There is nothing more important than having your book dressed to sell! Tim Vicary talks about Cathy's Beautiful Covers and how being turned out in a designer outfit can make a difference.
When I started out as an independent author, I made my own ebook covers. It seemed the only solution; I didn't know what else to do. I was quite proud of the results at the time, but as you see, they are fairly primitive. And it took an immense amount of time, stumbling and grumbling my way through Photoshop, muttering, and begging my long-suffering son-in-law for advice.
The truth is, I have no talent or skills in this area. I am all thumbs and fumbling. I even have difficulty uploading photos from my camera or phone to the computer - still do - and pasting photos onto a blog post still takes me ten times as long as it ought to. My children shake their heads in despair; they master these things in seconds, it seems.
Then one day I had the bright idea of searching the internet - another new skill! - to see if anyone did this professionally. And almost immediately I had the most enormous stroke of luck. I found a website - Avalon Graphics - which seemed promising, so I sent an email. 'Dear Avalon,' I began, 'if that is your name ...'
And so began a wonderful relationship; I met my first, best internet friend. The internet is a marvellous thing.
Cathy Helms - the owner of Avalon Graphics - lives in North Carolina, , an ocean away from North Yorkshire, UK. Yet right from the start she was helpful, friendly, full of useful ideas, and most importantly, patient. She took my stumbling suggestions and transformed them into intelligent drafts; and then altered them again and again until I, and she, were completely satisfied. USA
She has many skills, but the most important of all, I think, is patience.
This was an enormous discovery for me. I'd been writing books for many years, with moderate success, but I'd had almost zero influence on my books' covers. That's not to say that all the covers were bad - some, especially those produced by Oxford University Press for my graded readers - were excellent; but others, unfortunately, were not. Some (see below) were diabolical. But whenever I suggested an idea or a change I was put very firmly in my place. 'That's the publisher's business, not yours,' I was told. 'We're professionals; we have experts in marketing and design, we know what we're doing. You just ... well, write the books.' You're the author, go play.
But when you're an indie author, everything changes. It's not just that Cathy is wonderful, though she is; it's also that she's working for me. I employ her; I buy her services. So if I don't like the result, I say so. We're two independent individuals bound by a contract. And the one person who knows most about the book - me, the author - has a direct input into the cover on the outside.
That's marvellous, in my opinion. A huge improvement. It's also a lot of fun. Take the covers for my first two legal thrillers - A Game of Proof and A Fatal Verdict. The courthouse in the background is the Crown Court in
, where much of the action took place. I took the photos of that, and sent them to Cathy. The barrister in the foreground is my daughter (who really is a barrister) I took those photos too. Then Cathy put it all together. York
Now compare those covers with the original cover of A Game of Proof (first published under my pseudonym Megan Stark - that's another story) produced by professionals and experts at Constable & Robinson in London and Carroll & Graf in New York. See what I mean?
Just because I'm only the author doesn't mean that I'm not interested in market testing. I spent a lot of time walking round bookshops, looking at covers of similar books and getting ideas from those I liked best. For each of my books Cathy sent me many different drafts to look at and criticise. I work at a university so I would print all these out in A4 sheets, lay them on a desk, and ask as many people as I could to choose which they liked best. Sometimes I got a group of 50 students: each was asked to come into a room, on her own, and choose one of maybe half a dozen covers. I gave each person about half a minute - roughly the amount of time a customer might spent glancing a book cover in Waterstones, maybe.
So there you are. It's been a great experience and very satisfying. I feel I own my books now in a way that I didn't before. And I've also made a new friend. Last summer I had the great pleasure of showing Cathy and her husband Ray around the historic city of
York, when they visited for a conference. I'll definitely be asking her to design the cover for my next book. England
And if you, the reader, are looking for a cover artist, I know one I can definitely recommend!
Find out more about Tim by visiting our Author, Books & Trailer Pages
Cathy Helms, Avalon Graphics is a sponsor of FFP and our Author Showcase Trailer is designed and produced by this very talented lady.