I always told myself that I would make my first book cover myself. After all, I am a reader first and foremost, and I know what makes a good book cover.
People pay so much money to artists to work hard on a book cover. Why bother? You have Photoshop or GIMP, don't you? You can download fonts and there are images of all kinds on the web, after all.
So I cranked up Photoshop, and came up with my first book cover ever. Literally guys, this was my first one. Just check out how easy this was.
Yeah, I'm just shitting you. Unless you are truly an artist yourself, don't make your own book cover. Though I will say this: That cover I just made? It would definitely stand out in a thumbnail. Just not necessarily in a good way.
So now to get to the real title of this piece:
How You, Too, Can Have a Book Cover That Doesn't Look Like Shit
I would like to bring your attention to DeviantArt. This is a vast, untapped market of up and coming artists. If you are a self-published author, you should love this. While there are professionals galore who share their work with the world on DA, there are many more aspiring, up and coming artists just dying to be noticed, and just bursting with talent. Kind of like us.
The internet revolutionized everything for "content creators": For writers, self-publishing, for musicians, self-publishing, for artists...well, self-publishing. The gatekeepers are gone.
Here's just a few notes on commissioning artists on DeviantArt. I will probably make a much more detailed blog post about this in the future, but for those who wish to dive in right away, here's a few recommendations to get you started.
Commercial art, art used for commercial purposes (to help you sell your book), should and will cost more. Always be sure when contacting an artist to mention that you want the art for commercial use. On the other hand, if you just want something cool to throw on your blog, that does not count as commercial use, even if you're promoting yourself. My guideline: If the art will be used as part of a commercial transaction, or if you're going to make a lot of physical copies of it, it's commercial. If it's self-promoting or given away 'for free' on the internet, probably not. When in doubt, be clear with the artist about how you intend to use the art.
You may, in some cases, be able to negotiate the price down in exchange for promoting the hell out of them on social media, in your book, etc. Really it comes down to the artist, but some are more interested in exposure and a body of work than they are in the money. Others do it as their sole source of income, and will be down to business.
Try commissioning a few artists for concept drawings, portraits (these are cheaper) or some lighter work first, just to see a few styles, test out working relationships, and decide where you'd like to spend the bigger money for a book cover. You can use these non-commercial commissions on your blog, or to spice up tweets or Facebook posts. I will warn you, however, this can get addictive. But many portraits are available for no more than $20, just as a general average, so it's not too expensive of an investment.
It is not uncommon for an artist to ask for half of the money up front, especially for larger commissions. You should prepare accordingly.
Be polite, and be supportive of the artists you commission. If they get something wrong, point it out politely. Remember how it feels to receive criticism as an artist, and treat them accordingly. Follow the Golden Rule: ie., Don't be an asshole.
Some artists are really popular, and have jobs working fulltime/freelance as concept artists for video games or RPGs or the like. Those artists may not even be available for commission, or will open up commissions for limited windows of time between jobs. On a DA artist page, look for their commission journal. It's the tab on their page labeled 'Journals'. Just for one example.
Click the 'Gallery' tab to see the body of the artist's work on DA. You can get a pretty good feel for their capabilities and overall art style this way. Their newest art is listed first, the oldest is at the end. It's a fun way to see a veteran artist's progression over time, too.
Always give credit to the artist, and a link back to their profile on DA, or to their website if it's on the web. If it's a book cover, you should acknowledge them inside the book.
This is how I was able to fill my fantasy book-blog Iorneste.com with beautiful art, and I met some really wonderful, talented people while doing it. I also met the artist who will be doing my book cover there, too.
If you want a few recommendations to get started, here are a few artists I've commissioned, in no particular order.
- ThemeFinland - Dragons are his speciality. A very polished, professional style.
- Zaina - Self-taught and you would not even know it, she is that gifted. Incredibly creative, and her portraits are distinctive and realistic.
- Angel-soma - Childlike, adorable, colorful works in an anime-style. I have her in the back of my mind for a children's book some day.
- InksplatterSenpai - Primarily Manga-style art, with a darker, bloodier sensibility. A promising artist at the beginning of his craft.
- Crysiblu - Does semi-realistic and anime-style art. She has her own unique style.
- Traktorova - Particularly gifted with watercolors, her often-bloody style sets her apart.
The full roster of those I have commissioned is available on the Iorneste Acknowledgements page.
You can also check out my Iorneste Deviations on DA. This contains all of the art that I either commissioned from artists or was gifted.
Moral of the story: Finding artists is easy, there's a whole website dedicated to it. Make use of it, and by becoming a patron of the arts, I think you'll find that you get a lot out of it.
I certainly did.