Golden Fleece vs Polished Turd (Cover Illustrator Review – Design For Writers)

pathfinders aidan j reid design for writersHAVING SPENT LITERALLY years crafting my debut novel, I was determined not to flop when it came to the cover design.

There are certain things you can control to ensure a higher chance of success and an effective cover is one such variable.

Don’t believe the phrase – ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’ especially if you are pursuing the self-publishing route as a means to bring your book to the market.

For a first time author, sometimes a fleeting glance is all you’ve got to hook a potential reader, and a knocked up Corel Printhouse Magic design cover simply won’t do. Competing against established authors with huge marketing budget, it is vitally important that at the very least, your book looks the part and piques someone’s interest enough to add it to their virtual basket.

My novel Pathfinders (available for pre-order now), was brought to the attention of the team at Design for Writers. Quickly paired with Andrew Brown, I soon got a feel for the process; something I’d like to reveal here, for those interested in hiring a cover illustrator.

The Process

Design For Writers use a program called Basecamp, which I had never used before. Basecamp is a web based project management tool, very effective for collecting files, photos and sharing content with selected members.

The project for my novel was created on the first week of December. Because Christmas fell smack back in the middle of the project, we lost about twelve days because their offices were closed.

The outline was very clear from the outset – items which I needed to complete in order to ensure we matched our expected timeline of the second week of January for the finished product.

Homepage of Basecamp – Relatively Easy For a Non-Techie to Navigate

What I really enjoyed about the process was the detailed questioning that went into preparing my cover image. I had the feeling that it wasn’t a ‘cookie-cutter‘ type approach where I only had a finite number of choices.

Instead, there were about a dozen sections where I was tasked with filling out so that Andrew could dive into his bag of tricks and pluck out something which matched the theme and content of my book.

Some of these areas included:

  • Book Synopsis (kinda important!)
  • Novel Setting/Location
  • Protagonists (appearance and character)
  • Tone (humour/tension)
  • Poster Scenes – this was my favourite. Many of these questions made me think about standout moments in my novel – how they would look if captured as a movie poster which was fun!
  • Ideas and Inspiration – my own thoughts and suggestions
  • Back Cover Blurb inc. Author Social Handles
  • Personal Taste – I was prompted to research and provide examples of book covers which I either liked or hated. I assume this was to give direction to the illustrator about my personal preferences so that it would steer them in the right direction.

There was a lot of back and forth between myself and Andrew to flesh out certain details. Some of the questions made me consider my characters in a new light and I was actually led to add further details in my own book after realising that the visuals weren’t clear enough.

A little bit of work was required from my side. I needed to collect a template from Createspace, identifying in advance my book’s trim size, and confirming page count.

Step By Step Break Down – Timelines To Keep The Momentum

Needless to say, editing, font size and structural layout had to be completed before uploading the files to createspace so that page count could be accurately predicted and the cover would wrap around the book!


To say I was excited to see the end result was an understatement!

Normally 2-3 images are presented at the end. I received five and they were all beauties! I was advised against sharing them on my blog which was fine – great covers that will no doubt be tucked into the back pocket of the DFW team for some future lucky author.

I decided against a Jack Reacher type cover and opted for something a bit different which reflected my story – a story which in itself is a little bit off-centre. I also wanted something that wasn’t necesarily ‘beautiful’ but provoked a reaction – hopefully positive!

There were safer options but in the end, I’m happy with my final choice and certainly very pleased with the work of Design For Writers.

N.B. Probably best not asking too many people for their preferred cover choice! It’ll drive you crazy!

dfw-ar-p-cover-midSettled on my image, the first time I saw it as it would appear in its final format, it didn’t quite pass inspection. A few little things grabbed my attention – details like the placing of my facebook page details on the back cover, and a rewording of the synopsis.

We passed the second round of corrections and accelerated though to payment.

Price – The cost of the service was €360 / £275. Timeline – Excluding the Christmas break, it took about 3-4 weeks to complete.

I received a number of files on completion including my cover art in various sizes and a 3D promotional book image for use with blogs and social media.

Would I recommend Design For Writers?

This is my first foray into self-publishing, and using a cover illustrator so I’m not in a position to make comparisons. However, based on my experience this time, I would have no hesitation in using Design For Writers again.

Pathfinders is released on Amazon UK, US (and others!) on March 1st in Paperback and Digital format – available for pre-order NOW.

Further Reading – Do I Need An Editor?, The Good, The Bad and The Edit (Editor Review 1Editor Review 2), Interview with Self-Publishing Queen Catherine Ryan Howard

pathfinders chapter 1

3 thoughts on “Golden Fleece vs Polished Turd (Cover Illustrator Review – Design For Writers)

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