This post is part of Cover Design Week. To see the other posts click the CDW tag below.
Whether you’ve been doing your own covers or this is your first self-publishing effort, the decision to involve someone else in the cover-design process carries inherent risks and costs. On the risk side, there’s the chance that the person you employ might let you down, produce something awful, or involve you in some horrific ongoing battle over billing or copyright issues. On the cost side, there’s time and money.
For this post I’m going to assume that the are no risks. The only thing we have to figure out is how much it will cost to have someone else to design (or execute) a cover for our book.
As a line item in a publishing budget, we want to know how many hours it will take at how many dollars to produce the image files we need. Because we’re making this all up, let’s assume we’re able to find someone reliable who can produce our image files for $50.
As creatures of a global consumer culture, it’s tempting to immediately leap to either or both of the following short-sighted conclusions. First, that we should take the deal if we have $50 on hand. Second, that our immediate cost necessarily says something about the total cost of our decision.
Unfortunately, what we have to spend says nothing about how we should spend it, and what things cost now says little or nothing about their total cost over time. The only thing we can say for sure is that if we don’t have $50 we’re out of luck. Other than that, even knowing the cost of the service does little to help validate the expense.
What would help is knowing that we’re getting good value for our money. It would also help if we had some way to determine how our cover-design expense will affect the bottom line for our book.
On the value front, we probably need to look a little deeper at what that $50 is buying. If the person we’re going to be working with is charging $10 an hour for five hours work, and included in those five hours are multiple versions and opportunities to give feedback, that sounds valuable. On the other hand, if $50 is buying 6 minutes of time from a high-end designer, who normally charges $500 an hour, we might be getting a cover from a big-name pro at a cut-rate price, but we’re losing out on the ability to be part of the design process.
In terms of the book’s bottom line, it’s tempting to ask whether the $50 expense will be earned back by the book’s total sales, but that isn’t the right question. The right question is whether the $50 cover will generate more sales than would a cover we designed for ourselves at $0 dollars — along with the related question of whether those additional sales will exceed the cost of the expense.
For example, if we would have sold 100 books with a $0 cover, at $2 profit per book, that’s $200 in our pocket. If the $50 cover helps us sell 120 total copies, that’s $240 total, but deducting the cost of the cover means we only net $190: $10 less than if we’d designed our own cover. (At 125 copies we break even; at 130 copies or more we generate a return greater than our $50 expense.)
The problem, of course, is that there’s no way to know any of these numbers in advance. Projections of any sort are usually iffy. Projections abut how one cover might or might not affect sales versus another cover are pure fantasy without market testing — which, again, is not only beyond the means of most self-publishing authors, but something even traditional publishers would be hard-pressed to document.
The upshot is that basing our decision to hire a cover designer either on our available cash or our expected return on investment is pointless. Yes, if we’re sitting on a million dollars we would probably just hire somebody, but that’s a luxury most self-published authors don’t have.
In the next post I’ll talk about criteria that might actually help us decide what we should spend on a cover designer, or whether we should spend any money at all.
— Mark Barrett