I am the owner, designer and formatter of Tugboat Design. I have been in business for almost 5 years and on a daily basis I work with authors from all around the world at all stages in their publishing career. My plan is to provide all authors with valuable, easy to understand information about self-publishing.
Back in 2017 I was the feature artist for Booklife’s “Cover Redesign” feature which was printed in the monthly Booklife edition in Publisher’s Weekly magazine. One of the covers I redesigned for this column was a A Daughter’s a Daughter by Irene Vartanoff.
Book description: Three generations of women in a family struggle with conflicting needs, desires, and opportunities that put them at odds with each other. Widowed Pam Ridgeway wants to mobilize a charity to help laid-off workers after losing her own job in a mass Wall Street meltdown. But creating a new charity will thrust her into the public eye, which she’s always hated, unlike her estranged daughter and intimidating mother. Yielding to their insistence on publicity tactics takes Pam totally out of her comfort zone—until she meets Bruce, her mother’s handsome new neighbor at her Long Island beachfront home. Bruce is sympathetic, easy to talk to, and attracted to Pam. But Bruce has a secret agenda involving her mother and a mystery from the past. Pam’s daughter is a fiercely ambitious cable financial reporter with an agenda of her own about the hottie she works with. She fights to keep a lid on her desire, otherwise their passionate attraction could burst into flames in the newsroom and destroy their careers. Pam’s mother wonders why Bruce reminds her of someone from the past. In a long life filled with social activism, she has met many people, but there’s something about him…
Here are the two covers side-by-side.
The original cover gave off a more hardened, cold tone which was interpreted through the expression on the solitary woman’s face and that she’s alone on the beach. Her pose is even a bit stiff seeming. The author was looking for a lighter, more hopeful tone which is what I focused on for the redesign. We used bright blues, yellows and softer colors to give it that lighter tone.
Back in 2017 I was the feature artist for Booklife’s “Cover Redesign” feature which was printed in the monthly Booklife edition in Publisher’s Weekly magazine. One of the covers I redesigned for this column was a memoir, Misdiagnosed: The Search for Dr. House by Nika Beamon.
Book description: When a lymphoma scare threatened the life of a journalist, she began a quest to find the correct medical diagnosis for the mysterious illness she’d battled for nearly 20 years. She turned to her favorite TV show, House M.D., for inspiration. She used her research skills to look for a “real life” Gregory House to give her some answers. In this brutally honest memoir, Nika Beamon reveals how she found the doctor who saved her and how you might be able to also.
Here are the two covers side-by-side.
The original cover did a good job of letting you know the theme (medical) and possibly the tone (emotional). However, it lacked readability for the title and author name, and relatability for the readers.
Back in 2017 I was the feature artist for Booklife’s “Cover Redesign” feature which was printed in the monthly Booklife edition in Publisher’s Weekly magazine. The first redesign I designed for this column was Dog Sitters by Rozsa Gaston.
Book description: When their friends take a cruise to Bermuda, strangers Hint Daniels and Jack Whitby are charged with looking after their dog. Then everything starts to go wrong . . .
In the leafy New York suburb of Bronxville, Hint is supposed to hand Percy off to Jack on day five of the ten days their friends are away. But at the handoff, the dog ends up running away. Neither is willing to tell their friends the bad news that Percy is missing. Instead, they spend five frantic days desperately searching for the Schnoodle, with wildly different ideas on how to go about it. Between Jack’s heavy-handed approach and Hint’s otherworldly style, their personalities clash. Before long they’re bickering furiously, even as romantic sparks fly.
Will Percy show up before his owners do? And what surprising discovery will Hint and Jack make while looking for him?
Laugh out loud at the heart-pounding misadventures of Hint and Jack as they search for the world’s most adorable lost dog.
Here are the two covers side-by-side.
Focal points and eye movement are two important aspects to any book cover design and tend to go hand in hand. One common mistake is, if you emphasize everything in a design, nothing stands out. Emphasis is relative because for one element to stand out, another must serve as a background. Therefore, some elements need to dominate others to create hierarchy within the design.
A very common question that I get asked is, “What do you need for the back cover?” The book description is a given, but there are many elements that can amp up the design to make it look more traditional verse self-published.
Most of the time the back cover gets overlooked as an important aspect of the design. Usually, you’re so focused on making the front cover amazing, that the back cover becomes a second thought. However, if you plan on putting your books in stores, bringing them to events – like book signings -, then you want to make sure your back cover lives up to the standards of your front cover.
The following is a breakdown of the different elements that can be included to make the back cover more professional.
Inexperienced designers, or authors who attempt to make their own covers, tend to make these same common mistakes which make it look like an amateur design.
Trying to match all of the details perfectly
For the most part, cover designers are working with stock photography, unless you happen to find a designer who can do custom photo shoots for you. Therefore, the designer can only use what already exists. If you want a particular item/person/animal on your cover, there may be times you have to compromise the exact details in order to create an effective cover. For example if you’re putting a dog on your cover, yes you’ll want to use the same breed the dog is, but the dog might not have the same markings as what’s described in the book. Most readers aren’t going to care enough to look back at the cover to see if the dog matches the description in the book. If you’re using a silhouette of a dog, sometimes you may have to use a silhouette that looks like it could be the dog even if it happens to be a different breed.
Also keep in mind that although designers can alter images, we can’t change an angle an object is pointing, or we can’t (at least not easily) change clothing, or the position of someone’s arm or body, so using an image that’s more powerful can be more important than using something that 100% matches your story.
That said, you don’t want to be so far off that you mislead your readers, so you have to find the right balance between the truth and a cover that will sell your book.Read More »
Hopefully you’ve realized that a book cover is a valuable asset to your book and can help determine the success of your book. Therefore, you decide you’d like the best cover ever. So, you start doing research and what you find are famous books by famous authors who’s covers are creative and sometimes very unique. However, these authors (or better yet publishers) can do this because their name is what is going to sell the book, not the cover. If they literally just want to put their name and title on the cover, they could and they’d still sell their book to all of their fans – but they might be missing out on potential new fans. The larger your established reader base is, the more risky designs you can try.
What self-publishing authors don’t typically realize is that the best cover might not be the most beautiful, unique, or innovative design. It’s the cover that is going to catch the attention of a target reader, communicate the genre, setting, and tone, and give them a general idea of the emotional investment they’re about to make all within 3-5 seconds. This is the first step to selling your book because if your cover is intriguing enough, they will click on your book and read the description. If your cover doesn’t convey the necessary ideas to the reader in those 3-5 seconds (aka an unprofessional cover), then it doesn’t matter if you have the most amazing book description ever written – because they’re never going to read it.
Books are traditionally organized into three main parts: front matter, the body, and the back matter. The front matter can include: the book title, publisher, copyright, table of contents, introduction, and it gives the reader an overall tone of the story. The main body is your narrative, or in nonfiction it can be your arguments, data, and other valuable information. Your back matter contains source notes, appendixes, about the author and other resourceful information. These elements should appear in specific order, unless the author has a good reason to deviate from the order.
Below is a list to get you started. Not all books will contain all of this information, and some may contain additional information not listed. This list should help you organize your book into the correct sequence. This outline follows The Chicago Manual of Style 1.4 outline with a few additions. The indication of recto (right-hand page) or verso (left-hand page) only applies to print-and-bound books since most eBooks do not have left/right pages.
You’ve hired a designer, you’ve sent them what felt like a butt-load of information and the date is approaching for when you will receive the first concepts. You’re nervous, excited and your expectations are through the roof. You’ve seen the amazing covers on the designer’s website thus you’re expecting one of the concepts that they are about to send is going to be perfect and exactly what you envision. Your email dings and it’s finally here! You open it up, your heart sinks and you go, “What in the world?”
The first cover concepts are rarely perfect, unless you’ve been so precise on your wants and needs that the designer and you are so in tune you don’t have to change a thing. However, designing a cover is all about collaboration between the designer and the author, even if you’re allowing the designer to take the lead.
Here are some common things that lead to disappointment, lack of confidence along with other not very happy feelings and how to prepare for them.
In traditional publishing, authors have zero to some say in their cover design. There’s a team of highly skilled designers who make the decisions on what the book cover will look like. If the author loves, it great! If the author hates it, well, that’s too bad because they’re designing a cover that will have the greatest potential of selling, so to them, does it matter if the author loves it? All that matters is if it sells.
However, with self-publishing authors now have a say in everything. Self-publishing authors wear so many hats – writer, editor, proofreader, promoter, designer – and even when they hire people to edit their book and design their cover, they still get the final say. It’s an amazing opportunity that the author gets to make all the decisions – but does that make them the best fit for every job?
Authors are experts at writing
You know the ins and outs of writing and how to be a storyteller. Therefore, you know your story better than anyone else – but that’s the catch. You know your story and characters so intimately, that it’s hard for you to break down your book into a simple, visual message since you’re use to focusing on details. So you may not be the best judge for your cover because you’re going to be stuck on the detail.
Writers are great at, well, writing. No matter how talented the author’s literary skills are, most are writers and not designers. As a writer, you’re focused on details, whereas designers need to focus on a simplistic image that will capture a reader’s attention and convince them to pick up, or click on a book.
Some authors may not realize, especially new authors, that a book cover can make or break your book sales. You have roughly 3 seconds to capture a readers attention – if a cover is too detailed/busy/etc. readers are just going to scroll on by because they are looking for something interesting. When most people think of the word ‘interesting’ they think that to be interesting you have to include a variety of things, because there’s no way just one or two images can be interesting. Right?
Wrong. Look at some of the bestsellers in the past few years.