It’s old and it’s true. Pictures have worth and none more that your book cover. The only chance you have at getting your story noticed is the image on the front. Sure, reviews and recommendations will send your readers looking for your work, but the browsers who are looking for their next book have to be grabbed by the pigtails and dragged in.
Besides good writing, your book cover is where you need to plant your attention. Elements of your story, color, font, layout, and plain old shock value need to be perfect. How do you know when you’ve captured that? Like all high art that answer is subjective. Think about your target audience. What are they looking for? You have a target right?
Think up some ideas. Go and browse that bookstore you waste time in. Walk up and down and see where you stop. Why, what made you stop and zero in on that cover? Sleep on it. Run your ideas past your tea friends.
Then open your wallet and hire a book cover artist. The self-publishing revolution has grown some diamonds. Google will find many businesses that do book covers. And they have a portfolio on their web site to let you sample their work. Look at a lot of them. Enough that your head hurts and then go sleep on it.
Look for originality, a cover that isn’t flat but 3D and pops from the image. And remember your customer will see the book cover in thumbnail size on the bookseller’s website. When you have narrowed your choice of artists to three, email them about details.
Once you have made your choice, tell them your ideas, ask them about their ideas. They will do three samples and send them to you. Ask all your friends and every stranger on the subway which one they would choose. Take that great cover and tweak it, send it back, question everything. Do not stop until the cover says all the thing you want from a lover. And then it’s time for the last step. Become a perfectionist. Steve Jobs kind of tyrannical overbearing son-of-a-bitch perfectionist. It’s that important.
My research and experience with book covers says $300 to $900 will get a cover and it will take a month or more before they really hate you. But then, you have art and both you and your artist will have a cover worthy of the journey.