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.

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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!

Interview: working with a book cover designer

I was recently interviewed by the lovely and charismatic Amy Collins of New Shelves Books – she does a regular feature about ‘Book Promotion – Do This, Not That‘ and we had a chat about what authors should not do when working with a book cover designer.

Have a read HERE or continue reading below…

Image – Pixabay

Full Interview:

Think you can design your own cover? Nope. Honest. Not a good idea. Ever.

While it’s easy to point fingers at authors on a budget, or writers who have a little bit of design training, the truth is, we’re all guilty of thinking that we know enough to delve into areas of book publishing where we truly have no business. One of those areas, most often, is cover design.

In speaking with Cathy Helms from Avalon Graphics, a book cover designer who has been working in the industry for over 10 years and who has designed over 1000 covers, she and I came up with a list of some of the easiest to spot cover design issues.

If you are a self-published author, or a new publisher, this month might be the perfect opportunity to learn from a cover designer who has designed bestselling covers and who pays close attention to what is selling in the marketplace and what is not.

What They Did

Many authors will take a photo themselves and use it for their cover. Quite often, this photo is taken with an iPhone, Android, or (if we’re lucky) a digital Camera.

They will upload this photo to a computer and use a Word font such as Comic Sans MS, Times New Roman, or even (God forbid) Papyrus, to add a title and an author name.

What Happens

I am all for saving money and I am a big fan of doing things yourself, but cover design is not one of those elements that you can figure out as you go along.

Slapping a title and an author name on a picture that you either downloaded from a free site or took yourself is not designing a cover.

What ends up happening, is that the author, believing that the cover is “good enough”, starts submitting the book to review sites, bloggers, and on-line to readers.

Inevitably, the reviews start coming back from the professionals in the industry that the cover “does not support the genre” or that the cover “does not meet marketplace standards” and the author is devastated.

What Also Happens

In addition, authors with a homemade cover based on a photo they took, will often find that they don’t get any response from reviewers or the industry.

This is, actually, the kindest result we can hope for. Quite often, authors will hear from bookstores and libraries that they “do not take self-published books.”

That sentence is never actually the whole truth. What the librarian or bookseller is saying is “I don’t want your book” and in many cases, that is the fault of the cover. The book is wonderful, and the writing is stellar… but the cover is keeping anyone from discovering that.

What the Author Does Next

If things end up progressing as noted, if an author is getting radio silence from the industry and from reviewers, or even hearing that the book is not up to snuff, a professionally designed cover is quite often the solution.

Researching, finding, and hiring a professional cover designer is always a good idea. Start looking for a cover designer that has a lot of experience in your genre.

The best way to go about this according to Cathy Helms, is to research and find the other successful self-published authors in your genre. The key to this step is to make sure you pick books that are selling a lot of copies and are receiving a lot of acclaim from the industry.

What Not to Do Part 2

Please do not ask your author buddies who are all in the same pool you are.

It is not a great idea to ask people at your level for a recommendation on a cover designer.

Reach out and speak with the authors who are out in the stratosphere of success of your genre. Reach out to the biggest names in self-publishing or even traditional publishing and ask them for the names of their cover designer.

In many cases, the cover designer is listed in the acknowledgements or even on the book itself.

Quick tip: There are cover designers who work for large publishers who freelance on the side.

How to Move Ahead

Once an author has determined that they need a professional cover designer, the next big question always is “How do I decide which one to pick?”

At this point, if you are confident that the pool of cover designers you are choosing from are all successful and experienced in your genre, then it comes down to personal preference and budget. Joel Friedlander and his team here at The Book Designer have a list every month of ebook covers that are truly exceptional.

Cathy Helms strongly suggests that you look up those books each month and spend time reading the comments under each award-winning cover.

Take the time to learn to see what people think of the covers that are doing very well and what the common elements are that bind them all into a successful group. While it is always a good idea to hire a professional cover designer, it is also a great idea to educate yourself to know what makes a good cover.

Final Thought

Then, let the cover designer do what they do best. Let them design your cover and watch your sales and reviews grow.
-Amy Collins

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.


September Project Schedule

A snapshot of September – working on the following design jobs:

I also have a few more tasks that I need to complete if possible as well. And no doubt other clients will reach out with further requests. The above list is my average work load per month – each cover design project taking 5 to 6 business days to sort out the front cover, then another day or two in order to get the paperback layout set once I am supplied with the printer’s specifications.

A mellow Coffeehouse playlist

Every month I juggle around 10 to 15 projects on top of my duties as a cover design judge on two sites and the updating of two websites. Never assume that I am idle awaiting work. I have been steadily busy for the past 5 years of my 11 years in the book cover design business.

graphic banner

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.

Blogging…do I have time for it?

Full Moon Banner

I’ve often hear that I should blog.

Let’s see if I can find time for doing a bit of blogging. I have a busy schedule as both a book cover designer and as one managing a chronic illness (Diabetes, etc.), but I do want to get back into writing again as well. I miss writing fiction.

For the time being, I’ll attempt to post about my design process and preview a little more of my work.

Once and Future King Snow
A graphic of Jon Snow from Game of Thrones

I designed the above graphic a few months ago as the TV series Game of Thrones was wrapping up their run on HBO. There was a time when I would design many graphics like this on a regular basis. However, I seem to never find the time – especially this year – as commissioned work has been steady. But I do need to push myself to learn regularly as Photoshop is a very powerful design program, and no one knows every trick and effect it is capable of. I have learned a few new ways to make my designs pop even more. I’m implementing them as opportunities arise.