The question of whether to do it yourself has become much debated with the popularity of desktop publishing. Many people think that if they have the software, they can save money by designing their own book. Having the proper software does not make somebody a book designer any more than having a scalpel makes someone a surgeon. Software is merely a tool and only does the job properly in the hands of a skilled professional. If you intend to be successful in the marketplace, make sure your book is not only saleable, but reflects the care you took in writing it. Hire a book designer and spend your valuable time working on an outstanding marketing plan or writing your next book.

How do you find the professional expertise right for your publishing goals? You can do a Google search for “book designer” and get 60 million results! Don’t give up.  There is a way to find the perfect design firm and it doesn’t have to be a game of chance.

You must first determine your publishing goals—self-publisher vs. multi-author publisher, local vs. national audience. Then set a realistic budget. Do your research and plan wisely or you’ll end up with a team that doesn’t meet your needs. If you plan a national speaking tour for your next book, your budget should reflect the level of quality needed to compete at that level. Hiring an entry-level or amateur designer could be a waste of $500–$800, as the quality would brand you an amateur as well.

Professional designers have a range of expertise, fees, and services. Start narrowing the field of designers by finding those who belong to professional organizations. Notice national design awards on their resume, which can indicate respect from others in the field. What are their fees? Most often, higher-priced designers really are those who have the best grasp on producing a book that’s salable and competitive in the marketplace. They’ve earned a right to charge $1,500–$3,000+ for their expertise and unique designs. They know how to design for different genres and audiences. They’re aware of trends, printing options, and can save you money by avoiding novice pitfalls.

Expect several cover concepts and always sign a contract. Owning the rights to the cover isn’t necessary if you have unlimited use of the cover image for your promotional needs at no cost.

If you need guidance through the publishing process, know that some firms offer this while others opt not to provide consulting services. A design firm is an integral player on your publishing team. This may be a long-term relationship, so choose wisely. Of course, don’t hesitate to hire a different firm for your next book if the previous project didn’t go well. Your success depends upon every member of the team working toward the same goal.
If your book is intended for an audience of family and friends, not to be sold to the public, there may be no need to spend your money on a professional. If you want to learn the craft of book design, buy the software and learn from books, classes, and professionals, keeping in mind that this software has a steep learning curve. Alternately, you could hire a student for  up to $200 or even in exchange for the experience. Either way, learn the printer’s specifications before starting or it will cost more in the end.

The public image you portray as a publisher is very visual and the quality of your books’ covers will largely create that image. Take your time in selecting the right type of design firm for your publishing needs, knowing this is an invaluable investment in your company’s future.

(This article first appeared in the Writer Watchdog Self-Publishing Directory, a new resource guide to assist publishers in finding vendors and information to aid their publishing efforts: