Participants: Karen Heenan, Marianne Scott, Nancy LiPetri, Chris Towndrow, Anita Belli, Kathleen Marple Kalb, Maria Johnson, Rik Lonsdale, Cheryl Whiting, Beth Hudson, Eva Seyler, Deborah Klée
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your experience in obtaining cover designs for your book (s).
Karen: I’m Karen and I write historical fiction. Songbird’s first cover was done by my publisher, but we did a re-cover several months when we realized there was going to be a sequel and wanted a more consistent look for the series. @Anthony_OBrien_ did my two covers.
Eva: Eva, historical fiction author! I designed both of mine.
Marianne: Hi there. I have two fully edited novels that I am querying, with no calls for manuscript submissions. I might have to go the Indie route. So I’d have to hire a designer for my covers. My first novel cover was designed by a vanity publisher.
Nancy: The cover of my first novel, first edition published by a Californian traditional publisher, was provided by them with input from me. I liked it at the time but when time to re-release with my 2nd novel in series, I worked with an artist myself. Brief blog post: nancylonlakenorman.blogspot.com/2020/03/judge-…
Chris: Hi All, Chris from Surrey, UK. As I use design packages as part of my video work, I’ve always done all my own covers. I’m not a ‘designer’ but my colleague is, and I leant on her for some do’s and don’ts when I was replacing a recent cover. She’s awesome. I’ve used her for all my business logo, stationery etc over 10 years. The real credit goes to the #WritingCommunity whose feedback told me what I had an inkling of – that the original cover of Tow Away Zone was a poor selling tool.
Anita: Hi everyone. I’m Anita. I make my own ebookbook covers for Indie pubs using Canva. @AuthorGerald turns them into much better wrap-around for print. My publisher produced a beautiful cover for my trad pub.
Rik: I’m Rik in Dorset, UK. Easy for me to answer: none!
Maria: Hi, I’m Maria (pen name) I’m based in NW England, originally from North Wales. I have 3 published novels, 2 historical fiction and 1 fantasy. My 3 book covers were designed by the small press that published my books. 3rd historical fiction novel in process of publication.
Kathleen: Hi, I’m Kathleen! I write historical and contemporary mysteries. All trad pub so far, with wonderful cover art from my publishers. But I DID have to do my own for a Channillo series, and it was quite an education!
Deborah: Hi Kathleen. Did you design your own cover for that series?
Kathleen: Hey! I did — and it gave me a whole new appreciation for cover artists and the work they do! I went very simple (less to screw up) but it still took a lot of time, and a couple of tries.
Deborah: I commissioned a book cover designer for The Borrowed Boy and Just Bea. The Borrowed Boy was awarded cover of the month by Chill with a Book awards. Asya Blue designed my covers. I have a zoom chat with her to provide ideas and then she sends three different options for us to work on.
Anita: It is a lovely cover. I like the colours especially!
Maria: That’s awesome, Deborah! Your book covers are amazing.
Karen: They’re both really good, but I love The Borrowed Boy’s cover.
Deborah: Do you get any say in the cover design Maria and Kathleen?
Maria: Yeah, they were very open for my input. Eg in my 2nd novel cover the mountains were pink and I asked if they could be blue. Or in Lottie’s Locket originally, they chose quite a modern locket but in the book it’s old and scratched. They were happy to change stuff.
Kathleen: I get some input. I submit a bunch of images for inspiration and ideas for the artists. I suppose I could say something if I REALLY hated it, but it’s never been an issue. My first two were very good — my next two are flat-out AMAZING.
Beth: I’m Beth Hudson, USA Midwest fantasy author. I didn’t have any input in the books I’ve done with my small press publisher, but I designed the cover of my short story anthology, and got an excellent artist to do the cover of my newest book (and sequel). I do my own graphic design work, as I have some experience.
Deborah: Hi Beth. Then you have experience of all three approaches. Which did you find most satisfying?
Beth: Two approaches – I don’t do my own artwork, though I do the graphic part. I like having creative control, to be honest. I’ve sort of sat there when I’ve gotten artwork from my publishers deciding if I liked it or not.
Cheryl: Hi everyone. I’m Cheryl, fairly new to writing and only a few chapters in. I’m all ears today. This is what it feels like when someone asks you about your book cover when you don’t yet have something that resembles a book!
Karen: Now that I’m further in, I start thinking about covers early on because it makes the project feel more real. I also write my cover blurb at the beginning, for the same reason. Even if I have to change it, it gives me a starting place. It really helps. I still can’t write a decent blurb for my first book, because I didn’t try until it was complete, and then it felt impossible to boil it down.
Cheryl: I guess it’s easy to edit something that’s not quite right or needs a different focus than it is to start from scratch. My book coach sets me exercises like this, sometimes writing such things helps you determine what your book isn’t about, as much as what it is about.
What do you look for in a book cover? What attracts you to pick a book up?
Maria: Bold fonts and colours, unique designs. Intriguing ones that hook me for that just look gorgeous lol. Art is so subjective it’s quite hard to define!
Gerald: I like quite simple and uncluttered designs. I want to be able to easily read the title and author, even in a thumbnail. For me, simple = professional.
Anita: Definitely the overall look; colour, strong image and unfussy fonts. Must be clear and genre specific, without being a cliche. Title is really important.
Beth: Totally agree about the fonts! So many people make their books look unprofessional just because they wanted to do a “fun” font!
Cheryl: I’m with @anitabellibooks on this. I want to break the mould with my book. The books on professionalism tend to have really dull covers and are so uninspiring. Only an insomniac would want to pick it up!
Rik: I try and be eclectic and avoid sticking to the same themes/genres. Cover art varies so much by genre that I try to actively ignore it.
Karen: It can be a variety of things. I like good fonts. Sometimes I like a “busy” cover – the historicals with a scene or two in addition to the title. I’m completely over covers with the back of a female figure, usually with “Wife” or “Daughter” in the title.
Rik: To be honest it’s the title. I try and be eclectic and avoid sticking to the same themes/genres. Cover art varies so much by genre that I try to actively ignore it.
Beth: It’s not any one thing. Beautiful artwork will do it for me, or a title that catches my interest, but sometimes I see a book cover and just have a feeling about it.
Deborah: Despite railing against it – I pick up a book that looks like the genre/type of book I enjoy.
Gerald: Yes, I think there are genre expectations when you’re looking at cover designs. I talk about this in my workshops.
Chris: Ditto. I have to read the blurb, unless the book’s been recommended to me, or I’m reading it for research. The cover is not a ‘decision criteria’.
Gerald: I think it’s interesting, Chris – a cover can definitely put me off even picking it up, but like you, I wouldn’t buy based on the cover alone.
Chris: I think the most important aspect about cover design is for me to understand how to make my books pass the first test of actually piquing interest, and not actively discouraging people or making it seem like the book is a different genre.
Maria: Bold fonts and colours, unique designs. Intriguing ones that hook me for that just look gorgeous lol. Art is so subjective it’s quite hard to define!
How do you go about designing a book cover and what tools/software do you need?
Gerald: One of the biggest problems I had was making the titles, subtitles and author names line up across a series of covers! Actually, probably not the biggest, come to think of it!
Chris: I use Photoshop/InDesign/Illustrator as appropriate. I buy stock imagery, and then play around with fonts. Mostly the covers have been pretty simple, but the last one was a collage which I agonised over for ages.
Karen: I was very involved in the new cover for Songbird and the sequel. I sent my designer sample covers and told him a about the time period and the “feel” I was going for. He sent me a few samples, which worked but not totally, and then I came up with the ceiling idea.
Maria: I cheat because my indie publishers do it they ask me for ideas and then produce something awesome.
Beth: I do my work in Gimp. It has all the tools I need, really. I was very glad, though, that IngramSpark went from Indesign templates to templates anyone could use, because that gave me trouble when I was doing the cover of Seeing Green.
Gerald: I’d do research on the genre; and on the book itself. I get a feel for the subject and style and ‘atmosphere’. I never produce original artwork – I always use pre-existing images. And I have ‘rules’ for fonts and styles and colours. A lot goes into it. For software, I use Pixelmator, which is a Mac-only image manipulator, a bit like Photoshop. For wraparound print covers, I download a template from KDP based on pages, type of paper and trim size. Image choice is key – portrait for ebook, landscape for print
Chris: I find the challenge has been to find a landscape image which also works when cropped portrait, so I have minimal rework for ebook/print.
Gerald: Definitely! On the last two I did, I chose the landscape image first, then cropped to portrait to make the ebook. Things you learn…
Maria: Images and fonts are really important so I spend hours (days?) finding those. Then I use Canva for layout and overall look. Then send to @AuthorGerald who uses pixelmator to make it look good and do the wraparound using an Amazon template.
Eva: Fonts are so important! I think I spent longer looking for the right fonts than any other aspect of either of my covers.
Gerald: I have a standard font I nearly always use for my covers (thrillers / crime), which is Trajan. Interesting, but strong. And I have consistency across my books, like a house style.
Rik: That makes sense, Gerald. Will you change when you go for a different series?
Gerald: It depends – if I change genre, probably. My next series will be a ‘proper’ cosy crime series, so the font will need to be a bit more ‘light-hearted’.
Beth: I’m using the same font for all the books in my series, but I used a different font for my anthology. But I totally agree about consistency of font (and not mixing and matching too many different ones, either!)
Chris: I’ve kept a font within each of my trilogies. Choosing fonts is a real rabbit hole! I really enjoyed this book amazon.co.uk/Just-My-Type-A…
Gerald: There’s some more information on fonts and suchlike here: thebookdesigner.com/understanding-… But I think this is more for the interior design. Still interesting, though!
Beth: I’ve had license to play with fonts because I’ve been doing the program book for a science fiction con since the 90’s. My font choices have gotten simpler over the years, and I have a much better sense of what does and does not work.
How do you go about finding a good cover designer? If you are traditionally published how much say do you have in the cover?
Deborah: I found my cover designer Aysa Blue at Reedsy
Anita: Not something I’ve done. The trad publisher I was with sent me a copy of a cover for approval. I wasn’t asked for input, but I loved it anyway!
Karen: When it was decided to do a re-cover for Songbird, I reached out to @marianlthorpe‘s cover designer and have enjoyed working with him. He’s really responsive, and considering he’s in the UK and I’m not, he gets things done really quickly. For the first cover of Songbird, I had input, but I really didn’t have the experience to know what would work. I’m happier with the second. I’ve commissioned a cover for my 1930s book, and it’s resting at the mostly-finished point until I have blurb/page count.
Beth: That makes really good sense – if you love a cover done by a particular designer, and it matches your design sense, to get that designer to work for you!
Karen: I liked that had a really wide range – Marian’s books are nothing like mine, but the theme of the cover is strong and they’re very recognizable. I wanted that, but with a different aesthetic, and he managed it beautifully.
Maria: The design team of my indie small press publisher designed my covers. They were very open for feedback and were happy to tweak a couple of things.
Beth: I found my illustrator on Fiverr. I looked through a lot of artists before I found the one I wanted to use, too! She managed to get Traedis’ exact face down, which makes me a happy camper.
Rik: I’ve heard Fivver is good for finding artists, or any creative people, but I’ve not had the need as yet.
Gerald: I’ve used some creatives on Fiverr for producing and modifying images for logos and suchlike. Always check for lots of good, recent reviews and look at the examples on their profile.
Eva: I have myself so I haven’t had the experience of finding a designer. I have ideas for my MG covers, but since they’re on the road to be traditionally published, I am not getting too set on anything.
Deborah to Beth Hudson: They are gorgeous covers.
Beth: Thank you! I owe a lot to the talented illustrator of Goldsong! (Runedance already has a cover, same artist, and if anything, it’s more gorgeous). I actually had a bit of fun when doing the covers for Goldsong and Runedance to use a fairly simple font, but a sparkle of special effect in the color of the font. It’s subtle, but I think it makes a real difference.
Deborah: Is there plenty of scope when designing your own cover or are you limited with font styles?
Eva: Canva and Google have a lot of free ones!
Marianne: Do you think that the colour of a book cover influences sales of the book? A writer friend told me that blue is not good for marketing.
Beth: Interesting. A lot of books in the fantasy genre are blue, so that seems counter-intuitive for me. Is there a genre difference in what sells, maybe?
Deborah: That is interesting. I think there are fashions/trends. I have not heard that blue is not good for marketing.
Rik: I’m reluctant to spend money on marketing. I figure it’s hard to make a profit as an indie, if trad won’t buy it, I’ll keep it simple and cheap just to get it out. I see my role as writing. If it’s not the right thing for the industry to buy from me, I’ll do another.
Marian: If I were traditionally published, I’m sure the marketing team of the publisher would know the market. I would probably trust them. But, if I were on my own, then I’d ask an independent marketing specialist. $$$, I’m afraid.
Deborah: Has anyone commissioned a book cover designer who is an illustrator?
What have you learnt through trial and error of cover design/choice? Would you or have you changed your book covers and why?
Chris: I’ve not learned too much about the technical process, but plenty about figuring out ‘what works’. I’ve always liked the first version of every cover, until I have an epiphany and realise it could be so much better.
Eva: I did change TWIOH’s cover after I got the rights back. The cover my small press did was nice, but I think it misled people into expecting more fluffy romance instead of the moody drama. The new one represents the content better in my opinion.
Kathleen: I re-did the cover for my Channillo series a couple of times because the colors were too muddy the first time, and I wanted to make the poison vial stand out more. Learned a LOT about process!
Cheryl: I look at book covers and wonder about branding. In Autumn I plan to develop a website, I wonder if consistency between my book cover design and my website would help establish a connection between me as the author of the book and make for better marketing.
Rik: I don’t know, but if the site has other stuff besides your books you may want to differentiate.
Karen: I changed Songbird’s cover because I felt like the original design with the lute and flowers felt a little trad/romantic, more so than the story, anyway. I like that the ceiling covers are clearly historical but not as specific, and I find good ceilings forever.
Anita: I have learned so much! Everything in fact, through trial and error. That, and a lot of research. And yes, I have changed 2 book covers which didn’t fit the genre. Also, to make them look more like they belong together.
Beth: I would have changed the contrast on the back cover of Seeing Green. I ended up with a low-contrast blurb (the back cover is the same as the front, but paler) and I didn’t manage to get that down well.
Chris: I’ve bought so many copies as ‘proofs’, even though they were already on sale, as nothing beats seeing how the digital file really turns out. Getting contrast on the blurb is a perennial challenge.
Marianne: That is an intriguing question. Looking forward to everyone’s opinion. I have not changed my book cover. Would it enhance sales?
Deborah: I think having a strong brand across all of your books does make a difference. I love my covers but realise that I need to look at them again.
Marianne: I think I’d like to try a book cover change. Is it legal to change the title as well?
Gerald: You’d need to get a different ISBN.
Rik: Most famous book title change? Perhaps ‘And then there were none’ by A Christie.
Beth: Lots of books have their titles changed, for all sorts of reasons.
Matt or glossy? Preferred book size? Colour palate? How do you reflect your brand across your book covers?
Karen: I prefer shiny. I don’t like how the matte cover feel. Color palette is really story dependent, but I like my dark historical covers with their stark font because they’re easier to work with when making marketing graphics.
Beth: My editor prefers glossy. I prefer matte, because it looks IMHO more professional. Which is rather amusing under the circumstances. Color palate: I try to go with a simple unified palette for each of my books: I think it catches the eye better.
Rik: I don’t think I could settle for anything less than a tooled leather cover, hand stitching, and marbled inners and edges.
Maria: The main thing that unifies my books is the font lettering, especially in my author name. A different series but a similar brand style (in my mind anyway!)
Gerald: For fiction – glossy. It’s more of a thing of beauty. For non-fiction – usually non-glossy. It’s supposed to be a tool to be used. Book size: 5¼” x 8″. Brand is font choice and overall layout and (within series) ‘treatment’ of the images. Latest were tinted and blurred
Eva: Personally, I am a big fan of glossy. I like the way it feels in my hand and smudges can be wiped off.
Anita: Glossy and cream paper for fiction. Matt and white paper for non-fiction. 5.5 x 8.5 for fiction. 5×8 non-fiction. Palette seems to be very blue with some peachy colours creeping in. Orange for non-fic cos it stands out. Gloves off for children’s books.