Your book cover is the face of your work, the part the entire world sees—and often the only piece. A great book cover lets people instantly get a feel for what the book is about, and why they should read it.

Glowing tree fantasy book cover
Speculative fiction book cover by B&J for greenwoman21

When you’re ready to create your book cover, you have a few choices:

  • With a book cover maker, you can use a free website to produce a book cover in the space of a few minutes. If you decide to use that cover, you will have to pay for rights to it, but to just use the site, it’s free.
  • Self-publishing platforms are one stop shops—like Amazon Createspace—that provide you with book cover and everything else you need for self-publishing. These services will support book covers designed another way, but they also offer custom cover services.
  • In a book cover design contest, designers from around the world pitch you many different ideas for your book cover based on the specifications you set forth in your design brief. You provide them with feedback on their ideas, and in the end you choose your favorite book cover from the designs produced by finalist designers.
  • Collaborating one-on-one with a freelance designer lets you work together with a single designer to create your book cover.

Cover creators

Self-publishing platforms

Contest

Freelancer

Cost

$10-$100

Varies, ranging from $99 up to $599

Packages $299 to $1,199

Wide range, from a few hundred to several thousand dollars

 Time

20-60 minutes

Weeks

1 to 2 weeks

Weeks or months depending on your freelancer

Quality

Varies and depends on source images and your design ability, but expect more basic and generic results

Simple, with limited options and revisions

A range, with higher end contests producing more premium results, more choices, and work from more experienced designers

Depends on your freelancer’s skill and your ability to collaborate with them and provide actionable feedback

Who should use it

Authors on tight budgets

Authors who know exactly what they want and like things in one place

Authors who want more options to choose from

Authors who have a referral for a good designer and a sense of how the process works

Book cover makers

A book cover creator is a free web application that allows you to create a book cover by choosing from libraries of layouts, images, photos, illustrations, fonts and colors. They’re free to experiment with, but you must purchase your final book cover design in order to use it. Purchase prices range from $10-$100. Once you’ve bought the rights, you can use it as much as you want.

Searching with Google revealed a few options: Canva, CoverDesignStudio and MyECoverMaker, for example. They are all very different, but they all have the same basic steps:

  • Choose a layout
  • Customize the layout (with images, colors, or other details, depending on the site)
  • Customize the text

To test out these book cover creators, I used the concept of a book I’m already writing. It’s a nonfiction biography that tells the story of a refugee who had to walk through a desert area to escape war and find a safe place to settle. I decided I would just see what each creator had to offer and go from there.

My book cover maker results

Canva

My Canva cover

I used Canva to create my first cover. It took just a few minutes to choose a layout that seemed appropriate and that appealed to me.

From there I browsed through some images; I settled on an image of a desert. This was apparently a premium image, so you’ll see the cover is watermarked (that’s what the criss cross marks over it are). You can pay to download the image and use the file without the watermark.

Finally, I chose the typeface, although I actually just went with the defaults. You’ll notice that this was a careless decision since I ended up with three different fonts that don’t necessarily go well together. As an author who isn’t a designer, this is an easy mistake to make, and although I can see it, it’s not as easy to fix it! (Just one of the advantages of working with a designer.)

Pros: This was really fast and easy, and I could have had this cover for $10.

Cons: This is probably not world’s most compelling book cover, and since this is a purchased stock photo there’s no telling how many books or other media it may already appear on.

CoverDesignStudio

A few of the cover templates on coverdesignstudio.com

I went to coverdesignstudio.com and found that there is a fairly limited number of DIY templates that range from $19 to $59 to buy. The site wouldn’t let me edit or create a cover using a template, even a watermarked version, without buying a template. Overall, this was a much more limited option than Canva.

Pros: This appears to be fast and easy, but I can’t confirm that.

Cons: This is more expensive and you can’t experiment for free. Also, like Canva, this system uses purchased stock photos so covers are not original.

MyECoverMaker

Let me just say that I disliked this tool. I had to first sign up to use it at all, and then I devoted a full 30 minutes just trying to get some kind of reasonable result to start with. It crashed twice before saving just the initial cover with background image and text, too. In the end I have no image to show you, because for me, anyway, it was that difficult to use.

Pros: Based on my experience, there weren’t any—and that’s too bad, because it looked like there might be more potential for customization in certain areas than there is on Canva.

Cons: This crashed multiple times, was extremely difficult to use, and just provided me with an impossible user interface.

Overall book cover maker assessment:

Pros: Canva in particular was really fast, easy, and inexpensive, with my cover coming it at $10.

Cons: This is not a professional design, and it isn’t original. How effective it would be at selling my book is open to question.

Self-publishing platforms

Many of the popular self-publishing platforms offer book cover design options as part of their services for authors. Some, like Pronoun and Smashwords, provide a list of recommended freelance designers. Others, like Amazon Createspace and Lulu, will actually design your cover for you (for a fee). Here’s a look at a couple of those:

Amazon Createspace

  • You get one option, one image and one round of revision.
  • $399+, with extra charges for: additional images, photo manipulation and Kindle conversion.

BookBaby

  • $399 for basic ebook, with one central image and one round of proofs.
  • $549 for the deluxe ebook, which combines and processes multiple images and has two rounds of proofs.

Lulu

  • Work one-on-one with a designer who will provide 3 cover concepts.
  • Access to an expanded library of stock images.
  • $599 for first draft and one round of corrections. Any additional changes incur a fee.

Diggypod

  • $99 gets you a cover with one round of revisions (which is basically just a layout).
  • Author provides the designer with images and any graphics or textual elements.

Overall self-publishing platform book cover services assessment:

Pros: It’s a one-stop-shop, so everything you need (editing, cover, formatting) is all in one place.

Cons: You get limited concepts for your cover (1-3), which generally means a stock image (unmanipulated) with text layered over it. If you want the image to be manipulated to give your book a unique feel, you’ll incur extra charges. If you don’t like what you’re given and want to request changes, you’ll incur extra charges. In other words, if you want any sort of flexibility or creativity you’ll incur extra charges.

If you’re considering going this route, make sure to clarify exactly what you’re getting before agreeing to use your self-publishing platform to create your book cover. Many only provide you with a flattened file, meaning you won’t have access to the original art if you need to make changes. And oftentimes you will not be the copyright holder.

Generally, the price you pay for working with one of these companies is on-par with what you’d pay a freelancer or in a design contest, but you get something more generic with more restrictions.

Book cover design contests

Launching a book cover design contest lets you crowdsource lots of design ideas from professional designers all over the world.

Branding book cover design by Evans Design

What design contests are

Design contests are a way of crowdsourcing creative ideas so that buyers can interact with creatives at a cost they can afford. Contests also allow designers to decide whether or not they want to “throw their hat (or design) into the ring” and compete for a job.

First you submit a creative brief that describes the book and what your design requirements are for the cover. Then designers compete by submitting book cover designs based on the brief. As the contest continues you can give designers feedback on their work and interact with them to get even better designs. Finally, you get to choose one (or more if you want to) as a favorite to buy.

Some sites that have design contests

There are a few places you can host book cover design contests including thebookdesigner.com and designcrowd.com, but naturally I’m partial to 99designs and I’m going to use our platform as an example so you can see how it works.

How contests work on 99designs

On 99designs, book cover contests are priced from $299 to $1,299 and usually take 1 to 2 weeks to complete. High end packages offer more support and provide more designs from more designers, and Platinum contests (the highest price point) guarantee that you’ll only be working with the most experienced designers that the 99designs team has vetted.

Book covers on 99designs

There are lots of amazing book covers on 99designs, but here are a couple examples of the quality and variety of work you’ll get at different price points.

Silver contest ($499)

Winning cover by Pulp ART for lullmengesha

The authors of this young adult book wrote a great brief and linked to some visual design inspiration that allowed designers to see what they wanted, but also get creative. As such, they got many really good options to choose from at a reasonable price.

Platinum contest ($1199)

Winning cover by I_Studio for anna.mayer
by Imacon
by danc

This platinum design contest was for a horror ebook series. You can see that although there were lots of specifics in the design brief, each designer came up with a different interpretation and style. There are lots of striking options here, with custom illustration and plenty of personality.

Pros: You get lots of choices—on 99designs it’s usually 30 or more—to select from. You also get to work with professional designers from all over, and you don’t have to sink all of your resources into working with just one.

Cons: You need to make the choice, which can be tough. It’s more expensive than DIY options. Contests also require that you put in the time in order to get the best results: you need to write a strong brief; provide feedback to designers; and choose which designs are best.

Freelance book cover designers

A freelancer is a self-employed designer who works independently on a project-by-project basis. Freelancers set their own schedules, workloads and rates.

What freelance designers do and how they work

Haiku book cover
One of the book cover designers I found browsing 99designs. Book cover by Meela.

For book cover design, many freelancers set package rates which range from several hundred to several thousands of dollars. Others simply charge whatever their hourly rate is, and this can range from $25 to $200 an hour, with around $75 to $150 being the most common range.

The hourly rate may seem like a better deal, until you realize that most designers will read your book, take some time to think of book design ideas, pitch the best ideas to you for feedback, and then take a week or two to create the first design based on your feedback. In other words, you’re getting a ton of personalized attention, and hopefully commensurate skill and talent, but it comes at a price.

Speaking of levels of skill and talent, just as in any other field, freelancers can vary significantly. As you shop around for a freelancer, carefully vet the portfolios of everyone you consider to make sure their past work is what you’re looking for. Aim for a match in terms of style and quality.

How to find a freelance designer

One of the most reliable ways to find a great freelancer is with a personal connection or a word-of-mouth referrals. If you trust the person who told you about the freelancer, you’re already halfway there, and you can ask this third party questions about the designer’s style, quality, cost, and schedule.

3 book covers by freelancer Scarlett Rugers
The first freelance book cover specialist I found using Google Images. Via Flaunt My Design.

If this isn’t an option for you, use a Google image search to find “freelance book cover designer” and look for book covers you like. Or do a Yelp search. Or, you can search through designer profiles on 99designs; you may fall in love with the work of a particular designer and decide to work with one on one.

Pros: If you find a good freelancer you’ll have a totally unique book cover that looks professional and artistic, and sells your book. They’ll be easy to work with and you won’t have to worry about this part; you’ll just know that it’s getting done, and done well.

Cons: This is often the most expensive option, and it can take a relatively long time.

What’s the best option for your book cover?

Ultimately this depends on your preferences, needs and book. In fact, that’s why there are so many different choices, and why they all stay in business. Ask yourself what’s most important to you and this book project at the end of the day.

how to create a book cover

Are you totally pressed for money and time? A book cover creator might be your best bet.

Were you able to locate a great freelancer with references you trust that matches both your budget and style? Seems like a no brainer! Work with them.

Are you hoping for lots of choices and a professional look that’s still affordable? Launch a design contest.

Need a very simple cover and like keeping the project in one place? The self-publishing option might be wisest.

Whichever option you select, it’s most important to know what you need to get from this book cover and how you want to present your work to the world. This cover is your book’s first impression and, in many cases, it’s only shot at being seen and remembered. Give it every chance of success that you can.

Wanna give a book cover contest a shot? Launch your own book cover design contest today!