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.


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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.

Most Common Question…………


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I am often asked about my process in designing book jackets and my initial response goes something like this: each project is unique and it ‘depends….’  A vague answer, I’m afraid. *laughs* I first ask the client about their manuscript, then make inquiries about favorite colors, other book covers that they favor and if they have any specific elements they’d like to see on the cover.
Then I begin my concepts (in Photoshop, not by hand which usually surprises folks) based on the client’s input and largely on my own gut instinct after interacting with the client. I like to work directly with the client in developing a cover design that truly speaks to them and represents the story that they are telling within the pages of their book. While my education taught me the ‘rules’ of formal graphic design, I often step outside that box and go for something more unique. Not all publishing houses allow my sort of free styling in book cover design, but I certainly push that envelope!
My desk!
Cathy’s Workspace