Building a book cover is a complex operation. Finding an image that conveys a suggestion of your plot as well as your book’s tone is difficult. Often several images are needed to get a background in, and depending on what your cover artist is willing to do, sometimes changing elements (like hair color) might not be possible. And then you have to hope that when your designer puts together the image(s) and type that they have the same vision you do.
This yellow cover for my book, Betting on Hope, was designed in 2011. I’ve always liked the image. The book takes place, as the cover shows, in Las Vegas. It’s a romance. It’s light-hearted—essentially a comedy—and while the book is not “about” card playing, poker is the story hook or perhaps theme by which I ramble on about found family and the strength of community.
So I like the expanse of yellow, which gets the mood and desert setting right; the insouciance of the figures; and the relegation of the small single playing card to the corner. I think the image is perfect. On the other hand, I’ve never liked the type treatment.
And that’s the result.
Seven years later, I’ve been thinking I need a new cover. I’ve been wanting to make this book available in print format, so I’d need to get a back cover and spine built. And one of the assumptions of the Amazon algorithms is that “refreshing” your book every so often (optimally every 90 days) keeps you higher in the sales rankings, not that I could sink much lower. Besides those practical considerations, it’s been seven years; cartoon figures for covers are largely out of style, at least for adult romances (YA is another story).
I was feeling frisky, so I engaged in a Cover Experiment, with mixed results.
Multiple freelance sites offer the services of contractors of all types, including book designers/cover artists, often at prices that to me are unbelievably, almost horrifyingly, low. How can people make a living if they charge only $25 for an original cover? And what kind of cover can you get for that price?
I decided to try it out. I found an artist on Fivrr who offered to do a cover for $25 in three days. I liked her sample covers, so I signed up. I made some choices that added to the price (I asked for both a print and a digital cover, and I gave her “coffee money”), so I paid $42. You choose one image from the stock agency that either Fivrr uses or the artist uses, I wasn’t sure which. You can supply your own image, but if you don’t, the single stock agency listed was the only option.
I didn’t have my own image. The stock agency had 128 images in my “category” to choose from, and three of those hit my basics: a smiling couple wearing hats in a garden; a smiling couple, both of them wearing white shirts and black pants, holding a hand of cards and sitting in front of a white background; and a woman alone, laughing and wearing a hat with an out-of-focus yellow and red autumnal background. (If you have a book that features a couple and a beach, you’ll be in luck: there were a lot of images of couples on beaches.)
I had gone for hats as an iconic image because I had a significant scene in the book where the hero and heroine buy a hat together. I liked the woman-alone shot the best (the colors, the hat, and the facial expression most clearly reflected the book’s tone and location), but a woman alone usually signals women’s fiction, and my book isn’t that. So I rejected it. I didn’t like the black-and-white tonality of the second image, so I went with the smiling couple in the garden.
At Fivrr, there’s not much communication between the artist and the buyer. Most of the artists seem to offer one or three or sometimes unlimited changes (but those covers cost a lot more) after the work is done, but input going in is limited. That’s more or less okay with me. I’ve hired a lot of cover designers and looked at a lot of covers in my professional life, but I’m not visually creative. I always figure, if the cover designer is any good, s/he’ll know what to do with a concept a lot better than I will.
In many ways, I was pleasantly surprised. The cover looks polished and professional. The designer cropped the photo well. The key elements are central. She screened back the inessential elements. Without my telling her, she added “gambling” elements that drift over both the front and back covers. She included dice, which are not in my book, but overall, that addition works well and has the (small) importance it deserves. She took initiative to do that, which made me happy. I like the type placement and font choices. The back cover looks good.
If I’d asked for revisions, I would have asked her to take out the dice and make my name a lot bigger.
However, I’m not going to use this cover. Two big things are wrong with it from my point of view, and both of them are my fault:
- The color palette is wrong. I picked an image that included a garden, and the garden’s colors are green, blue, and purple. If I want the cover to say “Las Vegas,” the color palette has to be yellow, orange, pink, and red. And if I can get it, sparkles.
- The tone is wrong. The mood of this new cover is warm—those people are having a nice time—so that’s good. But I need something that either looks funny or silly or joyous. The book is over the top, and I think I can get something stronger than “nice time.”
What did I learn from this experience? First, I’d try Fivrr again. I’d go back to this artist, or try another. I still don’t see how these folks make a living, but the work I got from the woman I hired was good. She knows how to design a cover and she went out of her way to include elements I hadn’t asked for but was delighted to have. So that was all good.
Second—we all know this, but picking the right image is important. I picked the best available image, but it wasn’t the image I needed. None of the available images was. This cover artist would work with an image you bought and sent her, and that’s what I’d do next time if I had any doubts.
Third—you can’t beat the price. At $42, I could have four or five print covers done for the same book and choose the best, compared to the price I paid for one digital cover alone.
I’m not saying that Fivrr is the best option for all books or all authors. Different artists always bring different things to the table, and some Fivrr designers will be more experienced or skilled or intuitive than others. But the cover artist that I hired produced a high-quality cover that, with minor revisions, would have been completely acceptable if I’d picked an image better suited to my book. So I’ll definitely be trying them out again for future projects (and Betting on Hope still needs a cover)…
Edited to add: I went to the stock agency I bought the yellow cover image from, and I didn’t find the cartoon, but I did find this. Cropped well (that is, cropped on the left to take out the woman in the red top, maybe right through the center of that tall palm tree), this might work. What do y’all think?