Most of us do not make millions of dollars self-publishing. We're usually starving artists, rubbing pennies together to keep warm while we desperately pray that we'll have the money to fund our next book before we're finished with it.
I've created and purchased a few covers. I've had some trials and errors with my experiences. I've lost money because of it, but I don't want others to make the same mistakes. Here are some things I've learned:
1. Don't Make The Covers Yourself
Unless you know where to get fonts and pictures for free (or you are a professional graphic designer), don't try to make the covers yourself. I made my first two covers myself and I had no idea what I was doing. I bought expensive fonts and pictures that wound up costing more than if I had hired someone else to do it. The quality of the cover at the end of the project was inferior and therefore sold me very few books (so I lost money by earning less money.) Also, my time is precious and I would have been better off writing rather than working on my cover.
2. Premade Covers Are Cheap
Most cover artists like making covers in their spare time. It's nice to be able to ask for exactly what you want, but cheaper to purchase one made ahead of time. It may take a long time to find a cover that fits your book, but if you keep looking, you'll find something eventually.
Most premade covers cost about $20-$60. While most custom covers cost anywhere from $100-$200.
3. Purchase Several At Once
This is a huge secret that's really important to know. Most cover artists want to encourage you to buy several covers at once. They want to get rid of their covers, so that they can make new ones. It usually won't be on their web-site, but most of them have deals where if you buy more than one cover from them at the same time, you will get a certain amount of money off the total price.
4. Know What You Want
If you decide to get a custom cover, make sure that you know exactly what you want ahead of time and be detailed when explaining what you want. The less times that they have to edit the cover to meet your needs, the less they will charge you.
It's even better if you have a font or a picture that you can give them ahead of time.
5. Simple Is Best
The simpler the cover, the cheaper it usually costs. It takes less time to create and less images/fonts, all of which ramp up the price.
6. Search For Covers Before You Need Them
If you wait until you are done with your book before you buy the cover, you'll be in a rush to find one. You'll wind up paying more and getting an inferior quality product because you're impatient to get published.
It's better to search occasionally online for covers and purchase them as you find them.
7. Don't Be Impulsive
Unless you find a cover that's perfect or an artist that you like so much that you have zero desire to work with anyone else, don't be impulsive. Wait a few days when you find a cover that you like and see if you still like it. It will help prevent you from having to purchase a new cover later because you found one that you liked better.
8. Original Artwork Doesn't Matter
Most people want a cover that doesn't look like anyone else's. I have found authors who have the same art on their covers as I do on mine and it's no big deal. Until you are making a lot of money or are into photography already, it will cost you a lot to organized a photo shoot. There's the set, the camera man, and the model to pay. Original pictures drawn by artists usually look amateurish and are expensive. It's better to go with clipart.