Judging a book by its cover? 10 tips

A good book cover boosts sales, both of eBooks and paperbacks. We really do judge a book by its cover. Getting the right cover takes a huge amount of time and effort, but here are 10 tips to help you get started.

  1. Establish your style. I include colours, fonts and images that might inspire my cover – of course it’s going to be distinctive too, right! Clarity here will save you time when you start browsing designer portfolios for your shortlist, and help you avoid expensive mistakes when you brief later your designer.
  2. Look at different genres. There are definite “themes” i.e. dragons = fantasy, ladies in long dresses = historical fiction, ragged fonts = crime. Readers will make a snap judgment on the type of book based on this broad first impression, so don’t confuse them by using dragons for a romance. It is highly recommended to stay in the genre and not try anything too different to avoid accidentally losing readers.
  3. Check out any recent trends. This article looks at some key trends for 2018, although I think they should rename the page link from “trashed-7”!
  4. Analyse other covers to try to understand what does or doesn’t work, and why. The website has a monthly competition with brief comments on good and bad covers. It is well worth spending some time on, but it would be great if you could sort the designs by genre. For more detailed analysis of a few covers, I recommend this webcast
  5. Research designers of covers that you like. There is no doubt this is time consuming, but at least you know what their style is and if it is in line with what you want. IMG_9250
  6. Alternatively, you can use an agency. Services like will provide lots of options and ideas through a competition. With 99designs you set some parameters around the type of cover you want (this is where having gone through the above steps will really help you) and designers from around the world can pitch for your project. There are a range of pricing packages.
  7. DIY it. Not sure I am brave enough, but if you are more artistic than me or on a strict budget, you can design your own cover. There are lots of templates you can use. I like the simplicity of Canva, or you could look at Adobe Spark I recommend this podcast to get you started
  8. Is it part of a series? If so, before committing to a design, it’s worth considering how you could link the covers by changing elements but keeping a recognisable link. I love these covers by Kristina Beck for the Collide series – they are clearly linked, but still different.
  9. Computer vs. physical design? It’s likely you are designing on a computer, but if you do want to go one step further, this article by Ben Denzer shows the impact incorporating physical layering can make to the final visual.
  10. Don’t panic! If you change your mind you can always relaunch with a new cover – lots of authors do. It’s particularly easy if you are indie published. With print-on-demand and eBooks you won’t even have a big pile of books in the old cover to dispose of either. Take a look at these before and after shots from the hugely successful Wool series by Hugh Howey for example!

Whatever you decide, have fun and good luck!

Featured image by Karim Ghantous on – thanks!




Top advice for authors usually includes “Write about what you know” – well I know nothing about smuggling, but I do know a lot about sailing so that’s where the whole idea for The Relic Hunters started.

Finn and Aria’s boat is based on a real boat, Indianna. We anchored next to Indianna in a small bay in a Greek island and started chatting to the owners, Roger and Anne. They lived aboard Indianna with their two dogs, Indi and Sollie. The story is that one day, after (quite) a few lunch time drinks, they decided to quit their jobs and buy a boat. Sailing round the UK while they were learning the ropes seemed a sensible idea given they were both novices, but this was in January. Unsurprisingly, a couple of hundred miles north, Anne announced “if you don’t turn this boat and head somewhere warmer, I’m getting off.” And that started a nine year trip through the Mediterranean.

Indianna is a lovely ketch – solidly built, with beautifully varnished woodwork down below and a deep cockpit.




Sailing gives a wonderful freedom to choosing your location. The first book, Eternal Seas, starts in a lush tropical island, passing through some ports with bustling bazaars, before returning to the rugged islands off the north west coast of Scotland via London.

None of the locations are real, but they are all based on actual places.



7 tips to help you choose a name for your character

I can’t believe how hard it is to choose the right name for your characters!

The two main characters in the Relic Hunters, Finn and Aria, actually changed their names several times during the editing as the original names didn’t seem to reflect their characters as they developed. In the end, I tried to allude (not too subtly, given my readers age!) to their connection to the sea and the air through their names. My creative director (aka my son) is still adamant that Aria should be called Holly though.

Here are 7 tips to help you choose a name for your character.

1. Use resources
If your family have spectacularly “normal” names like Dave, John and Ann (as mine do), then you might need to be a bit more creative than simply adopting their names.
My personal favourite source of unusual names is the interactive course on the running machine at the gym – you get to see a constant stream of real names from all over the world. Plus it makes the run whizz past as I try to plan how to use the best names in my writing!
Baby name websites are really helpful for ideas. My favourite is because it has a fun random name generator tool. This would have given me Silas and Talha instead of Finn and Aria.
I thought about adopting the standard FaceBook approach of “your fictional name is your favourite colour and the last thing you ate” (Green Mince Pie anyone?) but instead I was going to combine my pets and schools. This would have turned Finn into “Hardy Bishopmill” – he sounds more like an American baseball player than my quirky character – and Aria would have become “Trudi Hopeman”. Maybe they will make an appearance in Book Two!

2. Don’t use similar sounding names

It’s hard for the reader to distinguish between Maya and Maria, Harry and Harvey, Tina and Tricia….

I recently read a book where the names were so similar I restarted it several times and got in such a tangle I actually gave up. It wasn’t that the book was badly written or boring, I just couldn’t sort the characters out. They were actually different generations and I am sure the author thought it was very obvious who was who, but I couldn’t keep them right in my head.

3. Readers connect better with shorter names
This is interesting as I originally thought a slightly more unusual, longer name would be good, like Evangeline or Evelyn. I was recently debating this on Twitter and other writers confirmed they would be more likely to use Eve or Evie.
In the end I did shorten Finlay to Finn, partly because it seemed to flow better, but also as a slight hint to his connection to the sea-people, just as I changed Holly to Aria (which means “air” in Italian).
4. Names can evoke an image
Detectives always seem to have strange names – from Sherlock Holmes to Artemis Fowle. This sets them apart, highlighting their unique perspective on life. Tom Brown just doesn’t sound like a great detective, although it clearly works for a schoolboy.
Some names just sound scary – what about Agatha Trunchbull vs. the ultra-sweet Miss Honey? And Hannibal Lecter never stood a chance of being a goodie.
On the other hand, down-to-earth sounding names are easy to associate with – Harry Potter could easily be your next door neighbour. Down-to-earth doesn’t necessarily mean “normal” though – Frodo Baggins is definitely unusual, but it does create an image of a  solid, dependable chap.
5. Make them pronounceable
I’ve spent entire books worrying that I am pronouncing the name wrong. I admit I wasn’t sure about Hermione when the first Harry Potter was published.
I really wanted to call the girl in Relic Hunters “Ciara”, a beautiful Celtic name pronounced Key-ra, but I worried readers might think it was Chi-ah-ra.
6. Check the history
It goes without saying you need to get the period right – girls weren’t called Sydney, Chelsea or Britney in 1901.
And Cameron was originally a Celtic boy’s name until Cameron Diaz made it a common girls name.
Again, those baby name websites are helpful here.
7. Like the names you pick
You are going to be spending a lot of time with them. OK, maybe Hardy Bishopmill won’t feature in my next book after all!