Cover design can be one of the funnest and most agonizing part of the indie publishing process. You have complete control. Yay! Your vision is the one which will be picked. Yay! But your idea could be bad or you might not have the skills needed to pull it off. Bummer.
But that's okay. 1) You can hire out for a cover or 2) You can design it yourself.
|1st Tamra cover.|
|2nd Tamra cover.|
|3rd Tamra cover.|
|4th Tamra cover.|
My own experience with hiring out has been a good one. I found a cover designer who designed for an e-press as well as freelance (my 2nd Tamra cover was through the e-press she also works for). Queried her and found I could totally afford her fee. http://www.tarawest.com Tamra's fast, easy to work with, and will come up with her own concept if you aren't sure of what you want. So far I have used her for my novels and novellas, but design my own short story covers because on how long it would take to recoup the cost. She is a lot more in demand so I need to contact her farther in advance than I used to. She also designed an ad for my first novel release:
Doing It Yourself
If you already have graphic design and artistic skill and experience then you are one step ahead of many people. The first thing you will need is a general idea of how you want your cover to look and the graphic skills to pull it off. Some sort of graphic program. Here are the ones I have heard people using: Photoshop, Gimp, Powerpoint (yes, several authors use powerpoint style programs), Paint Shop Pro, and any other photo editing software. A photo viewing software will not do the job. But you don't have to race out and buy software. Gimp and others like it are open source and do the job perfectly well. I personally use Gimp and Paint Shop Pro. Depends on what I want the cover to do. Pain Shop Pro is easier for me to use, but doesn't do quite as much as Gimp.
You also don't have to pay a fortune for graphics. You can take or paint your own pictures. Or utilize stock photography websites. Most of these you will pay anywhere from $1-10 for an image which can be used on ebooks and print books up to a certain number sold (I believe it is 10,000). Stock sites: http://www.dreamstime.com, http://www.bigstockphoto.com, http://www.istockphoto, http://www.shutterstock.com. For romance writers there are also these sites (the photo fees are higher), http://www.romancenovelcovers, http://www.razzdazzstock.com, http://www.hotdamnstock.com. You can also find lots of art at http://www.deviantart.com, but you will need to contract with the individual artist for the art or design.
Once you have your artwork it is time to put it together and add in effects and text. If you will only be doing an ebook cover for short stories or nonfiction the graphics can be at 72 dpi, but if you are doing a novel or novella or nonfiction book I highly recommend you do it at 300 dpi even if you currently don't think you want to do a print edition. The key to remember is your book cover needs to look good as a thumbnail and a big image. So always reduce the image down in viewing it before finalizing any cover. The cool thing with the stock sites is you can download a trial image with watermarks to play with before you commit to purchasing the picture and doing your final design. Your ecover size needs to fit within the range Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords requires. My cover designer uses 776 x 1200.
Try to pick fonts which go with your genre. Stay away from super scripty fonts as they can be hard to read. Block works best, but I do like to play with my fonts. :-) I usually choose the font last. Sometimes you will be able to find an image where you can just use it. Other times you will need to merge photos, erase backgrounds, layering, changing colors, etc. Immortal is an examples of me playing with layering photos and erasing backgrounds. The more you do it the better you get at it. My first attempts at layering were --- laughable. And were why I ended up hiring a cover designer for my other books. But I have continued to work at it and gotten more comfortable at the skill.Here are some examples for the cover I designed for Immortal:
First I looked for a girl which fit my story. I then added some text for a super simple cover. But decided I wanted to do more. Layers. I erased the background.
I then needed a background to put my girl on.
I put the girl on the backgrounds and started experimented with the fonts and made these four mock-ups.
Then after getting some feedback from my home and online friends, and checking the prices of the images I was considering, I designed the following cover.
This post is getting awfully long so I should wrap it up with just one more thought. Don't break the bank. Same philosophy as with hiring out for editors. Work within your budget. Do what you can on your own. Trade if you can. Or hire out if you can afford the fee. Your first cover attempts might not be works of art, but with practice they will get better and better.