A Tea With James


Hello all of you, today I had a nice chat with James, who kindly shared with me and now with you some good advices on books!

James Smith is a writer, you’ll find here his published story Humble Nations, and a designer you can contact if you are looking for an exceptional, attractive, exalting cover/e-cover for your book! You can have personalized book covers, but I’m not telling you more because you’ll find the information in his How I Work page. Or if you prefer you can find a multitude of awesome premade covers for all taste, all genres, ready to go!

Thank you James for this stimulating chat.


What are your Top 5 advices for a good ebook cover


Right this is pretty simple …

Number 1

is good typography it’s the first thing that always lets down a cover people always use bad fonts they either go for something that too dated, something that’s been downloaded from dafont (free site) or just a font that comes with their computer. Commercial fonts is always the way to go and there’s always something that can be bought that fits better there are summer expensive fonts out there like for example I bought a font called ‘Tungsten’ it was $499 which is expensive. But I’m using it over and over again not worth it for one cover but if people are willing to do a little searching then they can always find a nice little deal on something interest. Like one page I always check on a weekly basis is the special offers on myfonts.com http://www.myfonts.com/specials/ sometimes you can get a font that’s 90% off on a really professionally design font and it’s gone through some sort of editorial process so you know what you’re buying is a professionally designed font so getting the right font is good.

Number 2

Is space, space is very important some people think they have to use every available space on the book cover because it’s going to small you need to make every available part of the cover filled.

Number 3

What i would called the visual index, this is a very very common mistake even when they get the font right the colours everything they don’t understand the way eyes work, I mean it sounds silly but what happens is eyes are draw to one element of the cover or the other, so it’s either the title, the image or the author name they need to be placed in a visual index, so one has to be more prominent than the other you can’t have all three things as prominent if you do what happens is this the eye becomes confused what should i look at – says the eye and the design looks ‘muddy’ so before starting the design you need to think – what is the thing that ‘I’ want to be more prominent then make that element more prominent and work down the list personally I am a big fan of picture first there is a very good reason for this and that is with kindle / amazon what you have is that you have the text already on the page it’s to the right of the image any way … it says what the name of the book is and what the name of the author the text on cover isn’t going to make a potential reader more likely to by a book but what is … is an image that is engaging which neatly leads me onto point 4.

Number 4

image that say nothing about the story!

Lots of people have image that don’t do one of the three main things which i would say a cover has to do either set the mood, be a metaphor for the story or a motif of the story lots of people say to themself … this person in this stock image looks like the character in my story or the place looks like the place and it’s all good and well putting people or places on a cover but usually they don’t do one of the other three things so it looks blank and bland it tells nothing about the story itself it does not intrigue the reader it’s the same thing with blurbs lots of people ask for advice on blurbs and usually when they do this … they do have a problem with the blurb and the problem is that they’re just giving a synopsis of a plot no one cares about plots they care about the story there is a big difference between plot and story in the same way as there is a big difference between location and character and mood of location and the personality of the character a cover should ask more questions than it answers in the same way a blurb does it should make a reader think … you know what … I wonder what this is about it looks interesting I want my questions answered if there is no question … i reader will think … you know what I’m not interested in this I already know what this is about why waste my time which neatly leads me on to point 5

Number 5

People who think a good cover is one that ‘looks’ the same as another cover in their genre this absolutely gets my goat drives me batty! Yeah this really looks like a sci-fi cover or a romance cover … readers know what they’re getting what they’re doing is short cutting an idea … a concept without knowing what makes that cover interesting to start off with not understanding the mood, or the metaphor or motif present in the original covers one thing I do all the time on a regular basis is wonder around waterstones (uk bookstore) and close my mind and open my eyes and just feel what covers jump out and grab me in all the departments of the store and then think about what i like about which it’s a good test and the right way to do it because that’s what readers do it’s a good litmus test and i generally skip over books in whatever genre that all just look the same it doesn’t grab my eye it doesn’t work you can make something feel like the genre without having to go for cliché

next question ….


You are amazing   do you have a favourite cover? I mean one that you did ?


As a designer my favourite people of work is my last piece of work but it’s odd … i’m doing more pre-made covers now-a-days. and churning them out at a fantastic rate and what happens is that some of the once i design I’m like jesus, I really like that some I’m like … well I have this mantra …. which goes ‘yeah that’s fine … it’ll sell’ and it’s bizarre because there’s no accounting for taste because there’s some covers that i think … oh, it’s ok … it might sell and people will buy the ones i like the least sometimes and I’m shocked and there’s some killer covers that just haven’t sold at all!


Like What?

So i guess if i’m gonna plug myself let me find some good examples for you








there’s just a few of them, there’s loads of them.


I find the 0084.. scary I love the 0357 0143


but they’re some of my favourite piece of work and people have gone for other covers over them 0084 is meant to be scarey it’s a good example of a nice metaphor on a cover.


I imagine… but I would not have that book in my library, I would be scared to go there at night!


something that says … ‘Something is coming’it could be about a ghost … it could be about a home-invasion it could be about a serial killer.


Yep, brrrrr.


it’s about planting some idea in the potential readers mind what’s the person that’s forcing their way into a persons reality but what happens is this, if you gave that cover to someone that had commissioned me about a ghost story they would say to me … that doesn’t look like a ghost … it’s not all misty that’s the level of imagination some people have about what they’re writing there’s far too many people that are writing that are too literal and don’t even know what a good metaphor is.

The democracy of self-publishing is a double edged sword on one hand it gives everyone a chance on the other hand … it gives everyone a chance.




But i can’t complain it pays my bills I’m an avid reader … I read about 3 or 4 books a week but I’m get to read something that has been self published that I really really love and most of the time  I read the first few paragraphs of the ‘look inside’ or people and think ‘God No!’ But it’s the same with my commercial design which I did for 10 years it’s not up to me to say that the business model is flawed for the client it’s up to me to make the business look pretty so I understand my own frustrations well

next question …


Do you also do Hard Covers?


CreateSpace, yes I do. $60 for that work … as it’s a little more involved with bleed and margins and what-have-you. But yes … any cover I can do … can be turned into a wrap around cover.


I don’t think I have more questions, do you want to say something more about your job? or About books? Maybe a last one, what can you say to someone like me without any experience in ebook publishing? To sell his/her book?


This way probably what I was going to say any way … nice. In closing it’s probably best to say what i think about self-publishing anyway. I come across as a little pompus with my opinion about design but i’ve earned my stripes with design I’ve worked for the last however many years improving my design learning my tools and my trade and for one simple reason … i actually enjoy i I wake up most days and think … great … something new to design today and the one thing I’ve learnt about my approach to design is this … because I enjoy it … i get better at it you should have seen some of my design from 10-15 years ago … truely awful … but with each day i get better and better at it i’ve learnt my craft through hours spent on it I love seeing other peoples design … in fact just today i found out that MyFont is now on tumblr – http://myfonts.tumblr.com/ – most people might consider that page not very interesting … to me I’m like great … I’m bookmarking that. It’s nice to look at every day … to look at type. And this is a very important point … you look what’s out there. To design well you need to look at the best stuff out there. To write well you need to learn from the best. As in, you need to read well. And read a lot. Read the classics even if it’s not your genre. Read literary fiction because they’re people at the top of their game.

It no surprise that there’s an Iain Banks and an Iain M Banks. And if you don’t get that joke … then you’re still at the start of your writer / reader journey. But take stock. Because as I said my stuff was truely awful when I first started. But it’s about the craft. The craft because you love it. Nothing to do with making money or selling because you won’t make money if that’s your first goal.


Wise words


If I started designing just to make money then I would now be working behind some bar somewhere or worse in an office. I design because I love it. Write because you love it. And at the other end of it all … ten years down the like get me to do the cover. That is if I haven’t already moved over to writing full time. I’m a writer and still learning. If only I could get the time to write. Too many cover still to do.

The End.

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