Judging a book by its cover: Designing Book Blueprint (by Jacqui Pretty)

Today, we have a post written by an awesome client of ours, Jacqui Pretty of Grammar Factory. The post, about her experience of finding and working with us to receive a cover she eventually loved, was first published over on her site. Thanks to Jacqui for gracefully allowing us to repost this here. So without further ado, here it is:

Jacqui PrettyI have a mixed history with designers.

You see, my significant other is a former graphic designer. Today he’s a training manager at a software company, but tends to take on a lot of design responsibilities there on the side of his main role. As a result, any time I’ve wanted to create anything with a visual element (websites, brochures, business cards, etc.), he’s been the first one to raise his hand.

The problem is, I’m a word person, not a visual person. This means I struggle to explain what I want, because I generally don’t know what I want. My direction involves words like light, bright, quirky, clean and polished, rather than descriptions like, ‘I want an A5 portrait brochure with a two-column design where one column is white with dark grey text and the other column uses white icons against a blue or orange background.’

Unfortunately, he’s someone who needs those specific directions, which means any attempts at design collaboration haven’t been very successful. As a result, most of what you see online is a DIY job, while any printed collateral was designed by a lovely designer I found on 99designs who gets my vague directions and turns them into polished, professional brochures that still manage to be bright and quirky.

However, he’s not an experienced book cover designer. So when it came to designing Book Blueprint, I needed to find someone new who would be able to take my vague desires and turn them into a cover that I and my readers would love.

I originally connected with Scarlett Rugers through one of my clients, and she’s been the designer I recommend ever since. Why? She does good work, she has experience working with entrepreneurs rather than just fiction authors, and she makes things simple and straightforward with standard packages. She’s also well priced and was able to work to my tight publishing schedule, which was a plus.


The formalities

We got started by catching up for lunch where we talked about our businesses, my book and my concerns about finding the right cover. After the official bits and pieces were out of the way (payment of the deposit and signing of the Ts&Cs), she had me fill out a very long survey about my book and what I wanted.

Beyond the dimensions of the book and details of the package, some of the questions included:

  • Who is your target market?
  • Do you want the book to be legible at the size of a thumbnail?
  • Do you have a specific idea/design that you’d like to see?
  • What’s the impression you want to give your audience when they first see the cover of your book?
  • What don’t you want on the cover?
  • Which adjectives do you want to describe your cover? (Multiple choice)

The most interesting one, though, was choosing whether I wanted Scarlett to design something that was typical of my genre (business books) or something different and unique.


The designs

Scarlett got to work on June 1st and had three concepts in my inbox on June 10th.

When I saw them at thumbnail size, my heart sank. I didn’t like any of them. It was exactly what I’d worried would happen.

I took a deep breath, downloaded the designs and opened them up at their full size so I could give more detailed feedback.

Design 1

While the colours of this were right on brand and I could see she was playing with the blueprint idea, this just didn’t look like a business book to me. The font of the author name and tagline was too informal, and the grid lines made it look more like a text book than a paperback.

In some cases it can be helpful to deviate from the standard designs in your industry. However, when I saw this, my worry wasn’t about whether or not my book would stand out – it was whether or not an entrepreneur would even recognise it was a business book.


Design 2

My first thought was that this one was very … orange. Yes, I know Grammar Factory has an orange logo, but this just felt like too much. It would also clash with pretty much everything in my wardrobe (I like greens, purples and reds), which may seem like a silly concern, but if you’re planning to pose for photos with your book at events, it needs to be considered.

I also wasn’t a fan of the feature font. I understood there needed to be a feature font to help break up the cover, but handwriting fonts always make me think of memoirs. Once again, I was worried that this didn’t look like a business book.

Once I looked more closely, though, I noticed all the little notes around the key features of the cover. There was a testimonial from ‘Reputable person’. There was a note indicating that I was an ‘Experienced and knowledgeable author’. There were even measurements for the cover size! The more I looked, the more I realised that this was quite cool.


Design 3

This design was fine. I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t love it either. It was just a bit ‘meh’ for me, though I would have been willing to take it as a backup if we hadn’t been able to find anything else.


Round 2

I went back to Scarlett with my feedback – I wanted to develop the second concept, but make it blue instead of orange and use a more professional feature font.

She got to work and the next day had sent through some new versions of that cover with different fonts, one of which was this one:
I loved it!

From here I went to my target market for some feedback on the tabs and got to see a rather vigorous debate unfold before my eyes on Facebook. The consensus was that if they were real tabs (i.e. if they marked out different parts of the book) I should go for it, and if they were just on the cover it would be better to go without. Given that real tabs would have drastically increased my printing costs, I went without.

This brings us to the final cover:


Key learnings

So what did I learn?

  • While it can be helpful for you to know what you want up front, the right designer will be able to take your vague ideas and give you something to work with.
  • It doesn’t matter if you don’t like your initial designs – they are just a starting point and help your designer figure out how to create something you will
  • Feedback from the market in the early stages can be helpful, but it’s only really necessary if you have a couple of designs you like and are trying to decide between them. If you have one you like, focus on developing that and then get some feedback once you’re comfortable with it.
  • There are only two people who need to like your cover – you and your target reader. No one else matters. Therefore, feel free to ignore everyone else’s feedback. No matter how well-meaning, if they aren’t your target market (meaning they wouldn’t buy your book or your other products or services) then their feedback isn’t going to tell you what your target readers want.

How to increase your mailing list, and your sales numbers, as a self-publisher

Lindy DaleThis week we welcome brilliant author Lindy Dale to the blog, who has been kind enough to share with us her successful strategy for increasing subscribers for her mailing list, and her sales numbers. You can find her at www.lindydale.com/

Let me preface this by saying, if you don’t listen to the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast, you seriously should. I got this idea from an interview there. At the time (October 2014) my US sales were pathetic. I was selling about one book a day, if that. I had a mailing list of 49 people. My UK sales were okay but nothing could beat what I’d achieved in UK/US in 2012 when I was making about $2500AU a month. I put this down to two things. One, I got cancer and didn’t publish anything for a year so the momentum was lost and two, the golden days of Kindle had started to come to an end. It was harder to be noticed when the number of books tripled overnight. Add KDP select etc into the mix and my career was at a standstill.

 Enter the podcast where I got this advice:

  1. Start a mailing list (already had one but PA.THET.IC)
  2. Put a link to it in the back matter of all your books and offer a free read if people sign up. So far of the 450 people who’ve signed up I’ve only had five unsubscribe. Two were when I sent out a blast yesterday. I view these as people as freebie hunters who only wanted a free book and wouldn’t have bought my stuff anyway so I don’t care. 1% fall out is pretty good.
  3. Make one of your books permafree. Ie: you list it on Smashwords as free then inform Amazon and they price match. I chose one of my novellas It Started With a Kiss that had never really sold. It had links to the email list in the back matter along with an excerpt from another novel and a buy link to keep reading.

This is when things really started to change. When I made that book permafree it instantly went to #1 in short stories in both UK and US. At one stage it was #1 in Short stories, Women’s Fiction and Romantic Comedy simultaneously (yes it was the free list but hey) It’s been sitting at #20 in the whole UK free kindle chart since October (I think its about #23 today) and over Christmas it was #13. It went from having 3 reviews to 115+. In the US it sits between #145 and #200 in the entire free chart.

From it I get a minimum 5 mailing list sign ups a day. BUT I also get flow on sales because all my books now have an excerpt from another book in the back, plus buy links to that book at the end of it and buy links to all my books with a one sentence teaser. This took me a couple of days to do as I have ten books out.

The results:

Since I did this on October 16th

  • my royalties have increased from $50US a month to $250 (I think last month was three hundred). My UK royalties have bounced back to £450 (that’s about $700AU) a month from about £70
  • My unit sales have gone from one book a day in the US to 5-10 (yesterday after my email blast I got 20 US sales) and from 3 a day in UK to 20. So I’m now selling roughly 30 units a day. This has been consistent since October and is building every month. It went down a bit in the last week but I think that’s because the holiday season is over. It’s also mostly on my novels not novellas and these are priced between 2.99 and 4.99. The ones that are more expensive are the ones that are selling but they are also the latest releases
  • Another interesting fact: My Bastard series of three books has about a 95% read through rate meaning that of those who read book one 95% go on to read the other two. I think this has a lot to do with the beginning of the next book being posted as a free chapter or two at the end of the previous book.
  • Interesting fact 2: I have been testing out having ‘sales’ during this time where I lower my price to .99c but DON’T do any promo (eg: ENT Bookbub etc). when I do this I now get my own sales spike of about 30 sales in a day. If I send a blast to my list it’s about 50. I’ve tried this on every book over the past few months and it’s worked every time.

Fantastic advice from Lindy, so what are you waiting for? Get started on your mailing list today!

Should you have your character on your book cover?

GMYbu1C3IpaZ9psTRe20rv2L9YZBz3bRVzY_PfnQnFgThe biggest and most frequent misstep made by self publishers is not researching current marketing trends before selecting a cover for their book. They might have written the Book of the Year but no one is going to look at it if its cover isn’t telling the right story, or worse telling too much of it. As writers we get a very firm idea in our heads about what our protagonists look like so we often try and recreate that image when it comes to designing the cover. Unfortunately how you see your character isn’t necessarily going to be how a reader sees them and this can be a major turn off. Knowing what your genre is and listening to your designer might just be the thing that plucks your book out of obscurity.

Why We Love That Face

It’s a fact humans will always be drawn to other humans. We search out faces instinctively so having a person on your book can have its advantages. The temptation is there because not only are we attracted to them but also it can convey a relationship, depending on what they are doing. This is why you see men and women on Romance covers looking at each other longingly. When H.M Ward was a guest on this blog we learnt about her personal experiences designing covers for her Romance novels. She shared about making her covers identifiable to Romance genre readers and not to cater to her own creative preference. After she did this her sales jumped so dramatically she now frequently sits in the New York Times Best Sellers Lists.

Aside from Romance you will see characters on the covers of a lot of Fantasy or Speculative Fiction. The practical reason being that many characters are sub-human and a character with a unique appearance is memorable to readers. Young Adult novels use characters on covers frequently but once again be careful of the genre trends. Lauren Kate’s Fallen cover has her main character, Lucinda Price, in a suitable gothic back drop to represent its paranormal fantasy themes.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

In contrast Veronica Roth’s Insurgent relies on symbolism to showcase her Dystopian fantasy novel. Both are Young Adult, fall under a fantasy sub-heading and are using what works best to represent that particular category. Knowing where your book sits in the genre gene pool should always be intrinsic to your cover decision making process.

Keeping the Mystery Alive

Even though we are attracted to bodies, readers hate having ideas imposed onto them. A character on your book cover can cement that appearance in your audience’s mind and take away the experience of imagining them. This annoys many readers as the appeal of reading is to immerse yourself in your own imagination. If your book is about a place or a particular concept having a character on your cover will send a confused message about the story. Symbolism in cover design is powerful because it isn’t marketed at a particular audience demographic.

George R R Martin: Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin: Game of Thrones

Take a look at the Game of Thrones covers.The original cover is very fantasy driven with castles and characters while the recent  covers have only a simple sword. This isn’t only because of a change in genrepreferences in recent years but also due to the success of the TV Series. It appeals to many (even sworn fantasy haters) and this is important when thinking about your own book.

Another example of this is Chick Lit author Rachel Schurig’s Three Girls series. She changed her covers in 2012 to a simple design and let the candy box colours, shoes and book specific icons appeal to her audience. Moving to a characterless cover helped her Three Girls series become a best seller with a passionate fan base. A little mystery goes a long way with readers and a well-designed iconic cover can have a universal audience, opening up your marketing possibilities.

Three Girls and A Wedding: Rachel SchurigBenefits of a Good Design and Changing Your Mind

Having a good cover designer takes out the guesswork and headache of your cover designing challenges. You are a writer, your art is important to you and you want to give it its best chance. A cover designer has done the research and has the qualifications to give you good advice when it comes to marketing your work. Don’t know where your book fits in the sub-genres? A good designer will, they will also know what’s trending and probably have five ideas on how to market it within reading the first paragraph of your novel. The other sign of a good designer is compromise because this is a symbiotic process. They know how significant this moment is to you, that is why you will be sent different concepts, its so that you can have input into your cover creation.

Scandalous by H. M. Ward  Always remember self-publishing is a business, if your cover is not working you can always change it until you find something that does. Sometimes like H.M Ward and Rachel Schurig you can fall in love with the original designs but even the most beautiful covers can struggle to sell books. The important thing is that they both did something about it; they went back to the drawing board until they found something that worked. Remember, you have a finite number of seconds to get your reader’s attention and having a strong, memorable design can help you find your audience every time.

Do you  have a personal preference when hunting for books? What kinds of things draw your eye?

Author James Oswald on Writing, Publishing, Cover Design, and Running a Farm in Scotland

I’m especially excited to publish this interview with author James Oswald who talks in detail about his life as a writer and his approach to writing books while running a 350 acre farm in his spare time. You should also check out James’ book Dreamwalker which is receiving amazing reviews on Amazonand has it’s print release date set for 14th August 2014!

james oswaldDescribe your writing life as if it were a three course meal

The starter was short, but sweet. I began by writing comic scripts, sending them on spec to 2000 AD magazine, which I’d been reading since it first came out. They bought one of my scripts after less than a year of trying, and I thought my career was made. Sadly, although I tried to get more stories published over the next couple of years, 2000 AD was in a low point in its history, and not buying anything much from new writers.

The main course was a big old leathery steak, needing endless chewing and not really very tasty at all. I wrote short stories, nine novels, more comic scripts, and failed to get a single thing published for thirteen years. I came close a couple of times, but always fell at the final hurdle. I briefly had what could only be described as a Vanity Agent, who pretended to try and sell my first novel before presenting me with a ‘publishing’ deal that was the biggest rip-off I have ever seen. The contract from an unlisted publisher went on for pages, but in summary it worked out that if I paid them a couple of thousand pounds, they would produce ‘more than’ five copies (i.e 6) of my novel in a ‘suitable binding’ (i.e. a ring binder).  They would have had exclusive worldwide rights in perpetuity, retaining upwards of 75% of any subsidiary rights they sold on my behalf. It really was the most dreadful contract I have ever seen – suffice to say I didn’t sign it! I parted company with that agent fairly sharpish too.

Dessert would have to be the most amazing confection of fruit and meringue and creme brûlée and chocolate in the shape of the last two and a half years. Self publishing my first two Tony McLean books, seeing sales and free downloads top 350,000 in eight months, getting a proper agent, a six figure publishing deal, making the bestseller lists, all this has made the bitter wilderness years worth the effort. And they were worth the effort, because that’s when I honed my writing until it was good enough for people to want to read and read more.

What’s in your ‘must have’ writers bag, every time you sit down to write a story?

The only thing I have to have when I sit down to write (and forget all too often!) is a clear idea of what I want the particular scene I’m writing to achieve. That and a notepad to scribble in as I go along. I currently write using Scrivener, but I’ve used Word in the past and even the old word processor program on my BBC Model B microcomputer (I know, showing my age!). These are just the tools that allow me to get the words down. It’s the words that are important.

What do you hate seeing on book covers?

Overused stock photographs. There was a spate of covers a couple of years back that all featured the same photograph of a house in the woods, its windows looking ominous as they reflected the light. It was a striking image, but after the third outing it got a bit tired.

For someone who writes fantasy, I’m not a big fan of most fantasy covers (my own excepted, of course!) It’s getting better, but for a while it was almost always some musclebound oaf with a sword, or a scantily clad woman with a sword, or sometimes both.

It’s always disappointing when the cover artist either hasn’t read the novel or been briefed. I have a copy of the US edition of Colin Greenland’s excellent SF novel Take Back Plenty which shows a very badly painted rendition of the main character in the cockpit of her spaceship. Unfortunately no one has told the artist that Tabitha Jute is black.

DreamwalkerHave you ever designed your own book cover? What were the pros/cons? Would you do it again?

I designed covers for an early version of my three fantasy books, Dreamwalker (print version released August 14th 2014), The Rose Cord and The Golden Cage. My intention was to produce very limited quantities of the books, using Lulu, to give to friends and family. They were never for sale. I had a good idea of what I wanted, but lacked both the artistic and photoshop skills really to pull it off. The results look very amateur, which was fine for that purpose, but would almost certainly have deterred readers from picking up the books had they been for sale. I wouldn’t dream of doing my own covers for a book I intended to sell.

What is your writing schedule, if you have one? If not, why not?

In theory, I write in the evenings from about eight until midnight, having already put in a day’s work on the farm. In practice, there are days when the farm work is done by mid-morning and I can spend the rest of my time writing, maybe getting the evening off for a bit of reading. And there are days when the farming goes on all night (lambing time, for example), or when I’m just too tired to write.

Having a contract with Penguin means deadlines and the need to bring a certain level of professionalism to what is, after all, a job. I am under contract to produce two novels a year and to that end I aim to get 2000 words written every day, but quite often fall short of that.

If I had a single piece of advice to give to writers it would be…

Don’t give up. It took me twenty years to become an overnight success. You have to write because you love making stuff up, because you love words and stories. Of course, everyone’s dream is to be published and successful, but that cannot be the sole reason for doing it.

When publishing your book, how important is it to have a well-designed book cover, compared to the other components like a clear blurb, a well written story, established reader base or good marketing tactics?

The first three are all part of the same thing, which is a professional-looking package. The best cover in the world won’t make up for dreadful writing in between. A cracking good story can be ruined by poor formatting and too many typos. An awkward blurb can put people off what is otherwise a fine read. All these elements have to work in harmony.

An established reader base is obviously helpful, especially if they are good at writing reviews and spreading the word about your books. From my experience of marketing tactics, however, unless you’re in the position to spend tens or hundreds of thousands on poster campaigns and national newspaper advertising, nothing much really works other than writing more books. It’s a well-established principle in the publishing business that the best way to boost sales of an author is for that author to bring out another book.

Have you ever had a really great experience with a professional, in the self-publishing industry (such as an editor, designer or formatter)? What happened? What made it so good for you?

I was introduced (electronically – we’ve never met IRL) to the book cover designer J T Lindroos by a friend who had used him to design his own ebook covers. Juha is a brilliant designer, who charged a pittance and worked through many iterations of design until we hit upon the right feel for my first novel, Natural Causes. I had less of a clear brief for the second one, The Book of Souls, but what he came up with on his own was sensational. He jokingly said he’d like to be paid more if the books did sensationally well, and I took great delight in sending him a substantial bonus when they did.

Are you a pantser, or an outliner? Why?

Very much a pantser (although I prefer the autocorrect ‘panther’). I’ll work out in my head or on my whiteboard what a scene or a story arc is meant to achieve, but no more detailed planning than that. I tend to write the first draft very quickly and organically, with lots of notes of things to go back and change. The shaping comes in the rewrites.

I did once try to plot a novel from start to finish. Like Natural Causes it was based on a short story, so I knew how it ended and the broad arc it would travel. I spent about a month planning each scene in meticulous detail before sitting down to write the thing. By the time I got to the end of the first chapter, I’d introduced an entirely new character who turned out to be pivotal to the novel. Shoehorning her into the existing plan and shuffling scenes around to make it all work meant the writing took twice as long as usual, and the finished result isn’t that good.

If you couldn’t get paid for writing in money, what would be your alternate choice of payment (keep it clean, eh?)?

Like my main character, Tony McLean, I have a penchant for fine single malt whisky, so I guess being paid in drams would work. My publisher and agent both seem to have taken this on board, judging by the occasional (and very welcome) bottles that arrive in the post. Fortunately my publisher also pays in money!

What is the one thing that distracts you most when writing?

<strike> being asked to fill in questionnaires </strike>Twitter.

Do you think that a cover should have specific elements of the book, like characters and places, or is it better to be simple and symbolic to give just an impression of the book and the genre?

It very much depends on the genre and the territory in which it’s being sold. Different things work in different places and for different kinds of stories. The covers of my crime fiction books tend to be photographic, usually showing a vista of Edinburgh or somewhere obviously Scottish, with heavy dark clouds overhead. The images only very loosely refer to anything in the books.

For my fantasy series, on the other hand, the covers are hand drawn, with motifs that closely reflect what goes on in the books. A photographic cover just wouldn’t work for fantasy.

What’s your worst writing habit you just can’t seem to shake?

I know perfectly well the difference between its and it’s, their, there and they’re but when I’m typing fast I often get them wrong. A standard practice now with my final draft is to run a search and replace on all of those words, just to double check!

Are you a one-manuscript-at-a-time author, or do you have several on the go at once?

I write just the one manuscript at a time, but I may well be editing several others and possibly doing the publicity rounds for yet more. I did a library event a few months back where I launched into a description of a scene as an example to a point I was trying to make about the book just out, only to realise halfway through that the scene in question was in the book I was currently writing.

I have enough ideas for different genres and characters to write many books at the same time, but I think my head would explode after a while. There also isn’t the time, what with a farm to run.

What is something you see self-published authors doing time and again, that you think doesnt work?

Trying to sell their new book on social media. Twitter, Facebook and the like are great for interacting with your readers, but actual mentions of your book should be few and far between. If you must sell anything, sell yourself, not your book

Should you respond to reviews of your book, good or bad?

If it’s a great review and you ever meet the reviewer, by all means say thank you. If they post a link on social media, RT it and thank them there if you want to. If someone reviews your book on their blog, link to it and send your readers their way. But always do it without comment.

If it’s a bad review, however much you disagree with it, no good can come of you arguing your case. Best to leave it behind you and move on.


About James

James Oswald is the author of the Inspector McLean series of detective mysteries. The first two of these, Natural Causes and The Book of Souls were both short-listed for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award. Set in an Edinburgh not so different to the one we all know, Detective Inspector Tony McLean is the unlucky policeman who can see beneath the surface of ordinary criminal life to the dark, menacing evil that lurks beneath.

Dead Men's BonesBook four in the series, Dead Men’s Bones, published by Penguin, is just out and available from all good bookstores.

James has also written a classic fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfro. Inspired by the language and folklore of Wales, it follows the adventures of a young dragon, Sir Benfro, in a land where his kind have been hunted near to extinction by men. The first three books in the series are currently available as ebooks, and will be appearing in a Penguin paperback edition soon. The final two books in the series will be out next year.

In his spare time, James runs a 350 acre farm in North East Fife in Scotland, where he raises pedigree Highland cattle and New Zealand Romney sheep.

I get asked all the time: What’s the most important element on a book cover?

the_war_on_words.largeI get a lot of e-mails from designers finishing school, to designers just entering the industry and have changed from a hobbyist to a professional, and there is one reoccurring question that comes up:

What is one thing that will help me create a good book cover?

You can’t ever just say it’s one single thing, design is such an all-encompassing experience. It’s like building a house, you can’t ask: what will help me build a good house? without expecting a list.

I’m going to tell you the one thing that is at the very top of the list. Often ignored, rarely thought out, and separate from the imagery. It’s seen as like a third cousin who lives out in the country, people don’t really want to talk to it.

What is it?


the_king_of_methlehem.largePurpose of type:

Pfft, game over, I can hear you saying. I just put on some Garamond, or even just Arial or Times New Roman and it’ll look great.

NO, it doesn’t.

The purpose of type is to support the design, enhance the message, while being completely undetected. When you open a paperback and start reading, it is considered good typography when you are never distracted by the font face and the layout, and it is an ease to read. This is the same with type faces on a book cover. It should almost remain invisible, but add to the beauty and grace of the cover.

If the interior of a paperback looked like this it would drive us mad and we’d have to put the damn thing down:


Think of it like… a bride getting her hair done for a wedding. The rest of her looks beautiful, from make up to dress, but if the hair isn’t done it’s alarmingly offensive. When it is done, it works together with the ensemble and never draws attention to itself, yet it can be complemented and singled out as beautiful on its own.


Typography rule 1: Keep it simple, and legible

The first mistake I see on book covers is the use of overly technical, decorative or distorted font faces. The author/designer thinks:

Well, the genre of the book is paranormal romance so I’m going to use some really curly font I found on 1001 fonts, because it looks paranormal-ish.

Like this:

vtks-38.regular vtks-beauty.regular billy-argel-font.regular

The rule keep it simple means: Let the image do the talking. Choose a font face which takes a back seat and doesn’t scream LOOK AT ME!!!! 

The rule make it legible means: Your readers have to be able to read it fairly easily.  The typeface is going to get completely lost if there’s already a lot going on in the imagery, so don’t be scared to pull it right back.

utopia.largeTypography rule 2: Don’t use more than three fonts, try and just use two

What is the main focus of your book cover, regarding type? It’s the title. If you decide on a decorative or distorted or flourishy font then use it for the title to bring it to attention. You can also combine a decorative font with a serif/sans serif font face in the title to create a bit of excitement, and you’ll see this done a lot in Romance.

The second focus is the author name. If you want to use the same or a different decorative font face for the name then you end up diluting the focus of the title. To support the title rather than fighting with it, go with a serif or sans serif font face. Your name can still be big if you want, but there is a hierarchy to everything.

Title is King, the name is Queen.

At the high court of typography if the Queen wants to look like the King then the people won’t know who to follow, or focus on.

The tagline needs to be smaller than the name and very easy to read. I suggest using the same font face as the name, if it is a serif or sans serif. Consider it a whisper, but it has to fit with everything else. By going for a third type face at this point can splinter the cover unnecessarily, especially if it’s a poor choice.

the_mad_ones.largeTypography rule 3: Your type should be a part of the design, not an afterthought. Integrate it.

A pet peeve of mine is when I see a piece of art work that’s been created specifically for a book cover, by an artist that is so talented I want to puke, and the title name and author is plastered on in five minutes, and it shows.

What is the relationship of the title to the image? Does it need to be in the same colour palette, placed carefully into the right corner, does it need to be big or small? Take care when choosing font faces and try different layouts. Just like writing you have to work through drafts before you find the right one.

we_must_love_one_another_or_die.largeTypography rule 4: Work with grids

Grids are used everywhere in design. You can head on over to The Grid System or Thinking With Type to see how extensive working with the grid can be.

Grids bring control and balance to design. Don’t be afraid of them but work within their boundaries. Set up some margins over your document and follow them to ensure the width and height of words, letters, and lines fall into the same structure.

You can follow this tutorial at typophile to figure out how to layout a grid in InDesign.

This tutorial shows you how to set them up in Photoshop.

the_thing_about_life_is_that_one_day_youll_be_dead.largeTypography rule 5: If unsure, get a professional to do it

If you’ve hired a professional illustrator for your cover, why aren’t you investing the same sort of time and money into a designer who really knows their typography stuff? Learning how to work with type takes time and experience, the greatest typographers can act like an invisible Superhero. They take out the baddies, but you never see them or hear about them.

It is the typography that can make or break a cover, in some instances. 

If you don’t have the knowledge, invest in it. I offer type-only book cover packages for a much cheaper price than my standard book cover packages.


This article is for those still learning design, or aren’t a designer and still want to give their book cover a crack. Once you get a handle on typography you can go ahead and break all of the guidelines I’ve mentioned here. Experiment with it, see what comes about. Learn from example and research other book covers, look to see how others have done it. You don’t have to start from scratch. You’re allowed to seek out inspiration, direction and motivation.

What are your experiences with typography? What have you learned along the way that you can share with others? What is a book cover you’ve seen where the typography makes or breaks it?

How does a book cover look in the early stages?

You’ve been waiting for it all week… the first visual concepts from your book cover designer… and they’re going to be AH-MA-ZING. You’ve seen everything else they’ve done and this is just going to be the icing on the cake.

A ping in your inbox; it’s here! You open it up and… what the hell is this?


Imagine that designing is just like writing (because it truly is).

The first drafts are always, always the worst.

You’ve been dreaming and imagining for a while now, expecting you’ll be overwhelmed with the first magical round of design, but that’s not how design works. Design is a collaboration, and requires input from two people: The designer and the client.

Step 1: Your expectations are too high

The first obstacle is that you’ll already have something in mind. Something that crosses all boundaries of standard design. You’re imagining the Willy Wonka magic ticket and setting yourself up for disappointment.

Willy wonka golden ticket

How to fix it: Enter your partnership with your designer knowing it is art, and art requires time, feedback, and development. Don’t expect your designer to create something off the bat that is 100% what you want because you’ll be writing yourself into a corner. Talking about, and working with the design, is normal.

Step 2: You lose trust in your designer


The second obstacle is losing trust in your designer. Because your perfect book cover hasn’t immediately happened, the trust and confidence you had in your designer dims a little bit. You start asking yourself,

“How did we get here?” [Naturally. This is a part of the process.]

“Why did they misinterpret what I wanted?” [They didn’t. More communication is needed.]

“Should I have gone with someone else?” [No.]

How to fix it: Understand that this is part of the process. Remember, design is like writing. The first drafts are never the perfect ones, and the designer needs to start somewhere in order to work towards the final result you really love. You have to make the first step before getting to the top of the mountain, or something like that…


Step 3: It looks low res and choppy

You were expecting perfection and it’s possible you got something with watermarks, low res images, and a whole lot of collage-like mess. They might have sent over three or four different designs, but they all look like this.

How to fix it: Let it go. If you’re responsible for purchasing stock images then the designer has to work with what they can (i.e.: low resolution, watermarked stock images) before you commit to the final concept and they can buy the high resolution images. Trust the process.

Step 4: There’s been a lack of communication

This cover isn’t what you were expecting at all. It has totally different concepts. You wanted people; they’ve put on scenery or use symbolic images.

I specifically wanted salmon

How to fix it: Did you tell them you wanted people? Did you share with them other covers you like that have models on them? Did they read the brief properly? It’s just down to communication. Before jumping the gun and telling them they did it all wrong, perhaps ask them to explain the concepts to you and why they went in this direction. They might just change your mind.


All of these conflicts can be solved with communication. Remember talk to your designer, ask questions. You aren’t expected to know how it works, that’s the designer’s job. And remember that design is an artistic job and will always need your direction and feedback to end up where you are totally happy with it.

Have you had a shock when dealing with designers? Ended up with something totally different? How did it work out for you?

Are book cover designers working for readers or authors?

The reader or the author
When I started designing I thought I knew everything. I thought I knew more than the author’s that I worked with, and I was the bees knees. But… with experience comes knowledge. The more I understand, the more I realise I don’t know shit! So I’m writing this article to share what I’ve learned with you, that there is no black and white answer. Yeah, there’s a lot of grey scale- but there’s a lot of good in that grey scale so don’t stop reading now…

Before self-publishing designers were hired directly by the publishing house and given a brief. Over time the book cover was designed and developed by the guidance of a head designer who knew about the publishing industry and how to communicate to readers.

When Penguin arrived on the scene in the early 1900s, with their simplistic paperbacks and clean outlines, it was obvious their trust in the book’s success lay implicitly in the literature between the two covers. Now a lot of the trust is gone. To an extent we must convince the reader that the work inside is a good one, so those simple, block colour, single type family covers don’t cut it any more.

Unless your name is known it is upon the shoulders of the designer to make the siren call to the readers. 

Why I’m asking this question: When an author comes to me to design their cover they often have an idea in mind. If they don’t, there is still a level of expectation remaining that I will do what they want, in a way they want it. They are, after all, my client and I’m here to work for them. But 90% of the time the author doesn’t know as much about book cover design as I do.

Case Study: Designing for the author

bookWhen the author comes to me it’s ultimately my responsibility to fulfil their needs. We’ve talked over ideas and I’ve gotten a general idea as to what they want for their cover. Some may even have a very specific idea for what they want which could be anything from a particular typeface, to a model, to a background.

The outcome for this case study is that the author is happy with the outcome.


The author gets what they want

They feel proud to share their book cover

They feel like they contributed greatly to the process

They understand the connection between the final design and their book, they understand the message

If they have a background in design or art, they will already have a good understanding about what is needed for the cover

They know their book better than anyone else, and can give an informed opinion as to what will work best.


Just because they understand the concept, doesn’t mean the reader will

The author may be stuck on wanting one single image, something they’ve put a lot of time and thought into, but may not be right for the design.

They run the risk of eliminating readers because of their biases, opinions, and personal judgements as to what they feel should or shouldn’t be on the cover.

Case Study: Designing for the reader

Although it may seem like the designer’s obligation is first to the author, we must consider the purpose of the design in the first place- which is for the reader. This requires a lot of trust on the part of the author, which is hard. No matter how great the artist, creating something from scratch is scary if you don’t know what to expect.


The designer draws from experience and industry knowledge to design a cover that will target your readers.

Will offer concepts about your cover that you may not have considered

Will draw off themes from your book that you didn’t realise were in there

Gives a third party perspective

Makes decisions on layout, composition, typography, colour and semiotics

Interpret your story into a visual medium in the most simple form, for easy understanding.


Well founded and considered opinions of the author may not be taken into account

The designer might believe the author doesn’t know as much as the designer does, when it’s important to take on all thoughts and ideas.

If the designer doesn’t have a lot of experience their interpretation of the brief may be unsuccessful.


I believe it is the designer’s responsibility to work with the author for the best outcome for the reader.

The reader’s delight is the true purpose of the project, not the author’s. But the author and designer must work together to get to that point, and have an open mind for it.

Each person brings their own knowledge and experience to the table, why discount it? This isn’t a war or a conflict but a great artistic collaboration. Great things can come out of it, so long as ears are open and everyone is open to change.

So when the author says,

“Look… I think it’s important to have the stencil typeface to show that it’s a military book, and combine that with the script type face, to show it’s romance.”

It’s important to listen to what the designer has to say. They can tell you why stencil and script typefaces don’t work together, and how tacky stencil font faces can be.

BUT I think it’s also important for the designer to at least give it a shot. They won’t truly know until they try it out.

So when the designer says,

“Look… I’ve used illustration on your chick lit book cover because it is an easily recognizable genre style and it shows a fun, frolicky side of your book. ”

It’s important to listen to what the author has to say. They can tell you why illustration might not be the best choice because, although they’re writing chick-lit, they know from the books that they read that photographs can be used just as well.

BUT consider the amount of research the designer has in the field, and that the book cover they designed for you has come together from comparison of others in your genre.

So when starting out with your designer it might be an idea to talk about who you feel is the priority in your project- is it you, or your readers? When you’ve figured it out, then you know how much input you should give your designer, and what kind of input.

Keep your readers in mind, figure out what they want and find out the best way to get there.

Do you feel it’s the reader or the author who the designer is working for? What’s your experience when designing a cover? Do you keep your readers in mind or find your own desires for the cover taking over?

George Orwell’s 42 different covers for 1984

As a self-published author changing your book cover for your ebook or paperaback can be daunting. You don’t have anyone to really compare yourself against; how often have the best sellers changed their covers?

If the cover works and the book sells, why change it?

There are a lot of different reasons, but today to help put your questioning mind at ease I want to share with you the many different book covers for George Orwell’s 1984. A classic, a trend setting piece of literature, ground breaking in its prophecy.

While you browse the book covers I want you to ask yourself these questions:

  • Can you guess when the book cover was published?
  • What part of the design tells you it’s from a particular era?
  • What parts of the design are trends, which are now considered unfashionable?

  • What does each book cover say about the book? Does it convey the message of what the book is about?
  • Is there anything on the cover which shows what the book is actually about? I.e.: Is there a literal image of what’s going on inside the book, on the outside, or is it more symbolic?
  • How do you think the book would sell with each different cover, in today’s publishing industry?
  • Can you find the one that was designed after the film release?
  • Can you find the one that was designed by Shephard Fairey, the designer who did the Obama Hope poster?
  • If these covers were shared in the self-publishing industry, what sort of feedback do you think other authors would share? “Is the title big enough for the thumbnail?” “Does it speak of it’s genre?” “Does it say enough about the book? Is it too different?”
  • What is your favourite cover, and why?

01-olle-eksell-book-cover-1959-george-orwell-1984 004_lx 5c06810ae7a0f4198b5d1210-l 26a562e89da0a1e5be564110-l 500_1984comparison 1984_arabversion 1984_classicmodern 1984-60th-anniversary-edition 1984v3.indd 1984-book-cover 1984-book-cover-pic 1984-by-george-orwell-eye 1984cover4 1984coversega8 1984first 1984-warispeace 0141187352 1405862416 b3ef810ae7a09f7d904be110-l georgeorwellxobeygiantprintset-1984coverbyshepardfairey index1 orwell_1984 orwell-nineteen-eighty-four-large-cover orwellsphoto GeorgeOrwell84 georgeorwell_1984_illustrated screen-shot-2011-06-25-at-8-12-10-am orwell_1984_movieversion Penguin_original_1984 screen-shot-2011-06-25-at-8-17-01-am screen-shot-2011-06-25-at-8-18-56-am screen-shot-2011-06-25-at-8-20-10-am orwell_1984_tvs screen-shot-2011-06-25-at-8-24-48-am 1984 spanish searchadv signet-books-1984-george-orwell www-robinmalau 1984+orwellcover 1984_owl


This last book cover version is my favourite. It is a multi-layered concept designed by David Pearson, and this is what he says:

The new cover design is part of Penguin’s ‘Great Orwell’ series, a re-release of five of Orwell’s greatest works. Pearson and his team designed all five covers for the ‘Great Orwell’ editions, and although Pearson refers toNineteen Eighty-Four as the ‘risk taker of the series,’ each of the re-booted cover designs stands out as fresh and thought-provoking. When PSFK asked Pearson about the bold choice for Nineteen Eighty-Four, he told us his inspiration was ‘born out of altering/erasing the identity of the book,’ adding, ‘using classic Penguin livery – which everyone knows and understands – allowed for this sort of fun and games — I would argue that the idea wouldn’t work otherwise.’

This is why this book cover is my favourite, not just in this series but is in my top 5 across the board of book cover design:

  1. The concept: Penguin produces books that are considered classics, educational, and famous. THIS book in particular forces the reader to challenge their thinking, and the thinking of society around them. Pearson has used our real life experience with Penguin to transcend us into the book.
  2. By picking up the book to find out more we are going against group think and Big Brother.
  3. It is immediately eye catching and stands out amongst its competition.
  4. It is bold and intriguing
  5. It tells us what the book is about in simplest terms.

Even the most famous books go through major redesigns, from limited editions to scrappy high school paperbacks, from western culture design to European and Asian influences.

So when you think about if you should go for another redesign, ask yourself the same questions you asked when looking at the Orwell covers. Can you guess when the cover is published? Does it use trend style design, or is it timeless? Is it symbolic or literal, and what is more appropriate for your story?

 What are your thoughts on multiple cover design for a book? Should there be a limit, or different designs for different countries?