Book Cover Design—scams are everywhere

Ever since self-publishing became a thing, there have been a million adjacent industries for self-published authors, such as book marketers, self publishers, and book cover designers. A lot of them are legit, and a lot of them are, frankly, scams. Along the way, someone figured out that would-be authors are thirsty for fame … and the rest is history. 

Book Cover design is typically run as a “company” type of scam.

These companies are set up as feeders for freelance designers. I’m not talking about solopreneur designers (who are more likely to be experts in their fields, or at least I should hope so) but rather when it’s a book cover design company. Naturally, they promise you the best book cover design you’ve ever seen, and they show examples of work on the website. It looks good, so you plunk down whatever they charge. But while the “samples” on the website probably do come from their designers (Or not. No way to tell) It’s just that they have hundreds of designers working there, and you don’t know which one is being assigned to your job.

Personally, I have worked with book cover design companies that charge as little as $200 and others that go up to $1000 or more.

Usually, there is no difference at all. You see, the designers have the technical skill to design something on a template, and they know how to manipulate images, but typically they don’t have the slightest idea of what a book cover should look like, and, for what they’re being paid, they can’t afford to care. Considering what they’re getting paid, they are probably also millennials, which means they don’t read books.  

Their instructions are to “please the client,” but most new authors also have no earthly idea what a book cover should look like.

In fact, many authors have certain images they want on the cover, which are not at all advisable (because authors are not marketers, bless their hearts), but if the designer is willing to do what they want, authors are happy. Authors aren’t happy when the book doesn’t sell, though. That’s why they need someone who isn’t a “yes man” but will educate authors about book cover design. 

Case in point: I hired a well-known company called Damonza to do a book cover for me–upwards of $1000. My book was a detective novel, and I explained to the designer that the plot is –”a lady cop is trying to solve the mystery and avenge the murder of a prostitute who was her best friend from childhood.” So we wanted a badass lady cop and a prostitute in a certain setting, which I described. What I got back was a collage of cut and pasted images that looked nothing at all like a detective novel and didn’t even make sense. If you went cross-eyed a little, you could imagine how one of these characters was supposed to be a cop. The other just looked like a silly girl at a party twirling her skirt. The image collage was clearly done by an absolute beginner who had literally never seen a crime novel or a cop or a movie featuring a prostitute in his entire life. But some authors are so inexperienced that they would have accepted the image, thinking the book cover designer was an expert in his field. That’s exactly what Damonza was counting on. They assigned me to a terrible designer and waited to see if I was smart enough to know the difference. Now, the good thing about this being a company is that … 

I was able to demand a new designer who knows what a detective novel is supposed to look like.  

The supervisor apologized and got me a new designer who actually did a great job. But if I hadn’t known how these companies work, and known the detective novel genre, and been willing to be a bit of a bitch, I wouldn’t have got that second designer. See, if you’re an author who wants to be listed among detective novels, it’s important that you know these type of books are a certain size and shape (which is NOT 6 x 9). And that crime novels have a certain look about them. By contrast… 

Memoirs, business books, and fantasy novels all have certain, specific–totally different–looks to each of them. 

What’s more: if you choose certain colors for your cover, a lot of people will think your book is chick lit. If you’re writing a business book, you need to reinforce the book title with an image that makes it clear what sub-audience of business readers it’s aimed at. These are things anyone in the book industry knows. But your typical book cover designer literally has no idea what different types of books should look like. Nor do they care, because they’re getting paid pennies to do the job. The cover of a book is a BIG part of marketing.  

Everyone judges a book by its cover, as well they should, because that is literally what book covers are for.

So, every book cover designer should, ideally, be working with the book’s marketer, as they do the design—or someone like that. This is why I always offer to work with the book cover designer for my clients, even though I prefer to stay out of all the other aspects of publishing. Basically, when you hire a book cover designer you absolutely need to have a liaison who:  

  • Is knowledgeable about book cover genres 
  • Is knowledgeable about book marketing 
  • Has deep knowledge of what this particular book is about and its audience 
  • Has read the book cover-to-cover
  • Understands the meaning of the book’s title, if it’s ambiguous, because the cover image should help clarify that 
  • Can be a bitch when needed 

I have seen clients go off on their own adventures with book cover designers and get the most atrocious book covers imaginable … and they don’t even know it. I know the book is great because I wrote it, but I also know nobody will read it because the cover makes it look ridiculous, low quality, and not pointed at any particular market. Now, I offer to consult in order to prevent the designer from undoing all my hard work as a writer.  

That’s my two cents on book cover designers 

—just like with proofreaders (see previous blog) I can’t recommend “a good one.” I can, however, recommend that you work with both a designer and someone like me who will continue demanding edits until it looks amazing. If you don’t know much about book cover design, DON’T expect your book cover designer to fill in that gap of knowledge. Acknowledged: that should be the way it works, but it’s not.  

2 thoughts on “Book Cover Design—scams are everywhere”

  1. Great post, Ruby! I once worked with a designer whose husband painted covers for crime books and made her pose in horrible death scenes to capture the image. It’s a special skill for sure!


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