The difference between cheap and affordable book cover design

Over the years I’ve had the chance to meet great authors, wonderfully talented people, passionate about their work and very understanding of the whole process of creation (literary and graphic as well). Some of them had very limited budgets while for others the budget wasn’t an issue at all. As a designer who’s equally passionate about her work, I’ve had tremendous fun creating cover designs for all my clients, regardless of their budget. However, from time to time, I receive inquiries from authors who simply want a “cheap” book cover and, while I understand that for a lot of people “money’s too tight to mention”, I have a difficult time agreeing with their choice of words and more so figuring out how I should formulate my reply.

‘Cheap’ v.s. ‘affordable’ and why it’s better to use the latter

In today’s acceptance of the term, cheap equals “shoddiness, inferiority, showy imitation, complete unworthiness, and the like”¹. Conversely, ‘affordable’ is “believed to be within one’s financial means”² which in fact sounds better, especially when it comes to business inquiries. If you’re indeed on a tight budget, let your designer know that you can’t afford to splurge $500 on your first novel cover design, but never tell them you need a cheap design. Believe it or not, cheap tells more about how an author feels about their work and what it deserves, rather than the services offered by the designer.  

When an author asks me for the cheapest services I can offer, they’ve just branded their work in one single word. Cheap is not about having a limited book cover design budget, it’s not even about price-shopping, it’s just about not being interested in what can be done (beautifully) for an affordable price and going for the lowest price + lowest quality instead.

But what if you really can’t afford to pay $500 for a cover design?

Quite understandably not everybody can manage to spend half a thousand dollars or more on a cover design. If you’ve found a designer who’s work inspires you, contact them, tell them more about your project and let them know your budget. There are designers out there who have fixed prices, others that work with the client’s budget. If you already have a good idea of what kind of cover art you’d like to have then let your designer know before asking for a price. Estimating the correct price on every project requires the designer to first determine what kind of work is involved in creating a specific design. It’s a matter of estimating how many hours of work one project would take starting with the development of the first draft and ending with the delivery of the final files.

The story of the £3 book cover design

One of the funniest and also most exceedingly ‘generous’ offer that I was ever extended by an author was no less than £3. Thinking it must be some sort of mistake, I contacted the author and asked them if they meant £300. Was I surprised when the answer came back! The author was incredibly cross with me, stating he would never in his whole life give £300 on a cover design. Apparently he thought £3 is enough for more than a week’s work.

If you sincerely have no idea what your project would cost, ask your designer. In fact, ask more designers so that you can have a realistic picture of what constitutes a correct price. Don’t be fooled by too-good-to-be-true offers. Too much for too little is too suspicious.

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