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Professional books on an Indie Budget – Great Covers by SJ Lomas

Judging a book by its cover

I am a librarian, writer, and a reader. In each of those roles, I’ve encountered countless books and I’m going to go ahead and say it. We all judge books by their covers. Let’s admit it. The cover of a book is like the first impression of a job applicant. We make assumptions based on looks. If you’re part of a hiring committee and an interviewee comes in with bedhead, wearing rumpled pants and a stained shirt, you’re going to make some assumptions about them. The same is said for an unexpected look. If you’re hiring a new barista, you might be surprised to see someone walk in for an interview in a three-piece suit. It certainly wouldn’t match your expectation. That applicant may stand out, but it may not feel like the right fit. It’s really no different with your book. If a reader looks at your cover and sees sloppy, amateurish artwork, they will likely conclude that the story or information inside is subpar. Likewise, if they expect a certain type of cover on their steamy romance novel, than a picture of a piano with a rose on it would be confusing. There are millions of books available. Don’t give anyone a fast, easy, reason to dismiss yours!

The cover is the face of your book, and even your brand. It’s extremely important in determining whether or not you’ll make a sale. With pressure like that, it’s easy to think that you have to pay a designer big bucks to get a quality cover, but that isn’t true. While it’s certainly an option to pay a graphic artist to do an incredible, custom cover, you can also do a good job on a much smaller budget.


The first step to a great cover is to know the style for your genre.

Of course, you don’t want to look exactly like someone else’s cover, but it’s important to know what the current styles and trends are. If illustrated covers with bold block lettering are what’s dominating your genre right now, it might not work to your advantage to have a photographic cover with script. It will stand out, but it won’t meet the expectation of your reader and they may scroll by without bothering to read the blurb or description. Readers of your genre know what that genre looks like these days. If yours doesn’t look quite right, they’ll move on to the next one that does.

It’s easy enough to get an idea for what’s out there. Take a look at the top sellers in your genre on the website of the ebook distributor of your choice.  Do the romance covers tend to have women or men on them? Do the sci-fi books have people or planets? What sort of colors do you see a lot of. You don’t have to be a copycat, but in this case, you definitely want to fit in.


Once you have identified some common elements of cover design in your genre, there are a few routes you can take.

Hire a well reviewed and respected graphic artist to do a custom cover.

This will likely produce fantastic results, but you’ll probably pay upwards of $400. If that’s a number you’re comfortable with, by all means go for it! If that’s not in the budget right now, don’t despair. You have other excellent options.


There are non-custom cover options that can be found at affordable rates.

Do a search for pre-made covers and include your genre and see what comes up. Pre-mades are more affordable than custom and you can often find sales and discounts that make them even more so. Be sure to leave yourself a few days, even weeks, to search for the right pre-made cover before you buy. It can take a little time to find one that you really love and that matches your genre. There are a lot of artists who offer this service so it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to find a great match for your book. Sometimes, for a small additional fee, they will make small changes to the cover to better suit your book. It never hurts to ask!


Some authors turn to services like Fiverr to hire custom freelancers for very inexpensive prices.

If you decide to go this route, do everything you can to vet the designer of your choice. Some authors have received fantastic covers at bargain basement prices, others have been scammed out of their money with either nothing to show for it or something so poor quality they would have been better off with nothing. You can find groups on Facebook for indie authors, some specifically about book covers. It’s a good place to start to see who other people have been happy with, and who to stay away from.


One mistake indie authors make is deciding to go it alone with their cover.

If you haven’t had any graphic design training, this is a risky move. Again, you have to look at what’s already in the market. If the books you’re competing with have professional covers, it’s even harder to sell a book with a cover that looks like clipart in a word processing program. However, there are free and inexpensive programs that an indie author can use to craft a professional looking cover. You can use Adobe Spark to make ebook covers that will look great onscreen. Adobe Spark is free, so designs and styles for the non-artist are somewhat limited and there is a small learning curve. Try playing around with a few cover designs before you upload one for your book. The more you make, the better you get. They have a nice selection of royalty free art you can use. There are a few text options you can use but you can’t mix and match. Still, it’s definitely a tool to look into that can help you make a nice cover (Social Media ads too) without eating into a limited budget.


Canva is another nice choice for inexpensive cover design for amateurs.

Canva has an even larger library of images that can be used with licensing fees ranging from $1 to $100. There’s a small learning curve, but it’s pretty easy to get the hang of. There’s a large assortment of font options to choose from, which helps your book to look more professional.


Sometimes, the best thing to do is use a variety of approaches until you find the one that’s right for you.

I’ve gone the custom route, pre-mades, and have just started experimenting with making my own covers. I’ve gotten amazing work out of my custom designers, but sometimes, it just isn’t part of the budget. It’s nice to have options that can produce a professional result without having to go into the red before the book comes out. Take a look at some of these resources and don’t be afraid to do your own research and discover other options. You want to have the best product possible, but if you don’t have to spend a fortune, that’s the best of both worlds.

Love this? SJ has a webinar this month right here on SavvyAuthors on October 15 9-10PM EST !  Working with libraries to get YOUR book on the shelves and increase exposure with S. J. Lomas

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I’ve been making up stories as long as I can remember. I started writing them down in 2nd grade and have never stopped. I’ve been influenced by gothic novels and authors like Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Gaston Leroux, Nathanial Hawthorn, Edgar Allan Poe, Beth Revis, Kelly Creagh, and Michael Lawrence.

When I’m not writing, I’m working part-time as a Social Media Librarian at a public library, doing book reviews, organizing craft and vendor events, attending PTG meetings, or shuttling my 2 kids around to their various activities.

I love books and have a to-be-read pile long enough to last several lifetimes.

Interesting S.J. trivia: I love Paul McCartney and have seen him in concert 7 times. My favorite animal is the sloth because it’s perpetually smiling and they’re just so weird. My favorite color is red. My favorite places in the world are Disney World in Florida, Oxford England, and Hartwick Pines in Michigan.

I don’t know how to swim and have no piercings or tattoos.

Check her out on her website or Twitter.




For Christine, dreams have never meant much. Until she meets Gabriel. Everyone thinks Christine should stay awayfrom her new coworker at the library, thanks to his bad reputation, but when her dreams grow more vivid and she becomes entangled in a dangerous dream world with Gabriel every night, she can’t stay away. Soon it’s clear there is far more to dreams than Christine ever imagined, and now she’s on the path to making the biggest, and strangest, decision of her life.


Buy this book!