“Do you know how much it costs to pay an artist to design a custom cover for your book?” Was a question I recently asked of somebody in a book group. This was in response to how “cheap” self-published and indy book covers look, and that they “put readers off”. While readers are drawn to attractive covers, I’m afraid that writers alone are not fully responsible for this problem. Readers must also accept some culpability.
I pointed out that the minimum cost of designing such a cover is in the region of £300. That’s a lot of money in a saturated self-publishing and indy market. It’s a cost way beyond the average self-published writer, many of whom are producing high-quality fiction for an eager market. Some of the best self-published books I’ve read in the last few years have had covers that were simply ok or were actually quite bad. It’s got to the point not that I judge a book solely on the title and the blurb.
The Writer’s Conundrum
To date, I have sold 15 copies of Dead Heat. The doesn’t cover the £25 I paid to a freelancer on Upwork to design the cover. I asked my partner to redesign it just before Christmas and she also designed the cover for Dead Lock (I’ve sold about 5 copies). I can only hope to eventually earn back that cost and the price of Facebook adverts I’ve paid for over the last couple of years to promote both books. But with the market the way it is, that is unlikely. In turn, readers complain about the poor quality of covers and the price of ebooks (with some thinking £2 is too expensive).
I would dearly love to pay a starving artist £300 or more to design a custom cover for any of my so-far published ebooks, but something must give – I simply cannot afford to do that for every book until sales make it viable to do so. Most writers are not rich; only a select few become millionaires from their craft. A small number earn enough to live on but for the most of us, it’s a side business. We can only hope to sell a handful of copies each year at the most. The lack of sales makes hiring an artist to custom design a cover way beyond our budgets. It’s like complaining that a local restaurant isn’t creating fully-CGI adverts for television instead of the 30-second video consisting a sweeping view of the restaurant interior only showing on local TV. They don’t have the budget.
How Readers Can Help
I feel the demand for cheap books and an unwillingness to pay more than £1-2 is creating and fuelling a problem. Amazon with its daily deals, monthly deals and regular sales is partly responsible for creating this environment of cheap books. But readers are also partly responsible. The unwillingness to take a chance on a new writers and equal unwillingness to pay more than a couple of pounds means writers simply cannot commission high quality covers to go with their lovingly-crafted books.
Both writers and artists are suffering here. Artists aren’t getting work; they’re being undercut by cheap producers and self-designed covers by writers who can’t afford (but would love to) employ their services. In turn, writers can’t sell books to readers who reject their titles on the basis that they’ve never heard of them and that covers look a little too cheap.
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