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.)

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

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.

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.

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