I meet with business owners both locally and internationally and share what I learn to help readers generate more income.
Covers for Self-Publishing Authors
In recent years, the number of authors choosing to self-publish has soared. In fact, in your circle of friends and associates, you probably know someone who has written a book and chosen this method of getting their book on the market.
This has created an opportunity for designers who can create book covers for this vast and ever-increasing market. After completing their book, authors need a suitable cover—this is where there is money to be made. Many self-publishing authors can't afford the high cost of a specialist design company so opt for alternatives that they can afford. By offering a quality pre-made cover, both the designer and author can win. I want to show you how you can earn money with minimal design skills by giving people what they want, a low-cost alternative to an expensive custom-designed book cover.
Using programs that are low cost or even free, you can design a cover either for yourself or design one for someone else to earn extra money.
Design Programs to Use
There are many photo editing programs that you can use to manipulate images. I primarily use Adobe Photoshop but have used Serif PhotoPlusx6, PicMonkey and occasionally Gimp.
If you are starting out and don't want to spend any money before you earn some, opt for Gimp, which is free to download.
Design Sizes of Covers
For my book covers, I begin with a size of 3125 x 4167 pixels, The size required by the company that sells my covers. Although this is the size I use, if you were asked to make one smaller or larger, you would set your parameters differently at the beginning. I then begin loading my chosen images onto the page. I combine different layers until I am happy with the end project. This design is then saved and exported as a jpg with a dpi of 300. This size would be suitable for a printed book, but I also do a small size for an e-book cover of 288 X 216 pixels with a 72dpi (dots per inch). The customer receives both sizes.
The smaller size is also where I give an example of generic writing on the cover to give the customer an idea of how it would look with text.
Below is a sample of the covers I have.
Where to Sell Book Covers
Once you have your cover designed, you need to decide where you want to advertise it for sale. At the moment, I exclusively use a site called selfpubbookcovers. They have an easy-to-use website and pay promptly when a cover is sold, generally in two days. I merely upload my design, and once approved by the creative director, it goes on their site for sale.
Uploading it is straightforward as they have a page with boxes where you have to state that your image is either your work or a combination of stock images or creative common images. There is also a section for entering keywords and a checklist of things to verify before submitting it. It is also necessary to show them where the images come from, for example, Pixabay or the page of the stock photo site if images were purchased.
Although I use that site exclusively, there are other similar sites. Plus, there are other freelance sites such as:
- People per hour
- Design Crowd
There is also the option of creating your website and selling book covers by creating specific designs for a client. I don't want to discourage you from doing that, but you will be spending a good deal of time trying to get your site found by the search engines when you could be designing beautiful book covers.
What Types of Designs to Make
Stop for a moment and imagine yourself in a bookstore. You're looking at the selection of books, and the first thing you see is the front cover. If it looks intriguing, you'll flip it over and read the back cover, and if that piques your interest, you'll likely purchase the book. The cover design can make or break a book, so it is your responsibility, as the artist/designer, to create something that will help sell that book.
If you're creating a specific design for a customer, they will have an idea, hopefully, of what they want. They may want a character in the book or feature the location of where the story takes place. Listen attentively and ask questions to ensure you don't waste your time and your customer gets a cover they'll be proud to put their name on. What you don't want is a back-and-forth communication of things to change, as this may cause problems and become a source of irritation for both you and your client.
Selecting a Genre
If you're producing covers for sale to the general public you'll want to start by picking a genre. Although some designers stick with one genre, I don't. Why limit your market? Here are a few ideas for different subjects:
- Thriller or espionage: You might design a scene in an alleyway or tunnel with a silhouette in the distance. Or a knife with dripping blood. Think intrigue and suspense.
- Law enforcement: Police and military angles are popular; in fact, when reading the Amazon profiles of those who have purchased some of my covers, many of them are ex-servicemen who have taken up writing as either a sideline or as a career change.
- Chick lit: If you're designing a chick lit cover, you want something with a touch of humor. Often these are drawings and feature quirky writing and often a mishap.
- Romance: A cover for romance would likely be a couple in a romantic scene or interesting background. Don't limit yourself to a heterosexual white couple, as same-sex couples and people of color are all subjects of books. Erotica also is a popular genre but be forewarned, it can't be too explicit otherwise, Amazon might not allow it. Although the book might fall into that category, the cover should allude to it, not slap you in the face. I recently had a submitted cover rejected because it showed butt cheeks.
- Inspirational: An inspirational book cover might show sunlight breaking through a darkened sky. Also, someone blowing dandelion seeds into the wind. Something that shows openness and hope or conquering adversity.
- Sci-Fi: For science fiction, let your mind go wild. Planets, spaceships, and aliens feature heavily but don't limit yourself to just those. Imagine life on another planet; what would it look like?
- Fantasy: Much like the sci-fi covers, creating a cover for fantasy novels opens up possibilities for your imagination to explore more unusual covers. Pixies, unicorns, and dragons are not the only fantasy stories available what other fantastic imagery can you think of?
- Supernatural: Although not my personal favorite type of story to read, vampires, zombies, and werewolves are popular topics for authors. Blood, fangs, and bite marks on the neck can be added to an image to give it a spooky demonic look. Others that fall into this category are shapeshifters which will give you the option of combining two different images into one.
One thing I would like to mention: authors don't always wait until they have written a book to buy a cover. Sometimes they will purchase a book cover they like and write a story based on that.
It's important not to make the image too dark as many e-readers only display in black and white, and a dark image may not appear correctly.
The author has spent a lot of their time creating their book, and they want to see the title and their name. Always leave ample space for these and possibly a tagline or author accolades. Don't be so keen to see your artwork big and bold that you forget your client's needs.
Where to Find Images
If you're using creative commons images, you will want to combine at least two to create a cover. The reason for this is if you just use one, it could already be a book cover, and you don't want it to be the same and create a potential problem for yourself or the author.
How to Avoid Litigation
There are certain things you should do to protect yourself from potential legal problems. Firstly if you are using creative common images, don't use images with people in them. It is unlikely these have a model release, and you don't want to receive a letter from someone who wants to sue you for using their image.
This also applies to images of recognizable houses, businesses, boats, and cars.
It may also be worth keeping a screenshot of the page where you downloaded your creative commons image from. These take up only a small space on your hard drive and show you acted in good faith. At the end of the day, though, you would still be liable as sites such as Pixabay and other sites which offer creative commons photos state this in their site terms. It is basically saying, use at your own risk. Do your due diligence before using the creative common images.
You can find images on sites such as:
- Flickr (check rights as most are not CC0)
If you are going to purchase stock photos, check the usage rights. This will also give you the limit of copies which can be sold (usually 250,000 or 500,000) without buying another license. When you buy from a stock site, the model release has been signed. I use a combination of our own photos, creative commons, and stock images.
Worth a Try
If you're still reading, then you're obviously interested or at least curious. If you're asking yourself if you have the design capabilities let me tell you something, don't wait; just begin. When I look back at my early designs, I'll be honest with you, they aren't good. I could delete them off the site, but for me, I like to go back and look at some of my early designs to see how far I've come.
You're not competing with world-class designers, they are in a league of their own. Your skills will help an author who doesn't have a huge amount of money to spend on what might be their first or second book.
Just start from where you are right now. If you need guidance about the software program you have selected to use, there are video tutorials on YouTube explaining various techniques. Once you begin, you'll become more confident, and your covers will improve. Go to the library, your own bookshelf or on the internet to get an idea of different styles of book covers. Some are artistic, others minimalist, and some are downright poor, in my opinion.
Whether you decide to create your own website or sell on a freelance site/through a third party, you will have another source of revenue coming in from your artwork.
The sites where you can upload your work are free, so you have nothing to lose except the time spent designing your first cover. Who knows, you could have a flair for it, and you might just design a cover for an upcoming best seller!
Don't get discouraged if some of yours don't get accepted. Occasionally I produce one that doesn't get accepted for various reasons. When you make your first sale, though, you'll be hooked.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: I'm an author looking for a cover for my self-published book. What fair market value range should I expect to pay for a cover? I was considering hosting an Art Contest through my Instagram account, but I would want the top prize to be worthwhile. Do you have any suggestions?
Answer: The site I sell book covers through that I mentioned in the article, their covers start at $69.
Regarding the art contest, it sounds like a good idea, but artists won't give away their designs for a small prize. If you and your book are well known, they may enter for the publicity. Plus to run a bonafide contest is difficult as there are many rules and regulations that have to be followed.
Question: I am looking for something I can do to earn a little extra money after I retire. Currently, I do some promotional work (for free) for some authors I am acquainted with on Facebook. I love doing this and some of my promotional work has turned out nicely. Do you think this is something someone like me could get into?
Answer: Yes, I do. I would say start keeping records, pictures, and information about the work you're doing. If you can, also record the numbers of attendees to events. This will begin to build your credibility.
Now, for the bad news. Everyone wants things for free. Making that shift from offering your unpaid services to requiring payment can be quite a step. That's why you need to start making contacts, and building a network of people. Begin thinking like an entrepreneur and not a volunteer.
Some people won't pay for services they once got for free, therefore you need to shift your focus to other authors.
Question: Do you know of any site that uses Payoneer?
Answer: Yes, one of the payment options at Upwork is Payoneer. The other option would be to create your own website and accept Payoneer payments.
Question: I'm 17 years old and I have been doing book covers for more than a year and a half. Can I try and sell book covers too? Even though I haven't finished a school for graphic design?
Answer: Yes, you can. Many of the people who design, do not have any official qualifications and are selling book covers. Let the market be the judge. The authors who write the books, don't care if you have a degree or any qualifications, they just want a book cover that will help them sell their books.
Put your covers online and try and sell them, and don't wait. Also, when you finish your graphic design course, continue learning and improving your skills.
Question: With stock photos, do I need to buy the extended license to sell the design? I use Deposit Photos for my own covers, and I'd like to start designing covers and selling them, but it looks like I have to buy extended licenses, which makes it quite expensive. Are there other stock image sites where this isn't the case?
Answer: The stock site I use allows the usage of 250,000. The company I sell my covers through asks that we confirm this as part of the vetting process.
If you were to sell them yourself, you may want to have an agreement with the purchaser that limits them to this amount. If their book takes off and sells well, they can buy the extended license.
© 2017 Mary Wickison
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on August 05, 2020:
Thanks Dale, I appreciate the share. Hopefully it will be useful for them.
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 05, 2020:
This was pretty cool and something I never really thought of. I will share this with some artist friends of mine as I think this would really work for them.
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on March 17, 2020:
You've hit the nail on the head, about finding a niche. People are looking for specific answers and ways to make money. Articles that are general are often vague and not applicable to any given niche.
There are avenues open to designers and it's necessary to look at various options and hone in on a market that isn't saturated. If you think of all the people who are writing books and self publishing, they will all need a cover.
I'm pleased you liked the article, thanks for your comment.
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on November 23, 2019:
Hi Harem Cinema,
I'm glad you found it useful. Thank you for sharing with your friends. There are many opportunities now online for artists to promote and sell their work.
HaremCinema on November 22, 2019:
THANK YOU! This article really impressed me! I was searching for something else and happend to see your title about selling pre-made book covers and I was caught. I HAD to read this article and am very happy that I did. I know a number of artists that will like it also so I am forwarding a link to them all. Keep these coming please!
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on October 22, 2018:
This article is just about designing book covers.
There is a series here on Hubpages by Billy buc (Bill Holland), he answers many writing, and publishing questions. He publishes a new 'mailbag' each Monday. Here's his most recent.
You just ask a question, and the following week you've got an answer.
The questions are varied, but always interesting, take a look. He has a loyal band of followers and has been voted the most helpful hubber as well.
Doug West from Missouri on October 22, 2018:
I haven't listed by books on Lulu. Do you sell many on that platform? I sell on KDP, Createspace, ACX, and Smashwords.
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on October 22, 2018:
If you use the dimension I mention above, it should be able to be resized without distortion. If your customer wants a square book then you would need to obviously change your dimensions.
Sticking with 3125 x 4167 pixels at 300dpi will suit the vast majority of people out there. If your customer wants a special request, do your best to accommodate them but remember, selling more is preferable than spending too much time on one client.
Jai on October 22, 2018:
Hi, I have a question about selling covers. When I upload my books onto Lulu or Createspace, they often give me the measurements that fit my book, with the content that I've written included and sometimes I have to resize my image to fit. How would I ensure that the cover will be the right size once the author has finished their book? Even if I start with a 5x8 layout (for paperback) the number of pages can change the size of the cover, so how do I ensure it will fit for the customer, especially if they buy the cover before finishing the book?
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on July 20, 2018:
I'm glad you found it useful. Good luck with the completion of your book.
Linda Bryen from United Kingdom on July 20, 2018:
Mary, thank you for sharing this article. I am not thinking of selling book covers but I am planning writing an e-book and this idea will come in handy for designing my own book cover to save money. I will be reading your article again when I finish writing my book.
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on July 15, 2018:
If you have a painting that you have created, it would need to be scanned into the computer. On the computer, you can make the book cover using a photo editing program.
Adhil on July 15, 2018:
How can sell one of the best painting of a dreaming soul as ur buk cover
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on April 03, 2018:
If you're happy with the covers you've had designed on Fiverr, stick with them.
Although it might seem like a complicated procedure, it isn't always. You can use free and/or buy images and combine them using a photo manipulation program.
You should give it a go, you can always return to Fiverr if it doesn't work out as you expect.
I'm glad you like the article, thanks for reading.
Doug West from Missouri on April 03, 2018:
Good article. I have been using designers on fiverr for my book covers. That has worked well for me so far. I am not sure I am ambitious enough to design my own covers.
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 24, 2018:
I hope you do give it a go. Start looking at the covers of the books you already have for inspiration. The main thing is, leave ample space for the author's name and title.
You'll soon get the hang of it.
Linda Courtney from Bloomsburg, PA on February 24, 2018:
I'm a huge book reader, but never thought about this as a way to earn some $$. I'm going to play around with this and see if I'm capable. Thanks for all the information.
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on August 14, 2017:
I use images which are RGB. I don't change them, I will meld at least two together and then upload to the site.
You should give it a try, an extra source of income is always a good thing.
The site is easy to use once you have done it once or twice.
It costs nothing to put them up for sale, so you've nothing to lose by giving it a whirl.
Gale on August 14, 2017:
Thanks so much for your information. As an artist and book lover who has no hope of ever writing a book, creating covers is an exciting prospect. I didn't see a mention regarding the color mode you use, i.e. RGB or CMYK. Is this not an issue? I normally work in RGB but it's an easy matter to change to CMYK. Cheers!
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on July 18, 2017:
They have made a site which is easy for both the artists and the authors to use. Although you made your covers for your own books, some authors don't have that skill or inclination to do it, so that is why there is a market for this type of site.
Through your articles here on Hubpages, you will be clued up about the use of keywords and how to effectively use them to attract potential authors to your covers.
I hope you do give it a try and wish you much success with it.
Thanks for your comment.
Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on July 17, 2017:
This is absolutely great information! And you've explained everything so well. I made my own covers for three books of mine, but I never thought of applying my efforts to sell book covers to others.
I know I'm not up there with true artistic talent, but you made a good point when you said it can still help an author who doesn't have a huge amount of money. (Yes, I did read your hub to the end).
I looked at selfpubbookcovers that you mentioned, and I see it's so easy. They do the work of applying the custom text when someone buys the cover.
You convinced me to at least get started and see where it goes. Another revenue stream is always a good idea.
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on July 06, 2017:
Like any site on the internet, you get out what you put into it. The harder you work, the better your covers, the more you will sell.
If you have a strong following of authors on your social media sites and promote yourself, you will do well.
Some of the other artists have their own sites as well, and it is something I too will also do in the future.
The site pays fast when you make a sale, within 48 hours. It is definitely legit and I do recommend it.
Kim on July 05, 2017:
I've been doing this too but through my own website, Facebook and forums. I thought about signing up for that website but I wasn't sure how legit it is. How steady are your sales on there?
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on June 18, 2017:
I'm pleased you found it useful. There are many avenues for generating income from selling book covers.
Sanja Balan on June 18, 2017:
Thank you so much! This was so useful! You made my day, and more :) Best wishes!
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 30, 2017:
When you get the time, I'm sure you'll find the software easy to use. It is a user-friendly platform for both artists and authors. The extra source of income is always useful.
Thanks for your comment.
Glen Rix from UK on May 30, 2017:
This looks like a very creatively satisfying way to earn a little money. I don't have enough time to do it but when I finally complete a biography that I have been working on I will make an attempt to master the software and create my own cover.
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on March 21, 2017:
I work strictly through the site I mentioned, Self Pub Book Covers. There I can put up various designs and targeted keywords so authors can find my covers. In the future, I may work individually with clients and sell through a personal website or on People Per Hour or other freelance sites.
The problem I have with doing that, is the back and forth communications and potentially endless revisions.
You're right, when someone buys a book cover or a product from Zazzle where I upload designs, it is very rewarding. We are in a world where everyone will 'say', "that's nice" but to have someone put their hand in their wallet and pay for something, then you know they love it.
Glad you enjoyed this article.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on March 20, 2017:
Mary, this is a great idea for making extra money. I'm sure it's quite satisfying when an author buys one of your designs. How much custom work have you done (for individual clients)?
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 26, 2017:
You're welcome. I hope many orders will be coming your way soon.
KDanielleBurton on February 25, 2017:
Thank you for the information.
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 25, 2017:
The best way to avoid any problems with images is to create them yourself from your own drawings or photos. Even then, you have to be certain what you are drawing or photographing is allowed. For instance, just this week I learned a popular tree which has been photographed by many in California, is not allowed to be used on images.
To see all the various licenses associated with Creative commons, type 'creative commons licenses' into Google. You want to be using CC0 which is considered public domain. In my article, I have listed a few places to find images.
Another option is to purchase them from a stock photo site. If you shop around you can get a good price
Good luck with your book covers.
Humphrey Mwanza on February 25, 2017:
Thank you for such an informative article I have quietly been beavering away designing covers haven't sold any yet band may now have to redesign them due to the creative commons litigation issue which I was not aware of, how can I find out more about which images I can use?
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 22, 2017:
I'm so pleased another artist from the site is here. I understand how frustrating it can be to have several covers and only a few sales.
There are a few things I would suggest.
How are your keywords? How many do you use, and how effective are they. Great keywords are crucial to getting your cover found. You may have an excellent choice of covers and perfect for what an author is looking for but if they don't type in a keyword you have, then they may never find it. People are impatient and won't scroll through too many before either buying or becoming frustrated. Whatever you do, don't keyword spam, that hurts the site as clients will get frustrated and go elsewhere. For keywords include the suitable words on the upload form, plus more. I use a thesaurus, ask people, and do keyword research.
I'm pleased to hear you're using Facebook and Twitter, both of those can be excellent. I say can be because if your Facebook page is only filled with family and friends and they aren't writers, it is likely it isn't getting in front of the people who need to see it. Twitter, I find is easier to get authors to follow you. Plus when you tweet, SelfPubBookCovers will retweet. Contact Shoshana from the site and she will give you examples of how to do this and popular hashtags to use.
Also just supporting the site helps all of us.
Something Rob touched on in his recent newsletter, was to make a small banner ad. You will have seen examples of these with some of the longstanding members. When they sell a cover they say thanks and have a square or rectangle with several of their covers. It is just another opportunity to get your name out there.
I would also suggest Pinterest as it has more of a permanence to it than Twitter and Facebook.
Although not related to book covers, I design on Zazzle and from my experience there, things can take some time to sale. I know that isn't what you want to hear but it can take a long time. I think we need patience and a thick skin. As Rob says, his site can open up another avenue of earning. I don't know if any are solely making their living from it or not.
You are doing the right thing by publishing frequently as this keeps yours on the front page when the genre is clicked.
You could have your own website and sell from there or direct them back to Self Pub Book Cover. The problem with doing that is the competition to get your site found, plus you may spend more time working on the site instead of your covers.
Check and improve your keywords
Continue with social media but target authors
Continue publishing frequently
and lastly, just hang in there and keep producing beautiful covers.
I wish you the best of luck and hope you keep us posted on any new sales.
KDanielleBurton on February 22, 2017:
I am a designer for Self Pub Book Covers. Do you have any advice for selling more covers? I've been a designer there for a while now but barely make any sales, only about 12. I post new covers daily and have 200+ in my gallery. I also promote on facebook and twitter and have had my covers chosen as Cover of The Day several times, but still sales don't come. I'm not sure what else to do.
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 21, 2017:
Yes, you're right. The internet has opened up many opportunities for both authors and artists. It's brought about a worldwide audience to us all and pulled us together like never before.
Thanks for your comment.
Karen Hellier from Georgia on February 20, 2017:
This is a great idea and even gives people who might need a book cover created some places to look. Thanks for the information!
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 20, 2017:
It is something people, who enjoy designing, art or manipulating photos can do well at. It's another avenue available to earn extra money from design skills.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 20, 2017:
Thanks for revealing the money-making potential in creating book covers. Very informative and helpful.
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 20, 2017:
On the site I sell through the artist can set their price. The lowest being $69.00. If it sells for that the artist will receive 72%. If you opt to sell for more, the artist will receive 70%. Plus on every sale there is a $1.00 fee for server space. I have looked at other similar sites and all are about 70%.
I am one of the sites multi-cover sellers. The majority of artists on their books have sold multiple covers and one artist has sold 800 I believe! That company has just celebrated its 5th anniversary and has many authors who are repeat buyers.
I hope that has answered any questions you might have.
Thanks for reading.
Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on February 20, 2017:
How much money can you make on a book cover? Have you sold any?
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 19, 2017:
I think you underestimate yourself, you're a talented woman.
Thanks for reading.
Nell Rose from England on February 19, 2017:
Great advice for someone who wants to follow this path. I can't even design Wix, lol! but great to know!
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 19, 2017:
You're right about it being a good sideline. The world of designing and graphic arts is expanding rapidly. That combined with authors searching for a reasonably priced cover makes a business opportunity.
Thanks for reading, have a wonderful week.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 19, 2017:
Mary, this would require designing, and I don't have a design bone in my body. Having said that, this is a great idea for making some supplemental income. I know someone who stays quite busy doing exactly this.
Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 19, 2017:
Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I hope it has given you the confidence to start making covers for yourself or as a way to generate extra income.
simplehappylife on February 18, 2017:
Great, informative hub :) Thank You