What is the difference between a $149 cover design and one that costs $1500? The easy answer, of course, is $1351. This is one of the most debated topics in many of the online news groups, although it’s mostly debated between designers who charge the $1500 price or more as justification for their pricing. In reality there is very little visual difference in the final product between the low end and the high end “design”. It’s a matter of time… the designer’s time… and your money.
One of my earliest experiences with graphic designers was during my time selling commercial printing in New York City for a Baltimore printer. My background is print production. To me, print production starts when the designer gives the printer whatever they think is “press ready” and my job is to get it through the press, onto paper, through the binder and into boxes and shipped to the customer. While I have a great respect for designers and their creative abilities, I sell the on time delivery of the printed product. I can’t print it if the designer doesn’t give it to me in a printable format… in a timely manner.
One particular memory was a Christmas retail book catalog that I used to print for an art book publisher. It was the first year that this publisher produced a retail catalog. The designer they picked to assemble this catalog was one of their regular designers who they used to design beautiful art books that sometimes sold for hundreds of dollars. The need to get a Christmas catalog out to the public in time to deliver product before Christmas is obvious to most. While full color art books can sometimes go weeks or even months late with few negative side effects, a Christmas catalog received in January is not much good to anyone. This particular catalog was running late… dangerously late. Late to the point that I volunteered to visit the designer and see what was going on. When I arrived at the designer’s studio I was greeted by the sound of Mozart. The designer was sitting at his table, listening to the music, staring off into space. Hello….. . The designer slowly turned to see who was intruding into his space. You can imagine how the rest of the conversation went. It took me about 2 minutes to figure out that this catalog would be lucky to be ready by the following Christmas. I made a quick phone call to the publisher and told them that they either had to get this designer to change the channel from Classical music to Rock and Roll and speed up the design process or change designers, if they wanted to have a chance of coming out in time. Ultimately, they changed designers, the project was ready for me in a few days and the publisher had a very profitable Christmas catalog. Why am I telling you all this? At my company, we play Rock and Roll.
Whether you are talking about design, editorial, printing or marketing, the underlying cost is based on an hourly pay rate. Aside from materials, if I charge you $100 for something that takes me one hour to do, my hourly rate is $100/hour. If that same $100 item takes me 2 hours, I make $50/hour, 4 hours, $25 and so on. It’s a matter of production, whether it’s a machine or an individual. Now let’s reverse the above and say that my hourly rate is $100 and I am going to charge you by the hour. If I can do the project in an hour, you’re charged $100. If the same project takes me fours hours, you’re charged $400. Which way would you rather have it work…. flat rate or by the hour? My guess is your choice is flat rate, especially in these economic times. The trick, once you have settled on a flat rate, is to find the service that is most productive. It’s a bit of a balancing act but I think you get the picture. Remember, it’s the end product that matters. That is what you are selling to the consumer. Yes, a cover can help sell a book but the consumer could care less whether that cover cost you one hundred or one thousand dollars. They only judge it by how it looks and feels. Take a minute to take a look at the cover design samples http://www.rjcom.com/design/custom/samples/index.php and then come back to the article.
If you visited the above link you will have noticed that there is very little appreciable quality difference between any of the sample covers yet these covers ranged in price from $149 to $1195. The difference between the $149 and the $1195 cover is simply a matter of time, not final quality. All covers are equally pleasing to the consumer.
The $149 cover is called a Hybrid because it is a combination of do-it-yourself and custom. If you go back and look at the samples again, you’ll see that the Hybrids are specially marked. As you look closer at these hybrids you’ll notice certain similarities between many of the covers. This is because the author’s selection of one of the basic cover designs. At this point we offer twelve basic designs. The word “template” normally conjures up a very negative picture. You have all seen books created using templates. If you try to insert a square picture into a rectangular hole, you’ll end up with a distorted picture. The reason for this is that 99% of the template programs out there are just that… what you see is what you get. It is an automatic or, at best semi-automatic process with very little, if any, designer intervention. The end result reflects this.
With the hybrid once you select a style, picture and biographical date, an experienced graphic designer assembles the cover to give it a professional look. This is why covers using the same base design all have slightly different looks. The upside of this cover is obvious. You get a professional looking cover for only $149. The downside is the amount of personal interaction with the designer is minimal. If you feel the need to micro-manage the design, the hybrid is not for you. A perceived downside is that your cover utilizes the same basic design of a variety of covers. I say perceived because the odds of your cover ever landing on the same counter or desktop with another cover using the same design is about the same as hitting lotto. Most people who utilize this design are authors who plan on selling a few hundred to a few thousand books. You can always come back and purchase a custom cover if your book achieves widespread distribution. As far as a cover photo, this works in a similar manner other then instead of a dozen choices you have a choice of one of hundreds of thousands of photos from Photos.com. You can always supply your own photo or illustration as well. And yes… you can put your picture on the back cover… at no additional cost.
If you don’t like the idea of the hybrid cover and wish to work a little closer with the designer, you have a choice of three levels of custom covers. There are three levels of custom cover offered. None of the choices include the designer staring out into space listening to classical music. They all involve an increased level of time and options. The Basic $250 design is more than sufficient for at least half of the people who do not use the hybrid service. This entry level custom cover includes 20 minutes of telephone time in addition to standard email communication. You will receive an original front cover design, utilizing the information you provide, including any photo from Photos.com. If you like the first design, as most authors do, you go right to complete cover and final proofs. If you don’t like the first design, the designer will supply a second, for your approval. As with the hybrid, the author photo and bio are included in the final design. The designer will use the cover text copy that you provide. Text guides are available to help you but the final copy is up to you.
If you do not want to search the photo database yourself or don’t think that 20 minutes is enough “phone time” you might want to upgrade to the Deluxe Custom cover. The deluxe cover costs $475 and includes up to an hour of telephone time with the designer in addition to email correspondence. Another big difference is that the designer will do your photo research for you and supply up to seven different possible images. They will also provide up to an hour of Photoshop work to further customize your cover. As with the basic cover, you will initially be supplied one front cover design. If the first idea doesn’t work for you, you’ll get a second. Keep in mind that with either of these, you won’t automatically get two choices. The idea is to have it average out over dozens of authors. Remember, it’s all about time. If every author required two choices, the pricing would be higher. For those of you who live in the New York Metro area, you may also choose to visit the office and sit down with the designer. With the deluxe cover, you can split your personal hour between in-person and phone time. That’s up to you. There is no “in person” time included in the basic or hybrid designs.
The top of the line in cover design is the Premium Cover. The cost for this is $1195. Less than 10% of the thousands of publishers we come in contact with need this kind of service. This is the ultimate for people who have a hard time making up their minds. With this cover, you get up to two hours of either in-person or phone time in addition to email contact. You get up to four different cover design ideas, photo research for up to 20 photos and up to three hours of Photoshop time. Generally I would discourage this choice because I would rather see you print more books but it’s up to you.
As for the $1500 and $2000 covers, I can’t begin to tell you what you get for the additional money. My company doesn’t offer anything over the $1195 premium and I recommend that very sparingly. My guess is if you listen real hard when you are talking to one of these $1500 designers, you’ll hear classical music in the background. When you do, ask them to change the station and revise their price for the Rock and Roll world of self-publishing.