Cover art is the most important factor in whether or not a potential reader will pick up a new authors book. You might think that word-of-mouth is the best way to discover a new reader, but there are many more people who see new books than there are who will receive a recommendation. An amazing cover is essential to capturing the interest of all of those would-be readers. Granted, a good cover will not excuse poor writing, but let’s assume that your book is going to be the next Name of the Wind, and we’ll leave writing out of this discussion for sake of simplicity.
New Authors have NO credibility. Readers tend to have a list of established authors that they love. There are always plenty of other famous, successful authors that they don’t read even if they are in the same genre. (I love fantasy but have yet to read anything from Terry Brooks. I know, I’m a disgrace to the fantasy community, and I’ll politely show myself to the door.) This doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t, but simply that they don’t have time. Your cover can be the deciding factor on whether a reader will pick up your book or the new title from Stephen King.
Bad covers DO exist, and they’re everywhere. If you have to ask yourself, “Is my cover really good enough?” it’s not. You, your family, and your friends might be willing to overlook a slightly amateurish design, but a stranger will keep on scrolling. If you show someone your cover and without hesitation they say, “Wow this looks awesome!” You are on the right track.
Don’t DIY unless you are a graphic artist. Not a self-proclaimed graphic artist, but the real deal. Don’t give this task to a friend who bought photoshop two months ago and kinda knows what they are doing. Get a professional. Also beware, just because you are paying someone doesn’t mean they are good. Always ask for a portfolio. If you do not like what you see, do not hire them. Remember, a good cover needs to take your breath away not produce a shrug of indifference.
If you are on a budget and cannot spend a fortune on a cover, figure out what you can afford. Let’s say you can reasonably spend $250 on a cover. Go to your local university, find their art department, and ask if you they have any students looking to license one of their pieces. Art students make some amazing things and it will be far more unique than a stock image you pulled of google. An additional benefit is that you get to help out some poor college kid make a few bucks doing something they love.