First Impressions… By Helen Hollick


It never ceases to amaze me how bad some indie-published covers can be.

As Managing Editor of the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews I see a lot of indie historical fiction – all UK published books initially come through my postbox (and some US ones as well) before being sent out to my UK review team. That first look at a book as it comes out of its packaging can have such an enormous influence on that vitally important first impression – and can even influence the difference between accepting a novel for review or rejecting it.

A good cover – usually professionally designed and produced, can create immediate interest; “Oh, this looks good!”  Alternatively, some are ­– I hate to say this, because most authors put a lot of time, trouble and effort into self-publishing their books, but it has to be said – some covers are absolutely awful.

Yes, your family member may be good at art, but this person is not a graphics designer. The result will look amateurish, and if the cover gives the impression of not being top-quality professional, then it will be assumed that the text inside is not up to par either. (And unfortunately this is often the case with the books I received for review.)

Yes, that image on the internet might be beautiful, and just perfect for what you want – but you cannot use it, there is a certain little thing called copyright.

Sea Witch (large) (1)

I made the mistake of using artwork by a family member when I went indie with the first in my nautical adventure series, Sea Witch. (I made nearly all the ‘don’t do this’ errors. It was a very sharp learning curve!) The art was OK, nicely done, but it screamed ‘self-publish’.

Compare the difference between the original non-professional and the professional:

Sea Witch Covers Indie B.R.A.G. July 2015

You have put a lot of hard work into writing, editing and producing a fantastic novel, so why stint on the cover? Be proud of your book – and show it! Your cover, especially if you intend to write a series (or sequels, or a trilogy etc) is your Brand, your shop-window, your “this is my book” public shout out.

You will be competing against thousands and thousands of other books. Indie and traditional. You need to ensure yours stands out from the crowd. Imagine it face-on on a shelf in a bookstore and ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it look attractive?
  • Does it look professional?
  • Is it eye-catching?
  • Does it match the content of the story inside?
  • Is the title clear to read?
  • Is my name – my Brand Mark – clear and easy to spot?
  • Will the cover look as attractive – and eye-catching in a smaller ‘thumbnail’ size (as it will be seen on many internet sites)

Sea Witch BRAG

All too many books come to me with a title that is hard to read, perhaps because the font is not suitable, or the colour chosen does not stand out from the background image. Many books have their author’s name in tiny print tucked away somewhere at the bottom, almost as if they are ashamed of laying claim to the book! You’d be surprised at how many books come to me with no author name on the front or spine – or both. I even had one novel submitted to me that not only had no author’s name but no title on the cover either! When I mentioned this to the author he said, “I’m only selling it on Amazon, so I didn’t think it necessary.”

Another author had a very evocative photograph for his cover. What a pity it still had its copyright watermark from the owning company on it. The author’s answer when I rejected the book because of this was, ‘But it was on the internet. Surely if it is public then anyone can use it?” Er… no.

I know it costs money to use a professional, but doesn’t your hard work effort, all those months (maybe even years) of writing deserve the best? Go for it. Use a pro and be proud of your novel – from cover to cover.



Sea Witch Facebook Page


Twitter: @HelenHollick

Helen’s Author Page on an Amazon Near You

The comments, advice and opinions expressed here are those of authors whose books have been honored with a B.R.A.G. Medallion. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the owners, management, or employees of indieBRAG, LLC.

8 responses to “First Impressions… By Helen Hollick”

  1. Helen Hollick says:

    thanks Stephanie – looks good!

  2. Stephanie Hopkins says:

    You’re welcome, Helen! And thank you for such a great topic! I totally agree with you on this. Covers are so important to draw a reader in.

  3. Cathy Helms says:

    Excellent subject and one that needs to be repeated over, and over, and over again. I see so many indie books published with terrible covers that it makes me sad as I know the books will not sell. We do judge books by their covers – it is simply human nature. I will always be proud of the covers that I have designed for you, by the way.

  4. Carol Edgerley says:

    I happily endorse Cathy’s comments! She has designed the last two covers for my books ( CLAIRE and SUSANNA )and they are absolutely stunning! Both perfectly represent the girl in the story inside the book! Thank you Cathy Helms!

  5. Cathy Helms says:

    Thank you, Carol! You gave me clear, detailed and precise input which made my job a breeze.

  6. Tamian Wood says:

    Unfortunately many DIY authors, with little to no design sense to start, have no idea their covers are sub par. It’s a bit like a tone deaf singer. Because they can’t hear it, they have no idea it’s bad. And sadly, well meaning friends and family will lie. Its helps to have someone brutally honest to tell it like it is. Thanks Hellen for bringing the subject to light.
    (From a fellow cover designer)

  7. G J Reilly says:

    Great article on cover design, Helen. Copyright issues are tricky to navigate as there are so many license types out there. Most graphic artists I know would be more than happy for someone to approach them with a request to use their work and they’re not as expensive as people think. But it’s not just great art that falls under copyright. Most people don’t know that Font types can be copyright too! Sea Witch is a great example of where the font choice gives a hint at the content, but imagine if, as a designer, you saw 2 or 3 books selling really well online, all using your font without permission. It’s a painstaking process to create a beautiful looking character, let alone an entire alphabet of letters. So, I’d also urge people to please check their font licenses when downloading too!

  8. Gretchen Meyer says:

    It’s not easy to find a cover artist who is willing to listen to the author’s idea of what her cover should portray. They don’t have time to read the book and so often their artistic ego gets in the way. Would that we could all afford Jon Paul Ferrar.

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