How to get a cheap ebook cover – pros and cons of the top 5 options

Fiverr, 99designs, Canva, premade book covers and more. There are many routes of go when sourcing a great book cover design on a limited budget. But what are the positives and negatives of each option? And how much might you really end up paying?

Fiverr

How does it work?

The clue’s in the name: on Fiverr you can contract a freelance designer to create a book cover for you for just $5 (or a little under £4, depending on the exchange rate). In reality, most designers on Fiverr charge more ($15-$30, or £10-£25), but it’s still a low price for a book cover.

Pros:

Cheap, cheap, cheap!

Cons:

Beware those hidden costs on Fiverr!

As mentioned, although the website name is Fiverr, prices actually vary a lot. The way most designers make money is by increasing the price for things like stock photos and revisions (changing aspects of the cover if you’re not happy with the first draft). Beware those hidden costs!

Fiverr designers are also hustling, so don’t expect much in the way of personal service or careful design. The best book cover designers seek to understand your book, analyse how it fits in the market, and use their expertise to create a cover that sells what’s inside – Fiverr designers simply don’t have the time to do any of this.

In conclusion:

If you scrutinise their portfolio and pick one of the better designers on Fiverr, you might get a decent-enough cover for around $20.

99designs

How does it work?

On 99designs, an author sets a public brief for a book cover design. Then dozens of freelance designers compete for the job, creating covers on spec.

Pros:

The author gets to choose their favourite cover from a whole range of different options. (Well, in theory, anyway…)

The budget is set by the author up front, and if they don’t like any of the designs presented, they simply walk away. No risk.

Cons:

The ‘pick from a range of options’ idea is really cool in theory, but a weird thing happens on 99designs after the first couple of designers upload their designs. Suddenly all the subsequent covers start to look reeeeeally similar.

Better designers flock to the higher-budget, guaranteed-payment jobs

Blame it on a breakdown of creative energy, or the fact that, like Fiverr designers, 99designs folk don’t have the time to really engage with the source material, but it happens. This wide range of options you’re expecting might look more like a very narrow range of options.

Being able to set your budget and minimise your risk sounds great, but the reality is that the better designers flock to the higher-budget, guaranteed-payment jobs. So unless you’re prepared to put up $200 and promise to pay it, you may end up with a bunch of crappy designs to choose from.

The cons of Fiverr also apply here: beware those hidden costs, and don’t expect a lot of customer care.

In conclusion:

If you put up a big budget and guarantee to pay it, you’ll probably end up with a good-looking cover at the end of the process.

But, in my opinion, the overcomplicated process of 99designs is a lot of smoke and mirrors to conceal the fact that you’ll probably end up overpaying. Get some quotes from designers direct. In my experience, a custom cover will likely cost less than all the rigmarole of 99designs.

Canva

How does it work?

Canva is an online photo editor – arguably the best one out there. It contains dozens of templates for every type of design project, including book covers. Just drop in your chosen photo (there are plenty of free stock shots to choose from at Pixabay), change the cover text, and you’re done.

Pros:

It’s possible to create a good-looking cover for free.

Cons:

Some of the nicer templates require payment. And, even though there are plenty of nice free ones, these templates tend to be on the simple side, incorporating only one or two elements.

Sometimes a clean, simple book cover is all you need

Also, the memo on Canva is out – lots of other people are using it, so you’re likely to see your chosen template repeated on other book covers.

In conclusion:

Canva is one of the better options for book covers. You may end up with something that’s a little plain, but sometimes a clean, simple book cover is all you need.

Your friend who’s good at Photoshop

How does it work?

Send out feelers to your friends (friends of friends, sons/daughters of friends, cousin’s poodle’s dog-groomer) and find one with graphic design experience who’ll do you a book cover for cheap.

Pros:

Cheap, cheap, cheap!

If the friend in question is very engaged in the process, they might act as a creative sounding board and really be able to bring your vision of a book cover to life.

Cons:

Not everyone who thinks they’re a designer actually has talent or skills

A good friend =/= a good designer. The brutal truth is that not everyone who thinks they’re a designer actually has talent or skills. Ever had some blowhard at a party tell you he could write a book if he really wanted to? There are plenty of blowhards who think they can design stuff, too.

If you’re lucky enough to have a friend who really is a graphic designer, you still might end up with a book cover that doesn’t work. A book cover can’t just look pretty – it has to act as a marketing tool, communicating myriad messages about the genre, tone and content of the book. A guy who designs corporate websites or a gal who designs gig posters simply won’t know how to accomplish this.

In conclusion:

If you put together a comprehensive brief, and you’re prepared to guide your friend-designer through the complicated world of the unspoken messages of book covers (e.g. thrillers have dark covers; fantasy uses serif fonts; etc.), you could end up with something wonderful. Just make sure that, however much you like the person who’s designing your book cover as a friend, you’re treating this as a professional exercise.

A premade cover

How does it work?

An author browses a library of “pre-designed”, premade book covers, bearing a generic title and author name, usually priced at $50-$100 (£40-£80). They pick one that best fits their book, and the designer changes the cover text to their name and title. The premade cover then becomes their exclusive property. (Contrary to popular myth, it cannot be sold again to a different author.)

Pros:

There’s no mystery or risk involved in buying a premade cover. You know exactly what you’re getting and at what price.

Contrary to popular myth, premades cannot be sold again to a different author

Premade covers represent an opportunity to get a professional cover at a cut rate. They’re often just as striking and beautiful as custom covers, but they typically cost a lot less.

You can also be sure that your chosen cover is hitting your genre’s sweet spot, because it’s been designed that way. For example, a huge number of thrillers consist of a dark cover bearing a creepy silhouette. Why? Because that type of cover sells to thriller readers. So why not just buy that cover straight off the peg?

Cons:

Your book isn’t generic, so why should your book cover be so? It can feel like a wrench not to participate at all in the creative process of designing your book’s cover.

Premade covers by less accomplished designers can also end up looking a bit “same-y”.

If your book contains very specific elements (a time-travelling puppy, for instance), it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find a premade that does justice to the legend of Fido the Temporal Adventurer.

In conclusion:

Many authors have a kneejerk negative reaction to premades, and I get it, I really do. You want something that’s yours and yours alone. However, it’s worth keeping an open mind about premades. Bottom line: they represent a way to get an effective, market-tested cover at a low price.

Looking for a good-quality premade cover design? Check out my gallery of premade book cover options.

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