With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Monica Haynes
Monica Haynes has been an avid book enthusiast since reading Hooples on the Highway, her first non-picture book, in 2nd grade. She’s tinkered on computers since the 1980s when the Commodore 64 provided hours of programming joy. FYI – her parents still own the original monitor. She married a fellow book enthusiast and plans to organize a family book club once her children move past the “See Spot Jump” stage. Monica possesses a BA in Photojournalism from Western Kentucky University.
You’ve been a book lover from a very early age. Do you credit anyone with fostering your love of reading?
Yes, books have always been a big part of my life thanks to my parents. They read to my brother, sister, and I every night and provided us with plenty of books and trips to the library. Those trips to the library were monumental—we cleared shelves. Why don’t libraries provide shopping carts? Someone needs to make this happen!
What drew you to working in the book business? To designing covers for authors?
I like to say that I’m a recovering college registrar after spending a decade in the education business. There’s not a lot of creativity in that vocation, you know? I left my job after the birth of my second child (because daycare expenses are astronomical!) to become a stay-at-home mom. Two years into my new “occupation,” my husband bought me a Kindle. This gift changed my life.
Instead of juggling armloads of library books, I downloaded them to my Kindle. Literally overnight (pun intended), a book-centric world opened up and for the first time ever, I had an endless supply of reading material, my very own version of heaven. I read self-published, mainstream, science fiction, romance, historical fiction, how-tos, memoirs, and more. And finally, by some strange twist of fate, I stumbled across M.L. Gardner’s 1929. You know that afterglow you get after reading a really good book—that immense satisfaction followed by an emptiness because you’ve had to say goodbye to your new book friends? I distinctly remember thinking THIS is how a book should be and seeking M.L. Gardner out on Facebook for information about her next release.
It was around this time, M.L. Gardner posted an ad for an assistant and after much consideration, I applied and landed the job. What started out as an administrative/marketing position evolved to include the designing of her Facebook banners and eventually her book covers, too. Because of M.L. Gardner’s belief in me, The Thatchery was born and my new career path was launched. My parents sang the Hallelujah Chorus in celebration of my utilizing that expensive college degree, which, by the way, was a BA in photojournalism and where I learned layout, design, and photography.
Through your business, the Thatchery, you design award-winning covers and offer various graphic services to writers. Can tell us a little about what you do?
The Thatchery provides authors with a full-service design experience. While working as a personal assistant, I discovered that authors required both book covers and accompanying marketing materials. If an author needs a social media, website, or newsletter banner to promote their new release, I’ve got that covered. If they want Pinterest-friendly designs like graphic quotes, or 3-D book covers, I can deliver. I even offer bookmarks and Squarespace website design. If it’s not in the shop, just ask—I’m sure I can make it happen.
In your opinion, should people “judge a book by its cover”?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve always judged books by their covers. In today’s market, covers are more important than they’ve ever been before. Why? Because a reader’s first impression of a book is its thumbnail. Hardly seems fair, right? If the reader likes the cover enough, they’ll click through and read the description, and then hopefully purchase the book. But the cover is the first thing they’ll see—isn’t that worth an investment?
While in the process of writing and publishing a book, when should authors start thinking about having their cover designed?
If the author has a clear vision for their book and a firm title, midway through the writing process is a great time to begin. That being said, plots change, characters take control, and titles fluctuate so only start the process if you’re sure! For print covers, an exact page count is needed in order to calculate spine width thus making a completed manuscript—edited and formatted—necessary.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see self-published authors make in designing their own book covers?
Bad typography. So much focus goes into the image that authors forget the importance of the right font, sizing, alignment, etc. Typography can break a cover when it doesn’t fit the intended genre, it’s not legible, and it makes a cover look novice.
In today’s over-saturated market, it can be hard to stand out. What can writers do to make their covers really pop and grab readers’ attention?
First, hire a cover designer. Writers can’t afford to skimp on covers anymore. Have you seen the competition? Cruise the internet and view portfolios until you find a designer you connect with. Second, have a clear vision, but be open to your designer’s ideas. Which brings us to the third—trust your designer. You hired a professional, defer to their expertise in times of doubt.
Are there certain design styles you gravitate toward? How important do you think having a professional font is for a cover?
Right now, I’m gravitating towards timeless covers—covers that tell a story. They’re less conceptual in nature and more “movie poster dramatic”. And I’m going through a cool color period. I can’t get enough of the blues, teals, and darker tones.
Choosing the wrong font, like the obviously bad Papyrus or Comic Sans, makes a cover look unprofessional. And if it looks bad on the outside, readers assume the same about the inside. Quality matters.
What is the difference between a custom cover and a pre-made cover?
A custom cover is tailor-made for the client. The designer takes into account the book’s elements and the author’s ideas, and they work together to create something that’s truly one of a kind. Typically, custom covers contain multiple images, digital painting, character design work, photo manipulation, blending, etc. They are more complex in nature than pre-made covers and the primary focus of The Thatchery.
Pre-made covers are a one-size-fits-all option. What you see is what you get. Authors select from a variety of ready-made covers, and the designer plugs in a book title and author name. Typically, pre-mades are simplistic in nature consisting of one photo and some texture or a gradient. If you’re on a tight budget, this may be an option for you.
When collaborating with a client, how do you decide what elements of a book to feature on their cover?
I ask all my clients to fill out a questionnaire—I really want to get inside their heads. The questionnaire covers genre, book description, client vision, inspirational covers, favorite colors, fonts, and even the mood of the cover. Usually, these questionnaires are followed by phone calls or emails to clarify and solidify details. From these elements, I’m able to visualize several concepts and then work to create a variety of mockups for the client. Together, we’ll choose a favorite, tweak it, and perfect the cover until it’s exactly what they want. The Thatchery offers unlimited revisions because I’m not satisfied until my client is ecstatic.
What do you think of authors re-releasing their previous works with brand-new covers? Is this a worthwhile endeavor for any writer seeking more successful sales?
A cover redesign can have a dramatic effect on sales. Like I mentioned earlier, the book cover is the first thing a potential reader will see. If you miss your target, if you don’t ensnare them right away, if they keep on scrolling, you’ve lost a sale. They’ll never read your carefully crafted book summary. They’ll never check out your preview. They’ll never buy subsequent books in your series—all because the book cover didn’t do its job.
Yes, it’s imperative to put your best foot forward—dress your book up in all the finery it deserves. I’ve redesigned several covers for authors and can absolutely confirm that it makes a difference.
What are some of your favorite covers that you have designed, and why? Can you share some of them with us?
It’s hard to pick favorites! For obvious reasons, M.L. Gardner’s 1929 will always hold a special place in my heart. I completely credit this book for sending me on my bookish journey. Keith R. Baker’s Longshot in Missouri took me to a gritty, masculine zone—I thoroughly enjoyed the process. And Ellen Smith’s Reluctant Cassandra was a dream to create. Ever the book nerd, I’m not married to any genre and love designing all different types of covers.
Thanks for interviewing with us, Monica!
Thank you so much for having me. I thoroughly enjoyed talking shop with your readers today!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley has an M.A. in English from the University of Idaho, where she taught composition courses. She graduated from Whitworth University with a B.A. in English and marketing and also has a copy editing certification from UC San Diego. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is a teacher, an editor, and a writer, who loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.