kitty on the front). I tell them to come up with a couple rough mockups.

If they meet my criteria, I give them a 10, otherwise I give them a 5 (I’ll only give a 1 if they don’t try). I’m very lenient with 10’s. Even if I don’t love the design, I give them a 10 because I know that they put in the effort. I’m sure with a little more feedback, the cover can be what I want it to be.

I will do this process for at least 10 different designers. When I’ve narrowed my decision down to two or three, I’ll take it back to an audience vote.

#2 – Level of Expertise

This one is straightforward. I ask myself; does the designer have a good track record? I either look at their resume, website, or profile. If they can show experience designing a cover for a book similar to mine, that earns them an immediate 10. I don’t care if they’ve designed 10 covers or 100 covers. Good editing isn’t about volume. Sure, an additional 90 books might make a difference, but I won’t discredit someone for being new to the industry.

If a designer doesn’t provide their experience, or if I doubt the relevance of their experience, then I give them a 5. Designers will only get a 1 if they tell me outright; “I’ve never designed a book cover like this and I don’t feel comfortable with it.”

#3 – Timeframe

This one is very simple, but there are two ways to evaluate time:

  1. Track the number of days it will take to create a final design.
  2. Rate them 1/5/10 on if they meet your deadlines or not.

I usually stick with option two. As a self-publisher, I try not to set up arbitrary deadlines for designing. I don’t mind giving a designer an extra week if I know that they’re good. Timeframe is not important to me, but it’s worth tracking.

#4 – Price

If you can, don’t get hung up on price! Just like timeframe, I usually evaluate price on the same 1/5/10 scale; are they within my budget or not?

For your reference, you can expect price to range between $50 – $600 (unless you're paying for a premium artist).

#5 – Audience Appeal

I save this one for last, but it is definitely the most important factor.

For this step, you’ll want to narrow down the list to your top 2-3 designers. By now, you should have a list of at least 10 designers. Look at their evaluation scores (without the audience appeal score). Choose the top 2-3 highest scoring designers. This is your high potential list.

Using the mockup designs from your high potential list, reach out to your five most reliable ideal readers and ask them to pick their favorite design. Make sure they know that this is only a mock-up. This is a hard thing for them to judge because they’re not looking at the final product, but their opinion still matters. I suggest only reaching out to your most reliable readers because you don’t want to survey your whole pool (yet), since this is only a mockup. It’s important that they understand this fact.

After your readers have made their choice, tally up the votes and update the scores.

#7 – Use a rating process to help you choose the best book cover designer

Take emotion and bias out of the process by using numbers.

 When you use numbers, it’s much easier to compare designers in a matrix or spreadsheet. For price and timeframe, it’s easy to associate a number. 

For audience appeal, I track how many of my ideal readers vote for a specific design. Agreeableness and expertise are a little trickier—I use an adjusted three-factor scale.

Everyone is familiar with a 1-10 rating scale, but most of the time this is a biased scale. It’s hard for anyone to justify the difference between a 6 and 7. So I use a unique approach:

  • 1 – a one means that I am 100% sure that this person does not meet my criteria. There is no doubt in my mind that it’s not a good fit. I seldom give a one rating.
  • 5 – a five means “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”. If there are any doubts in my mind, I give a five.
  • 10 – a ten is 100% positive that this person meets my criteria. I try to be very lenient. I want to give tens, but I make sure it’s justifiable.

So, why do I use 1-10 instead of a 1,2,3? It’s neat, clean, and it leaves some room to give a rating between 5-10 if you absolutely must give a 7 or 8.

In the table below, you can see an example of how I might compare different editors. I might create a formula to generate a total score, but most of the time I can see an obvious winner (in this case I would lean more towards Designer 2).

 Designer 1Designer 2Designer 3
Timeframe (days)215
Price $    100.00  $    400.00  $    700.00 
Audience Appeal5107

#8 – Hire your book cover designer

Now that you’ve gone through all the steps, it’s time to make your final decision and pull the trigger on the hiring process.

At this point, there should be a clear-cut winner. If you’re stuck between your last couple of designers, then choose the one who has been the most responsive (or just pick your favorite). 

You know that all the designers are top notch, so any of your high potentials will do a great job. Alternatively, if you have the money, hire multiple.

Tips for hiring a book cover designer for your self published book: 

  • Don’t get hung up on design trends. Create a cover that appeals to your target audience.
  • Before you get started, come up with a list of ideal readers who will help you.
  • Do your research. Come up with a list of books you want to emulate.
  • You can pay for a premium service or you can select from a list of freelancers. Freelancers are cheaper but can be less reliable.
  • When you hire a designer, treat them like the expert. Listen to them. Don’t challenge them. You chose an expert, now honor their expertise.
  • Take as much emotion out of the selection process.
  • Choose a designer that shares your vision for your book.
  • Try not to worry about price or schedule but take it into consideration.
  • Come up with a list of 10 good designers, narrow them down to 2-3, and reach out to five of your most reliable ideal readers to make a final vote.
  • When in doubt, ask your audience.

Once you’ve selected your designer, work with them to finalize their design proposal. Ask them to give you a few different variations. 

Last, reach out to all of your ideal readers and ask them to do a final vote between 1-3 of the variations.

Go with your audience! It doesn’t matter if you prefer a different cover. It doesn’t matter what your family or friends think. 

Listen to your ideal reader. It will pay off in the end.

What tips do you have for finding and hiring a book cover designer?

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