So you've written your masterpiece. Your characters are perfect, your plot has no holes, you've proofread and edited over and over again, had your friends and family do the same, and now, finally, your book is ready for its day in the independent publishing sun.
You have no cover! Ack!
It's been said many times before, but I'll say it here again. People do judge books by their covers. Saddling your opus with a melancholy cover is like the Rolling Stones performing MacArthur Park. If you didn't understand the talent of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards already, you probably wouldn't want to hear song number two.
Most articles about ensuring you have a clever cover for your book will continue from this point to say the following: "Hire a professional to design your cover. You need to make this investment." I agree that's actually good advice if you can manage it, but suppose your advertising budget is a big, fat goose-egg? Contrary to popular belief, not everybody who has some talent with writing always has thousands, or ever hundreds of dollars just laying around to pour into design and promotions. I myself have read more than one article from people who are very good at sounding like they know what they're talking about, insisting they know the best advice for the author on an extreme budget...and then they throw in an anecdote about the seven grand they paid in total for their advertising campaign, or a helpful quip about how a friend of a friend of a friend got their manuscript in front of one of the big six.
I for one believe books with no money initially behind them are potentially just as good as books with small fortunes backing them, the former just happen to have a longer, harder road ahead of them.
But, I digress. Back to the cover issue. What can you do if you can't afford to pay an artist, and you don't know any who'd be willing to pass some Pro Bono Publico work your way? Well, how about GIMP? GIMP is a free (and in my experience better) alternative to Photoshop. If you can't make your own art, manipulate some existing images to create something new! I'll use my own cover as an example:
First of all, you'll notice that the unicorn-like creature has six legs and two horns. (It's an escarot, a creature that appears in the story.) He was originally just a unicorn. A free clipart unicorn. A little manipulation here and there made him what he is today. In the background is the Gossamer City (a location in the story) glowing with the colors of prismastone (a mineral in the story). The city is a bit more free clipart, while the colors are a conical gradient fill over an aqua blue fill. The stars in the sky are stipple brush work, and the title text was outlined in a very thin layer of black just to be sure it would stand out.
Whether or not you think it's a success is your call, but I'm happy with it. And it did it myself, in my own home, with no investment other than my time. Alright, I'll admit I do have a bit of experience with image manipulating programs, but the point I'm trying to make is that given a little dedication, anybody can learn to do something like this. Will professional cover artwork make your book look snazzy and appealing? Of course it will. But if you can't go that route, don't despair. Improvise.
Oh, and if you're having trouble and weren't able to find help on the internet, feel free to hit me up with questions. I've been working with GIMP and Photoshop since that ancient era known as "highschool", and while I'm no pro, I might just be able to help you out!