No book cover, or a poorly drawn one screams amateur. People do buy books by their covers - many of the best sellers on kindle, be they indie or not, have well done covers. Some of us might be lucky enough to have the skills to make our own (in which case, this post probably isn't for you). The rest of us have to find our own cover artist.
This brings with it a whole host of issues:
· Who do we hire?
· Where do we find them?
· How much should we pay them?
· How long will it take?
· Do I own the cover, or am I just licensing it?
· How many revisions should I get?
· How do I know what to ask for?
· Do I have to hire a cover artist, or just any artist?
· What format should the image be?
· What should be in a contract? Do I even need one?
There are a huge number of artists around. All you have to do to see that is a quick Google. My own personal approach was to look on the http://www.deviantart.com/ website - they have literally millions of artists, illustrators, sketchers, inkers, painters and cartoonists registered.
More importantly, they have a great jobs board: http://forum.deviantart.com/jobs/offers/
We posted up there, and between public replies to the thread and personal messages we had over 40 interested artists in less than a day. We then looked through their portfolios of previous work (from their deviant art profile, or web links in their messages) to see if any fitted the style we wanted.
It's a good idea to be specific with your advert: Do say you want something that conforms to KDP guidelines (height/width ratio 1.6, 2500 pixels+ on longest side, tiff or jpeg format etc), do explain what you want in terms of rights (Is it a licence where you pay for the right to use the cover in a specific manner, or a work for hire where you own the copyright?). We put up a budget as well - but this wasn't too clever as a large number simply priced themselves at the top end of this range even without any experience. We also had a large number of replies from people who clearly didn't read the advert (We wrote "not looking for a 'cartoony' design" but still got a zillion anime/manga artists replying). It takes some sift, but previous work should speak for itself. Be sure to include any deadlines you have in mind.
If no-one there proves suitable, you could try again at a different time, or try looking at covers you like and finding out who made them.
Prices - Again, this is very variable. Depending on the complexity of the work, the need to purchase stock images or fonts, and the rules on tax in both your jurisdiction and that of the artist you'll be looking somewhere from $100-$400 for a reasonable quality artist. Pre-made covers, or non-exclusive work costs less, but you really don't want that. Professional cover artists doing wrap around for print cost more, and can be anywhere as high as $1500 for the very best designers.
Pricing will also affect your licence. My own deal is a work for hire - so once it's done I own the image, and can use it as I see fit. The copyright is mine so I can use it for the cover, put it on my website, and create print materials out of it. I can also modify it (which a licence may or may not permit).
Most reasonable artists are happy with minor revisions - a good one will send you work in progress updates to show how the cover is developing, and ask for your input on colour, font, placement etc. Ideally you'll know what you want, but if not an artist should be able to translate vague concepts. We gave a brief description of what we wanted in the foreground, mid-ground and background, along with our colour preferences, and were then presented with a choice of initial sketches - which let us combine the best elements from our ideas with our artists ideas to create a final sketch that has since been digitally painted.
Any artist is potentially a cover artist. The art is the main point, but you also want someone who can integrate text (i.e. your title, and author name(s)). Plonking text on top of art looks awful - you want it melded in somehow so it's part of the art. Some illustrators just don't have any experience on this aspect so ask. If they've got a portfolio examine in closely. Get opinions from friends - and don't rush the choice as once you've signed a contract you'll be stuck with them.
The contract you sign should specify timeframes - for sketches, colours and final design as well as payment. It's not uncommon to pay a deposit up front (think a third max) but never pay completely until you are happy - and be sure to get the full details of who you are dealing with. Beware of those who want payment by western union up front - it's an old scam, but still tricks a few.
At the very least your contract should contain the following elements:
1. That it is a contract for provision or artistic services, and when it was made.
2. Your full contact details (i.e. all parties to the contract. You need to be able to enforce it.)
3. That the work should meet KDP guidelines/ smashwords guidelines etc as appropriate.
4. What you want - give as full a description as possible.
5. The fee - how much, when, and by what payment method (Paypal, cheque, bank transfer, western union, skrill). Escrow is useful for protecting both parties - skrill is quite good here.
6. IP Rights: Are you buying the copyright. If not add ALL the licence terms.
7. Sign the contact.
I hope that covers the basics of finding your artist, and how to deal with them when you have. Good luck, and I hope you all end up with some fantastic covers.