Free Vella Covers (writing contest giveaway)

I’m excited about Amazon’s new platform for serialized fiction Vella (if you haven’t heard of it yet, here’s a post where I break down the details: “What is Kindle Vella?”). To celebrate I’m giving away 33 POC covers to promote diversity in publishing. You can see all the free covers on

Just upload a short sample/first chapter and win the cover of your choice. I may do more events like this in the future, so make sure to follow my main site or join the guerrilla publishing group on Facebook. I’ll also be making some tutorials on making quick Vella covers on YouTube.

Like this? Click here to win yours!

Book Cover Makeover Ideas

An author asked for some feedback on a cover and introduced me to, where some awesome designers are helping authors by giving cover design feedback.

This was the cover in question:


It’s bad, but the badness of the hand-drawn sketches almost makes it cool enough to pull off. But that would be risky… probably safer to start over. Nathan on CoverCritics says:

Have a T-Rex wearing a conservative tie and holding an iPad! Zombies around the water cooler! An amoeba with black-rimmed glasses and a pocket protector!

Those are all fun ideas, if this is a fun, zany business book that can back them up, however, for most professional non-fiction books on business, simple is better and custom art will rarely work.

These samples are great, you could definitely do something more clever or interesting… but they get the point across.

The main problem is that there are no benefits. This should be the title:

The New Darwinian Laws Every Business Must Know

But it needs a subtitle, like “How to dominate the competition on a micro budget and become the King of your field.”

darwin2 darwin1

Bestselling Book Cover Design Secrets

I’ve spoken about book cover design at half a dozen writing conferences around the world; but I’ve also attended lectures from established traditionally published designers – and we all agree on the basics, of what book cover design is and what it needs to do.

I suggest taking an hour to watch this video, to make sure you avoid some common publishing mistakes or pay too much for a bad cover. Even if you don’t DIY, having a deeper understanding of book cover design will be beneficial to your author goals and writing career.

PS I have a bunch of other videos on book cover design, but you can also grab all the fast tips in my free guide to book design (cover design secrets). Or check out this post on how publishers use cover design to manipulate readers. It’s not as nefarious as it sounds: just that professionals know how to use colors, images and fonts to attract the right readers to your story.

I’ll send some book cover templates and a quick email course on cover design, self-publishing and book marketing. You can leave when you’re bored.

how to make a book cover (design tips)

Prices are going up this month!

I just wrote a pretty long post about book cover design on my blog and figured some things out.

One of which is that I’m not longer competing with other book cover designers.

As a 1-person business, I no longer have to appeal to a big range of authors with lots of price points.

And because I’m really good at what I do (and it’s instantly obvious by comparing my portfolio to others) I don’t need to compete on price.
It doesn’t matter if I’m “in the range of” other cover designers of my skill level.

I don’t need to be cheaper than the big mainstream options.

I’m not saying you should work with me – because maybe you shouldn’t. There are lots of other options, and I have a big list of other cover designers on my resources page who are amazing. What I am saying is that I can focus on providing the value I’m best at, and charge a higher than average price, and I will continue to get clients because they want the best book cover they can get.

It’s late, I’m rambling.

My main point is this: rather than offering a bunch of stuff, I’m going to start offering one-size-fits all packages.

While my stand alone cover design prices may seem high, my formatting+cover publishing packages are going to be very average, compared to the mainstream big services like Createspace, Lulu, or Author House, or small presses.

Which means a lot of authors can choose me, instead of them, for the same price and get much higher quality design.

But I’m ALSO going to offer something totally different; a hybrid publishing option…

In that scenario, authors will partner with me 50-50; I’ll do everything for free and guarantee them a bestselling book, and we’ll spit the proceeds of book sales (basically, just like a traditional publishing deal works, except you’d be earning 50%, which is much higher than traditional publishing contracts).

Tentative Pricing Plans

The main thing is that I’ve been trying to offer options (with formatting, without, extras, etc.) And I don’t like formatting, so I was almost ready to remove that option – the problem with that is then authors have to get it done elsewhere, like through Createspace, and the formatting won’t match the cover, and that means my covers are on less professional books.

Since nearly all authors need formatting, I’m just going to make formatting mandatory (ie if you want one of you covers, then you also need to let me do the formatting, so that the whole book will look great, not just the outside). I’m also going to include things I know authors need and want. If you compare my prices to other book cover designers, they may seem expensive (but so what – I can charge more because my reputation and talent is in demand). On the other hand, compared to publishing packages, you’ll get everything you need from me for about the same price – but everything will be much higher quality (because you’re paying me directly, rather than a big company that is going to farm out the work and make more money by giving you cheap design).

Ebook Package – $999

  • Ebook cover and ebook formatting
  • Unlimited revisions, unlimited image insertions
  • Help with distribution/publishing options
  • Help with title and subtitle, keyword research
  • Help writing/editing your sales copy and author bio
  • A blog header, Facebook or Twitter backgrounds
  • Advertisement boxes
  • 3D book mockups
  • One-on-one author support

Print Package – $1999

in addition to everything above…

  • Full print book cover and formatting in InDesign
  • 200 bookmarks and 200 business cards

Marketing Package – $2999

in addition to everything above…

  • Help building your social media platforms
  • Help getting your first 10 book reviews
  • Research partners or blogs for guest posts
  • Help writing/sending a press release (if it makes sense for your book)
  • Targeted Facebook ad campaign (managed for you).
  • Guaranteed #1 bestseller in your genre on launch day
  • Guaranteed 250 copies sold in first month*

*for this to work, you’ll need to give me a lot of control over the ebook pricing for the first month; and I probably can only take on books with real commercial appeal

Add ons:

  • One round of expert-quality copy editing and proofreading – $1000
  • Well designed and professional author website – $1000

I was a full-time book editor for many years and now run several book editing companies: I don’t really do book editing any more but I’m better at it than anyone I know, which is why I normally wouldn’t edit a book for less than about 4cents a word. $1000 to edit a book is a lot of money, but less than you’d pay on any of my editing sites. But it’s only for clients who buy a package.

I’ve been making WordPress websites for a long time; my sites are polished, work well and start getting traffic right away. I can help you set up your url or domain, hosting, install WordPress, pick a theme, add plugins and extras (email optin form, etc), help you organize the right pages, excerpts, links to Amazon, buy buttons, etc. What I won’t do is move everything around to where you think you want it. I’ll make it look nice, match your book or theme, and make it focused on selling the book or building your email list. It will be better than 90% of the indie author websites out there.

The full package

I can probably offer a full package deal, like everything included for $4500 (so you’d save $499).

If I’ve done my job right, you won’t have to pay for publicity or promotion, you won’t have to figure anything out or go with a small press for extra hand-holding, everything will be finished and taken care off.

You’ll have full access to me for any extra help or questions for a full year (I usually charge $500/hour for consulting).

I’ll try and take on 3 to 5 clients per month.

Free covers for Willamette writers



This is an old post! The makeovers were fun but the opportunity is over.

I’m presenting on book covers again at this year’s 46th Annual Willamette Writer’s Conference, but this year I’d like to focus on more case studies. So if you’re attending and aren’t confident about your book cover, send it to me and I can give you feedback and design strategy – I’ll also be picking out a handful of covers to redo (free makeovers!) and workshop during the event, which means you may get a $629 book cover for free.


A mistake I’ve been making in all my book cover designs

I was browsing a bookstore today (a recreational hobby + business training) and noticed, not for the first time, that almost all the books have “COVER DESIGN BY …” with the designers name. Although I’ve been designing covers for a few years, and although I know it’s standard, expected, and for that reason essentially mandatory for indie authors who want to look as mainstream as possible, I rarely add my name on my covers.

Probably due to humility, insecurity, politeness or something like that.

But then later today a client emailed me back, once the cover was finished, to request that I add my name on the cover: and he’s right.

There’s no reason not to list the book cover designer’s name on the cover (unless you made your own cover, in which case it can be a little strange – something for which I’m prepared to solve for authors using my DIY cover templates by allowing them to use my name and brand).

So from now on I’ll add my name onto all my covers and force myself to get into the habit. It’s good for me, it’s good for the authors, it’s good for everyone.

How to be productive during a typhoon and on other days you don’t feel like doing anything.

995184_10153175169850790_491888439_nDear Authors – given my decade of living overseas and moving around pretty regularly, I didn’t think relocating to Tainan (Taiwan), a city I’ve already lived in for many years, would eat up too much of my productivity time. It only took a day to find an apartment, another day to pick out and order furniture.

What I didn’t count on was the raging typhoon outside, which is making it hard to hear myself think. We also don’t have a fridge (or shelves) yet so there’s nowhere to hoard the snacks I like to have available. My office is a folding chair in an empty room. Luckily I’m not feeling overwhelmed with orders yet (I’ve got about ten right now, most of them I’ve already started), although I don’t like to put things off when I could keep working.

Anyway, things should be pretty settled in a few days when the damn rain stops and I finish making my apartment comfortable and conducive to creativity and productivity; until then I’m reachable by email (thank goodness I already had a phone contract and my iphone can be used as a portable wireless hub).

The next 12 months are going to be life-changing for me, and for you too I hope. Good luck to us all in finishing our projects, creating something brilliant, and reaping success!

Why self-publishing authors are their own worst enemy

I just redid my website design. Pretty slick huh? I also rewrote a lot of my “sales copy.” I’m realizing that my tone often sounds harsh, judgmental, critical, rather than loving and supportive.

But after working with self-publishing authors for several years, this is why:

Traditionally published authors don’t have control over the final product. This means that the publishing company can hire book editors, book doctors and book designers to polish everything up and make it into something that will sell. The publisher spends a lot of money. They want a return. So obviously, they don’t ask the author, who has no experience in design, marketing and sales, for his/her feelings or opinions.

Self-publishing authors, on the other hand, have total control. They can hire the best designers, formatters, and then tell them exactly what they want. If they’re lucky, the person they hire will give them something different, but much better, than what they asked for.

If they’re unlucky, they’ll get someone who listens to them and does whatever they want.

I’m somewhere in the middle: after all, clients are my customers. They tell me what to do, I recommend something else. I tell them what I would do, or the cover design I would choose. Some listen, some don’t. But as a whole, self-publishing authors are by far their own worst enemy. Their book is a vanity project: they trust their own judgment and wishes and feelings more than the cold hard facts of market research, testing and professional experience.

I don’t hate authors. I love authors. I want to help them succeed. That’s my job, my duty, my passion: to make your publishing journey successful. I do the best I can… but sometimes you oppose me. There’s a conflict of interests. Not always. Some authors are brilliant marketing strategists who know everything about publishing and make smart, purely pragmatic, decisions.

Just be careful you know which kind of author you are.

See? There I go sounding harsh and judgmental again! Apologies. 🙂

What should I put on my book cover design? Characters, scenes, etc?

For the past year I’ve been super busy working on book covers. During that time I’ve struggled, often, with competing visions for the book cover design. I want something that looks awesome and sells like hotcakes. The authors usually want their main characters and a specific scene. The requests I’ve gotten have verged on the ridiculous, but I always try to make it work. It’s frustrating for me to know I’m making complex but subpar covers when I could be making stuff that blows people’s minds. It’s frustrating to see a very happy author who loves the cover and know another cover would have moved more books off the shelf.

So I felt some solidarity and happiness when I read this post over on Damonza Covers, “Write a Great Book but Leave the Cover to a Professional.” Damonza’s work is beautiful and you should definitely consider him as well for your book cover design. And his work flow is a lot different from mine. He’ll make 2 sample covers and if authors don’t like it, keep going. This lets him present the two strongest options first.

In contrast, I present about 10 very rough samples, including several stabs at the scene the author described, and we work up from there. My process gives the author more control and involvement, but that’s probably not a good thing. I tell the authors which ones are the best, and they routinely ignore my advice.

I love my job and hope to see my author’s succeed, so I’m not complaining about them, just a challenging situation – and a situation perhaps that is critical to the success and failure of indie published books that nobody else is talking about.

As a side note, and this is kind of depressing, I’m noticing I get a ton of work, even though personally I find Damonza’s work equally awesome. Is this because many of my covers have the scenes and characters that he urges against using? Do indie authors see in my work what they want, because I try to listen to and use their ideas, even if they aren’t the best from a sales and marketing perspective?

(I don’t mean to denigrate my covers, most of them I’m very happy with and they’re all selling quite well.)

Anyway, I know this is a complex and uncomfortable subject, but deep down I want you to succeed, and for that you need to be informed and aware of all of these elements.

Some tips before you get started on your book cover design:

1) Characters rarely work; especially because everybody is using the same stock photography, so your model will end up on dozens of other books. On the other hand… they are usually more engaging and emotionally than a cover without.

2) Bold, beautiful and simple is best.

3) Specific scenes from the story are nearly impossible to recreate with accuracy using stock photography. Try to boil a scene down to one, specific element or item, a symbolic representation of what’s going on in that scene.

4) Sincerely listen to your book cover designer’s advice. His/her opinion should be given preference to what your family and neighbors like. They have more experience than you do, and they are trying to help. They also want to see their best work out there.

5) Don’t hire a cover designer who will just give you what you want and listen to your ideas. Your book deserves more than that. Hire a designer that pushes back, tells you what will sell better, and advises you towards greater publishing success. As an indie-published author, the team you put together to publish your book is as close to a professional marketing team as you’re going to get, and their advice may be invaluable.

Seeking Book Designers, InDesign Layout Experts and Ebook Conversion Fiends for Collaboration!

I’m trying to make a database of people I can recommend or work with when my workload exceeds my abilities.

Especially for ebook conversion and book layout/formatting, because I don’t think I’ll be doing these myself anymore.

But I also routinely need author websites designed, so web designers/wordpress coders are welcome.

I also want to list alternative book cover designers when I’m too busy, so if that’s you, let me know.

I hope I can turn this into a major resource page for indie and self-published authors.

If you’d like to be included, please send me a message or comment on this page – I’ll need your website if you have one, email, and average prices (I know, it depends on the project, but ballpark figure)… If you have a picture of you, it would help also!