How can a self-published author with little or no money create an attractive cover?
Here is a list of some things I have done.
For A River of Stones I used a picture of my youngest daughter for the cover. CreateSpace has templates for you to use to create the cover you've envisioned.
For Conquering Your Goliaths: A Parable of the Five Stones as well as the guidebook, I used free stock photos from CreateSpace.
For The Feast: A Parable of the Ring, my husband and I went to a local bakery and shot photos of a professionally made cupcake. Sure, I'd tried my own cupcakes before that; but there is really something to be said for a professional looking cupcake on an equally professional cover. :)
Marketing Your Book on a Budget also meant that we had to find a free photo of a dollar bill that we could use on the cover.
Fortunately, CreateSpace is set up for not only putting together great covers, but equally quality interiors. They also give you a choice of mat or glossy exteriors. I especially like the mat feature, new on CreateSpace. I think the books look even more professional with this finish.
Choosing the best cover for your book is a little like searching for a home. You're not going to find the home you want right off the bat so it's a good idea to do a little searching online and off to give you some ideas.
As an example, my first book, A River of Stones, was first published through a local publisher. Though the cover was attractive...it really didn't represent the story itself, nor the genre. So when I bought back the rights to the book and created a new cover, I especially focused on the young girls who would be reading this book, rather than on what the title alone represented.
For Conquering Your Goliaths, we had a difficult decision making process. A sunflower really connects with female readers, but I also wanted males not to be put off by the cover. Still, nothing else seemed to work for both sexes, so we finally settled on the sunflower, knowing that our audience would be mostly women because of this choice.
When a cover is chosen, it's important to know what you're stuck with. Not in a bad way, but in a realistic way. It's often difficult to choose a cover with the right genre look, but even more difficult, is the chance you take when choosing a cover that will ultimately draw one sex or the other.
Marketing Your Book on a Budget is a good example of a book that appeals to both sexes, but this is often difficult to achieve; still it's better not to rush this stage, but to take it slowly, almost as slowly as searching for that perfect house.