Book Cover Musings

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

As I edit A Bridge To The Quiet Planet (Motto: “Sorcery, Science, Sarcasm”), I’m back to practicing book covers. I’ve been doing more of my fake book covers, with attempts at colorful kitch and e-book pulp action. I’ve realized I want to get better because I’ve got more books coming out – though my “tentpole” books are best with professional art.

I also realized some of my other books desperately need a cover update, so if you start seeing some of my older or smaller stuff look different, you know why. This has led me to get all philosophical about book covers, and you get to read about it.

Actually, this is pretty good stuff if you’re an author.

Royalty Free Art Grows Over Time

CanStockPhoto and Shutterstock are great resources for royalty-free art cheap, but even free sites like Pixabay have good resources – and think how more and more is being made over time. Every artist who joins, every upload of that “thing in the portfolio I haven’t used,” every additional piece, is another resource to be used. Over time, there will be more art available to users.

That would mean that in time it may take more searching but *the perfect piece of cover art will be more likely to be out there over time.* Also this means the perfect piece is just going to run you $8-$15 (as of 2018 numbers). even in my experiments, which use free sites, I’ve been surprised how I could find close or near-perfect art to my vision.

Cover Art Resources Keep Growing

I tend not to use stuff like Canva, etc. that let you build book covers I like the control of learning and of building my own templates. But these resources are out there and there’s more and they’re getting better. It’s going to be easier to make a good book cover over time.

Combine that with the above truth of more and more art being available and it’s going to be easier to have a half-decent cover for your book – at least an ebook.

Cover Art Ages

It’s weird to think how some of my books that looked appropriate for the time look a little aged or just poor right now. I can also see which styles may last versus which may become outdated.

For instance, now the trend of covers for fantasy and sf that are abstract or minimalist or symbolic is kinda wearing thin on me. I miss the covers that looked like they should be posters on your wall.

Also, some trend-jumping is going to be problematic. Remember how many things looked like Twilight Covers? Have those aged well? How many trendy things won’t work a few years down the road?

Cover Art May Matter More

When you see how people can make their own covers, how there’s more resources, and how art ages, I think good book covers matter more and more. At some point the market changes, the competitors ramp up, or your style is outdated.

Maybe authors need to consider swapping out cover art every two years or so. Of course if we do that then the value of art changes and it becomes far more a disposable commodity.

This Changes The Market For Cover Art

At this point I see that the market for cover art is changing and may change more rapidly. This is going to affect artists.

A good piece of cover art can run you $300-$1000 right now. Meanwhile a premade cover like you see at GoOnWrite might be $30-50. Something from CanStock Photo applied to an existing template may cost you $8.00.

If art becomes a variable commodity, the value changes – as is what people will pay for it.

Going Forward

Not sure if I found some massive magical trend (or if I’m seeing something everyone else has seen), but it’s something I’ll be keeping in mind. All we authors have to live with what’s happening – and decide where to invest our time.


– Steve

A Writer’s Life: Cover Me III – Electric Fantasy

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

Remember how I was practicing making book covers? How I was posting them on tumblr and elsewhere?

I got my first “professional” assignment.

Now this isn’t professional in the paid way, but in the “on an actual book someone publishes” way. I’m helping out an ambitious co-worker with a love of pulp SF to put out his e-book. I of course volunteered to do the cover. He gets it for free, I get practice, and it probably won’t suck.

This turns out to have been a bit stressful. You never quite appreciate your talents, or question them, until you’re doing something for someone else.  Kinda in the “questioning” stage right now.

At the same time, this is also fantastic for learning.

I realized first and foremost that the book covers I was making were suffering a bit because I knew they were basically practice. I didn’t polish them, I didn’t tweak them, I didn’t revise them as much because it was “just practice.” There’s all sorts of things you don’t do in practice that you do when it’s real.

It’s real because I’m not gonna give this guy some crap. He’s my co-worker, he’s a fellow writer, he’s a good guy – I’m not going to let him down.

This means that now I’m pushing myself even farther. Exploring techniques. Considering layout precision. Learning all the things I wouldn’t learn when I just do a one-off bit of practice.

There’s a few takeaways from this that are good for you artists and writers.

  1. First, practice is good. Don’t get me wrong, it got me here. In fact practice is needed to get good enough.
  2. “Projects” work for learning skills. My practice projects gave me a hell of a lot of experience.
  3. Doing something “for real” exposes you to all sorts of things you may not get in practice – details, feedback, market issues, etc.
  4. Doing something for someone is a great motivator.

Let’s see how this book cover goes. I’ve got one mockup and a vision in my head that, hopefully, I can bring into reality. I’m sure I have plenty more to learn – but everything I learn here can help me and others later . . .

– Steve

A Writer’s View: Cover Me

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr – and hey, think this should go on the Sanctum too?)

I’ve been talking about some pretty deep subjects lately, so let’s mind back to a simple, practical one.  Covers.

No, really.

I always feel book covers are a weird subject to discuss because they are A) Important, B) Transitory, and C) Sometimes done horribly.  You need a cover to get attention, that someone will look at for five seconds, yet if you do it wrong it’ll really kill peoples’ interests.  I find it best to think of it as tool to help your audience realize “this book is for me,” a kind of helpful marketing.

This is an area I’m considering now, as “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet” is going to really require the right cover.  I mean it’s an SF/fantasy mixture that combines serious worldbuilding with humor and extrapolating fantasy/SF tropes.  When you have a gravity-and-kinetics-manipulating sorceress teaming up with an engineer and riding said engineer’s fusion powered motorcycle into adventure, you are in a pretty weird area.  And that’s before you’re out of Chapter 1.

So as I went over this, I figured I’d share my previous cover wisdom with you.  Helps me sort it out myself.  Here’s a kind of Q&A of what I found.

Q: OK, so what’s your basic idea of a cover?  What makes it important

A: See above, it helps make your audience aware and interested so they buy your awesome book.

Q: Should I do my own cover?

A: Sometimes, yes.  If you’ve got the skills it may be worth it.  A lot of my business books are using my own skills and some royalty-free clipart I purchase.  Remember, you’ll also learn a lot improving your graphic skills.

Q: So in some ways, if you’re good enough, you’ll not only have a cheap cover you’ll also become more skilled at graphics?

A: Yep.  It paid off for me quite a bit – and I still have a ways to go (I tend to follow very stock designs).

Q: Now let’s talk clipart.  Seriously?  Is that a good idea?

A: You’d be surprised how many people actually use it, sometimes retouched.  It’s also a good deal as you’re buying rights to a quality photo to use – and many are really good.  I use Can Stock Photo.  You can get the rights to a good photo for about $7-$10.

Q: OK, so when would I use clipart?

A: I think this depends on what you’re going for with a book.  For my smaller and business-oriented books, I use clipart and my own skills – like my Way With Worlds Minibooks or my Creativity Guide.  These books have specific focuses so its easy to find the right piece of art.  This is easier for non-fiction as it doesn’t have specific personalities attached to it, usually.

Q: . . . and when I have fiction or something about a personality it’s custom art time, right?

A: Not necessarily.  There are services out there that have premade book covers made from custom art or a photo, and you can basically get it as royalty-free art – like Go On Write or Paper And Sage. These can be a great middle ground as folks that do this make covers with “personality” so you find one that matches.

Q: OK when do I shell out for a custom piece of art?

A: I do this when I want to 1) have a distinct cover, 2) my audience expects a distinct cover, and 3) There’s an artist I want to support.

Q: How much does that cost?

A: Bluntly? At minimum a few hundred dollars.  Remember that’ll be on top of what you’re paying your editor (you are paying them, right?).  So you may want to do something in trade.

Also always support the artist by promoting them and being a reference.

Q: So it’s going to depend on my budget.

A: Yes.  Also be aware that if you’re really trying to save money you could try taking photos on your own and using them or learning to make abstract designs with graphics programs.  That might be educational.

Q: All this for something people look at for a few seconds.

A: Yeah, but hundreds or thousands of people are going to look at it for a few seconds.  So look at it this way, if it gets their attention, it’s worth it.  Those seconds add up.

Q: And I should keep telling myself it’s all about skill development, even if it’s price negotiation?

A: You’ve got it.

There you go folks, a more mundane but important insight into covers and cover art!  Hope it helps!

(Looking to write your worlds? Let me suggest my worldbuilding books.)

– Steve