Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

How to Get a Great Cover Design for Your Self-Published Book

Readers do judge books by their covers, and your cover is your #1 marketing tool. For new independent authors, acquiring a book cover is a thrilling, but daunting, task. Once your book has a cover, it looks like a “real” book. The cover is something tangible you can show your friends and family — I know for me, my book cover reveal was the moment when my loved ones realized I had actually written a novel.

So, how do you find a talented and affordable cover designer? And when you do find one, how do you ensure that you end up with a great design? I’ll cover (pun recognized, but not intended) all of that in this article.

First, I want to clarify my position on self-designed covers: unless you’re a skilled graphic designer or have ZERO budget to spend, designing your own book cover is an unwise decision. Self-publishing doesn’t mean that you do everything yourself. It means commissioning other professionals to do what you cannot. You wouldn’t try to fix your car’s transmission without any mechanical knowledge, right?

8 Science FictionSelect Your Strategy

In independent publishing, there are two ways authors approach book cover design.

1. Save Now, Upgrade Later
Authors on a budget will often get the cheapest cover they can afford, with the intention of upgrading it once the book starts to make money. This saves you upfront, but could harm sales by giving readers an unprofessional impression. This is what I have done with my nonfiction booklets (examples left and below).

2. Spend Now, Save Later
Authors who can (or want) to get the best cover available will do so from the very beginning. They will spend more and therefore lose money on their book upfront. The idea is that the professional cover will pay for itself over time and be the best marketing tool for the book. This is what I do with my fiction novels (examples below).

Find a Designer

11-anthologyThis is the hardest part of the cover design process. There are thousands of awesome (and not-so-awesome) designers out there. Where do you even begin? Well, here are my suggestions:

1. Set a budget
Cover design can get pricey, and you need that number set in stone before you fall in love with a design(er) you can’t afford. Consider how many books you would have to sell just to break even on the cover (let alone formatting, editing, etc.).

2. Ask around the community
Which designers do your author friends use? Does anyone in your friendship, family, or professional spheres do graphic design (a former coworker did my nonfiction booklets — for FREE)? What do members of forums or groups say?

3. Look at your favorite books
Browse Amazon (or your bookshelf) and pick out covers that fit with your genre or that appeal to you stylistically. Check the copyright page and/or acknowledgments for the designer. Some designers work for both traditional publishers and indie authors, so it’s always worth a look.

4. Search online.
That’s right: head to your favorite search engine and fire away. You’ll get flooded with options, but it’s worth doing the research: your cover is the FIRST impression readers receive of your book. Try searching for contests/awards also to find the top designers.

Choose a Designer

The Cogsmith's Daughter - Ebook SmallYou’ve used the strategies above and have found a promising designer. How do you decide if this designer is right for your books? Here are things to think about:

1. Check out the portfolio
Are the covers well done? Do they catch your eye as a reader? Are there examples that fit with your genre? For example, if all the covers have bare-chested male models, this designer may not be great for your post-apocalyptic thriller.

2. Check the pricing and packages
First off, do the services fit within your budget? Second, what are you getting for your money? Does the designer only do ebooks, or can you get paperback and audiobook covers too? Do they offer any marketing materials, like banners or bookmarks?

3. Look for pre-made covers
Sometimes, designers offer pre-made covers. These are designs they’ve done for fun, or designs from other projects that were rejected. They’ll be cheaper than a custom design, but you may be limited in the revisions you can make.

4. Consider the policies
If you are unhappy, do you get a refund? If so, how much is it?
What down-payment is required? When is final payment due?
How many revisions do you get? What constitutes a revision?
How long does it take to receive a first draft? Is there a waiting list?
Do you get all the rights to the cover? Are stock image fees included in the price?

5. Read testimonials and reach out to other authors
Find out who the designer has designed for and send them an email to ask about their experiences. Most authors will be happy to share.

The Design Itself

perf5.250x8.000.inddObviously, your cover designer should know how to bring your vision to life. But when you receive that initial draft, it’s important not to fall in love at first sight. The design may be gorgeous, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your genre or book.

1. Does the overall design communicate the genre?
Show the design to a few people. Can they tell what genre your book is and/or the tone it conveys? If your design were on your category page for Amazon, would it look out of place?

2. Do the fonts and coloring communicate the genre?
You probably won’t want “Chiller” for your romance novel. Nor would you want a fancy cursive for your horror book. Likewise, your thriller will need dark, gritty colors, while your children’s book will need vibrant shades. There are exceptions, of course, but they’re rare.

3. Are the images fighting each other?
Make sure your cover has a single image that stands out as the star. If there is too much going on, it’s going to look muddled.

4. Speaking of the image, is it clear as a thumbnail?
On retail sites, your cover will be tiny when it appears in a search. Is the imagery still clear and eye-catching at thumbnail size?

5. Will this design style work for other books in the series?
Series covers don’t need to be exact replicas of each other, but they need to have similar elements that connect them (fonts, basic layout, etc.). If your book is the first in a series, consider whether this basic design will work for future books, too. You can see examples of my series covers in this post.


And there you have it! Those are my best practices for finding a designer and receiving an awesome cover design. If you have any questions about the cover design process, or have any other tips to share, please leave them in the comments!

Note: this post was first written for my Writing Newsletter subscribers. If you’d like more writing and publishing advice like this (plus my FREE 100 Blogging Ideas for Fiction Authors PDF), sign up here.

Fiction Blog, The Desertera Series

Book Review: The Cogsmith’s Daughter

A thoughtful, detailed, and downright stunning review of The Cogsmith’s Daughter from my friend and fellow writer, Amrita. She really “got” what I was going for with the characters and the themes of the novel, and people like her are exactly why writing is my life’s calling!

Of Opinions


I am usually not drawn to books by their cover (at least, that is what I like to believe), but the cover image of The Cogsmith’s Daughter, the debut novel of author Kate M. Colby, aroused my curiosity from the first time she revealed it

View original post 824 more words

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How to Be Taken Seriously as a Writer

writerSo writing is your creative calling, your life’s purpose, your ultimate joy. Congratulations! You’re part of (in my totally unbiased opinion) one of the best groups of people in the world. You know it, I know it — and yet, your friends and family don’t.

After all, what’s so special about being a writer? Literally billions of people on the planet write every day. It’s a basic life skill, one of the first we learn. And as a career? Psh! You might as well steal a cardboard box from behind your local grocery store and get comfy on the street.

Let’s get this out of the way: writing is a viable career and meaningful task. Whether you do it professionally or for pleasure, you deserve to be taken seriously and to receive the same respect that other professionals or dedicated hobbyists receive.

That being said, there are ways to make it easier for your friends and family to take your writing seriously. Here are a few:

Write (and write regularly)

This may seem obvious, but you would not believe how many people I knew in college (myself included), who did more talking about writing than actual writing. That doesn’t work. You have to write to be a writer. Period. I know how to dive, and I enjoy doing so when the mood strikes and I happen to be at the pool. But I don’t go diving regularly. And I would never call myself a diver.

Once writing, call yourself a writer

Often, “aspiring” writers feel like imposters for calling themselves writers. Don’t. If you write regularly, enjoy writing, and intend to make writing a part of your professional or personal life, you are a writer. The sooner you embrace and use the label, the sooner your friends and family will, too.

Treat writing like a job

In order to finish a writing piece, you’re going to have to put in a lot of work. This means protecting your writing time. If you’re stuck at the office with a huge deadline and your friend asks you out to lunch, what do you do? Hint: you stay and get your work done, lest your boss fire you. If you want to make writing a career, you must be equally vigilant. When you make your writing a priority, others will see that it is, too.

clicheDon’t play into “writer” cliches

There is this insane idea floating around the internet that writers are miserable. Like, we don our berets, pour a glass of whiskey, and slit our wrists over the keyboard. Is writing always fun? No. It’s actually pretty difficult work. But it also shouldn’t be torturous (if it is, you might look at a different field). There is no nobility in self-induced suffering. And if you exude misery to your friends and family, they’re not going to view you as “authentic.” If they care for your happiness, they’re probably going to encourage you to quit.

Don’t downplay your accomplishments

When a lawyer wins a trial, she doesn’t say, “Oh, yeah, I said some stuff and the bad guy went away.” When you finish a book, publish it, or receive a publishing contract, don’t be self-deprecating (but don’t be an asshole, either). Own up to your success, thank those who have supported you, and reach for an even bigger goal.

Be clear about your goals

If writing is a dedicated hobby, that’s fine. Call it that, and inform your loved ones exactly what you get out of it (satisfaction, stress relief, joy, etc.). If writing is your chosen career, explain your plans. Describe what kinds of books you intend to write, your publication plans, and where you see your writing business in five to ten years. If you are driven, logical, and enthusiastic (and can back up your dreams with action plans, facts, and figures), the people in your life will realize that you have thought this through and that writing is a viable life choice.

And if all else fails…let people think what they want. In the end, what matters most is how you view yourself. If you are happy and fulfilled as writer, if you know that your hobby or career is right for you, and you just plain love writing — that’s all you need.

How do you people in your life view your writing? How did you convince naysayers to take you seriously? Share your tips in the comments.

Kate's Nonfiction for Writers, Writing & Publishing Articles

Get 100 General Creative Writing Prompts for FREE

1 General

EDIT: This promotion has ended…BUT you can still pick up the booklet for $0.99 USD. To be the first to hear about future sales and booklets, make sure to sign up for my author newsletter via the newsletter tab at the top of the page.

Those who read my monthly update posts will know that I’ve been vaguely hinting at a nonfiction project for some time. Well, this is it! I’m happy to announce that I’ve released the first (of 10) fiction writing prompts booklets. 100 General Creative Writing Prompts is FREE on Amazon from now until Saturday, January 23rd. The regular price will be $0.99 USD.

Before you read the synopsis, I’d like to tell you a little about why I wrote this booklet. One of my favorite things about the self-publishing community is how indie authors give back to each other and are transparent in what they’ve learned and achieved. I’m not at a point in my career to dispense business or marketing advice. However, I’ve got a helluva lot of creativity and a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing — so inspiration and motivation, I can share.

My goal is to release one booklet per month from now until November. As with this first one, there will be some free promotions from time to time, but they will all be priced $0.99. Of course, as with all things, my newsletter subscribers will always get the first heads up on when they are free.

I’ll let you read the synopsis below. When you’re done, be sure to head to your “local” Amazon site and download your FREE copy before Saturday!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon CA | Goodreads

Are you struggling with writer’s block? This booklet contains 100 writing prompts to help you take back control of your creativity.

Do you feel that novel burning inside you but are unsure where to begin?
Are you an established fiction author looking for a fresh new idea?

If you’re ready to stop staring at the blank page and start writing NOW, 100 General Creative Writing Prompts is the booklet for you. There’s no fluff and no wasted words – just 100 fiction prompts to get you back to what you do best: writing.

100 General Creative Writing Prompts is packed with character- and story-focused prompts to jumpstart your fiction writing. Each prompt has been carefully designed to help you boost your creativity, build new writing techniques, add descriptive flair to your narration, and bring greater depth to your characters.

Inside, you’ll find prompts on the following topics:

1. Childhood
2. Adolescence
3. Adulthood
4. Beauty
5. Emotions & Feelings
6. Everyday Encounters
7. Holidays
8. Seasons
9. The Other Three Senses
10. Outside-the-Box

Each section contains 10 thought-provoking prompts. Practice them in order, or dive right into to what inspires you most. You’ve already wasted enough energy on writer’s block. It’s time to get started on your next great fiction piece.

Take control of your creativity. Download your FREE copy of 100 General Creative Writing Prompts today.

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon CA

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

The Pressure to Be Super Human

During my time as a Sociology major, I took a few classes that focused on gender and family. In these, we learned about the changing roles of women in society, and how modern women often feel pressure to work a “Second Shift” to fulfill their roles. Decades ago, women only had to focus on being a wife and mother. In modern society, women are still expected to thrive in the domestic sphere–while also holding down a full-time career. In other words, they can (and should, in most people’s opinions) do it all.

But this article isn’t about Feminism and the roles of women. It’s about authors.

Decades ago, the life of the author (or, more accurately, the romanticized view we hold of it) was quite different. You simply jetted off to Paris with Hemingway and Fitzgerald, got rip-roaring drunk, and spouted your brilliance. A publisher then plucked it from your hands and sent it out into the world, where your deserved fame and ample royalties followed.

Again, that’s the romanticized view. But it’s still what a lot of people associate with authorship.

Today, a new author has emerged, of which I am one: the indie author. As an independent author, we are expected to write and edit our own books, format them, design covers, publish, and market. Or, of course, hire professionals to assist us. And until we finally figure out the magic formula to full-time authorship, we have to do all of this while working full-time jobs, maintaining our households, and keeping our social relationships in tact.

In my imagination, the ideal indie author — the person I should be — goes through the day like this:

Wake up at four or five a.m. Devour coffee and write for at least an hour. Go to work (while writing more, reading/listening to books or podcasts, or marketing during the commute). Take a lunch break (with more writing, reading, or marketing). Repeat the commute home. Eat dinner and spend a short amount of time with family. Write until midnight. Sleep four to five hours. Repeat.

Is it just me, or does that sound insanely difficult? I mean, I need my sleep…for everyone else’s safety.

Okay, reality time. That schedule is probably slightly exaggerated. But there are plenty of “famous” indie authors who have done something similar. There’s Hugh Howey, who wrote Wool while working in a bookstore. There’s Joanna Penn, who scaled back her day job to four days a week, gave up television, and got up incredibly early every day to write. Listen to any mainstream self-publishing podcast, and you’ll find the success stories.

That’s what it takes to make it to the big leagues. You’ve got to want it so badly that you make huge sacrifices, that you keep pushing even when you’re exhausted, that you devote daily practice to writing and studying the industry. And for most of us, myself included, just thinking about that kind of rigorous routine — even with our burning desire for its rewards — makes us light-headed. I mean, that’s a lot of pressure.

But that’s the formula for success as an indie author — work hard enough that you make your own luck.

So what do we do?

I guess we figure out how to do it for ourselves. I haven’t quite tackled being super human just yet (I’ll let you know when I do), but I think we start somewhere like this:

  • Find the discipline to wake up an hour earlier (or stay up an hour later)
  • Find the energy to knock out some words during our lunch breaks or after work
  • Remember meeting our goals is more satisfying than another Netflix binge
  • Listen to an audiobook or podcast instead of the radio on our commutes
  • Turn wasted minutes or free time into time spent being creative
  • Cut personal expenses and treats in favor of time off work or business-related costs
  • Search out others with the same goal and feed off their determination
  • Recognize that we will always have more work to do
  • Forgive ourselves when we fall short of our goals
  • Keep trying to do better

When I break it down like this, it feels easy — but we all know it’s not.

This is the part where I start to flounder, where I deeply feel my own failings, and where I feel intense pressure to do better. I know what to do, I’m just not sure how to cram it all into my own life. I pump myself up, get into a frenzy of motivation, make progress, then peter out, whether after a day, a week, or a month…

But I’m working on it, and I’ve already seen marked improvements in 2016.

I guess the point of this post is: fellow indie authors, fellow day job grinders, fellow insecure creatives — you are not alone. I’m right there with you, straddling the tightrope between the present and the authorship dreams. And one way or another, we’ll all end up on one side of the rope or the other.

I know which side I want to be on. It’s going to take a few years of penny-pinching and late nights (and getting Daniel through graduate school). It’s not ALL in my hands, but it mostly is, and I’m going to try my hardest to get there.

Where are you right now? And which side will you be on in five or ten years?

If those questions make your chest tight, remember: you’re not alone. And if you need someone to rally around, I’ve got your back.