Details: What is this gonna cost?
Of course, the bottom line is always an important component of any marketing decision. In the graphics and design business, there are usually so many variables in the process of refining a project concept, and then additional variables as client’s changes add up, that pricing can be all over the map. I like to think that after all this time, I’ve picked up on a thing or two, so I can usually streamline a lot of the wheel spinning that goes along with creative projects. At their heart, of course, they must be a fully engaged collaboration. Collaborations require that right up front, everything is laid on the table. That builds trust. Trust builds results.
I price projects two ways. I either provide an all-inclusive quote for my services, with expenses required added in on top of that. Usually a binding estimate is made larger than the basic time sheet estimate, to include all potential contingencies. As a result, most of these tend to be more expensive than the time & materials basis. I can side-step that because of my familiarity with the entire process and with resources out there to provide the components such as illustration or photography at reasonable cost. My binding estimates assume certain limitations on layout sketches, usually four or five, and upon my own research time, but I honor them.
The second way involves strictly the time sheet, plus. Research time is as important to the final project as is the actual time doing the construction of the graphics so it is added in. In some cases, depending upon the complexity of the material in question, the research time adds up to more than the graphics time. I’ve found this to be especially typical with covers that due to genre pressures, require original illustration. The more flexibility an author can assume towards cover graphics, the less expensive the final art will be. If the idea is to illustrate a complete scene from the book with all details present, it may require several go-arounds with the illustrator to nail it all down. All of this adds cost. If an author is able to see the cover as a selling tool, designed to create an emotional response that ties into the book’s material, then it can save a lot of time and money. If a simpler concept can be created that still communicates the right message, it is usually less expensive, even when the cover artwork uses photography. I do not include the cost of original illustration or photography, or stock photography or illustration in my estimates because there is so much at stake and so many variables. I always apply due diligence however, to find the best work for the least expensive price that is still effective. I think that the average illustrative costs of the last photographic covers I’ve done have not run over US$50, including a copyright license, royalty free useage.
Which brings up the matter of the use of someone else’s original illustrative material. Creative Commons images and those that turn up in search engines may not be as “free” as you think. There may be, for example, a photographer that was side-stepped, who hasn’t seen his image used until the day when he sees it on a book cover he’s heard nothing about. It pays to nail down all aspects of the artwork used, including permissions/releases if the image contains identifiable people or places and specific legal rights when it comes to useage and royalties. Many “free” images are specifically limited to non-commercial use, which a book cover would violate. All of this requires knowledge and it all needs to be locked up to protect both the project client as well as me.
I can usually locate useable images for very reasonable prices within a couple of hours of research time. My graphics skillset has been kept sharp, and execution is usually something that requires maybe five hours. Additional versions of layouts require maybe an hour each. Final polishing and tweaking for publication in both print and eBook venues adds another hour for each. I usually can keep an entire project to my $250.00 basic design fee plus expenses adding another $50 for a total of around $300 for a photographic cover from stock resources. Illustration from stock resources is a bit more, usually, and original illustration can easily add another $600- $1200.00. More expensive is a project that requires that the image be kept exclusive to the project only and not useable, by the artist/photographer or illustrator for other uses. These days, many illustrators, especially in SciFi or Fantasy genres have learned their art working for gaming manufacturers. There is a lot of potential earning in well-crafted scenic and character design, so book cover work is usually their sideline if they are established, not their primary source of income. If they are still coming up the ladder, they may be a bit more available, but as their work is unproven, negotiations can be hard to nail down. It’s similar for photographers hired for original shoots.
A full marketing campaign rarely ends with the book cover. There are ads to be placed, press releases to be written and distributed, bookmarks and postcards, etc., etc. Of course, collateral uses such as advertising and small Point of Sale graphics are usually included with book cover useage rights, but not always, so it pays to have someone negotiating who is aware of as many potential areas of trouble as possible. If a client wants to reserve illustrator or photographer negotiations for themselves, that’s fine with me as it cuts back on the time I will need to apply. In addition, if a client wishes to provide illustrative elements, photos, etc., that’s also acceptable. I appreciate a client bringing in examples of covers in genre, that they think are similar to what they want in content or mood.
My base labor rate has remained the same as it was in 1996, which is $60.00 per hour. I usually can offer a much faster turn-around than those who ask a lower rate, because I’ve been around long enough to learn some efficiencies. I also offer all supporting graphics that may be needed down the pike, such as different sizes or resolutions for online and print ads, free of cost, as long as they can be sent via zipfile or email attachment. I always optimize images for the correct resolution for the reproduction technology: print or screen, and duplicate color and typography choices in the cases of series work. Of course, there are many layers to every project, so I approach each one as a new concept, from idea through to production.
I know that most Indie Authors have shallow pockets. It’s not easy trying to break out and earn a new living while keeping your day job. I’ve been there myself, more than once, so I’m always happy to tell you that it doesn’t cost anything to pick my brains. Ask questions, relay your experiences. We’ll all learn together and put together a project that will give your book the attention and the results it deserves.
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