Pro Tips on Book Cover Design

October 22, 2014

book cover design,book covers,editor's deskThinking about your book cover design, but not sure where to turn to for advice? Book cover artist Alexander von Ness shares some tips with The Editor’s Desk.

Many authors, especially ones who go the self-publishing route, will one day need to come face-to-face with book cover design.

For many, it’s a daunting prospect. Sure, we know how to tell stories. But what do we know about cover art? Should we even try to attempt it ourselves?

Personally, I believe that, along with editing, book cover design should be left to a professional. After all, the cover will be the first thing a prospective reader will see. Shouldn’t it be the best it can be?

So, where do we start? To give us insight, I turned to book cover design artist Alexander von Ness, who agreed to answer some questions about this important part of your book’s overall development.

1) How many book covers have you designed? Do you primarily work for indie authors?

I’ve designed approximately 2,000 covers, which includes covers designed for indie authors, book coaches, medium-size publishing companies, and design contests.

I personally never make any differences between first time indie authors and authors who have already sold millions of books. Every new cover design is a new challenge where I try to create a little masterpiece every time.

Even though I do this for a living, and put food on the table by doing it, this is still a form of art – and art doesn’t include any boundaries in its nature.

2) When authors approach you to design their cover, what are some of their biggest concerns?

Mostly indie authors, who have never worked with me, are concerned that their message wouldn’t be recognized on the cover at first glance. But I reassure them that I make unlimited changes until the author is 100% satisfied.

Also, first time authors are very concerned that I won’t be able to present the main character (and secondary characters) in the way they are described in the book. This is by far the greatest mistake authors make when thinking about a cover! The main character should never be on the cover, unless it’s only in one segment, or as an undefined character whose appearance could still be imagined by the reader while reading the book.

If we have the main character “served” on the book cover, especially in fiction, a lot of readers will forever be deprived of imagining and daydreaming, and might possibly be disappointed by their actual appearance on the cover!

3) What are the most important elements to consider when designing a book cover?

Definitely typography: the font choice and its placement on the cover. Nothing can be compared to that. If your typography is lame, there is no point in having a great design with the best imagery.

I saw a lot of great designs that were literally ruined by bad typography. I would even dare to say that a good designer can be exclusively recognized by a good typography choice. For example, I sometimes send my clients the same design with different typography to prove to them how important this is in the overall design. The typography change was so powerful that the cover was sending a completely different message than it was supposed to.

One of the most important features today, compared to a couple of years back, is the visibility, readability and recognition in a thumbnail size. Today the majority of books are being sold online. So today you’ll see a lot designs with the title over the whole cover, which was unthinkable, even unacceptable a while ago.

Because of this, I’ve seen a new trend in redesigning existing covers. Many authors have done their cover very quickly, unprepared and unprofessional or with a very low budget, so some great, high quality books weren’t selling at all. In the end, they would realize that it is more profitable to make a cover redesign then to write a new book!

For example, at the beginning of this year, I redesigned one fiction novel. Before I made the redesign, the book was selling about seven copies per week. After my redesign, and some extra marketing efforts on the part of the author, the same book was selling almost 2,000 per month! A redesign of the book cover can be a great opportunity to revive sales. Trust me, the results can be surprising!

4) Is it necessary for you to read the book before designing the cover?

No. If that were necessary, I would only be able to create a few covers per year!

After an author contacts me, I send them a few questions to see what they really want, what they like and what they expect from their cover design. Of course, regardless of the different wishes I get from the authors, I design the book cover so it connects to the book and its content and with the message that the author wants to convey to his audience. My goal is, above all, to draw the reader in with the cover design and to give the book a professional appearance that will improve sales.

It’s also important to know the author’s target audience. After I have determined that, I start developing a design concept. Without a strictly defined target audience there is no point in doing a cover design. The majority of authors say that their target audience is males and females from 7 – 77! The author has to realize that his book wasn’t written for every person that enters the bookstore. Once this is determined, I can create an eye-catching book cover.

5) What about interior design? How important is that to the overall reading experience?

Every single part of the book is equally important for success. The interior layout should be readable for everyone. It may not be as important as the title, editing, proofreading, cover design and back copy, because a flawless interior layout design is useless when the book wasn’t edited properly and is filled with grammatical errors.

6) Do you have an opinion about online design tools that allow authors to create book covers on their own?

I think that this is very good and useful, but only to a point. As technology moves on, we have the opportunity to witness the appearance of new tools every day, which are helping us in our everyday work, so it’s no wonder that book cover design also got its turn.

Some book cover designers are frowning because they are afraid that it might take their job away. However, I don’t see any problem here. Just the opposite! I see that the book cover culture is developing in a positive direction and that the awareness of the importance of book cover design is larger every day. We as a community can only gain through that. The ones with a lower budget will be able to have their own book cover, which is something that makes me very happy.

One of the most useful and serious tools would be, which started very well and one that I hope will develop in a good direction. Every tool or application which helps the authors to create their book with less effort can only be beneficial for us who are engaged in the book business. Here I don’t only mean book cover design, but also editing, proofreading, etc. However, I would never recommend people to do these things on their own if they have serious intentions with their book.

Alexander von Ness is a book cover designer with almost 20 years of professional experience in graphic design, and over a decade as Art Director in a branding agency. In the past few years his main area of focus is book cover design. His website Nessgraphica is among the top trusted sites for book cover design services overall.

Questions? Send them to

Richard Todd,Editor's Desk,About Us,About The Editor's Desk

If you’re a writer, write. And if you’re a reader, keep reading. We need you!

Richard Todd is a novelist, speaker, and President at The Editor’s Desk. Plus a few other things that get lost in the clutter. Visit him online at, and connect on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The 10 Worst Places to Write

October 7, 2014

worst places to writeNeed somewhere to create that bestseller? Whatever you do, avoid these 10 worst places to write.

All writers have their favourite places to write. Mine is my couch. In fact, I’m on it right now.

But there are some places where even seasoned authors just can’t seem to find that proverbial muse. We polled several of them for their “favourite” worst places to write, and while you might be able to relate to some of their responses, others might surprise you.

10) Around their kids: Yep. Little ones are a constant distraction, from wanting more milk to needing the channel changed. They also tend to peek over your shoulder, breathing down your neck as they inspect what’s keeping you from showering them with attention. But who can blame them for being curious about what you’re doing? It looks so interesting…for about three seconds.

Then it becomes all about them again. Pouring milk. Changing channels.

If you have teenagers, you’re slightly better off. They won’t want anything to do with you, as long as there’s food, TV, and available car keys. So you’ll have lots of time to write, probably about how much you miss them being little.

Face it: no matter how old they are, you’re screwed.

9) Near the TV: In this on-demand world, you can watch whatever you want, whenever you want. So, you can always catch up on those episodes of Modern Family that you missed.

In fact, why not watch them right now? They’ll just be on in the background while you write.

Two hours later you’re caught up on watching, but the page will still be blank. Stupid TV.

8) In the Nude: Ok, not really a “where”, but a “state of undress” is still a state, isn’t it?

They say that Oscar Wilde used to write in an empty room, completely naked, so he had no distractions. But that was in the days of pen and paper, before the threat of having our web cams broken into existed.

But leaked nude pictures have actually helped some careers.

Would it help yours? Hmm….

7) Around a cat: “Feed me.

“Be my scratching post.

“Your keyboard looks warm – I think I’ll lie on it.

“Chase me away and I’ll stare at you from across the room. Try to concentrate now, human, under the powerful gaze of my stare.

“Just try.

“Ha! Knew you couldn’t.”

6) Home: See ALL of the above. If you have no kids, no pets, no TV, and enjoy wearing clothes, you might be okay.

Oh wait, there’s wine?

5) Anywhere you can access Facebook: WiFi is everywhere, so the temptation to check your Facebook newsfeed, upload some pictures, or play Candy Crush can be insurmountable. For authors, theses distractions are all too common.

In fact, I ran this poll on Facebook and got a huge response. Point proven.

4) On Date Night: You think the cat has a powerful death stare? Check out the one on your partner when you bring the laptop to date night.

The cat will probably never leave you, but your partner might.

Then again, look at all the time you’ll have to write now.

3) In the Mall: Great for people watching. But the constant stream of humanity flowing by can be too entertaining to be distracted by writing. People are just too darn fun to miss!

Maybe avoid the mall. Besides, nothing in the food court is brain food. More like drain food. For mall rats.

2) At Work:  Hee! I know someone who actually did this! Good thing their boss was away at the time. Make sure yours is too before you use company time to write your retirement book.

Unless, of course, you’re prepared to live solely on a typical writer’s income. If you like Kraft Dinner three times per day, you might not mind so much.

1) Starbucks: Strangely, few mentioned coffee shops in general. Starbucks was specifically named, so I suppose Timothy’s and Second Cup are fine.

What’s the difference that makes Starbucks stand out in such dubious fashion?

They’re noisy. Every Starbucks I’ve been in seems designed to broadcast every whispered conversation so that you drown in a cacophony of voices.

They’re crowded. Good luck getting a table, no matter the time of day.

And, worst of all, they’re stereotypical. “There’s ANOTHER writer with his laptop, taking two hours to drink his coffee!”

Where do you find it impossible to write? Leave your answer in the comments below!

If you’re a writer, write. And if you’re a reader, keep reading. We need you!

Author Richard S. Todd

Richard Todd is a novelist, screenwriter, and President at The Editor’s Desk. Plus a few other things that get lost in the clutter. Visit him online at Connect with Richard on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.

3 Simple Steps for a Compelling About Us Page

September 24, 2014

About Us,About Me, Editor's DeskYour About Us page could be the most important part of your site. Are you maximizing its potential?

How’s your About Us page? Have you considered how powerful it can be?

The About Us page provides a wonderful opportunity to really connect with your audience. It’s where you can talk about your background and describe what inspired you to start your business. No one likes to read an About Us page that feels like a reshashed sales pitch.

But some organizations do just that: talk about the company instead of focusing on the human element behind the curtain. It’s as if they copied and pasted information from their product pages.

Let your products and services speak for themselves in their own space. This is about you!

So how do we change our minds about About Us pages? Here are three simple rules to get you started.

Rule #1) Tell your story: You felt a passion and started a business. That’s a story worth telling.

Explain what inspired you to take that first step? Did you see a business need worth pursuing? Did you have a mentor who inspired you? Did you start with a lemonade stand and now own a catering business? We need to know!

But remember, the content needs to be relevant to what you’re doing now. If you’re an accountant, the fact that you played in a garage band in your 20s probably wouldn’t apply here. When you get to know your clients a little better, you can share these details.

Finally, now is not the time to be modest. Like I said, your story is worth telling. Tell it. Be honest and be proud.

Rule #2) Show Yourself: We’re human. We like to see other humans. And not the ones in stock photos. We want to to see you!

Arrange for some professional headshots (no selfies!). If you’re creating a page highlighting an executive team, a group shot is a great way to show team unity. If that doesn’t work, try to use the same photographer for individual shots so the images appear consistent.

Also, the pictures should represent your industry. Web developers have more leeway with fun pictures than financial professionals. Your photographer will be able to help you foster the proper image and setting.

Rule #3) Get Someone to Proofread It: I can’t stress this one enough!

A colleague should be able to tell you if it’s too long, uninspiring, or overtly sales oriented. Be sure to select someone who will be able to pay attention to spelling, punctuation, and grammar issues as well.

In case you’re still skeptical about the power of About Us pages, consider Facebook. When you think about it, that monster is simply comprised of personal About Me pages.

Millions of them.

And Facebook really took off, didn’t it?

If you’re a writer, write. And if you’re a reader, keep reading. We need you!

Author Richard S. Todd

Richard Todd is a novelist, screenwriter, and President at The Editor’s Desk. Plus a few other things that get lost in the clutter. Visit him online at

Have a To-Do List? Create a Done List!

September 4, 2014

to-do list,done listA done list will motivate you to tackle that to-do list, and give you a better sense of accomplishment.

If you’re a first time entrepreneur developing your startup, you will likely have a to-do list.

And, chances are, it’s pretty daunting.

My startup checklist covered three months worth of tasks, covering simple jobs such as business registration and domain name purchase, to more complex projects like conducting a market research survey. And for every task I checked off the list, I added at least two more.

I could only see how much there was to do, and wasn’t appreciating all I had accomplished. It’s not very motivating to look at an ever-growing list every day, without taking the time to reflect on the journey I’d already travelled.

Until I discovered the done list.

Where the to-do list is all about planning, the done list allows you to evaluate how you executed the plan. It’s the perfect balance for the to-do list, giving you a rear-view mirror on how your startup is growing. It also allows you to compare your expectations and results and examine the entire process, empowering you to make better to-do lists in the future.

The done list is also a powerful motivational tool, as it shows you real results. You can pat yourself on the back because you’ve accomplished things! Not intangible goals or wishes, but actual things. At the end of the day, you can look back and be proud of all you’ve done, reenergizing you for the next day.

Your done list may never be as big as your to-do list, but you’ll get more satisfaction from the process by keeping track of both.

As they say, it’s not always about the destination. It’s also about the journey.

Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

If you’re a writer, write. And if you’re a reader, keep reading. We need you!

Author Richard S. Todd

Richard Todd is a novelist, screenwriter, and President at The Editor’s Desk. Plus a few other things that get lost in the clutter. Visit him online at

What Your Headshot Says About You, Part 2

August 19, 2014

“If you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur, you’re a major part of what you’re selling…” Sara Shirley from Sara Elisabeth Photography, on professional headshots.

Last week, we spoke to Sara Shirley from Sara Elisabeth Photography about using professional headshots as personal branding images. She shared with us how entrepreneurs should approach professional headshots for their websites and social media sites.

This week, Sara and The Editor’s Desk President Richard S. Todd compare two images she took of Richard, and how each could be used in corporate or personal branding.

Image #1 – Traditional Headshot

Professional Headshot,Sara Elisabeth,Personal Branding

Sara: “This image is much closer to your traditional “professional headshot” in terms of the crop and the focus on the face. There’s not much in the image to distract from Richard, other than the bricks, which add in a bit of texture and pattern. The absolute positive aspects of this image are how comfortable, inviting, and confident Richard looks. He looks friendly, cool, and calm, and this image makes me trust him. I would still consider this a personal branding image because it exudes personality and the brand that Richard is trying to portray.”

Richard: “Agreed, this is the kind of picture one would normally associate with a professional headshot. Very simple, strong focus on the face with a relaxed expression. The bricks in the back not only add pattern, but also suggest building on a solid foundation. Building relationships, building partnerships, and strength in unity.”

Image #2 – Full Body Shot

Professional Headshot,Sara Elisabeth PhotographySara: “The second image is different in terms of composition and the look and feel of the image. It shows more environment and the reflection in the glass is relevant for a writer who is always thinking about the meaning behind words and ideas. This image is a great compliment to the first one for someone like Richard to add to their website. It would allow potential clients to see more of his personality via his body language.”

Richard: “I like the second because it’s not like the first! As it shows more than the head and shoulders, it will stand out among the crowd of traditional professional headshots while retaining the same relaxed image. The subject is not only someone you could do business with, he’s someone you could hang out with too! Sara also mentioned off-line that the reflection of the building suggests something that writers often do – reflect.”


Sara: “In summary, Image 1 could stand on its own as a personal branding image, but image 2 could not. Together, they make a great pair, allowing the viewer to understand more about Richard. Individuals should be moving towards having more than one great image of themselves to show potential clients. If you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur, you’re a major part of what you’re selling – people want to work with someone they like rather than with someone who is uptight and has no personality. Time to start thinking of how you want your personal branding images to look!”

Richard: “Image 2 certainly compliments the first image, but couldn’t stand on it’s own on a website or on professional social media platforms such as Twitter or LinkedIn. I’ve seen more than a few websites that feature something like Image 1, and then have secondary pictures just like it but with slightly different expressions or hand positioning. Something completely different like Image 2 would have been a better addition to the website.”

Follow The Editor’s Desk on LinkedIn and Twitter.

If you’re a writer, write. And if you’re a reader, keep reading. We need you!

Author Richard S. Todd

Richard Todd is a novelist, screenwriter, and President at The Editor’s Desk. Plus a few other things that get lost in the clutter. Visit him online at


What Your Headshot Says About You, Part 1

August 12, 2014

author headshot,headshot,professional headshot“Each person should be authentic with who they are in the professional world.” – Sara Shirley, Sara Elisabeth Photography, on the subject of professional headshots.

Professional headshots are a must for online corporate profiles, professional social media sites, and anywhere where your public image has a stake in your business.

But how many headshots have you seen on corporate profiles that don’t convey the proper image?

This applies to authors as well!

This week, Sara Shirley from Sara Elisabeth Photography discusses the importance of personal branding images, and how they can impact your business. She also answers the question about whether or not to use a “selfie”.

1)   You have the ability to view professional headshots with a critical eye. When you see a headshot, what kind of things do they tell you about the subject?

I look at these images as “personal branding images” rather than “professional headshots”. After first noticing the technical aspects of the image, I notice the type of expression the subject has on their face. The person’s smile, the engagement in their eyes and small differences in posture and body language are some of the factors that contribute to making the subject look authentic. If someone looks stiff and uncomfortable in their picture (like often in the standard “professional headshot”), it shows. On the other hand, if the person is warm, engaged and authentic, people will view them in a different way. They’ll be seen as someone that people will want to work with. That is why some photographers prefer to use the term “personal branding images” – the images are supposed to be representative of how a person wants to be viewed by others.

2)   What are the most important things a subject should consider when posing for professional headshots?

Trusting one’s photographer is number one. People should make sure they select a photographer they have a good rapport with and that can show you some samples of their work. Together, they should pick a location that represents the subject and their personal brand (how they want to be seen by others).

Clothing choice is also very important. Subjects should choose clothing that is appropriate to their field, clothing that is clean, ironed, and lint-free, and clothing that is of a solid colour. People want to avoid anything that has a busy design (like floral print), or anything with logos or text on them (unless it’s their uniform).

Lastly, subjects should just allow themselves to let loose and have fun. Most of us don’t like having our pictures taken, but having a great-quality professional headshot that we love is important to our brand image and to our ultimate success. Subjects should let their photographer guide them through the process and don’t forget to smile.

3)   You deal with professionals with many different roles and from many different industries. How does one’s title and industry play into the headshot?

One’s title and industry definitely play a factor in the image, but I give my clients the ultimate decision as to how they want to represent themselves in their final image(s). Some high-level executives enjoy laughing with their employees and having a more equal relationship with them, and subsequently want to be seen as extremely warm in their image. Others prefer to be a little bit more serious and be seen as an authoritarian-type. There’s a full spectrum of choices for people to choose from. Each person should be authentic with who they are in the professional world.

4)   Should a professional ever consider using a “selfie” on their professional profile?

Professionals should never consider using a “selfie” on their professional profile because, whether it’s consciously or sub-consciously, prospective clients, partners or employers will not take them as seriously. Making a small investment in a professional photographer can set you apart from the pack. It demonstrates that the individual puts effort into the way they present themselves, which in turn demonstrates that they’ll put effort into other aspects of their professional life.

5)   I’ve seen more and more companies using the same photographer for their entire staff. It suggests unity through a common image. Do you see this as a growing trend as well?

More and more companies are opting to use the same photographer for their entire staff. Companies, large or small should consider hiring a photographer to capture professional branding images of their staff because it demonstrates unity and consistency in a world where the image is more and more important.

Next week: Sara analyzes two professional images in terms of personal branding.

Follow The Editor’s Desk on LinkedIn and Twitter.

If you’re a writer, write. And if you’re a reader, keep reading. We need you!

Author Richard S. Todd

Richard Todd is a novelist, screenwriter, and President at The Editor’s Desk. Plus a few other things that get lost in the clutter. Visit him online at


President John

July 28, 2014

Hey folks!

I’ve written a new short story which received some rave reviews from a literary group I belong to. So I thought I’d share it with my loyal followers here, before putting it out for the rest of the world to see.

It’s called President John, and it concerns a young boy being bullied at school. Please give it a read and leave your comments here or at the bottom of the page.

Hope you like it!

Literally Yours,


If you’re a writer, write. And if you’re a reader, keep reading. We need you!

Author Richard S. Todd

Richard Todd is a novelist, screenwriter, and President at The Editor’s Desk. Plus a few other things that get lost in the clutter. Visit him online at


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