Never Pay For Cover Art
See also Rules One, Two, and Four as they are closely related to this Rule.
As outlined in Rule Number One, cover art is a part of the cost of doing business, but that cost belongs to the publisher, NOT the author. Just like with editing as detailed in Rule Number Two, the biggest reason is Rule Number One itself, that money flows TO the author, but there are other more subtle reasons.
I know a few authors who do their own cover art, and I envy them to a large degree. I’m horrible at anything even hinting at graphic arts. PhotoShop is an absolute mystery to me. I just can’t do it. I need an artist who can make all of this work.
The exact same arguments for using the publisher’s editors apply to cover artists, but to an even larger degree…I would estimate that 90% or more of the advertising for a book is directly from the cover art. Think about it…
A potential buyer is strolling through the bookstore (brick-and-mortar or online, it doesn’t matter). Before they read the blurbs or thumb through the book to get an idea of the story, they see the cover. Does the art make them pick up the book to read the blurbs or thumb through the content? If not, a sale just passed you by.
Just like with editors, it all has to do with motivation.
A contracted artist will create a cover that the writer likes. Yes, that’s important, but it’s only number two on the list of priorities, and that’s being generous. The writer is not the person we need to sell the book to…not even close.
An artist working for the publisher will create a cover designed to market the book to the public. In other words, something that will make the aforementioned shopper pick up the book and look deeper.
Once again, the motivation is money, but the difference is where the money comes from.
Contracted artists make their money by pleasing the writer. Ideally the artist will read the book before doing the art. In practice, this almost never happens.
Publisher’s artists make their money by selling books. All real publishers require the artist to read the book before doing the art. In practice, very few small press and e-pubs even pretend to do this.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who can (and has the time) to do your own artwork, then you’re ahead of the game, but there is one thing you need to do…if you’re providing the cover art, then demand a couple of extra percentage points on the royalty. After all, the publisher doesn’t have to pay an artist, and you deserve to be paid for that part of the work.
But the real bottom line is that no matter the details of the publication (self, small press, or major print house), the cover art is of supreme importance. We’ve all seen great works sit on the shelf because the cover sucks. Make sure this is done right and well.
As an aside, you will often hear small press authors complain that they have no input to the cover design. Stop whining and start reading and changing the contracts before you sign them. If the publisher balks, walk away. Insist on right of veto on the cover art.