What To Look For In A Book Cover Designer

We all know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, except people do this all the time. People judge books by the cover when they see other people carrying those books on the train, they make judgements about what sort of people they are. This is of course why erotic fiction took such a leap with the event of ereaders. Nobody could see what you were reading.

Book covers are extremely important, and I would even say that they are more important for e-books than they are for physical books. Because an ebook has no tactical properties, the visual appeal is all you get to judge its attractiveness.

If you’re starting to self publish or you have published a few books but you know your covers are not up to scratch, how do you find a cover designer who can make book covers that sell, and what you look out for in this person?

The first port of call will be to look at a selection of books in your genre that are selling well and preferably that are also published by self published writers. Why not publishing houses?

Well, publishing houses often have other aims with their covers. In the first place they usually try to appeal to a buyer in a bookstore, and this is a different market and you can do different things with a print book. You will find that print book covers are often too intricate to work well on postage stamp size thumbnails.

So you would be looking for books that have been self published and that are selling well.

A lot of these authors will list their cover designer in front of the book. If they don’t, simply google the author, go to their website and ask. Not all will be happy to share, but many of them certainly do.

Now when you do this, you should find a moment to take yourself out of the equation. It doesn’t matter that you dislike the type of covers of books that sell well in your genre. Your aim is to make your book sell better, and you want to clearly communicate to the reader what genre it is.

Then find the cover designer through the authors—preferably find a couple of designers—and start asking for quotes.

How much should you typically pay?

Most good cover designers who serve self published authors and have proven themselves in terms of quality and reliability will charge from $250-$500 for a photo manipulated cover. Illustrated hand drawn covers are often a bit more expensive, but in general it should not be necessary to spend more than $800 on a cover.

If you wonder whether to go with a friend who is also a graphic designer, I advise against doing that. There are a lot of really good and effective graphic designers around, but good book cover design is a special art, and if you have never done it before, you don’t know what its requirements are. You’ll end up with a less-than-effective cover which you can’t replace without upsetting your friend. That’s a horrible situation to be in.

And you don’t want to go with a family member or friend who is an artist either, no matter how awesome they are. Naturally, artists have an increased sense of the importance of art on the cover. In reality, the effectiveness of cover design is about 50% art and at least 50% typography. I have seen great art ruined by horrible typography. I have seen great art custom-made for a cover that left no reasonable quiet space for the title and the author’s name, so that either had to be added with too many hideous text effects to even make the text legible, or it had to be added in a super small front somewhere down the bottom. That is just horrible and nobody is going to buy that no matter how much you spent on that book cover.

A good book cover designer is someone who has experience in book cover design. Someone who has good typography skills and who knows that a cover contains both art and typography which should enhance each other.

It is also someone who can work to deadlines, give you a timetable of events and then stick to it, and will make reasonably small changes to the design. A good book cover design most likely has a list of customers and you can ask them what they thought of the process. A good cover designer also has a well-designed website that displays book covers they have done.

If you can’t afford a custom-made cover, many designers also sell premade covers—where all you get to change is your name and title—at a much cheaper rate.


The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

Are you sending spam?

Spam, we all hate it. Or at least we say we do. Unless we don’t, and we do it ourselves. Oops.

We like to talk about whether something is spam or not in very black-and-white terms. But in reality it is a much more grey area than that. If you shop at a particular store, and they have your email address because the transaction took place online, do they have the right to send you emails? Are those emails spam?

Some people might think they are, because they did not ask for those emails to be sent. Some people would be happy to be reminded of special deals. In an ideal world, there would be a checkbox at the checkout process to let the recipient choose whether to put their name on an email list or to opt out. However, many companies don’t do that and start sending email regardless. In general, it is considered to be fair use of an email address to send someone who buys something from you a couple of emails after their purchase.

But what about those people who have nothing to sell, and want to promote a new business or a new service?

This is what the Australian anti-spam act has to say about unsolicited email. Or read about the CAN-SPAM act in the US.

Both (and the laws of other countries) specify the following I would like to highlight:

  • Each email you send must have an unsubscribe link. If you use an email service (Mailchimp or the like), they will do this for you. But if you send regular email to a list, it is the law that you offer people a way off the list.
  • You must also identify yourself with a physical address.
  • The biggie: you may not harvest email addresses from forums, participant lists, customer lists of other but related businesses or activities.

I will not sugarcoat it: many small presses and writer organisations are terrible about the latter.

This is the sort of stuff I’m talking about:

  • You go to a writer con, and because you register online, the organisers have your email address.
    They didn’t expressly ask people if they wanted to be emailed, but I don’t think anyone will have an issue if the organisers email you again when the con is on the next year. This is fair use. So far, so good.
  • But one of the con organisers has a small press. They use the con attendee email list to advertise their books. This is NOT COOL.
  • Someone who works as volunteer for the con takes the list and starts emailing, a few years later, about a second, rival con. This is NOT COOL.
  • Someone from this con regularly visits a forum and adds in people who frequent the forum and starts emailing about their editing business. This is NOT COOL.

Those last three items are illegal.

Yet it is exceedingly common for this to happen in the world of small press and volunteer organisations. Every month I have to unsubscribe myself from several lists collated by overly eager small press people who clearly have no idea what they are allowed to do. I don’t think any of these individuals mean ill, but certainly the cumulated effect on my inbox is infuriating. And despite plenty of publicity about spam as well as warnings by the email companies that they signed up with, these people do not seem to get it.

We—the recipients of the emails—are asked to grin and bear it “to support the community”. Well, I’m through with it. I’m reporting them all for spam. I have to comply with the laws, and so can they. They’ve had over a decade to learn.

Please stop sending people email that they have not asked for. You are giving small presses and volunteer writing organisations a bad name.

If you want people on your list, do this in the same way everyone else does it: by adding a signup box to your website, by adding a link to forum posts, by putting it as pinned post to your Facebook and Twitter profiles, by putting it on all publicity you send out, by using paid ads to increase your audience.


The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

Sick of juggling sales spreadsheets?

When your books are distributed wide, you will be bombarded with sales spreadsheets from vendors every month.

What to do with them?

There are a number of options to aggregate your sales data so that you can make sense of them.
One of those options, which I recommend in Self-publishing Unboxed, is a program called Trackerbox.

Trackerbox and allows you to see your sales per country, per retailer, per series, for any time period that you choose. It gives your sales in all the different currencies and also tallies pages read if you are in KU. It gives free downloads. Other than the usual venues, like Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and Nook, it supports formats from more unusual sales sources like Bundlerabbit, as well as print books, audiobooks, and even a user uploaded spreadsheet option for hand sales at cons.

Trackerbox is a program that you download and use on your computer, rather than give all your passwords to run online. Therefore your financial data, and your passwords, are secure.

Trackerbox has only been available for the PC. But Mac use amongst writers has exploded, because there are so many great programs for the Mac. The owner is now running a kickstarter to make a version of Trackerbox for Mac.

You can support the kickstarter and will get your version of the program when it is done.

So if you use a Mac, why not support the kickstarter now, so that this version will become a reality.

The Self-publishing Three-year plan is now a book

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Hello all, I haven’t been here for some time.

I’ve been busy writing new books.

But I have just published a series of three books that readers of this blog might find useful.
Over the years, I have found that a lot of people ask for advice on self publishing. I think this is a good thing, because when you google self publishing, a lot of vanishing publishers come up.

Asking other authors is certainly the best way to find out about the best practices, so I don’t want to discourage that. But there are only so many hours in my day! I need to spend more time writing my own fiction instead of talking to people and answering questions via email or Facebook.

Often, the answers will repeat the same things over and over again, so I have decided to make it a series of books.

The first book, Self-publishing Unboxed, is 101 guide to self publishing for people who know nothing about it. It covers the basic principles of self publishing, the dos and don’t’s, the potential pitfalls, and the attitude necessary to turn this into a successful venture.

There are quite a few books out there that cover a lot of the nitty-gritty, but not many of them give an overall perspective from the viewpoint of a writer’s career. Books will concentrate on marketing, on the publishing process, or on writing craft. But in reality, all three of these need to come together. I have attempted to give a bird’s eye view of all three.

In the self publishing community, I have become known as someone uses mailing lists to great effect.

In the second book, Mailing Lists Unboxed, I describe some of my tactics and the underlying principles and attitudes necessary to use your author mailing list to its full potential.

Again, this is not how to guide with detailed instructions, because I assume that you can read the instructions on your email provider’s website on how to set up the processes I talk about in the book.

Rather, it is a book that describes how the things work and why they work. I cover different types of mailing list and the different strategies necessary to engage them, how to recruit people for your mailing list and what are the consequences of each type of recruiting, the risks with mailing lists, the unspoken rules about them, and how to use your list to sell books.

The last book, Going Wide Unboxed, is a short companion guide for writers who are listed in Kindle Unlimited, and who want to take a stab at listing at other venues than Amazon and take their fiction into the world. Kindle Unlimited has its largest market in the US. That is all very well if your fiction is geared towards the US, but it is not even the majority of English language readers.

These days, I sell a lot more outside the US than inside it. The sales of English ebooks is a growing market in countries other than the US, and in general, not even on Amazon, one that has embraced Kindle Unlimited in great extent.

By increasing your focus on international sales, you can also increase your sales on Amazon, especially in non-US stores.

This book discusses the non-Amazon venues that are open to self-publishers and where it is useful to list your books. It discusses if you peculiarities of each platform that can be useful to know.

It also discusses the fundamental shift in attitude that you need to have with regards to marketing your books. For one, your mailing list will become much more important.

There isn’t anyone easy way to increase your sales. Taking your sales worldwide is hard. This book aims to better prepare you for taking that step.

The book is only short, and will be free for a limited time.

The three books will be available to all writers, and not just the ones who sent me messages on Facebook or send me emails.

I hope to have served the writing community by writing these books. There will not be any online courses or any webinars to sell. I will get back to my fiction.

You can see more information about the books and find out where to get them here.

Crazy Science Fiction and Fantasy ebook sale on this weekend!

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Click here or on the image to go to the promo (opens a new tab).

This weekend, I’m taking part in a crazy promo with 166 authors, where we have lowered prices to 99c. Unlike so many other promotions, this is NOT a purely Amazon-centred event, and you will find a page for each retailer. I’m looking to expand this co-op to become more international. About a third of our visitors are currently not from the US.

Something for the weekend: 15 novellas 99c

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I recently pulled all my more recent novellas and short stories together in an anthology. There are 15 of them:

This Peaceful State of War – WOTF winning story
Geospermia – published in Analog
The Rebelliousness of Trassi Udang – published in Belong, ISF-Allion world
The Shattered World Within – published in Giganotosaurus
Survival in Shades of Orange – published in Analog
Quarantine – published in Dead Red Heart
Party, with Echoes – published in Redstone SF
His Name In Lights – published in Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette
Abode – published in Aurealis
A perfect Day off the Farm – published in Extreme Planets
Santiago Dawn – published in Neo-opsis
Where the Plains Merge With The Sky – published in Scapezine
Luminescence – ISF-Allion world novella
Charlotte’s Army – ISF-Allion novella
Looking For Daddy – absurd horror novella

It’s only 99c.