I am almost finished with Brothers, my third novel, and since I plan to self-publish I need a cover. My first novel was commercially published; the publisher (Baen) got a cover I liked done by a professional. For my second novel I used something I found online, with the permission of the creator.
For the third novel I want a custom drawn cover. The question is how to get one.
One possibility is to hire the illustrator who did the cover for my first novel. The argument for that is that he is not only a skilled artist, he is someone who did a good job of designing a cover for that novel. Multiple details that didn't matter were wrong (the women, for instance, should be wearing mail, not plate). But the overall feel was better than anything I could have told him to do.
The argument against is that doing it that way is expensive, probably more than the total income I will get from the novel—writing novels is not how I support myself.
Another possibility is to find an illustrator online. There are a lot of them on Fiverr and I expect other places. Many are very inexpensive, some as low as five dollars for a book cover; pretty clearly those are using stock images, unlikely to fit what I want. But at least some of them, at a price well above five dollars but well below what the professional would charge, are artists drawing their own art. Typically they offer a range of services at a range of prices. That suggests the possibility of buying something at the low end of their range, which might mean a figure without a background not set up as a book cover, on the assumption that if I don't like it I am out a pretty small sum, if I do like it I pay the additional amount to have it converted into a suitable cover.
Another possibility is to find an illustrator in realspace. In a little over a week I will be attending an sf convention. It will have an art show. I plan to look for works that fit the style I want, note down the artists, and see if any of them would be interested in doing my cover and at what price.
That leaves the problem of deciding what the cover should show. The ideal solution would be an illustrator willing to read the novel and with the ability of the professional to design a cover; that may be hard to find at anything below the professional's price. The more likely solution is that I decide what I want and give the illustrator a verbal description, which the illustrator then converts into cover art.
Do any of my readers have suggestions? That includes general ideas on designing covers or finding an artist. It includes, for any of you who volunteered as beta readers and have read Brothers, suggestions as to what the cover should show.
And if any of you happen to be artists ... . I got the best book cover I've ever had for the third edition of Machinery by a contest on this blog, but that only worked because a lot of the readers of this blog had read and liked that book.
If you are an artist, my current cover idea involves a thirteen year old boy, a very large dog, and a mountain pass. Relevant passage, or the whole novel, available on request.