Why I Created Red Swallow Design | Red Swallow Design

My name is Belinda Pepper. I have over 11 years experience as a professional artist, with more than two spent as a freelance book cover designer, specialising in designs for indie authors (aka. self-published authors) and small publishing houses.
The last year brought an absolute boom to the self-publishing industry. Thanks to the success of ebooks and print on demand (POD), its easier to publish your work now than at any other time in HISTORY. Pretty neat, huh?
Whats not so great is that my workload became so massive that I simply couldnt do it all myself. Authors were waiting 3 months or more before I could even start work on their cover design.
For someone with a chronic need to please, thats torture.
I started to turn clients away, forcing them to look elsewhere for their cover art. As a result, many were vastly overcharged, and received sub-par work in return. I was gutted. Unwittingly hiring an inexperienced designer is WORSE than creating a cover yourself; not only to you get an amateurish cover that wont help sell your book, you paid for it!
How do I fix this problem?
I pull together a team of talented professionals and create RedSwallowDesign.
If you want to learn more about the (somewhat quirky) folk behind the bird logo, feel free to mosey on over to the About The Team section.

The Downside To Using Stock Images In Your Book Cover Design | Red Swallow Design

Most freelance book cover designers use stock images when creating a design.
What are stock images?
Stock images are photographs or illustrations that artists sell in return for a fee (one-off or ongoing, depending on the licensing). Not all designers are great photographers, and not all designers are great illustrators. So they instead purchase the licensing rights to use stock images. The most well known stock image agencies are Getty, Corbis, iStockPhoto, and Shutterstock.
The good thing about using a designer is because they produce such large volumes of work, they can usually purchase stock images at a discounted rate. But is stock imagery the best option?
It depends how the stock images are used.
Stock can be purchased by anyone who has the money. That means that the handsome cowboy on your romance novels book cover might also be on 5 other book cover designs. You should always get a guarantee from your designer that they will not reuse any stock images that have appeared in your design. This will reduce some of the problem. But this does not stop other freelance designers from using those exact same images.
Obviously, the best way to avoid this issue is to hire an artist who can create a 100% custom design (either by illustrating your cover from scratch, or taking their own photography). Understandably, not all authors can afford this option.But does this mean youre stuck with having an unoriginal cover design? Not necessarily. It depends on the skill of your designer.
Many stock images are very high quality. The photographers are skilled in use of lens filters, lighting and composition. The end result is an image that is of production quality without having to do anything. The problem? Many freelance designers are using these images as a short-cut in design. They do little more than add text. Admittedly, it takes some knowledge in design to make the text and image work together, but the result is a book cover that is essentially an unchanged stock image. A stock image that any other designer can also use in the same way.
Whats the result? Something like this:
Two different designers, one stock photo that hasnt been changed (beyond cropping it to standard book cover dimensions). Oh dear.
If you are buying a cheap book cover design, the chances of having the problem illustrated above is greater, because the designer simply cant afford to put in the extra effort required to make that stock truly unique.
A Useful Trick For Assessing The Uniqueness Of A Design
Theres a little-known function of Google Images that will help you determine the uniqueness of a designers book covers. You can test this technique on any image. Feel free to test it on the image above. Im using Google Chrome, so the steps may be slightly different if youre using a different browser.
1) Right-click on an image, and select copy image URL.
2) Go to Google Image Search.
3) Inside the search field (where youd normal type your search term), youll see a little icon of a camera. Click it. The Search By Image field will pop up.
4) With Paste In URL selected (its usually selected by default), click in the search field and hit Ctrl+V. This will paste the image URL you copied in step one. Hit Enter to search for that image.
Huzzah! What you just did was tell Google to find all other instances of that image online (that Google is aware of). What you should see is the exact image you searched for at the top of the list, followed by any other instances of that image.
If your designer used the stock images in a UNIQUE WAY, the only images that will show up is that designers cover (maybe they have that cover displayed in numerous portfolios online).
If your designer did very little to change the original stock images, you will see listings for stock image websites too. The image was so unoriginal that even GOOGLE could tell. Worst case scenario? Not only do you see listings for stock image websites, but you see other book cover designs or websites that have already used that exact same image.
This isnt a guaranteed method. Theres a chance the image has been used but Google cant find it. But Ive found that if you assess a number of different book covers from a designers portfolio, and virtually all of them are being pinged as unoriginal, theres a good chance that designer does little more than add text.
Here comes the question.
Are you okay with having a pretty- but unoriginal- design in return for a discounted price?
If youre really strapped for cash, getting a pretty but unoriginal design is much better than having an original but horrible design. But most authors would prefer to have their book covers look as original as possible, and for good reason. That means looking for designers who either use stock images in a unique way, or hiring artists whocreate your design from scratch.

How to Reinvent a Book with a New Book Cover – The Book Designer

Recently I was contacted by an author who had just won several awards for a book he had self-published. Ed Morler, a psychologist, is the author of a number of award-winning books, a real contribution to his field.
The author was getting ready to issue a revised third edition of one of these booksFinally Growing Upbut he was unsatisfied with the original cover. Since he had also decided to change the title of the book to more accurately reflect the direction of the new edition, he contacted me about re-designing the cover from scratch.
Although the author had contracted with a local artist to produce the original edition, the cover showed many of the flaws common in self-published books. Ive written often about these cover design mistakes and how to avoid them, and this cover gives a good way to look at a number of problems all at once.
Heres the original cover:
Click to enlarge
(By the way, the artist who produced this book may be just fine at all kinds of graphic design. Books are something of a specialty, although to the unaided eye they look dead simple.)
Heres what I saw:
The luckiest thing that happened when I began the re-design was that the author decided to change the title. This was a huge benefit, since the old title contained almost no useful information and did not seem very relevant to the potential audience of this book, a serious work of psychology.
The new title was much better at communicating the offer of the book. After spending some time looking through the book and thinking about the new title, Leading an Empowered Life, it seemed to me that the most powerful word in the new title was empowerment. I wanted to show the transformative power of the ideas in the book, and somehow imply the changes a person could experience by adapting them.
I wanted a clean and refined look for the book, which would also now have the imprimatur of three separate book awards on the back cover.
Using images from iStockphoto.com, I created a series of designs that attempted to express what the book offered, while also drawing the viewer in visually.
Here are the initial designs I came up with for the new edition:
As usual, during the design process there was a lot of going back and forth and trying different things. Eventually we narrowed the choices down and started to concentrate on what looked to me like the strongest cover of the four. The most powerful images are usually of the human face, and the direct eye contact of one of these images was striking. Eventually, all the elements fell into place. Heres the final version as it went to press:
Click to enlarge
Whats interesting to me is that the before and after versions of this book cover contain exactly the same elements: Title, subtitle, author name, blurb, photograph of a man.
Yet what a difference.
Investing in your book by getting a professional cover design is one of the best things you can do for your long-term success. This is especially true now that so many hundreds of new self-published books are coming out every day.
Its even harder to make your book stand out. Youll want to have an outstanding book, the best you can produce, of course, to start with. Youll make sure your book is properly edited.
The next thing, and maybe the most important in terms of marketing and sales, is to get a cover that will help sell the book.
You know, it doesnt cost any more to print your book with a great looking cover than it does to print an ordinary one. The design cost of your book cover is a one-time expense that can potentially be repaid quite quickly with increased sales.
Add to this the increased confidence you gain as you market and promote your book, and the advantages of a cover re-design can be quite real and very effective in helping you get your message out to the greatest number of people.
More on Book Covers
Book Cover Design, Fiction and Nonfiction: Whats the Offer?
15 e-Book Covers: Success and Failure in the Kindle Store
Top 8 Cover Design Tips for Self-Publishers
Complete list of all Cover Design Articles
Ed Morlers Sanai Publishing Website
Photo by iStockphoto
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The Creative Penn

Welcome to The Creative Penn, where you will find resources to help you write, publish and market your book.
Voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers 3 years running, and one of the Top 10 Blogs for Self-Publishers 2012. As seen at:
Hi, Im Joanna Penn, an author, just like you, and on this site I share my own lessons from the writing journey. I have made so many mistakes, I want to try and save you time, money and heartache along the way. In the short video below, I give you a guided tour of this site and how you can find help with your questions about writing, publishing and book marketing. If you want to get started right away, click here for links to the best resources.
VIDEO
Free Author 2.0 Blueprint
For a complete introduction to the new world of digital publishing and online marketing, you can download the free 53 page Author 2.0 Blueprint by signing up below.
You will also receive a series of emails over a number of weeks explaining aspects of the Author 2.0 model in more detail, as well as a monthly newsletter.
Free Resource Pages
You can also get started immediately by checking out the Resource pages as below. These pages contain curated information from this site and others that will help you with your issues. Click the buttons to go to the specific page, or scroll down for more information.
Free Audio
If you like audio, The Creative Penn podcast has more than 65 hours of interviews that will help you with writing, publishing and book marketing.
You can subscribe here in iTunes or click here for the complete backlist.
Keep yourself motivated!
There is a new article posted every 2-3 days on the blog, and you can get it delivered to your inbox or RSS reader. Youll get tips on writing, publishing options and experiences as well as book marketing lessons learned. I share everything I discover and also feature guest posts from other authors who share their knowledge generously.
Click here to subscribe by email or click here to subscribe by RSS.
If you need more help
These courses give you everything you need to know about publishing, book marketing, and running a business as an author Click on the icons below to find out more.
These are some of the other courses I have available:
If you would like 1:1 help, I do offer a limited number of consulting sessions
Sometimes it helps to have directed information specifically for your situation, and a new pair of eyes that can help you move to the next step.
I do have a limited number of consulting sessions available. These are Skype conversations based on a questionnaire so we can make the most of your time. Click here for more information or to book a session.
You can also connect with me at these sites:
Contact me on Facebook
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If youre interested in thrillers, you might want to check out my author site: JFPenn.com : Ancient Mystery, Modern Thrill
Joanna Penn
You can also email me: joanna@TheCreativePenn.com

Other Services | Red Swallow Design

One of the perks about being involved in Self-Publishing is that you get to know a lot of awesome folk. Occasionally, theyll also have great skills on offer. Below are some of the service providers weve used in our own self-publishing endeavours.
Elisabeth Sowerbutts of BookFormatter.com
When Lissie started publishing her own books, she realised how woefully inadequate the existing instructions were for book formatting. Already familiar with the world of coding, she set about teaching herself the ins and outs of formatting for ebooks (and later, print books). To help other authors learn how to format properly, she released an extensive guide on the subject.
Problem was, many authors cringe at the thought of noodling around with all that code, regardless of how straight-forward the instructions are. And they dont want to risk messing something up and getting 1-star reviews as a result. They started hiring Lissie to take care of it for them, and BookFormatter was born.
Ive worked with Lissie on a number of occasions, and shes always delivered the goods. Shes my go-to-gal for formatting. Im sure that once you give her a shot, shell become yours too!
Plus, shes Kiwi. Thats almost Aussie, ya know?
If you require her services, simply click here and drop her a line, or tick the I require formatting services option when you fill out your book cover brief, and well put her in touch with you.

How to sell more books: 10 Questions You Need To Answer Honestly If You Want To Sell More Books. | The Creative Penn

I love answering your questions and Im always happy to share what Ive learned on the journey, but recently I have been receiving the same question over and over again, namely,
Help, my book isnt selling. What can I do?
Most of the time people include a link to their book on Amazon and I can see immediately why they arent making any sales, because although Im an author, Im a reader first and Ive been shopping for books on Amazon for years.
My Amazon #1 bestselling book, How To Market A Book covers everything in details but the following checklist will also help you identify your problem and solve it quickly.
I have also included lots of links so you can find all the extra material on this (ever-growing!) site.
[As always, these are not rules, because there are no rules in this crazy, fast-moving self-publishing world. There will also always be outliers who get away with not doing any of the following, but these will at least help with some guidelines!]
1. Is your book available as an ebook?
99% of indie authors will not have print distribution in physical bookstores, and I would postulate that all the success stories we have heard in the last 2 years about indie authors and huge sales have come from ebook sales, not print.
Print books can be a good idea if you have specific reasons around wanting print. I decided against print but in 2013, I changed my mind, returning to print editions for all my books.
BUT/ if you want to sell a lot of books online, then make sure you have an ebook for sale as well.
There has been an influx of ebooks (and print books) self-published in the last year, as well as traditional publishers beginning to re-issue backlists digitally. Ive heard a lot of people complain about this so-called tsunami of crap, but personally, I believe you can surf the wave and make good sales even if youre starting now. The ebook market is growing globally as new countries come online and even within markets like the US and UK, ebooks are becoming more widely accepted.
So first off, get your ebook published.
I use Scrivener for formatting in Kindle, ePub and Word formats and then I publish on Amazon KDP, Kobo Writing Life and Smashwords or BookBaby for the rest (US citizens can use B&N Nook PubIt as well.) Its not hard if you spend some time with the various help pages.
2. Has your cover been professionally designed?
Amazing cover for a classic book
Book buyers still shop with their eyes. If people make it to your book sales page and your cover is terrible, they will not click the Buy button.
Dont use a painting your child did or that you did yourself. Dont DIY based on a YouTube video. Dont assume you can make a professional cover.
Do research your genre on Amazon and take screenshots of books that stand out in a good way.
Do take pictures of books you like with fonts and designs you like.
Do check out the ebook cover design awards at TheBookDesigner.com to see some great covers and some truly awful ones. Then hire a professional cover designer, give them that information and work with them to create a professional cover.
If you dont have a budget for this, then work extra hard until you have that extra money. Seriously, I believe this is non-negotiable if you want to stand out in the crowded market.
3. Has your book been professionally edited so it reads well?
I am passionate about the value of editing and editors, especially for new writers, or books in a new genre.
Some of my own editing
You should edit your books until you cant stand them any longer, and then you should consider hiring a professional editor to help you take it further, because you cannot see your own words after a point because you know the story so well.
You need other eyes, preferably professional eyes who will critique you honestly and tell you where the problems are, especially if the book is truly awful and sometimes it is (and thats ok because you can write another one).
Stephen King in On Writing says to rest the manuscript for a while, so put it away and when you have some distance, read it again. You may be horrified by what you find but better now than when its out there in the world. Heres some more articles on editing and my recommended editors.
If you cant afford a pro editor, then you can try using a critique group of readers within your genre, or join a group like the Alliance of Independent Authors to network with other like-minded authors in order to network and potentially barter your skills. Bartering shouldnt be underestimated in the online world.
But definitely do not publish your book if only you and your best friend, or your Mum, have read it.
4. Have you submitted the book to the right categories on the ebook stores?
Sorry, but not everyone will like your book.
You may think that everyone will, but they wont. You might not want to put it in a box or a genre or a category, but you have to because thats how readers find it. The category/genre reader has expectations and if you dont fit they will be disappointed. Thats not to say you need to follow any specific rules in your writing (lets not get into that now!) but when you load it up to the distributors you do have to choose which categories and tags to use and they need to be meaningful.
You need some distance from your book in order to do this, but consider where your book fits within the online bookstores. This means deciding on the categories, tags and keywords associated with your book.
Its also important to match reader expectations and the promise of what your book delivers with what your book is actually about.
There is no point having a book with a swirly, girly pink chic-lit cover in the horror section of fiction. It wont sell, however good it is.
There are some scammy sites out there that will tell you to aim for the categories that will rank the best in order to have a Bestseller on Amazon. Thats just silly because your book wont match the expectations of the readers and even if you get a bump in sales, it will completely dry up very soon.
You can choose a category that fits your book AND is easier to rank in, for example, I use categories Action Adventure and Religious Fiction. I rank occasionally for the former and consistently in the latter. Thats optimization, but it is still true to the book and to the readers expectations.
If youre struggling with this, choose 3-5 authors your book is like, not what you want it to be like, but what it is really like. That will help you find the right category.
A great book on categories and Amazon algorithms is David Gaughrans Lets Get Visible.
5. Have you optimized your Amazon sales page with a hook, quotes from reviews and other material?
I have seen some Amazon sales pages with not just typos but terrible grammar.
Some of them make no sense at all. Some are just the back blurb with no review quotes or other things that might draw a customer in.
Basically you need to treat the product description like a sales page. People will not buy your book if your description is badly written or hard to understand because its an indication of the quality of your book. Heres another great article on 11 ingredients of a sizzling book description.
If you want to see a fantastic example, check out CJ Lyons Bloodstained which continues to rock the Kindle charts. That product description seriously rocks. CJ also explains all of this in our ProWriter Marketing course.
You can format your sales description with colored headlines and other funky HTML by using Author Marketing Clubs Premium service (which also includes a fast-track way to find appropriate reviewers).
6. Have you priced your book realistically, or at least tried different price points?
Its important to say on pricing that no one has a clue how to price ebooks and authors are having success at many different price points. Check out this great article on The Passive Voice and the comments below to get an idea of the widely different levels of pricing and success.
However, I had one author ask why his debut novel wasnt selling, and when I checked his sales page, the ebook was priced $11.99. It was his first novel and he had nothing else for sale.
However good your book, however marvelous the cover, your first novel is unlikely to sell at that price. Most ebooks are under $9.99, and a lot of fiction is under $7.99, with many indie books being under $5.
The 99c price point still has some power even after the algorithm changes but you might go somewhere in between, changing your price with promotions as well. I have my books at $2.99 right now so I make $2 per ebook. You get to set your own prices but theres no way youll sell much at those very high prices.
7. Have you written, or are you writing another book?
Sure, there are some breakout successes, but most indie fiction authors making decent money right now have 5 or more books. For non-fiction authors, you can expect to make your money on back-end products and services and not book sales anyway.
The more books you have available, the more virtual shelf space you have, the easier it is for people to discover you. Plus if a reader finds one they like, they may buy them all so you make more per customer.
I was as guilty as anyone of trying to hype my first novel, because it took so long and I thought it was a precious snowflake. I still believe you have to hustle those first thousand sales with everything you have, but my sales and income jumped when I released the second novel with very little fanfare because I already had an established presence on Amazon and they do a lot of marketing for you when you have multiple books, e.g. emails to people who bought your last one.
I am also fascinated by the rise of novellas and serials as a way to create more books, more quickly. Hugh Howey is a great example of someone who wrote novellas in different series and then continued the direction of the stories for the novellas that took off, Wool being his most famous and lucrative. I am definitely moving into this model in 2013 in between longer works.
8. Have you done some kind of promotion or marketing to let people know it is there?
Again, there are no rules and in fact, everyone has different results from different marketing tactics. Some hit a mega-success with none at all, but I do think that you need to hand-sell your first 1000 readers because they wont just appear out of nowhere.
Remember: Marketing is sharing what you love with people who want to hear about it. You dont have to be hard salesy, scammy or nasty. Just be authentic and share your passion.
If you need some starter tips, you should definitely be building your email list from your own website and also from a signup at the back of your book.
If you do that with book one, you will have at least some people to market to with book 2. Its a start, and it grows over time. This is my only non-negotiable recommendation for authors, because you never know what will happen with all these sites we depend upon for sales. If they disappear, or the terms we publish under change, then your email list of fans and buyers is all you have.
I also believe that social media can sell books, but it is a slow build over time and you have to have other goals than just book sales, e.g. networking with peers and other authors. Its not instant sales so you cant rely on it. The whole author platform thing is massively useful in so many ways but it is only one aspect of book sales.
If you have some budget you can pay for promotion, but be targeted and track results.
The biggest leaps I had on the Amazon charts were from paid promotional pushes on sites that market direct to Kindle readers. I have used Kindle Nation
Prophecy with Lee Child on the Action Adventure Bestseller List
Daily, Pixel of Ink and BookBub and there are new opportunities all the time. I more than made my money back but the rankings were worth it. Prophecy hit the Action Adventure list above Lee Child! (of course, it dropped away but the screen-print is worth gold!)
Free is still a great option, especially if you have multiple books, as it means people can discover your work with no risk. Fantasy author Lindsay Buroker talked about this in our interview where she revealed that the first book in her series is permanently on free with her other books at $4.95. You can do this by making your book free on Smashwords and eventually Amazon will price match it.
9. Have you asked for reviews, or submitted to review sites?
Theres been a lot of scandal about the sock puppet reviews but reviews are still critical because they give your sales page social proof and they feed into the book site algorithms.
I give away a lot of free books to people who might like my genre and ask that they leave a review if they like it. No hard sell, no pressure, no expectation. This is easy if you have built up a list from the last book, or if you have built a platform and in fact is one good reason to do this. Traditional publishing has been doing this forever so it is not a new or a scammy tactic.
Remember that not everyone will like your book and not everyone will leave a review, or a good review, but it is a start. [And remember, don’t respond to bad reviews!]
You can also contact book bloggers or Amazon reviewers to get more reviews. This is hard work if you do it manually, but you can use the Author Marketing Clubs Premium service to short cut the process by finding reviewers for books like yours.
You can also listen here to Rachel Abbott in this interview talk about how this strategy got her to #1 on Amazon.co.uk.
10. Are you working your butt off?
Generally, Im an even tempered type of girl, but when I get emails from people asking why theyre not successful and theyve done nothing on this list, I get a little annoyed!
Especially when this site has over 700 free articles on writing, publishing and marketing and theres 75+ hours of audio for you to learn from for free. Oh yes, and a
57 page Author 2.0 ebook on all this.
Thats all available for free, but I also have a book you can buy for less than the price of a coffee How To Market A Book.
Plus you can join my How To Market A Book Premium audio membership
Plus you can learn from New York Times bestselling author CJ Lyons in the video based ProWriter: Secrets of Successful Book Marketing
There is no excuse not to be educated, even just from this site.
I absolutely believe that you can be a great writer and make an income from writing.
I have to believe that for you because I believe it for me, and I have left a stable job and steady income to take a chance on being an author-entrepreneur. Ive been on this path since 2007 when I decided to write my first non-fiction book, so I am 5 years into working my butt off to change my life.
But writing books is not a get rich quick scheme.
I look at authors like CJ Lyons, Scott Sigler, Chuck Wendig, Joe Konrath, Bob Mayer and so many others and I know they are working their butts off every day writing and getting their work out there. The recent success of Sean Platt & David Wright in landing a Serial deal with Amazon is because they work incredibly hard at writing all day, every day to produce new content for their market. They are my heroes.
These guys are pros and they know it takes hard work to get there and hard work to stay there.
So please, if your book is not selling any copies at all, go through this checklist and honestly evaluate what you have done and how much effort you have put in. Please also share this with other people who may be asking the same question.
Id love to know what you think, so please leave a comment below. What other tips can you give for people who arent selling any or many books?
Images: Bigstock Help button, Bigstock Buy Me button, Bigstock price tags, Bigstock hard work ahead.
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