First Impressions...

By SilverWood author Helen Hollick, formerly Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews and now Discovering Diamonds.
By SilverWood author Helen Hollick

For many years Helen was Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews. A successful historical novelist, Helen now runs her own indie reviews at Discovering Diamonds.


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 - professionally designed and produced - can create immediate interest: "Oh, this looks good!"

Alternatively, some are - and 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 graphic 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.

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-published’. Fortunately SilverWood, and Helen Hart’s experienced advice, came to the rescue when that first publishing company went bankrupt and closed down.

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 your book face-out 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)?

All too many books come to me as Managing Editor of the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews 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 with no author name on the front or spine - or both. I even had one novel submitted to me that had no author’s name and no title on the cover, just a rather dull image! 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 appreciate it costs money to use a professional designer. But doesn’t your hard work, effort, and 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.

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