How do you decide what should go on your book cover?
In truth, this is one of the hardest decisions and varies from book to book. I'll attempt to help guide you through the process, to hopefully jar something loose if you are struggling. All points expressed are my own opinion, but I would love to hear yours.
First choice: Pre-made or Original
As with all the choices, this is a subjective one. And there is no wrong choice here, just what you prefer.
I have never used a pre-made cover for one of my books. I'm not saying I never will, just that I haven't yet. It would have to be a compelling cover for me to use a pre-made, as I don't think I would like sharing a cover with another person's work.
I tend to stick with original covers, one that will better show the individual character of the story contained in its pages.
Second choice: Custom image or stock image
This choice I admit to making purely based off of finances. In truth, I believe if you can have a unique picture, always go that route. If I could draw more than a bowlegged stick figure, all my covers would be custom art.
That isn't to say that stock is bad though. All of my covers right now are stock, modified to fit with the themes of my books.
Some people are blessed to have an artistic talent to go with their writing one. If you are one of those lucky people, then I admit to being jealous of you.
Third choice: hire a professional or do it yourself.
Next it's time to decide if you are going to do the work, or if you are going to pay someone. If you do go the paid route, make sure you are getting what you want for the money. And don't ask someone to work for exposure, some of these people are trying to raise families doing covers.
That said, I have done most of my covers for free. Either a friend has volunteered to help (Thank you Christina and Mario), or I do the manipulation on my own. I use GIMP, a free Photoshop type app, and find it is easy to use with just a few YouTube tutorials.
Fourth choice: your image
Now we're at the meat and potatoes of this conversation.
What do you see when you think of your cover? Picture it in your head. Now work until you get what you want! If you're paying someone, be sure to hold them accountable for the image, if something isn't right, ask them to change it.
I have a science fiction book out with BigWorldNetwork called Journey From Atrmes. Being a space adventure, I wanted a cover that would show a particularly breathtaking moment from the story. We tried a hundred different ideas, but none of them stuck. Either the image didn't fit for a cover, or it proved too difficult an idea to implement.
Finally, we settled on an image of a porthole looking out onto space. A space station hovers above Earth, and you can see spaceships in the distance.
Now I know it seems a tame and generic cover for a science fiction, and I wouldn't argue that point. However there are enough small changes made from the norm to convey the character of my book.
I believe your individuality should shine through every aspect of your work. You took the time to write it, make sure everything is representative of the story you want to tell.
And remember, there is no wrong way to do it. #SupportIndieAuthors and keep being awesome!