Firstly, how much can a cover cost? Anywhere from around $35-2000. On average, you can find illustrated covers (what we see in the LitRPG genre a lot) around $300-500. 

There are three major types of covers:

– stock cover image manipulations  

– Daz or other 3D mockup software

– Illustrated work

Stock Cover Image Manipulations

Cost of stock cover manipulation can increase as you add more and more stock cover pieces to it, such that the original image looks nothing like the starting image. This can be everything from swapping backgrounds, adding background features, swapping heads and torso parts, adding in multiple characters and more.  In addition, other things that push up cost include having specialised stock (try looking for a non-sexual or badass Asian woman for stock cover images and see what your options are) and exclusive photoshoots (know a good looking model? Dress them up right and take a set of photos!)

Daz or other 3D Mockup Software

Now, the cheapest kind is generally the first type. You can find people working for around $50 for that kind of work where they just manipulate basic imagery and adjust shadows and throw basic fonts on it. Some of this work can be really beautiful, but you run into the issue of your basic stock image being used. Some of the most common images come from Grandfailure with just titles thrown on top without any manipulation. This is where you see comments about “stolen” artwork comes from. 

This kind of work is often in-between the two ranges of cost, and again, is often dependent on how much work is done. I understand some artists use the basic Daz software to mockup covers and then repaint over the models, which puts their work in a weird in-between space. 

Again, you run into some minor problems with models being similar, there’s a bit of an uncanny valley effect happening with some of the models and unless the designer is good, issues like lighting, blending and other placements can happen. Still, you can get a custom environment set-up and created using this method while still looking somewhat ‘illustrated’. As I said, an in-between option.

Illustrated Work

One of the most common. Cost for this kind of work varies a lot, partly due to the kind of styles involved. Anime style work is generally quite cheap (lower number of lines and shading and a huge number of talented artists working in that genre) while more realistic work can be very, very expensive. Quality also varies a LOT, unlike with stock images. Frankly speaking, I’d take a cheap stock image cover over a cheap illustrated cover 9 times out of 10 because often, the cheap illustrated cover just isn’t good. 

Remember, with illustrations in particular, time = cost. So, the more detail they put in, the higher the cost. If they give you a low quote, it means they either a) seriously undervalue their time or b) they are not going to spend a lot of time on your work.

Again, I’ve seen pricing from around $50 to $2000 for illustrated work.

What a Cover Should Do

Covers are important. They might be the most important part of getting that initial click and sale. Your cover will draw people in and MANY people will buy just off the cover, never even reading the blurb. 

However, a good cover does not mean expensive. A good cover has to do a few things:

– it has to stand out 

– it has to inform readers about the genre (i.e. it has to be on-genre)

– it has to do all that as a thumbnail

A cover that is cheap but is on-genre and stands out will outperform a pretty cover that is NOT on-genre. If you mislead readers with your cover, you will get initial clicks, but either bad reviews or just not many page reads and a bunch of returns.

If you want to see a cheap cover that stands out and is on-genre; go look at Chuck Tingle.


Licensing is important. When you get stock covers images, you NEED to make sure the person creating the work for you is clear on what kind of license they are purchasing. It’s often for one-off use in the cover you are creating, which is why you might need to purchase other kinds of licensing. 

If you work with illustrators directly, you can either:

– get a license for the work to use for all kinds of ‘regular’ covers and promo work or;

– get an outright purchase of the copyright (sometimes termed as a work for hire agreement). 

The second with MOST artists who know their rights is much, much more expensive. Like at least 2 to 3 times your initial quote. There is often no reason to get that though, as unless you intend to use it for (example) merchandise, you won’t ever need those rights. If you do intend to make merchandise, you can then just contact them and sign a new agreement (just like you would want for your own books).

Evaluating Covers

Evaluating covers is tricky and there’s no way to talk about it in a single post. Things you can do is look at a LOT of covers to see what works for you and what doesn’t. The more you look, the more you analyze, the better you get. Things I always look for:

– is there enough whitespace? (whitespace lets individual aspects of a cover ‘breathe’ and increases the impact of the cover). 

– how does the eye track on first look? (often, pretty illustrations have this issue. They’re so pretty, but the eyes don’t track or lead anywhere. This is why having a sample title on it can help)

– how does it look in thumbnail size? (remember, a LOT of the time, peopel will see your image on their phone first. If it doesn’t catch their eye in tiny thumbnail size on the Amazon reading app, it isn’t going to catch their eye, period).

I’m sure other people have other things they look for, but those are my minimums.

Choosing Designers

Lastly, how do you choose a designer? Well, budget of course. However, on top of that, expectations of return. You don’t want to spend $1000 on a book you might only make $200 on. That’s a bad ROI and a way to shoot yourself in the foot.

Other things to look for before hiring:

– experience in cover design (you can get people who haven’t done cover design before. However, the composition of a vertical work with space required at the top and bottom can be tricky for some people. At the least, you have to be very specific when discussing design concepts with such people).

– other pieces of work (not just on their portfolio they send but actual covers done for other publishers. Sometimes, the portfolio piece and actual work done is quite, quite different)

– work history (how long have they been doing this? If you are grabbing an artist to work on a long series, unless you intend to get all the covers immediately, you run the risk of the cover designer disappearing. Multiple authors in the genre have been hit by this and had to redo their covers to keep things in line or just had to find an artist who can make it look somewhat similar)

– number of revisions and sample designs (how many revisions will they do? Will they send mockups of the work before they finish so you can make changes?)

– cost of getting additional formats (paperback, audiobook, etc.)

– do you get the layered files (for minor edits if necessary, e.g. a paperback that is now slightly bigger, etc.)

Note: None of the above is a requirement, it’s just a question of what you are paying and what you are happy with. I will (and do) not expect to get things like layered files or all the audiobooks/etc. immediately, but knowing what the pricing is, it can be useful. Same with revisions, or number of mockups, etc.

I think that’s about. As usual, questions, comments?

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