Self-publishing has been a market for me as an illustrator before I knew it existed. Since about 2008 I’ve been approached by self-publishing authors looking for custom illustrated book covers, and they’ve been among my best clients.
There is a misconception that self-publishers generally know nothing about illustration and/or copyright, and/or have very low budgets. Some professional illustrators flat-out reject or ignore all private clients and/or self-publishers for this reason.
There may have been a time — before my time — when that was the case, but in my experience it seems to be no longer so. More and more self-publishers make a living from their books as an independent writing business today. This doesn’t sound as romantic as the profession of author is often made to be, but it means that they are professionals and understand the illustrator as a business as well!
Of course there are many self-publishers who cannot afford to pay professional rates for art, but this is equally true of many publishers of magazines, books and games! (Even some major companies get away with paying freelance artists peanuts for quality work in often extremely restrictive, one-sided contracts.)
Just as with other clients in every other field of illustration, the demands, views and budgets of self-publisher clients can vary widely. So if you are an illustrator, you should try to keep an open mind and not reject any type of client outright on the ground of prejudices.
Here is a selection of book covers for self-publishers I’ve illustrated in recent years. These clients all were a joy to work with! While it’s usually not necessary to read a selfpublisher’s entire book in order to make a suitable cover illustration, I’ve still read about two-thirds of these books (whether they did end up published or not).
Das Spielmannslied and Der Sternenritter (Susanne Pavlovic, 2009-2010)
This was one of my first self-publisher book-covers but I still like them a lot. Painting on old „paper“ digitally was a very enjoyable challenge. Naturally it was inspired by the look of medieval manuscripts. These covers are no longer in use but I’ve made more illustrations for the same client since then.
… as well as a „moving“ cover image that was supposed to slide horizontally across the ebook cover. It ended up not being used, due to a static cover being more within the possibilities of the many different ebook sellers.
I even drew a map! This was my first digitally drawn map, and a lot of fun too.
The Vialkeeper (Jon Person, 2012)
Another book cover that wasn’t published (neither was the book, as far as I’m aware), but an illustration I still use in my portfolio from time to time, because I like it very much!
A collection of fairytales (Lisa Coté, 2013)
One of my favorite commissions from that year, it resulted in several detailed illustrations. The book project is not yet published but I’m keeping my hopes up!
Foo and the Mystery of the Great Chasm and The Adventure of Dragoon and the Becker Mountain Mamas (Mique duChéne, 2012)
These wraparound book covers are colored line drawings, a style that’s faster to paint than my usual oil-painting-like method, to accommodate the client’s budget. The sky and ice are overpainted photos (with the license for commercial use). This is a rather strong deviation from my usual style but I think it works quite well.
The client also requested ornaments: a decorative festive-looking border, the „Chapter“ lettering with ornaments, a gilded frame and the cutest snow bunnies I’ve ever drawn!
Der dunkle Krieger and Kinder der Bewahrer (Johannes H. Roth, 2012)
This is a case where the client requested a very specific design; that is, the circle chain; but otherwise (comfortable for me) my usual painting style. Today I would advise against curving the lettering, but otherwise I’m still happy with these.
The King’s Heir (Hogan Stevens, 2013)
Another wraparound book cover with a dramatic mood where we can sense conflict looming on the horizon just as the main character does.
Ibriya (Nicole Herbst, 2013)
A horizontal (not wraparound) cover showing main characters of the novel, a popular choice for fantasy settings.
Peacebringer Trilogy (Sandra K. Williams, 2014)
The first is one of the simplest book cover illustrations I made yet, and also (in my opinion) one of the most magical. It was followed by this serene river landscape wraparound illustration.
The Dragonslayer of Edgewhen and The Klindrel Invasion (Jason A. Holt, 2014)
These are my personal favorites from – until now – five covers I’ve illustrated for this author, showing several characters and sceneries from his very rich and diverse Edgewhen world.