In continuing how to make or properly commission your own book covers, it occurs to me that I failed to mention DeviantArt as a good place to look for a cover artist. Readily available portfolios abound, and there is a specific spot in their forums to post for job openings. You can describe what you’re looking for and your price, and anyone who feels they’re up to the task at said price will post a link to their gallery. Now, admittedly, there are many, many bad galleries at DA, but one hopes you would use the discretion mentioned in the previous post when you see a gallery full of bad art.
So, I promised tips on relevancy and such.
1. First, in commissioning or making a cover, be sure your cover is both RELEVANT and ACCURATE. I often notice that a lot of bad ebook or vanity press covers made from stock have nothing whatsoever to do with their subject matter in addition to being poorly executed. What do I mean by relevant? I mean that the subject matter depicted should probably have something to do with your story in a major way. I can guarantee you that my story is largely about dolphins wearing harnesses that fight aliens. Because that’s what’s on the cover. And accurate means that the cover depicts a scene, element, theme, or mood that fits the story in a specific sense. Because otherwise I could have just posted this cover because it has dolphins IN SPACE:
Similarly, this is an example of something that is relevant but not accurate:
At no point in Voyage of the Dawn Treader does Reepicheep sit in the mouth of Eustace-turned-dragon. So while the subject matter is relevant, it’s just not … accurate. My cover depicts a rather pivotal scene in the story. (My personal opinion is that the best kinds of covers are the ones that a reader can recognize as accurate and relevant after finishing the book.)
2. Stock imagery can still be specific, and it darn well better be detailed. Call this personal preference as you will, but I hate books with generic stock images of the mysterious house/mansion/forest. Especially with fog in it. The tree on the hill, the moon in the sky, the rain-slicked empty alleyways … most of this stuff screams “Generic! And wait ’til you see the tropes that make up the story!” Photography’s big strength is that it can be amazingly detailed. Even the middle of a flower or the hairs on a bee’s leg can be incredible to look at. Provided that your object is relevant to the story, the details of it can be accurate. For example, if your story is about an assassination, and your cover has a dagger on it, make sure the guy getting assassinated dies from getting stabbed, not poisoned. The “cloak-and-dagger” fringe relationship to a story of intrigue is … you guessed it: generic. (Not to mention done a thousand billion times.) So try to find something interesting, a little new, and little eye-catching. Make it relevant to your story, and you probably have the makings of a decent cover.
Whatever you do, you don’t want to oversell the story. Like so: