First off, before you do anything else, get a piece of paper and a pen (or open up a document somewhere) and figure out the answers to these questions:
- What is my genre?
- What is the tone of my book? (Or, if you aren’t sure, how do others describe it?)
- Are there any particular images/symbols that I feel sum up my book?
- What do the covers of my genre look like?
- What are the key similarities of those covers?
- Do I like the way those covers look?
- If not, what would I change and does that ignore the key similarities mentioned above?
- Given the look of the covers in my genre, do I feel I could produce something similar that would entice buyers?
- How much time am I willing to devote to learning how to make covers?
- How much money am I willing to spend?
- If I don’t feel I’m up to creating the covers for my books, can I afford to get a designer?
- (add in any other questions you feel are relevant to this list)
It is extremely important, before you do anything else with your manuscript, that you figure out what you can and can’t do, or, in some cases, what you will and won’t do as well as what your book actually is.
Some of this may be out of your hands. When I first started, I knew there wasn’t any option but to sit down and learn how to use the tools I could find (legally), even though most of the images in my genre (fantasy) tend to be paintings or digital artwork of a level I can’t even dream of making. (see sakimichan for an example of the kind of artwork I’m talking about for fantasy). This isn’t a requirement for a fantasy novel, obviously, but the images on a cover become a sort of shorthand for readers and that’s why they become so very important.
Anyway, if you know what your needs are, and what readers will expect from your cover, and what your book promises, then you can figure out a large part of what you can and can’t do.
Only when you know this should you either start looking for a designer, or start looking for the tools to do your covers yourself. More on that next week.
BTW, if you already know you aren’t able to do this yourself, and you’re looking for someone to design your cover, I like the designs of Cameron O’Hara, especially Mosaic2. He’s currently running a special. Check it out.
One final thing: I strongly recommend Think Like a Publisher by Dean Wesley Smith if you’re considering doing this as a full-on career. (Note: As an Amazon Associate, I get some money if you buy his book through the above link. Just so you know.) It still has a lot of good advice, even though it was written in 2012. He updates portions on his blog from time to time, so that’s also worth checking out.