It's easier than ever to self-publish. Since there are so many people doing it, there is a lot of advice on the internet about what to do and what not to do and yet I never hear the advice I'm about to give you. In fact, I often hear the opposite. People often say you have to put the money down for a good, eye-catching ebook cover.
I've spent a lot of time looking at the higher-cost ebook covers people have pre-made, or just the samples of what designers have to offer. Often, they look professional, but most of them are of the same style. They seem to suggest that more is better. There's an overwhelming color scheme and there're usually people or characters depicted.
I would offer the opposite advice. I would say, while you might want your cover to be eye-catching, it doesn't need to be so busy, that is, not if you don't want it to. If you're like me and you've never heard of a book's author before, you're more than likely going to be attracted by the title. If it's original or suggestive of something you'd be interested in, then you might read the synopsis on the back. Only then is the cover interesting to me. If fact, the cover might not even be interesting until I've read a sample page or two.
Also, if you're like me, you appreciate simple covers. If you like a lot of dead authors, you might be pretty used to reading books with a two-color scheme: one for the title and author name and another for the background. Sometimes, that's all you need. Maybe you want to incorporate a small photograph you took and put it on your ebook cover.
I won't get into it here, for this isn't necessarily a how-to blog, but you can make your own ebook covers for free in photoshop and paint. I'm told this is a no-no, but you can do it and it'll save you a lot of money. A simple cover can still look professional. Also, at the moment, if you're publishing through Amazon's personal publishing platform, they have an ebook cover-making program which allows you to upload your own images, use stock images, and play around with the background color.
Also, people seem to try to over-compensate when it comes to ebooks. They want the flashy cover and the pristine format because they feel they need to prove that this is a real book. But you don't need to prove anything to anybody. People often forget that traditionally printed books, if they're good and if publishers think they're worth selling, come out with multiple editions of the book, and usually, with new additions come new covers. Why not treat it the same for your ebook?
If you're just starting out, and unless you have a one-hundred percent fail-safe method for self-promotion (which nobody has) you're probably going to start off selling your book to friends and family. You can always use some of that royalty money to buy a better, flashier ebook cover later with a new edition, if you like. Most platforms allow you to change the cover pretty easily. I have a firm conviction that good promotion and a memorable title can go further than a flashy cover. Will not having a flashy cover prevent people from looking at the book? It might, but I really don't feel like it would prevent that many-at least, not enough to warrant putting money down for expensive cover-making software or hiring someone else to do it for you.
I just thought I'd offer my opinion. As I said before, I won't get into dos and don'ts here, but I should warn you that you'll have to do some research. Depending on the platform you're publishing through, they might have different requirements as to the dimensions of the JPEG file you're using for your cover, which will affect how big you can make the font for the title and author name, as well as the imagery. I'm not going to tell you something like ‘Never use quirky or cursive font,' because maybe that's your thing, but I will say the letters should be bigger, since most eyes are only going to skim over a thumbnail image of your book. I personally like big, blocky letters people can easily read.
Other than that, feel free to make your cover as simple or as complicated as you like. You can always change it when it's in that early pre-print stage.