Your Self-Published Book Needs a Cover. Here’s How to Create It

Your Self-Published Book Needs a Cover. Here’s How to Create It

After spending weeks, months or maybe even years perfecting the words in your book, you’re probably ready to toss it online and cross your fingers you’ll receive rave reviews.

But before you jump on the self-publishing bandwagon, take some time to make sure your book cover is amazing.

When people browse books, whether physical or electronic, the cover is often the first piece of information they see. If your cover looks amateur or out of line with your book’s genre, readers will likely move onto the next option without a second thought.

How does a wordsmith cultivate the images and graphic design skills needed to turn a blank cover into a captivating collage — especially while trying to keep your self-publishing costs as low as possible?

Here are eight inexpensive options for book cover design, whether you’re ready to call in an expert or DIY your cover.

Hire a pro

Not thrilled about the idea of creating your own cover? These options may cost you more, but can help ensure a polished final product.

1. Referrals

Referrals from other self-published writers, writing groups (online or in-person) and writer friends are a great way to find good designers at reasonable prices.

If you already work with designers in a professional capacity, consider asking if they’re interested in working on your book cover; those trusted sources can also provide you with referrals for other designers.

2. 99 Designs

This site can design not only your book cover but also your author logo, character merchandise and anything else you can dream up.

Start by creating a design contest for your project. Write a “design brief” explaining what you’re looking for, and 99 Designs will present your specifications and budget to its marketplace.

Designers then respond to your brief with their ideas. After seven days of reviewing designs, you select a winner and they earn the money you’ve budgeted for the project. You retain full copyright ownership of the final design you select.

99 Designs is the most expensive option on this list, and rates vary from the “Bronze” package at $299, where you can expect around 30 designs to select from, to the $1,199 “Platinum” package which features around 60 “premium” designs preselected for you by the 99 Designs staff.

One potential bonus for using a site like 99 Designs: If you discover a designer whose work you love, you can continue working with that designer on future products.

3. Fiverr

Fiverr offers the chance to get a professional book cover for just $5. The site lets you review designers’ portfolios and see ratings left by other clients.

Some people swear by Fiverr, while others have ended up frustrated. In one case, ebook writing team Frankie Johnnie had to work through 20 design iterations (at $5 a pop) before settling on a design that resonated.

However, the duo still recommends using Fiverr as a basic cover designer and a way to test out cover design options. “For as little as $5 bucks, you can roll the dice…” Frankie says in a tell-all on James H. Mayfield’s blog.

Do it yourself

If you’re not to keen on hiring a professional and would rather tackle design duties yourself, here are a few resources to help you along the way.

4. Use Microsoft Word

Believe it or not, you can actually design an entire book cover using only Microsoft Word.

The Creative Penn even offers an incredible DIY book cover design tutorial by Derek Murphy. His tutorial notes how important it is to select the right picture (“Simple is better,” he says) as well as the importance of balancing colors.

The tutorial also discusses where to find images, whether you’re taking photos yourself, sourcing stock images or using other online sources such as Etsy and DeviantArt. Then, it walks readers through the step-by-step details of designing a captivating cover.


Derek Murphy’s own site offers customizable templates so self-published writers can easily design their own book covers.

You don’t need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for special design software to create a cover that will make people snap up copies of your book. Murphy offers a training video that teaches youhow to design a great cover in 30 minutes or less.

He also offers a free, online cover creator tool, along with video tutorials to help you make the most of it.

6. Pixlr

Pixlr offers a variety of photo editing apps. “Pixlr Editor” offers opportunities to use layers, replace colors and transform objects. Another popular option is “Pixlr Express,” which offers quick fixes and personal touches with a simpler interface.

The site helps you create and touch up gorgeous images,, as the “Made with Pixlr” gallery shows. If you want to use the desktop version of Pixlr, you’ll have to pay about $15 per year.


GIMP, a free program you can use for photo retouching, creating and composing images, stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program.”

While many tools allow you to create and edit within your web browser, you’ll have to download this software before you get started. GIMP can be used with GNU/Linux and UNIX, as well as Windows, Mac and other systems.

8. Canva

More than 5.6 million users have created more than 31 million designs (and counting!) with this free software program. While some design elements will cost you, many templates and features are free.

Canva’s drag-and-drop setup makes it easy to create your simple book cover. It features millions of images (including stock photos, vectors and illustrations) as well as photo filters, free icons and shapes, and hundreds of fonts.

If you’re not sure where to start, visit Canva’s free Design Schoolwhere you can learn even more about design, as well as a book cover-specific tutorial.

What about your own self-published book cover? Would you rather design your own cover or hire a pro?

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

Media Kit Template from Joan Stewart

Featured resource

Media Kit Templates

These ready-to-use templates will help you create a Media Kit that wows journalists, bloggers, reviewers, agents, audience members, buyers—even big publishers.


  • Josh says:

    This is a great list. I’ve used Canva for book covers, blog graphics, logos and just about any other graphic project. I’ll definitely be checking out a few of these to see if I can get better results.

  • Better, contact a graphic designer directly, and budget realistically.

    I am not a graphic designer, but as a freelance editor, I know what it is like to encounter the occasional author with an unrealistic budget. There is always a certain irony to being offered poverty wages by someone who is themselves trying to earn a living as a freelancer.

    It saddens me when professional freelancers cannibalize one another by using race-to-the-bottom sites like Fiverr. (A book cover for $5? Do you really expect the designer to spend just ten minutes on it, so they can do enough of them per hour to earn a living? How professional of a cover do you think you will get out of that deal?) Less obviously, the same applies to using sites with a “contest” model, because designers must budget their time based on only winning (and therefore being paid a single penny for) a minority of the contests they enter.

    Self-publishing costs money. No way around that. You are choosing to run your own publishing company, and should expect to pay what a “real” publisher would pay to skilled professionals to perform the tasks associated with publication. Your book will be competing with works whose covers cost a great deal more than five dollars.

    Count the costs carefully before you head down that road. Self-publication is not for everyone. Trying to do it on a dime (or a five-dollar bill) can be worse than useless, if it gives you a product that looks like it was cobbled together by amateurs. There are other options. If you do not have the financial means to pay the upfront costs of publication, consider taking more time to seek a small press whose market niche may fit your book.

    Whatever publication model is right for you, I wish you all success with your books!

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC

    • Josh says:

      I agree to a certain extent, but I have personal experience with using Fiverr for a cover.

      It turned out beautifully, and that book stays at or above the 100k mark in paid ranks. Obviously, this isn’t solely based on the cover. I used a software to choose the best keywords, partnered with a successful author who wrote a section of the book and wrote about a topic that I enjoy.

      Everything, including my $5 cover has made this book sell every day.

      While I agree that there is a race to the bottom problem, I can’t say that I would have made the same amount of sales and reach by taking the route of finding a small publisher.

    • Scotie says:

      What do you mean with that running a publishing company not? Most people are just publishing a book, not running a company.

      • If you are really “self-publishing,” yes, you are running a very small publishing company. You are the publisher.

        What sometimes confuses people is that vanity presses now commonly refer to themselves as “self-publishing companies,” but if you are buying a package deal that includes all the tasks involved in the publication process, then you are not self-published, but vanity-published.

        By the way, that can be the right choice for some people. The decision has to be made carefully.

        Trish O’Connor
        Epiclesis Consulting LLC
        Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources

  • Alicia Rades says:

    I have created my own covers in Photoshop before, but I’ve had much more success with covers when I hire a designer. Although my DIY covers get me by, it’s worth it to hire someone else unless you really know what you’re doing. Otherwise, there are plenty of pre-made book covers that are beautiful as well. I like to keep my eye on Some of the covers aren’t that good, but others are very well done and not too expensive. I have yet to buy a cover from the site, but I’ve seen plenty I’d LIKE to buy if I had the story to go with it.

  • Hello.
    I am trying to find a place where I upload my own cover, but have someone else print it on the correct cover stock.

    I can’t find a place.


  • Gianna Dunn says:

    I used a program called BookCreative for my cover – It’s easy to learn with a lot of bells and whistles for creating a nice cover, or you can use their templates to jump start a design.

  • Thanks for this convenient round up! I’m sending your blog post to my mailing list today since cover design isn’t one of the things I offer to my clients. I’m hoping it helps them!

  • Greg says:

    I spend way too much time trying to design a cover for my book. My problem is I am retired, living on a fixed income. I’ve not had any luck finding pictures or artwork online that would convey my story. The numerous conversations I’ve had with local artists and students in college classes has done nothing but make me wonder why some of them profess to be artists. I understand that just like authors, or wanna be writers like myself, trying to do artwork or write a story based on an idea by someone else may not translate. I get the newsletters from Derek Murphy, and occasional direct correspondence when I have a question. He is a great guy as far as I am concerned. Having places like this site offer encouragement.

  • Hans Kristian Bauguerud says:

    Excellent resources, but I think is also worth mentioning. I’m buying all my covers from this site, and it’s as far as I’ve seen, the best pre-made cover resource out there. The plus side is that they have created a system where you can automatically generate and buy your cover without waiting for a graphic designer to implement the changes you want to see.