2019 A Year In Review

The Year of Career Roller-coasters and Coffee

I would like to say that I have enjoyed a wonderful year as a graphic designer. But as in life, the year had its ups and downs for me. The bright spots were certainly those jobs where I was hired to design using my skills, knowledge and experiences as a designer – and left to it. The challenging spots – each time I was micro-managed on projects. Thus, my favorite projects of 2019 involve those where I was left to create them.

I completed thirty-four book cover designs and a variety of other marketing designs (banners, adverts, etc.) and even a handful of re-designs in 2019. A few of those projects (7 at last count) have yet to be released by the authors/publishers – but overall, I was able to share most of the work that I completed this year as they became available for sale. And I appreciate all of the support and feedback that I have received for my design work.

I continued to grow as a designer in 2019, and I plan to set aside more time in 2020 to learn new things in the world of design to offer even a higher standard of product to my clients.

I am often asked which of my designs is my favorite – that is always the toughest question to answer because I can find special elements within all of them. But most definitely my favorite designs have been when the client trusts me to create a cover design based on my skills. Basically, when I’m hired to design and left to do that process with the only input being what I myself request from the client. Graphic design is a creative process – best left to professionals. Let me do the job that you commissioned me to do and we will both love the results.

I plan to process work in a more efficient way in 2020 – my commission rates will represent a more balanced amount for my time and abilities. And I will be more selective in what I choose to take on. Life is too short and too valuable to waste precious time on bad design.

Thank you to all of those that I had the pleasure of working with in 2019. Many of you I do hope to collaborate with again in 2020.

Ars longa, vita brevis. –Hippocrates (Art is long, life is short.)

Book Cover Design Trends

One of the most popular trends in Book Cover Design right now is all in the Title Treatment.

If you look at top selling eBooks (or paperback novels) right now, there is one design element or trend that stands out overall in the crowd. The letters of the book’s title seem to interact with the artwork in the background.

Cover design by Karina Granda

The above cover design for ‘The Cruel Prince‘ has a bare tree branch running through the words ‘Cruel’ and ‘Prince’ (along with a crown hanging on the branch). The title is easily readable despite intersecting with the type, and the interaction with the tree branch gives the cover depth of field. The design is not cluttered, yet the elements that are included support the genre (the crown) the reader should expect. The font is also genre appropriate and nicely styled. The tiny pop of color with the green beetle is intriguing once you notice it too. Cheers to the designer!

More examples of this design trend are as follows:

In each case with the cover images above, at least one word in the novel’s title intersects or interacts with the background. The final example, “The Woman In The Window“, I found particularly clever in its execution.

Instead of the designer choosing an image of an actual woman peering out of a window, they chose to let the title itself play the role. While the design is simple – lines and text with a layer of texture to add some grit, it is on point and effective. The potential reader has a clear idea of the overall plot despite the cover being devoid of any photos/models/scenes. That is design functioning at its best. And this was obviously designed by a professional graphic designer due to the thought process put into the design, the balanced layout and execution of the concept. These books are all mainstream published as well – but independently published books can achieve the same level of professionalism as long as the author hires an experienced and accomplished designer to create their book cover for them.

While this is a top design trend in publishing at present, it too shall pass (just as the headless woman trend did). But the bottom line and lesson to be learned (hopefully) here is simplicity sells. Do not clutter up your book cover with too many elements. Take note that none of the above cover designs contain more than one image and typography. But they are all successfully representing the pages inside and their respective genres.

Happy Halloween!

October Round Up

I enjoyed a busy October celebrating both my birthday and the Autumn Equinox with family. I took a break from commercial design work overall. I drank just as much coffee and probably ate too much cake, but it was a good month. While a few of the planned projects were delayed or canceled from my September list, I did finalize everything else on my schedule. Looking forward to sharing the designs soon!

Two Cover Designs Recently Released

Available on Amazon

I had originally designed this cover for Michelle Weidenbenner back in 2017. Due to unforeseen circumstances, it took a while for the author to bring out this title, but it is now available and I’m excited to share it. While the design is simple – it works quite well for this genre. Yellow was a popular color in design trends when we came up with this cover.

Available on Amazon.

This is the seventh book in this series by Wendy H. Jones and I still love the branding that we developed for this series. This time I was asked to combine a photo of Dundee with elements representing New Orleans. It seems like an odd pairing, but no doubt all is revealed between the pages of the book! Wendy is such a joy to work with.

Have a safe and enjoyable Halloween! I look forward to working with many talented clients during the month of November.

October News and Notes

My exciting new connection in the publishing business!

I’m thrilled to be added as a resource for New Shelves Books! After meeting Amy Collins at a book signing last month, Amy suggested bringing me on board as a resource for her clients in the publishing business. I had a lovely call with Amy’s business partner, Keri Barnum, today and we are all set up.

New Shelves Books is a one-stop-shop for writers looking for guidance in the publishing world – anything from marketing, formatting, social media and all forms of publishing. Amy and Keri do it all or will work with writers at whatever level or depth required. I highly recommend their services to all of the authors out there. And I’m looking forward to gaining new clients through their referral service.

Authors will find tons of invaluable information on their website, and if nothing else follow their blog.

New Book Cover Design

Now on Amazon

My fourth cover design for Debbie Viggiano – she’s a joy to collaborate with!

And on a final note, I’ll be out of the office for much of the rest of October.

Family time is precious. Self-care time is precious as well. It has been one hectic summer and I’m exhausted. Thus, I’m taking a few weeks away from the design desk and re-charging my batteries. Autumn is my favorite season of the year anyways.

My Latest Cover Design Projects

Recently three of the book covers that I have designed have become available on Amazon, so I thought I would share.

First up is a modern romance novel by Ian Wilfred – Time To Move On

Available on both Amazon and Amazon UK

Next up is The 22nd Floor by Geoff Green now available on Amazon:

Amazon and Amazon UK

And finally, my latest cover design for Susan Russo Anderson – Death On Atlantic Avenue.

I’ve been busy this month as well, so I do hope to have more cover designs to share soon!

Advice for Non-Designers

If you want to sell your product, hire a professional designer to make your product functional and attractive to your target market.

Do not shackle your designer into creating your design to meet your personal taste. Your product is not for you, it is for your potential end user/buyer/reader.

Keep it simple and uncluttered. Reduce your idea down to what is absolutely necessary. Also, consider using darker backgrounds instead of brighter backgrounds which are harder on the eyes.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” –Steve Jobs

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that hiring a professional designer is too expensive. Bad design is much more costly, and people never forget a bad design/logo/book cover/commercial.

2019 Design trends to consider via 99Designs:

  1. 3D design and typography
  2. Asymmetrical layouts
  3. Art Deco
  4. Modern Mid-Century Modern
  5. The evolution of duotones and gradients
  6. Warm and moody color palettes for photos
  7. Light and delicate custom illustrations
  8. Buxom serifs
  9. Open compositions
  10. Isometric design

Bottom line – unless you have the skills, knowledge and experience in design/layout/typography/print preparation/industry standard design software to do the job of packaging and marketing your product, hire a graphic designer and trust that designer to do their job.


The Importance of Book Cover Design

So you have written a book…

I am going to be blunt, jump right to the point here and yell out “The Book Cover MATTERS.”

You might have written brilliant, engaging and potentially award-winning words between the covers, but if the cover sucks, no one will ever discover what you’ve written on the pages inside (well, except your friends and family if you pester them enough to read your book).

…now professionally package it in order to sell it.

It is never okay to use a photo that you snapped on your phone for your book cover, and simply add your title and name over it in order to publish your work. NEVER. I cannot stress this enough.

Bad Cover Design
This is a poorly designed cover example

I have always found it a challenge to effectively explain to potential clients why they should invest in professional services, like cover designers, formatters and editors, in order to give their book the best chance at success in today’s extremely competitive publishing market. Yes, we professionals do charge for our services (usually a very competitive fee if you do your research), and you might think that we are too expensive, and that you can just do it yourself. But what clients are paying for when they hire publishing professionals is our experience and formal education in what we provide. We know what the industry standards are in our fields and what is selling in the bookstores. But how to stress the importance of this point to someone only looking at the costs involved in publishing?

I’m going to paraphrase here, but a great example of why an author should hire a professional cover designer was recently shared with me by Amy Collins of New Shelves Books:

Ask authors if they can name the top 25 best selling books right now, either from The New York Times or Publishers Weekly without looking it up. If the author cannot rattle them off (a good amount of them at least), then they do NOT know what is selling books right now.

Thus why an author needs an agent, if possible, but at the very least a book cover designer who does know. It is our job to know the trends, what is selling and why. A part of our design commission covers the research for each client’s genre, and the experience to implement trending styles, colors and layouts. The author’s job is to write while the graphic designer’s job (book cover designer) is to design effective coverings for those books.

Research what is selling books.

The major mistake a large number of independent authors make is thinking that their cover needs to reflect what they like. That is not the appropriate way to approach a cover design for your novel. A book cover needs to attract readers, and much of that does depend on what is currently selling books (trends in colors, layout and typography).

A book cover is for readers, not the author.

Do not make that mistake with your book – trust a professional to design that cover for you. Hire an agent if you have the budget for it and listen to that agent’s advice on marketing. However, if you can only invest in one professional service, hire a designer for your book’s cover. What the book looks like, both inside and out, matters. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Do not skimp on the design and layout of your book. Appearance, from too many typos, not aligning your copy correctly, to using the wrong fonts and having a poor quality cover jacket will cost you sales. For a great list of resources and advice, visit Discovering Diamonds.

Straight-shooting from the desk of Cathy Helms, exhausted book cover designer and coffee enthusiast.

Scheduling and Patience

mischievous cats

My weirdo cat just knocked my pen off my desk for the 3rd time today.

I love my cat, but she can be an arsehole. *laughs* I am trying desperately to focus on a client project and my cat is demanding my attention. This is one pitfall to working from home.

Another struggle when it comes to a home office is time management. I have flexibility, but I also have to keep up the household, laundry and so on while trying to juggle commission work from clients. Not an easy feat I assure you.

This year has been particularly tough with so many of my clients being very active in their writing and marketing, and therefore needing more than usual amounts of design elements from me. I’m grateful for my prolific clients, but I fear that now I have too many to successfully oversee.

So, what is the answer? I cannot seem to get the message out enough that I am constantly working on multiple projects at all times, therefore I cannot immediately jump on something new when a client contacts me. I have to schedule all new projects about six weeks out. And at present, I think it is time to close the schedule until November.

Today, I can showcase three new cover designs as both authors have released them on social media. All three titles are coming to Amazon within the month.

For Ian Tink releasing in September.
For Leena Maria out in eBook format now on Amazon. Paperback coming shortly.
For Leena Maria out now on eBook via Amazon. Paperback coming shortly.

I have nine more cover designs to complete by October 1st, as well as several marketing projects to complete by the end of September for a variety of clients. All well and good, other than I also have to pace myself. Thus I will not accept any new projects until after my October vacation. I am full up. I am grateful for the work, but I have reached my maximum work load.

Tools of the Trade – Photoshop

Magic and a Little Mayhem

Image by Lukas Bieri from Pixabay

I discovered Adobe Photoshop around fifteen years ago. It was overwhelming the first time that I attempted to actually use it. Photoshop is not for the faint of heart and certainly not for a novice. While I did learn enough to actually design things for myself and my first handful of paying clients, I realized that I needed to learn a great deal more to actually become a graphic designer. The best decision I ever made was going to college and learning the ins and outs of the Adobe Creative Suite of programs. I utilize not only Photoshop, but also Illustrator and InDesign every time I develop a new book cover design, logo, and/or series branding for a client.

Photoshop is vastly complex

“Just because you have access to Photoshop does not mean that you should use Photoshop.” In other words, get some training. Graphic designers are one of the most underrated specialist in the publishing business…that much I have experienced first-hand.

PSDbox gallery

I continue to learn new ways to create my art almost every day. Never stop learning and exploring different ways to create unique artwork using these powerful programs. While it may look easy to some, design is anything but.

Three of my Pre-Made Book Cover Designs. More info on my professional website Avalon Graphics as they are available for licensing.

The Necessity of Coffee

Image by Angela Yuriko Smith from Pixabay

Ahhh….that strong cup of dark magic that I consume each and every morning. I can’t imagine sitting down at my computer to face my email inboxes without it.

Seriously, I’d frighten off every client and potential client if I even attempted to respond to inquiries without first consuming a copious amount of coffee. And nobody had better try and tell me that fairy tales do not exist – I find mine every morning as I stare down at the steaming swirl of liquid magic in my cup each and every day.

The next step to my day is finding my creativity…my mojo…in order to develop designs for my clients. However…..design isn’t something that can be pushed, rushed or forced. Non-designers had best learn that. Do NOT make the mistake of trying to push a designer into ‘cranking’ out anything quickly. Sometimes we can (and do) create a design in short order – but that is not the norm and should not be expected of us creatives. And I have spent years learning my trade, and I have a very hard earned degree in graphic design. Design is ever evolving as well. But there are rules we professional graphic designers do follow….other than when a few hardheaded clients insist on using jpegs that they found on Google that are just perfect for their print project (billboard, catalog and so on)…..but I digress. I do not play at it when it comes to my commercial projects. I take design seriously. I’ve been working as a professional designer for over a decade now. I’ve earned my street cred. Seriously. And so below are a handful of quotes by smart people in the design world….for when I need a little kick in the arse to get going…

Design is…..

…intelligence made visible.” — Alina Wheeler, author

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — Maya Angelou, author, poet, civil rights activist
“Design adds value faster than it adds costs.” — Joel Spolsky, web programmer, writer, and creator of Trello
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, Inc.
“The more I deal with the work as something that is my own, as something that is personal, the more successful it is.” — Marian Bantjes, designer and author
“Design is not a single object or dimension. Design is messy and complex.” — Natasha Jen, designer and educator
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — Maya Angelou, author, poet, civil rights activist
“Design adds value faster than it adds costs.” — Joel Spolsky, web programmer, writer, and creator of Trello

…and finally:

graphic design
The true value of a professional designer.