Tag Archives: cover artists

It Takes A Village (To Raise A Book)

You there, about to load a first or second draft to a publishing platform. Yes, you. Don’t you hit that upload button. Back away from the keyboard nice and slow. That’s it, sit back, relax, we need to have a chat. Look, I know you’re excited about getting your baby out in the world, of having it read and getting those sales, but is it the best version of your baby? Or, are you sending it out half-formed and with shitty clothes? I said back away from the keyboard.

Okay, I understand that writing is mostly a solitary endeavour but the processes of getting your book out to readers is not. Doing that alone is a fool’s errand. I’ve listened (somewhat) patiently to authors telling me they don’t need beta readers or an editor or a cover artist or a cover designer or layout artist – they can do that all themselves and not have to worry about expenditure. Technically they’re right. With the advent of self-publishing and the associated platforms you most certainly can do this alone. The question is: should you? The answer is: no.

Expenditure is an issue, I get it, but if you don’t invest in your book, don’t expect readers to invest in it either. With the traditional route, your publisher will take care of this: the editing, the cover, the proofreading et al. (Note: with traditional publishing you shouldn’t pay for any of this – money flows to the author, not away – but that’s a subject for another post.) Author-publishers? Yeah, you need to pay for this yourself.

So let’s take a look at the processes you need to put out the best damn book you can. So you’ve finished the eleventy-first draft of your story and you’re pretty happy with where it is – characters are on point, plot is kicking-arse, sub-plots are woven nicely, narrative is killer. Time to get that baby out in the world! Yeah… no. What you have in your hands is a ‘rough draft’, the foundation upon which you will build. A strong foundation it may well be, but a foundation is what it is. Write, edit, redraft. Rinse and repeat.

You’ve spent a good lot of time and effort to get to this point, so you’re well past being able to see any issues with it. You don’t just hammer out a first draft and upload it. I suppose you can do that if you like (plenty of people have), but be prepared for any reviews to point out exactly where you went wrong. Plot holes? You got them. Spelling and grammar issues? Kill me now. Point-of-view hops? What’s happening! Layout all over the place? My eyes!

gouge eyes

It’s bad reviews for you. And bad reviews, especially when it comes to poor spelling and grammar, clichéd story, Mary-Sue/Marty-Stu characters will guarantee low-to-zero sales. Readers take note of bad reviews, especially those that cite all of the above. Remember, there’s that ‘look inside’ option, and you’ll lose that potential sale right there. Not only will you not get sales, readers tend to not give you a second chance. Why would they when there are plenty of other authors doing it the right way.

Because I love the point form, here’s a breakdown of who you need in your village (just step over the books strewn about the place):

  • Beta readers: the unsung heroes of the writing/publishing process. You’ll need at least two (but no more than five), and ones with differing skill sets ‒ someone who reads in your genre, and someone who doesn’t (librarian, book reviewer), someone who has an understanding of grammar and/or story mechanics. Not your nanna. She may be lovely, but… no.
  • Editor. And by editor I mean someone with qualifications (ask to see these), industry experience, and one who understands the genre in which you write. Beta readers are not editors. Editors know structure and syntax and speech, they know consistency, cohesion, and characterisation. They understand foreshadowing, and herrings, and Chekov’s rifle. They know subjects and predicates, showing versus telling, and they know dangling participles and why you shouldn’t have them. They know language, and they will tighten the crap out of your narrative.
  • Cover artist/cover designer. These can be two different people, so make sure you know what you’re getting. I won’t go into too much detail here as I’ve covered this in my previous post: Art of the Cover.
  • Layout artist. Yes, you need someone who understands desktop publishing and has the right tools for the job. No, you should not load a Microsoft Word document to a publishing platform ‒ the internals will be off-kilter, as will your kerning and typography. You don’t want bland and vanilla internals. With the right desktop publishing tools, your book becomes a reading experience. Layout is only noticeable when done poorly. And if someone tells you differently, run far and run fast.
  • Proofreader. This will be the final point at which you can catch any small issues eg. errant spaces, widows and orphans, correct page numbering etc. This is usually done with a PDF file called a galley proof. Best suggestion is to have someone other than your editor do the proof. New set of eyes means they’ll pick up any missed issues.

Now you’re probably bemoaning the processes and the associated costs, but if you want to put out professional product and be taken seriously then it needs to be done. Some editors will be happy to work with a  payment plan (and if asked will provide a sample edit), beta readers may ask for reciprocity, you can find reasonably-priced good cover artists and stock images, cover designers as well. These are processes you can’t skimp on if you want to do self-publishing right.

Check out Devin Madson’s episode on ‘Storywork’ about the 5 Steps to Professional Publishing. As a self-publisher, Devin has gone about this the right way. She gathered a village of beta readers, editor, cover artist, cover designer, layout artist around her and put out a book that rivals any published by the Big 5. Just take a look at one of the covers for her Vengeance Trilogy.


This is author-publishing done right. Devin talks about your reputation as an author, and she’s not wrong. As I mentioned earlier, if you put out sub-par work don’t expect readers to return to your books, to buy them. Reputation can make or break you. Have it ‘make’ you.

Now before I let you return to your keyboard, think about all I’ve said, and think about the work you want the world to see. Professionally done books will bring readers back; the poorly done books will not. First impressions last.

It really does take a village to raise a book, a good book, a professional book… and when done right, you get a whole other village – readers, fans, those who will market upcoming releases for you, and who are willing to party with you for every book to come.

** Special shout-out to Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine for the suggestion for blog-post fodder — you rock, dude! Oh, and check out Grimdark Mag, they know their stuff!

Art of the Cover

Let’s talk about book covers. Yes, let’s. Because if my Facebook feed is anything to go by, then of late cover art has been more miss than hit. No, seriously. If I see another book cover that looks like the “artist” went at it with Microsoft Paint, I will lose my goddamn mind.

Now before I get my ranty-pants well and truly on, I won’t be filling this post with shite covers, but excellent ones by the amazing artist Dean Samed, who does all Cohesion Press covers. I’ll be talking about artists as well, because this is as much about the author as it is the artist – each is as responsible (or complicit) for the end product. I’ll get to publishers later in the piece… yep, no one gets out unscathed here!

Okay, authors, listen up. Covers matter. They matter a whole lot. It is the visual representation of the work within, and the first (yes, FIRST) point-of-contact for a potential reader (and buyer) of your book. A great cover will stop a reader in their tracks and have them pick up your book or click that link, and that’s half the battle won right there. And make no mistake, this is a battle. You’re competing with gazillions of other authors out there for potential readers, and a cover – a GOOD cover – will entice.

Jade Gods HR.jpg

A shit cover? Well, move along, folks – nothing to see here. Readers are discerning; it’s their money they’re parting with, and if you haven’t put the effort into obtaining the best cover you can, why should they believe you’ve made the effort with the writing? Now I know people will be jumping up and down spouting: “you can’t judge a book by its cover!” Well I call bullshit. I most certainly will judge your book by its cover. And so will a whooooole bunch of others. That’s income. Your potential income you’re wagering on the hope that readers will forgive that shite cover and buy your book. But why would they when there’s a plethora of other great covers out there? Know that your crap cover will not find a place on my bookshelf. I’m not alone in this thinking.

A great cover will generate interest. It has the potential to be shared on social media platforms that will increase your reach and garner readers. It will put you and your book(s) on readers’ radar. You seeing the positives here?

But what makes a good cover, I hear you ask. A few things. A few very simple things.

  • It must represent what’s inside. Hit your genre; don’t be putting a zombie on historical romance (unless it’s a zombie historical romance tale).
  • Fonting should be clean, simple, and easy to read. Just because you’re writing horror, doesn’t mean your fonting has to be red… or dripping blood… (please stop doing that).
  • Watch your elements. This is something I see quite a bit – filling the cover with too much stuff. Ooh, there’s a castle in the story, and an elf, and a magical sword…ooh, ooh, ooh, and a horse and a dragon, and, and, and… Don’t make it busy. It doesn’t draw the eye, it confuses it. Singularity is your friend here – one major element with one or two smaller complementary elements. It’s all about balance.
  • Watch your colour. Background colour has to work with font colour. And the busier the palette, the harder it’s going to be to get that right.
  • Do not, I repeat, DO NOT put ‘A Novel’ on the cover of a novel. We’re not idiots.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a bit more that goes into it than the above five points, but those ↑ up there are some pretty straightforward things to keep in mind when engaging a cover artist. You will be the one providing the artist the brief (some artists won’t have time to read your novel, so they rely on you to give them the information they need), so don’t overload them with every single piece of the plot and every character, but give them the main focus points and trust them – they’re the artist, they know what they’re doing.

Into the Mist HR.jpg

And therein can sometimes lie the rub. Not all who claim to be cover artists, actually are. I’ve seen sites popping up on my social media pages with people proclaiming they’re cover artists and offering their ‘work’ for either a pittance, or way too much for the end product. Just because you can mock up a cover and throw some fancy fonting (not always a good choice) over it, doesn’t make you a cover designer. Really, it doesn’t.

Thing is, there are plenty of fantastic cover artists/designers out there who offer amazing work for reasonable prices. You invested in editing (please, tell me you invested in editing), so invest in the coat your baby is going to wear. It doesn’t have to be original art (although there’s something extraordinarily special about those covers), but there are designers out there who work wonders with stock photography who know how to blend the hell out of it to make it seamless.

Dean Samed of NeoStock is a brilliant creative who knows his shit. He understands books and the power of covers, he knows how to blend and manipulate and manoeuvre images to create some mind-blowing covers. Dean understands the market, he understands covers, and he knows his art. He’s also seen a gap in the market when it comes to stock photography, and has started NeoStock – check it out if you’re looking for original stock art that kills what’s currently on offer around the web.

So how do you find a good artist? Again, this is simple. Ask. Get on your social media platforms, send out a request. Sure, you’re going to get contacted by some crap “artists” that’s par for the course, but you could find that gem you’re looking for. Chat to other authors, get recommendations from them. Check out other book covers, and if you find a cover you love check the front matter to see if the artist is listed (they usually are), or get in touch with the author and ask. Deviantart is also a great place to scope artists. While they may not be able to mock up a cover for you, they will provide you with art that doesn’t look like a toddler went at it with crayons.

And if you think readers don’t mind what a cover looks likes, think again. There are whole websites dedicated to the shittiest of shittest covers (see here and here for some examples). Trust me, you don’t want to end up on these websites, it will be nothing but scorn and derision. And that pretty much sucks for you re sales.

So think about the cover you’re wanting to put on your book, find an artist who knows what they’re doing (look at their portfolio or ask to see previous work, and don’t be afraid to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ – you can do that, you know), and get yourself the best cover you possibly can. You’ll be proud of the end-product, and your readers will thank you for putting in the effort to make your book awesome both inside and out. Don’t short-change your book, and don’t short-change the reader.

American Nocturne HR.jpg

And if you’re a publisher don’t short-change your author or their work. If you want to be taken seriously in this industry, if you want to make a go of this business then you have to take this seriously, too. Don’t hire your friend’s kid’s uncle’s intern to do the work – INVEST in the cover like you’re investing in the author. The Big Five are as guilty of this as mid-to-small presses and author-publishers. Of late, the Big Five have been seriously dropping the ball when it comes to cover art. So do better. Be better. If you, as a publisher, want to see a return on your investment, then you need to offer a product that hits the mark on all fronts. That means kick-arse covers.

For those of you thinking this isn’t as important as I’m telling you it is, you’re wrong, so very wrong. Social-media marketing will definitely help with sales, but if you’re doing that with a shite or mediocre cover, you’re limiting your reach. Yes, family, friends and colleagues will buy your book, but if you want to be successful, then you have to reach those who wouldn’t normally know of you, and the best way to do that is to have a cover that makes them sit up and take notice. They’ll share it, then their friends will share it. Covers can do that. They’re magical if done well. And who doesn’t love a bit of magic? It’s why we write.


Remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Primordial HR


Art of the Cover

Covers matter. They do. That old adage: Don’t judge a book by its cover, if taken in its absolute literal sense, is utter bullshit. Covers are your visual selling point; it’s the first thing a potential reader (and buyer) sees. And if it’s terrible and/or amateurish… Behold, I will judge with all my judgey judginess! I will slam down my imaginary gavel, and I won’t buy your book.

But wait, I hear you say, what if the story is brilliant? Then invest in good cover art, dammit. Invest in it like you invested in your story. All those hours you agonised over words and plot and characters, of the sleep you sacrificed, eating at your desk, of wondering whether you showered today… or was it yesterday… (No? Just me then…), invest that same excellence in your cover art. Don’t just slap any cover on your work (and for the love of all things holy and unholy, unless you’re an artist, don’t do it yourself!), ’cause I will judge your book by its cover, and so will a lot of others.

I read a lot, and as a buyer of print books, a beautiful and/or interesting cover will draw me in as much as a shitty one will repel. And with the amount of both print and electronic books on the market, a good cover is half the battle won. I’ll pick it up, and if your blurb is good (that’s fodder for another post), then that’s a sale. When it comes to my hard-earned cash, I’m particular on how I spend it, and I’m more likely to spend on a book with a beautiful cover, than I am on one with a shite one.

For someone with a mountain of ‘to read’ books who also can’t walk past a bookstore without venturing into its delicious depths, I’m always looking for new authors to read. A cover is where it all begins. It led me to Mark Lawrence and his Broken Empire and Red Queen series, and now I’ll read anything the man writes. Seriously, go to his website and buy the man’s books. Go. Now. I’ll wait.


<insert Muzak here>

Back? Excellent.

Another thing I often hear is that bad covers are the domain of the author-publisher. Again, I call bullshit. The advent of author-publishing and the (now-diminishing) stigma attached to it, has shown authors know the value of a great cover. There are self-published authors whose books have gorgeous covers – this tells me they’ve thought long and hard about their finished product, about their reader. And covers should reflect the content, the world and atmosphere of a book. Take a look at Devin Madson’s The Blood of Whisperers – the story inside is as beautiful as the cover. Another author whose work I will now always read.


As an editor, I understand the importance of covers, how they work to sell the story/stories inside. If you can excite a potential reader by the cover art alone, then you’re looking at sales. Sales are good. Sales mean the author (or authors, when an anthology) will be read, and those authors may begin to get a fan-base – and there’s not a lot better than that. As an editor for Cohesion Press (an Australian small press), their mantra is to always source kick-ass cover art. Great cover art gets readers excited, it builds interest, it builds sales. But more than that, it’s the finished product. Readers will appreciate the effort you put in, and they’ll remember your name.


I know there’ll be those out there who will bemoan the cost of cover art. That good cover art is unaffordable. Well before you do that, how would you feel if someone bitched about the price of your book? Good cover art costs, just as good editing and proofreading – all essential parts of the publishing process. You want to put your best work out into the world, right? Right?

The reason I decided to write this post was the cover artist for Cohesion’s books, Dean Samed (check out his work) just yesterday had his site go live, and his cover-work is just astounding. Each piece grabs you, it takes you places, and it defines what’s on the inside pages. The last thing any author wants is a horror book (for instance) with a decidedly romance cover. That’s a betrayal no reader will tolerate.

There are amazing artists out there who love creating cover art for the books you love creating. Check out Deviantart, get onto artists’ sites, and if you like the style of a book cover, the artist is usually mentioned in the front-matter. Social media is a great way to get recommendations for artists, for those who specialise in covers, who can put the best ‘coat’ on your baby.

Do a little research, chat to artists, find great art. Your book will thank you for it.