Sharing my book cover design inspiration and story

I am one of those people that can get lost in a book shop for hours. I love the discovery process of finding new authors I’ve never heard of, and while the Fantasy section is usually the place I spend most of my time (my happy place), the front of the book shop has a strong allure too.

That’s where the best sellers are. The latest thinking. A diversity of thought across the spectrum of human knowledge, because the front of the shop represents the intelligence in our world. What humanity is most interested in too. It’s where you’ll find the thoughts that challenge you, as well as ideas that can potentially create positive change in the world. I love it.

So how do you get people to look at your book when they have no idea who you are? Well from my experience as a book passionista, it all starts with the cover.

The cover had to pop

When publishing my first book, and now Uncommon Courage, the cover had to be spot on. Eye catching. It needed to leap from the shelves. The spine needed to pop. The back too. Nothing boring. It needed to link to my brand-style, and definitely not look like everyone else.

And the most important thing as far as I’m concerned? A subtle message should be conveyed within the design.

Because I buy based on the quality of the cover, I presume everyone does too. Regardless, with more than 60% of the population visual learners, I believe it’s critical to focus on visual elements. I know I won’t buy a book that looks like a stock photo and I expect others agree. Then again, I spend more time than most on stock photo sites, so I might have a different perspective.

It’s a brand, not a book

However, in my case it went deeper than that. The book cover wasn’t an item in its own right. It was always meant to be part of a bigger brand or ideal, where I hope to bring like minds together to combine our intelligence, so we can do the work that needs to be done for the world! Yes a bigger brand.

Because of the order of how things worked out, I started the brand visual design exploration through the cover of the book. Perhaps an unusual way to begin, but it felt right. The name – Uncommon Courage – was already in place long before the book. As an example, I am launching a podcast in that name, which is coming together at last, but the book became the important first step.

It needed a crown

I started with some queen inspired cartoons – as in the crown, not the band. The crown is tongue in cheek and part of a story people in my community know about. It’s also about a woman coming of age in her 50s and it’s about the need for the matriarchy to rise and get to work, because too many of the men leading our world are not doing a great job.

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Initially, I moved away from The Digital Conversationalist brand all together. Then Steve (my husband) said I think you need to bring the smiley logo into this and I knew he was right.

So here it is, my second logo, integrating the first. I now have one for each brand and both are still relevant, but the Uncommon Courage brand is more inclusive of everything I cover.

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Meet my designer

Of course I couldn’t do this design myself. It’s not my skill, and while I have very clear ideas about what I want, I would never be able to bring it together visually. When it comes to design, I just don’t know what’s possible. It’s a skill I have great respect for.

On the other side, I do have a clear vision – not the final look, but an idea of what I’m going for. I believe my clarity of what I want can make me a bit challenging for designers to work with, mostly because they can’t hear or see my vision. That happens a lot.

And finally that pain was over, when a few years ago, Arewa Lanre walked into my life. His business is Brand Apex Media and he has been my design partner since, because he’s the first guy to get my vision. We might have some back and forth, but we always get there in the end, and he never stops working until he gets it right. That is a work-ethic I really love, because I’m the same.

Arewa begged me to do the book cover design. However, the cover is usually part of a package when you’re publishing a book, and by not taking it up in a package, you don’t get any discount on the price. So it was a cost to me, until later, when I decided to take a different path.

But sometimes a price is worth paying. Arewa was going to be my partner in the bigger project of Uncommon Courage, and I knew that he needed to be with me from the beginning in the creation of this new brand. He needed to love it too, to care for it, to be proud of it, so he would be inspired to keep creating with it at the center of our next work together.

And so we got to work and I recommend Arewa to anyone looking for design in any area –  book, Website, presentations, banners and more! He’s brilliant.

One tip for successfully working with designers

Do the work and know what you want. Look around for inspiration and share it with your designer. Give them a feel for what speaks to you. It doesn’t mean it should be the focus of your final design, but then again, how you want a story told visually says a lot about who you are. Maybe that is the most important thing, even if it isn’t design-rules-right?

The research

I believe it’s important to do the work, and I did a bunch of research on design sites, looking for what makes a great cover. I wasn’t really blown away by what I was reading. There are design rules to follow and I respect these rules, but what I don’t enjoy is the sameness of advice these days.

We seem to have formulas for everything – how to sell, how to write emails, how to do videos, how to have an award-winning Website, how to design an amazing book cover, etc… and well, everything feels the same, just in different colors.

I’m a rule breaker and I always have been. Besides, when everything looks the same, the world gets very bland. So promise me you won’t be scared to trust in your own counsel here. Be inspired by the greatness around you, but trust yourself too. So important.

So I went deeper on what makes a book cover successful

15 Of The Most Famous and Best Book Covers Of All Time + Their Stories

The best book covers of all time: 50 coolest book covers

The 20 Most Iconic Book Covers Ever

Amazon’s most popular books of all-time

It was time to go deeper and look for inspiration in different ways, and this type of research is much more me – looking at what has worked in the market. So many different styles and looks. No consistency.

It was fascinating to go back in history and to compare with the top books of today too. The older books had much less information on the front than today’s best sellers, and the imagery is simple, elegant and memorable. I definitely liked the older style.

And then I saw this. The Art of War Sun Tzu. And that armor. I loved it. Especially the shape of the armor. Circles or actually, more oblongs. The way the writing sat in the armor too. Simplicity.

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Armor of love

I love epiphanies and when I looked at this piece of work, I had an epiphany for my new brand – I knew it had to be armor of love. We all wear so much armor in life – it’s what the book is essentially covering in many different ways. Therefore, wouldn’t it be amazing if we wore armor of love instead?

Rather than protect ourselves with hard steel, we protect ourselves with love. There is incredible strength in protecting ourselves in love, and it’s not naïve at all. It’s the strongest protection we can have. Life is better too.

The armor had to be scratched and dented of course. Maybe a few stab holes? Life and hard times go together, and the book talks about embracing hard times and seeing the gift in them.  

From a design point of view, we had a few early attempts, where you can see the subtitle wasn’t quite shaped yet. In fact, Kevin Cottam was the inspiration behind the subtitle – An Invitation. Such a wise man.

While my fantasy head definitely loved the armor symbolism in one of the first rounds – very Joan of Arc – it wasn’t right.

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We kept going. Purple was always going to be the color, it’s the color of wisdom after all, as well as many other important symbols in spirituality. But what type of purple? We agreed on more of a violet.

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And the black space, where my name is, this was the haggard part of the armor. While it was the best we could do, that didn’t quite work either. So we tweaked it some more, and here is the final artwork.

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In physical book form it looks stunning and I can say it definitely pops.

And below shows the backcover. The cartoons go down the entire spine too, which I believe is important if you want your book to stand out. Sometimes in a bookshop, all anyone can see is the spine after all.

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If you’re looking for an amazing cartoonist, I can definitely recommend Tigerblaez on Fiverr. He’s done some terrific work for me over the years.

This design also links to my first book, but it’s a completely different look on the front. However, while a different look, I value the thread between the two and will do it for future books as well.

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So there you go. The thinking behind the book cover, but also for a bigger brand and message. If you’re thinking of publishing a book soon, I really hope this provides some useful thinking that will help you on your way. It’s a fun process and if you can commit some decent time and attention on it, I reckon it’s time very well spent.

Just make sure you work with a designer who gets you too. Thank you Arewa, total legend and I love working with you. It’s so easy, and after years of struggling with designers, I am just so happy we found each other!!

Also massive appreciation for the artistic side of Joanne Flinn. A very important contribution to getting this final visual perfected – detail is everything. Thanks lovely. You are a lady of many talents and your eye for detail is very much appreciated.

So what do you think? Love it? Oh don’t tell me if you don’t. I do. It makes me smile.



Uncommon Courage – the book – is published

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You can buy it on AmazonApple BooksBarnes & NobleSmashwordsRakuten Kobo, and ScribdDo check out my new Website uncommon-courage.com.

Come and join the conversation in my new Facebook Group Uncommon Courage.

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