How to make your own Advanced Review Copy (ARC) Cover for Pre-Publication Reviews (Free templates to download!)

If you want to send your book out to major reviewers, you need to send them an Advance Review Copy (ARC), aka “Advanced Uncorrected Galley”, at least 3 months (but preferably six months) before publication. If you’re indie or self-publishing, I wouldn’t recommend it: it’s a lot of extra work and effort that is unlikely to pay off: huge companies and reviewers will ignore your book unless it comes with major backing (famous people’s support), so your ARC will probably get trashed. Meanwhile other reviewers (the ones who will review your book) probably don’t care about ARC’s and would rather get a finished, beautiful book. Trying to play the game the way the book publishers do is a plan to fail; you’re indie, you need to take advantage of your ability to be quick, light and fast. Instead of sending out ARC’s, you could be putting finished books in the hands of key players (popular bloggers, community leaders, etc) who will help promote it.


If you do want to make an Advanced Review Copy, despite my voice of caution, some other book designers charge extra to make one for you, usually over $100. (FYI, I don’t charge my clients for ARC’s).

Luckily you can make one  yourself. The key ingredients of an Advanced Uncorrected Galley, is a tag that says “ADVANCE UNCORRECTED GALLEY”. Simple, right? I’ve made a bunch for you at hi-res, so you can just download one you like and add it to your book, one on the back and one on the front.

 (Click on the picture once to see the big version, then right-click and ‘save as…’)










You may also need to include (it’s a nice idea, not sure if it’s always mandatory) the marketing information, in a new box on the back that obscures the barcode (because this is not for sale).

According to Joel Friedlander of THE BOOK DESIGNER, you should include this info:

  • Prominent box added to brand the books as “Advance Uncorrected Galley”
  • The same prominent box added to the back cover
  • The lower half of the back cover has been reformatted both to make room for the box, and to accommodate the new elements
  • One quote, which was used in the press release that accompanied the ARC package, has been removed
  • Author information has been moved up
  • A new box, “Marketing Campaign” has been added. This box contains critical marketing information. Make sure to include here:
    • A brief summary of marketing plans
    • Bibliographic data including ISBN and subject categories, trim size and page count
    • Pricing information
    • Contact information for your publishing company and your PR or marketing contact person
    • Who will be distributing your book

So I’m also including a few blank boxes you can download and use.

 (Click on the picture once to see the big version, then right-click and ‘save as…’)


Here’s one of the ARC’s I’ve made recently:


I hope these are useful! If so, please share!



How much should I pay for book cover design services?

When I started designing covers, I charged a few hundred bucks and couldn’t believe some designers charged over a thousand dollars for book cover design.

Here are some factors that impact how much designers charge.

  1. They’re process and how long it takes.
  2. Whether they offer unlimited variations and changes
  3. Whether they’re also including promotional graphics
  4. Whether they are working for themselves or outsourcing to cheaper designers
  5. Where they’re from (average cost of living)
  6. Amount of traffic and reputation they have
  7. Specific knowledge of the industry
  8. Marketing experience to know which covers will actually sell books

I started by pricing cheap and have built a profitable business by creating lots of great content. Now I have enough demand to charge enough that I can focus my time on making a handful of clients happy, rather than trying to keep out with the demand at a lower price point.

Pricing is a matter of how much someone is willing to pay for what you’ve got.

In general, $600 can get you a great cover, and you might be able to find a cover for $300 (though those designers sometimes don’t have as much experience and can get things like the text and fonts wrong).

I charge more because I end up being a publishing coach and marketing consultant for all my clients, which is more valuable than just the cover alone. But I also put out cheap or free resources on cover design (including cover design templates and DIY videos) for indie authors who don’t have the budget for professional cover design.

For your first book, I don’t recommend spending too much on a cover until you’ve gotten beta readers in your target market and see how they respond to it (strangers, not friends and family). But, a great cover is also important for all of your marketing… so get the best you can currently afford, rather than going cheap and spending a lot on marketing or promotion, which will fail without a great cover.

Before you hire a designer, make sure to learn the important elements of book cover design so you know what mistakes to avoid. I have resources that will help at

How to make your book cover text stand out on the thumbnail version?

Today I got an email asking a common indie author question: how to I make the thumbnail book cover ‘pop’ but still make the cover look good at full size? Here’s the email:

We have published a book at Amazon’s Kindle eBooks and like the cover image in all respects except one: the main title (Awakening’s Treasure) is not very visible in the first thumbnail one sees when browsing the Kindle catalog page (perhaps author’s name also).

The consideration is how to make it more visible in a way that also works in the larger blowups (when clicking the initial image, and the Look Inside image). This might mean a different color, larger font, different font, etc.

Self-publishing gurus and indie experts keep saying that the thumbnail text needs to be legible, which means the cover has to be really big. First of all, I’m not sure I agree. The thumbnail’s job is to catch the eye and get an emotional response. So it can be quirky, interesting, beautiful, tragic – as long as viewers have some reaction to it. The is not really about the text – it’s about the images and colors; the book cover design (unless your main selling feature is your brilliantly creative title, but that’s rarely the case). They can read your book’s title and info right under the thumbnail anyway, so why does it need to be big enough to read?

If there’s a compromise to be made, I would always shoot for a good looking full size, rather than a good looking thumbnail. The email came from John Enzo, about his book “awakening’s treasure”. Here’s the thumbnail.

He’s right, the text is hard to read – but that’s not really the problem. I could make the text huge and clear, but the title doesn’t generate any interest. What’s really important in this cover is the maze, and the rose, which is actually pretty well done (here’s the full cover).

In the full cover, we can see that this is actually a very polished and clean design. I like it. I might fix up the font/text a little, but the main thing about the cover has to be the images; the text just needs to be built INTO the picture in a subtle or complimentary manner. So, while I would pull the text down from the top a bit, and make it wider and bolder, what I’d really want to do is zoom in on that rose and maze, maybe make it take up most of or all of the cover (then I could put bands of orange yellow across for the text).

I would probably also change the title font to something a little more dreamy/romantic… to go along with the feeling I get from the images.

If the cover looks great and has a good ‘feel’, you don’t need to be able to read the text on the thumbnail, so don’t stress it too much (the majority of professionally published books actually have very small text, only thrillers have huge cover text).

Book Cover Makeover

I went ahead and redid the text. I tried some script fonts but this is what we ended up liking the best.

The author writes:

When I compare your work with the original image, such a difference…..the original is so subdued but your work revitalizes it. One of our small Blue Mesa team wanted me to convey that it looks exquisite.

What a difference a few changes can make. 🙂


Carol Kilgore’s “In Name Only” Mystery Crime Book Cover Design

Working on a book cover design for Carol Kilgore’s “In Name Only”. Based on the description (pink building that catches on fire, handsome firefighter, protected witness always relocating, some danger/intrigue) I came up with these samples. Some of them are pretty good, and finally we ended up choosing the last one below).




















In Name Only by Carol Kilgore, full SYNOPSIS

Rookie server SUMMER NEWCOMBE is doing her best to remain inconspicuous when fire breaks out during her shift at the Pink Tortilla on Padre Island. She shepherds her customers to the door and returns to retrieve the cash register a few steps away. The next thing she knows, she’s flat on her back in the parking lot exposed to the world. The media will show up, and they’re the last thing someone in the Federal Witness Security Program needs. Though she’s in the program because of her dad’s testimony against a crime boss, she learned there’s no statute of limitations on revenge.

For the past five years, she’s assumed one identity after another, and in two separate incidents she watched her parents die from the vendetta. Her hope died with them. She has no one except the U.S. Marshals.

Corpus Christi Fire Captain GABRIEL DURAN knows something is special about the woman he rescues from his father’s eatery. When she comes to and he sees her eyes shining in her sooty face, he falls hard for her. But important problems weigh on his mind. An arsonist has destroyed his dad’s eatery and the last physical link to his mother. Since her death, he and his father have been at war. He is resolved not to become involved in another relationship until he and his dad get back on track. Otherwise, both relationships will die.

Mere hours after the fire, a man shines a bright light into Summer’s home as she’s going to sleep. She watches him, and the next morning breaks into the condo she saw him enter. Hundreds of photos of her are plastered inside his closet. His name is JIM PACKETT. Besides stalking her, he’s conning a local energy venture out of millions by selling stolen data about their new project. He’s a real winner, but creepy as the photos are, nothing indicates someone sent him to kill her, which is both her biggest fear and part of her criteria for notifying the marshals.

Later that morning, Gabe checks on Summer and finds her more provocative than the night before. It’s all he can do to keep his hands to himself when she kisses his cheek. Then he talks to his dad about the arson investigation. He approaches him about their lack of a personal relationship and is rebuffed. By that evening, Gabe decides it’s time to lay everything on the line. Either they agree to work through their differences or agree to forget they were once members of a vibrant family. With the emotions brought to the forefront by the destruction of the Pink Tortilla, he knows he can’t continue with their feud.

He shows up at his dad’s with a six-pack and a strong will. It takes all night, but they hammer out an imperfect understanding and decide to celebrate with a fish fry the following night. Because they’re on the road back to father and son, Gabe feels confident in taking the first step to a relationship with Summer and asks her to the fish fry. She accepts.

The following morning Summer arranges to meet with one of the partners of the energy venture. She hopes by providing them with the information she found, they’ll contact the police, Packett will be arrested, and she’ll keep her low profile. On her way out, a marshal stops her. They arrested a computer administrator in D.C. for selling protectee information. It’s likely the unknown man who’s been trying to kill her is in the area and knows where to find her. Worse, they can’t relocate her because all clean identities have been compromised. Nor do they have enough manpower to give her full 24/7 cover.

After all her years in the program, she’s tired of running, tired of hiding. She’s happy not to have full-time babysitters, even if it ups her risk. Determined to live her life with as much normalcy as possible, she continues to the meeting. The partner assures her they will handle the problem with Jim Packett. She hurries home to get ready for the fish fry. Gabe never arrives or calls, and both she and his dad are upset. Although she’s known Gabe only two days, she felt an instant connection the first time they met. She’s disappointed.

The next morning, Gabe shows up at Summer’s door holding the latest kinky gift from Packett. He couldn’t make the fish fry because the arsonist torched the energy venture’s lab. She says she believes the arsonist is her stalker, Jim Packett, because the energy partners were at the eatery the night of the fire and Packett was causing them trouble. Gabe validates her suspicions.

Before Gabe leaves, he kisses Summer and asks her to dinner. She accepts. But when her lips stop tingling, she kicks herself. No matter what her heart says, she can’t get involved. She could vanish from his life at any time. Besides, she’s killed one man and caused the death of a second in order to stay alive. Her track record is world class, in a bad way. Dinner is out of the question. She runs to tell him she can’t go, but he’s nowhere to be found.

At dinner, the man who changed a flat tire for her the day after the Pink Tortilla fire stops to see if she got the tire fixed. That day on the highway, she’d been so tense she almost pulled her Beretta on him. He makes her creep alarms go off because except for a nod at her introduction, he ignores Gabe.

After dinner, she and Gabe go for a walk on the beach. Holding hands under a full moon, they talk, kiss, and make silly plans for the next few days. Her guard is down. She wants more than anything to get to know this man who makes her laugh and quiver at the same time. And who promises to teach her the two-step.

A man approaches. Packett–and he has a gun. Together they outwit him and take his Glock. During the scuffle, her wrist is broken. Gabe restrains him while Summer calls the marshals for help. She tells them that by the time they arrive, Gabe will know about her life. She’s fallen in love with Padre Island. And with Gabe, but she wants no secrets. He needs to know the truth. Even if he wasn’t in the business of saving lives, what man would want anything to do with a killer?

With Packett’s gun aimed at his back, she tells Gabe how she became part of the program. When she gets to the part about killing a man, she plunges ahead, certain he’ll run screaming into the night, though she’s vowed never to kill again.

As Gabe listens to her story, the mystery that surrounds her makes sense. His feelings for her deepen. Not only does she turn him on so much it hurts, he understands how someone would kill to protect a loved one.

While they talk, Packett slumps to the ground. Summer checks–he’s dead, shot through the heart. Gabe calls her name. The man from the restaurant who changed her tire is holding Gabe by the arm with a silenced pistol to his side. She fires Packett’s Glock without thinking until the man hits the sand.

A bullet has grazed Gabe’s rib, and she fears it’s hers until he tells her it came from the man’s gun. The marshals arrive and one shows her a just-emailed photo–it’s the face of the man on the sand. The man they’ve protected her from the past five years.

She and Gabe get patched up, and the marshals tell her the worst should be over but to remain alert. She will always be a member of the program unless she opts out.

Summer tells Gabe he’s free to leave at any time, that she understands he doesn’t want to be tied to a killer or someone who might be gone when he gets home. Her heart melts when he doesn’t have a problem with any of her fears and tells her he thinks she’s braver than he will ever be. He’s not going anywhere.

How to design your own amazing, cheap and easy book cover

Do you absolutely need a book cover designer? No. You can probably do it by yourself, if you follow these simple steps:

1) Resist the urge to put everything INSIDE your book on the OUTSIDE. The book cover is about getting interest and creating an emotional response. Sometimes, human figures/faces can do this very well. But so can a beautiful landscape. The trick is to find one amazing photograph that can represent a scene, object or person in your book, and stick with it. DON’T try to put all of the important things on the cover (ie the jobs of each character, all of the main scenes and places, and everything that happens.)

2) Get an awesome, royalty free image. There are lots of great sites to find excellent stock photography. Keep in mind that the most interesting/unique photographs will probably be used by other Indie Authors and will be easily recognized. So go for something more subtle (maybe cut out the model’s face, stick with her side/arms). Get a photo that matches the mood of your book – light, dark, funny, mysterious, etc. You can find photos on flickr under the creative commons, or get a friend to take something.

3) Use a simple, clean font. It can be a free font, but the more unique and bizarre it is, the more likely it will stand out (in a bad way). Find something subtle and crisp. Avoid basic free fonts. Do a search for fonts that fit your genre (mystery fonts, country fonts, action fonts, etc) and download a few. Avoid all text effects, like drop shadow, gradient, stroke… place the text in parts of the picture that make it stand out naturally (put white text in dark areas, dark text in light areas). It doesn’t even really matter if it doesn’t stand out that well. (Check out all of the books being published these days, that use small, minimal contrast text, like white text on light backgrounds.

4) Forget about the thumbnail!
Authors always tell me that the text or certain little details can’t be seen from a thumbnail and that this is a problem. If you’ve chosen a beautiful photograph, that photograph will still be beautiful as a thumbnail. If the cover is too detailed and complicated, and it ONLY looks OK when you can see the whole thing closely, it’s probably too busy. Yes, your thumbnail is important – it should be nice enough to make them want to click and see what it is. Readers don’t have to actually have to see/understand your thumbnail clearly though, there should just be some nice bold colors or intriguing picture to make them spend that extra second to see it up close. Again, the best way to have an excellent thumbnail is to start off with a beautiful royalty free picture.

To sum up. ONE amazing picture, with a little bit of text on it in the right places, equals a beautiful cover.

Baby Matrix: a non-fiction book cover design

Here are some of the designs I’ve made for Laura Carroll’s The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds from Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction will Create a Better World.

It’s a fascinating research project, and the title references the totalizing paradigm shift of the Matrix Movies, so we needed something that referenced the red pill and the sci-fi element – not easy to do in a book about babies! I really like the cute repetitive colorful colors below, but they don’t really capture the spirit of the book.



The two finalists are these:

I really like the black, with the the red pill/baby. Strong and bold, but we’re still cleaning up some of the design aspects and fonts.

States of Air: Political Satire Book Cover

United States of Air is a political satire; the author wanted to use a US flag with the stars forming a swastika, and it’s about (on the surface) a power-hungry government convincing people that they don’t need food to survive and can live on eating air only… based on that, I started with these samples:

Round One Book Cover Designs




Not bad, but those didn’t have the punch/obvious satire/patriotism that was needed, so we kept working on round two, which led to some of these finalists

Round Two Book Cover Designs





There are some good things going on in these, we’ll pick one and tighten it up.