On Book Covers and Being Indie

I’d never heard of self-publishing until 2016 when I discovered two of my friends self-published their own books. One had a series published through Lulu (though I didn’t realise she was an author until 2 years after her fourth book was published :O), the other published a novel through CreateSpace. I was in awe of them both. How incredible an idea – to self-publish your own work, to be able to say “I did this! The writing, the formatting, the cover – everything!”. Wow!

(Not to mention, self-publishing meant there wouldn’t be any issues concerning my fragile ego and social anxiety.)

Of course, I dove right in despite being a complete novice who had no idea what she was doing. Within two years, I wrote a novel, formatted the manuscript, and ran straight to CreateSpace.

I chose CreateSpace because it was simple for my technologically-inept brain to handle, book printing was cheaper, and Amazon had a greater online presence than Lulu. I’d never heard of Lulu until I found out my friend self-published her series through them so I figured Amazon was a safer bet for my book to get noticed.

Since being published, Danethrall has undergone two cover changes. I made the first cover, (pictured left. It had an orange-gold back cover but I can’t find the original file to upload here), using a template on CreateSpace’s free cover builder. I adore Diana Gabaldon’s covers for her Outlander series – the entire cover in one block colour with a symbol on the front – and was desperate to have something similar.

Though I knew my book cover was far from comparable, (there was not one centimetre of that damn cover that was even close to being comparable), I went with it and published the book because I truly didn’t know better and didn’t research the process of self-publishing, cover design, etc, that much at all. I simply assumed the cover maker from CreateSpace would be good enough … How wrong I was.

Have you noticed another mistake I made? Yes, I used a template for the cover but I also skipped hiring an editor! :O

At the time, an editor wasn’t a blip on my radar. Unfortunately, my grammar skills were not as fantastic as I believed them to be. After Danethrall was out and my family and friends purchased it, I realised how ugly my book was, and it was kindly brought to my attention that there were more than a few grammar issues and even a couple of typos.

I immediately had my husband read the book and highlight issues, then a friend (with a much better grasp of grammar than me), before finally submitting Danethrall to an editor. Thankfully the story itself was sound, but there were so many grammar corrections.

After rectifying all my mistakes, I decided to create a new cover for the novel. By this time, CreateSpace was moving to KDP, and my novel moved along with it.

My penny-pinching, pride and naivety struck again, I’m sad to say.

I used KDP’s measurement calculator and created my own book cover using GIMP – a free programme very similar to Photoshop. I fell in love with the cover, it was red and bright, with a gorgeous stock image for the front cover. Admittedly, it was mediocre at best, but leaps and bounds better than the original. I published my second book, Rise To Fall, with another self-designed book cover in a similar vein to Danethrall, and was about to publish my third novel, Ashes Remain, with one, too.

(I used an editor for Rise To Fall and Ashes Remain so at least there was a bit of personal growth, even if I didn’t learn my lesson about covers.)

Even though my new covers were far better than the one I made on CreateSpace, I’ve never been happy with them. The text on the front and back was slightly blurry, when Danethrall and Rise To Fall were side-by-side on the shelf the text and image on their spines didn’t align, I could justify the blurb text on two books but not the third, etc, etc. On the PC and in the KDP previewer the covers looked great but the physical copies were far from it.

There were 15 days until Ashes Remain was to be released and I couldn’t stop fixating on the issues of my previous covers. I was about to release my third novel and have yet another book I couldn’t stand to look at because I did not have the skill to make a top-notch book cover. I finally had to give up, swallow my pride, and admit the truth – if I wanted something amazing, I needed to hire a professional. After all, getting an editor improved my writing, getting professional covers designed should improve my books, too, right?

Now I’d come to this conclusion long before Ashes Remain – shortly after Rise To Fall was released I decided the Danethrall Trilogy would be the only series I designed my own covers for. This trilogy would be my baby, the project that was 100% me, the first steps of my self-publishing journey. Every novel afterwards I would hire a professional.

During lulls in writing, when I was stuck in the middle of creative droughts, I spent hours browsing pre-made covers or portfolios of different designers and started following a few of my favourites on Instagram. I daydreamed of the covers of my future novels and how wonderful they would be – but this led to me fixating on my current covers.

Unable to stand the mediocrity of my covers on top of my many other gripes, I reached out to Sarah at The Illustrated Page Book Design to see if she would be willing to correct the issues (which I listed in a ridiculously long email because I ramble when I’m nervous – again, not great socially which is one of the reasons I chose self-publishing over the traditional route to begin with).

To my relief, Sarah agreed and offered me a very budget-friendly quote. In fact, I stared at my PC monitor in disbelief for a very long time, so astonished, relieved and grateful at her price. Starting with Danethrall, I sent her the cover and spine images I wanted to use, and a PDF of the cover I’d created. I wasn’t prepared for the absolute beauties she would send me within less than 24 hours after I reached out to her – yes beauties, plural! Rather than just tweak the text, she sent me two stunning cover designs! I was floored! Sarah went above and beyond what I’d hired her for, and for such a reasonable price, too! Have a look below at the designs she sent me vs the original cover I designed.

Insane, right?! What a difference!! We went with the cover with the raven symbol because it just added so much to the cover. She carried on the theme with the new covers she designed for Rise To Fall and Ashes Remain.

Flipping GORGEOUS. The proof copy of Danethrall is due to arrive tomorrow, Rise To Fall and Ashes Remain proof copies should hopefully arrive within the next week, so I can check for issues, though I’m more than confident the books are going to look phenomenal. I’m so excited to hold these beauties!

I didn’t plan on having completely new covers for the trilogy (this will be Danethrall‘s third cover change since it was released in 2018 :O), but having such beautiful covers is not an opportunity I’m going to give up. My book sales have dwindled since the summer of 2021 and I truly believe the new covers will garner more attention for my novels than their previous ones.

I am perturbed by the idea of so many different versions of my first two books there are out in the world (from covers to grammar mistakes, etc), but at the same time they stand as a testament to the lessons I’ve learned along the self-publishing path, and that’s something I love about self-publishing – the lessons and skills I’ve learned along the way.

If I was traditionally published, I wouldn’t have attempted making book covers. Even though the ones I made weren’t at all professional level, it was still something I’d never dabbled in until I went this route. I may never make another cover ever again, or maybe I’ll take a design course one day, but it’s still something I tried and that’s fantastic.

At this moment in time, however, I’m in love with the Illustrated Page Book Design and plan on hiring her for my future novels until she’s sick of me.

The next nut I have to crack is marketing. The Danethrall Trilogy is over and, although I’m working on other books, I think I want to take a break from writing and learn about advertising, promoting and marketing my novels. A self-published author wears many hats and I need to get proficient in all that comes with my chosen path (and leave editing and cover designs to the professionals).

– GSKT

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