Does your self-pub front cover look like a dog’s dinner, even though you paid for it? 12 possible reasons why.


You can tell the quality of a graphic designer by the fonts they use

The first question you’re probably asking is, as an author, what qualifies me to talk about front covers? What do I know? My answer is that I have a degree in graphic design and have been working in the business for 20 years.

An immediate caveat: I’m not looking for cover design work. This is not a pitch. I can do them, but as you can see from my portfolio: it’s not necessarily my thing. I do, however, have a professional opinion on them and I’ve seen some absolute shockers recently, hence the post.

OK, so here’s the problem: you’ve paid good money to have a book cover designed because you’ve heard that it’s a ‘must have’ when launching your eBook on Amazon, etc… But the cover isn’t working for you, no matter how many times you look at it. It simply doesn’t grab you, and somehow it doesn’t look as good as traditionally published front covers. So what’s the problem?

Here’s my checklist of what might have gone wrong (assuming you have paid a graphic designer to create the cover):

1. Ask yourself this: Has your designer simply downloaded a free font, slapped on a free stock image, tried out a few Photoshop filters on it, then finished it off with a massive lens flare?

Has your designer put any thought into it, or are they knocking out four or five similar covers a day? Does your cover look similar to thousands of others? Did you choose the right designer?

2. Has your designer or illustrator actually read your book?

If not, how exactly are they having any meaningful artistic ideas about your cover? Are they solely using your notes and direction for what you envision for the cover?

3. You are probably not a designer, so why are you giving out design tips?

If I was having keyhole surgery done on my knee I wouldn’t be offering my opinion to the surgeon, or making suggestions on how he could do his job better. I’d trust that he was a skilled expert with many years of experience and training under his belt and let him get on with it. Research lots of cover designers, find one you like, then let them do their job.

4. This sounds harsh, but I’m going to say it: Are you the real problem in the design process?

Have you interfered with the layout at every stage and gone against the ideas and suggestions of the designer you employed? Is that why the end result looks compromised?

Giving direction and notes on how you think the cover should look makes the designer’s life easier because they don’t have to read your 700-page epic, but in an ideal world the designer should be giving you ideas, not vice-versa.

5. You probably won’t get a good result out of a cheap online cover design company offering a quick delivery service.

You guessed it – the end result will most likely look cheap and quick. You pay for what you get.

6. Never use friends or family to create an illustration, or design a cover, unless they are a working illustrator or designer with a broad client base.

You might well think it would be a lovely idea if, say, your amateur artist cousin created you a lovely cover. Why risk it after all that hard work you’ve put in to create the novel? There are literally hundreds of thousands of excellent illustrators and designers out there, all quite reasonably priced, who will do a better job.

7. Colour/color palette

No lurid colours. The downfall of many covers are vicious, ill-considered palette. The smartest covers often have very limited palettes. Search color/colour theory online.

8. Less is more. In all things.

Do you have a large amount of clashing elements or ideas on your cover, or have you insisted on your name being ridiculously big?

9. Fonts:

There are surprisingly few good fonts; conversely, there are many, many thousands of dreadful ones. If you don’t know the difference, or can’t tell the difference, find a designer who can.

You can tell the quality of a graphic designer by the fonts they use. Make sure they choose typefaces from proper font foundries. These will cost more, but it is minor details like these that make all the difference. The temptation is to use a free face to cut down the costs. It’s free for a reason.

10. Fonts you should probably avoid having on your front cover:

  • Brush Script
  • Times New Roman
  • Papyrus
  • Arial
  • Comic Sans
  • Copperplate
  • Generic grunge fonts
  • Helvetica
  • Courier

 If you’re wondering why these fonts are not good choices, I urge you to reread point 3 above.

11. Typography:

Stretched type: No type should be stretched (horizontal or vertical scaled) in any direction. Ever. It is simply bad design. Fonts are beautiful things and should be treated with respect.

All fonts should be properly kerned; never trust a computer to do kerning, especially on something like a book title. If this is the first time you’ve heard about the dark art of kerning, then…

12. A good designer will cost you money, but the cover is your novel’s shopfront.

At the point of making a sale, the cover is clearly one of the key ingredients in your potential reader’s decision making process. If you believe in your story, have invested time and energy in creating a book, why skimp? The cover is the first point of contact with your reader. Don’t let a good book be ruined by a bad cover.



10 thoughts on the tricky task of naming a novel


Yacht names. There are some terrible ones painted on the sterns of some very pretty boats.

There’s clearly no formula for creating a novel’s title, and this post is more about the thought processes I’ve gone through recently, offered up as an idle distraction to anyone doodling on the front page of their own manuscript.

If your doodling isn’t working, I don’t recommend this random book title generator website, although it will divert and work as a splendid displacement activity for ten minutes or so, until you realize it’s really no help at all, fun though it is:

Here are some thoughts on the difficult task of naming a book:

1) Simmering down a mighty 300 page novel to five memorable words or less is not a task to be taken lightly. Clean your office windows and prepare to stare out of them like Holmes on an awkward case. Consider buying a violin (or guitar, see point No.5 below) and employ a Mrs. Hudson to bring you regular cups of tea as you ponder.

2) Still nothing? Perhaps create a list of candidates by reviewing key scenes in the book. The obvious danger here are you’ll spot a few typos, and some minor, yet rampant, structural imperfection in the plot. You switch to editing again to rectify the faults, and delay the naming ceremony for at least another month.

3) Back to the candidate list. Nothing is jumping out at you. Situation normal.

4) Bored — the title still being just out of reach — you’re back to wasting time meddling with the digital oracle that is the random title generator: The Trembling History, Missing Doors, The Voyages’s Voyage. All great album names, but they have nothing to do with your script, not a single thing. You sit down with paper and pen (!) and vow never to use the internet again until the title is decided upon.

5) The afternoon you set aside to finally solve the problem takes a musical lurch off course: Curiously, you find yourself learning Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird on the guitar by watching a variety of ‘How To’ tutorials on YouTube. None of the hairy guitar gurus strictly agree, but after an afternoon’s careful study, you have the ten minute solo committed to memory and your finger tips are now bleeding.

6) You know the title will be a flag to rally to, or a disaster signal if readers hate your book. Either way, you’re going to be stuck with it. These thoughts generate ever more spiralling levels of procrastination.

7) You fret. Is the title is over complicated? Are future readers going to remember it easily if told about it in a noisy café? Oh, the worry of it all.

8) You can’t decide. You abandon all hope and consider the best thing is to burden your friends and family with this seemingly unsolvable problem. You post your shortlist on Facebook. Brilliant. But the issue here is many of your friends and family haven’t read the book. The titles they like are the ones you have already crossed out but reinstated on the list at the last moment to pad out the title you’re beginning to feel comfortable with.

9) The candidate list is back. Again. Shorter now. The truth is, no one can help you with this, the final decision. It’s your problem. No matter what tortuous path you take to choosing a title, the ultimate question has to be: Does this title grab like a grappling hook? Genuinely? Would I pick up this novel if I saw it on a shelf in a bookshop?

Captain’s log, supplemental:

10) My particular book titling hate at the moment is for ones referencing some heavenly object in the night sky ‘rising’. Don’t get me started!



I’m now living in Amsterdam in the Netherlands where my wife has a new job.

I woke this morning up to find an enormous crane outside my office window.  I don’t think the pictures do it justice, although I’ve montaged them together to show the size of the thing. It looks like they are building some sort of roof terrace on top of the house opposite.

The best thing about my new office is that it has a hoist. The building was once a warehouse, so this was used to haul up goods. It looks like some sort of medieval torture device!


The Great Space Race website goes live

The Great Space Race website is up and running. It’s got as much stuff as I could possibly cram onto it. There’s a PDF of the first two chapters, music, wallpapers, movies, links… you can see it if you click HERE

This is the very last creative task associated with Space Race, which has turned out to be quite an intriguing journey all-in-all. I’ve certainly had to learn some new skills – I’ve recorded an album, designed and constructed a robot monkey, built a nine foot tall rocket (with help from my Dad), shot a music video and edited it, and all in the name of literature!

The website has been a great way to pull all of these different strands together, but more than anything, I hope the online content helps to make the book as fascinating as possible… and fun, too. My fave is Barry the robot’s music video.

Here’s a very short film of me recording the music, just to give a taste of what I’ve been doing!

Countdown to the launch of The Great Space Race

The launch of my next novel, The Great Space Race is under a week away now, and very nearly everything is in place.

The new website should go live in a couple of days, which is very exciting! I’ve tried to make it look as much like the book as possible. I’ll post a message here once it goes live.

Steve Friendship and his editor Jade of Large Scale Films have been busy editing together the 5 short web documentaries (AKA the webisodes) about me, my work and some background on The Great Space Race. These are up and running and are definitely worth a look CLICK HERE. I recommend webisode 5 for any fans of the illustration in the Guild Trilogy

I’ve also written and recorded a music album to go with the The Great Space Race, and have therefore had to learn the dark arts of sound engineering through a process of hit and miss. It’s been lots of  fun and I hope it will help build the background ‘world’ of Ace, the narrator in the book (he plays in a band). I’ve set up a MySpace page for the band, and uploaded 4 tracks. You can hear them HERE

Today, I have the last piece of work to finish off – a music video to go with one of the music tracks. This features the robot monkey called Barry, the hero of the story. I’ve recorded it, so now I just need to edit it. Here’s a pic from the video shoot I recorded last week:

Rocket build film

What a strange couple of months – there’s not been much writing going on, alas, but plenty of guitar playing. I’ve also been doing lots and lots of freelance illustration, mostly for newspapers, but that stuff doesn’t make for especially good blog reading. It pays the bills though.

My new writing shed is now up and running. Here’s a pic, so you can see where I work:

I’ve lined the insides to keep the thing warm, put a ceiling in, dug up the garden so I could run a power cable out to it… you get the idea. Despite all this, it’s been such a cold May here in the UK that my computer screen refuses to work first thing in the morning until I’ve warmed the place up. Took me a bit to figure that out.

The good news is I have almost completed the music for The Great Space Race. This has been such a wheeze to do, though it saps so much time! I need to write just one more tune, record some live drum tracks, then do the final mix.

I also need to put some whacking great guitar feedback overdubs on. Yeah! This means finding a remote location and turning up the volume to 10 (or is that 11?) so I can record the results. I can’t do this where I live because there would be complaints! I therefore need to speak nicely to my brother who lives in the countryside. I’d like to get it all finished by the middle of June ready for release. More news as and when… the album does however Rock with a capital R.

In the meantime, I’ve just finished editing the rocket build film.

I really hope you like it: CLICK HERE TO VIEW

Packing up and moving out of London

Just a quick blog-ette update. I’m moving houses in a week, so have been a ‘Bad Blogger’ of late. Boo. Hiss. Basically, lots of packing, interspersed with lots of work on pitching book 5, plus a surprising amount of freelance graphic design work. Ahhhaahah!! Not enough hours in the day.

March has been incredibly complicated – I really want to write it up properly, so a full blog post soon.