Make sure your cover is eye-catching at all sizes. What looks great at paperback size may be barely visible in the thumbnail size that Amazon and other online sites use to display books. Zoom out to see how it will look in thumbnail, then zoom in to get an idea of how it will look in paperback.
Study the books presented in thumbnail size on Amazon, especially ones from the big publishing houses. What catches your eye? Is it the background color or the font and size of the text? Is it the image—or the lack of any image? Notice how the cover as a whole immediately gives you a clue to the genre of the book.
Don’t let your title overwhelm your name. Self-published authors tend to make their name small and their titles large; the opposite is true for traditionally published books. Follow their example and make your name at least as large as your title.
Don’t overload your cover with images. How much imagery to use depends on the genre. Romance covers typically have more than mysteries, but with any genre, use only enough to catch the reader’s eye and give a hint as to the kind of book it is.
Make it colorful. Our culture imbues certain colors with expectations. For example, pink makes one think of sweet romances or possibly cozy mysteries. You don’t expect to find eviscerated bodies or graphic sex in a book with pink on the cover. If a lot of red is in the cover design, you aren’t surprised to find either of those things.
If you’re writing a series, consider planning a particular look to your covers in order to brand each subsequent book as belonging to that series. Obviously titles can serve that purpose, too—think J.D. Robb’s In Death series or Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. But covers in general can be an effective tool to quickly direct a fan to books in a series she already knows she likes. Use the same fonts in the same size, the same color scheme, the same special effects, the same general layout—anything that will say to the reader “these books go together.” Not every author brands their series, but if you decide to do so, plan your brand with the first book.
So how do you get covers? First, you can design them yourself. Amazon’s publishing arms, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and CreateSpace, offer a cover designer and a selection of stock images. I’ve never used it or any graphic design program, because I’m one of those people who literally can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. Early on I worked out a great arrangement with British writer, Ben Hammott (http://format-your-book-4u.com). I edit/proof his books and he designs all or part of my covers.
For Bad Girls (the second in the Eden mystery series) I happened to find the perfect cover on www.selfpubbookcovers.com. I bought it and Ben did the spine and back cover for the paperback. Search for pre-made book covers and you’ll find plenty of sites that offer ready made covers for your ebook. For an additional fee, most will do a spine and back, or you could use a graphics program of your own to create those since they aren’t as challenging as doing a front cover.
Most, if not all, graphic artists have websites. If you’ve seen a cover you like, check the inside of the book to find the artist’s name, then search for a way to contact that artist about the job. Usually artists are willing to do more than one iteration of your cover until you’re satisfied. Many self-published writers find an artist whose work and personality they like and continue to work with them on subsequent books.
Another option is to use any of the freelance bidding sites available online. While I’ve never tried these myself, I met an author at a panel who got a dynamite cover that way. You offer a certain amount of money and say what sort of cover you want, then artists compete to win your job. The more you offer, of course, the more designs you’ll have to choose from as more designers compete to win the job.
Finally, don’t overlook people in your community. You may find that the local art teacher or even a local art student might be willing to take a stab at book cover design. Just make sure they understand how to make that cover the size and resolution that’s needed for both a good online view and an attractive printed cover. Remember to credit them for their art at the front of your book. Just like struggling indie writers, graphic artists also need help to get their names out there.