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 We're Jeni Chappelle and Melissa Koberlein. We're on a mission to explore the world of publishing with some amazing women.

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Indie Chicks Season 3 podcast for websit

EPISODE 4, Season 3 - Cover Design with Geoffrey Notkin

In episode 4, Jeni and Melissa welcome Geoffrey Notkin to the show to talk about cover design and the roots of indie publishing. Listen in...EPISODE 4 Cover Design.

Welcome to the Indie Chicks show! I’m Melissa Koberlein, an author and professor of publishing, and she’s Jeni Chappelle, a freelance novel editor.

Indie Chicks celebrates and supports independent women in publishing. We’re a place for writers at all stages of the publishing process. So, whether you’re on the traditional route to publication or self-publishing, you’ve come to the right place for advice.

On this episode:

We’re talking cover design

End with an author tip of the week

This week we’re joined by Geoffrey Notkin. He’s an Emmy Award-winning television host and producer, and starred in three seasons of the cult television adventure series Meteorite Men for Science Channel. He is a science writer, meteorite specialist, photographer, CEO of Aerolite Meteorites Inc, and President of the National Space Society, an international nonprofit spaceflight advocacy group. Geoff is a columnist for the NSS’s official publication, Ad Astra.

He’s also an award-winning author, having published hundreds of articles on science and the arts, with his work appearing in Astronomy, Wired, Robb Report, and many other national and international publications. He is the author of three non-fiction books, Meteorite Hunting: How To Find Treasure From Space, Rock Star: Adventures Of A Meteorite Man (with an original introduction by Neil Gaiman), and My Incredibly Strange and Amazing Real-Life Adventures in the World of Comic Books.

Welcome Geoff...

Melissa met Geoff in person at Tucson Festival of Books in 2017 and then they presented there together last fall. We welcome him to the podcast for this episode about cover design for authors.

Here's the Q&A from the episode:

I know you’re passionate about indie publishing. Can you talk a little bit about why?

I am a reader and a writer and a publisher and a photographer, art director, and graphic designer. I love everything to do with books. I have been a book collector since I was a little boy. I have worked in virtually every aspect of traditional publishing. Indie publishing did for books and writers what indie music/punk rock did for the music world. It gives the writer/creator artistic control over the product. It opens up the field. Demonstrates that authors no longer exist at the whims of traditional publishers.

I am NOT anti-trad publisher. I’ve worked for many of them and there are many good things about the trad model, but indie pub suits me better. I’m an artist and I like to be in control of my work. I believe in editors, designers, distributors, but I get to choose who they are. The book is MY work. I get to determine how it is seen by the world.

There are good and bad parts of indie publishing.

Good: Everyone is now an author/publisher and can get their work out there.

Bad: Everyone is now an author/publisher [laughs] There is little quality control and there is a ton of noise out there. Not everyone SHOULD be an author/pub.

What, in your opinion, makes for a great cover?

Concept PLUS execution. I’ve seen great ideas and images for covers that we done badly, and beautifully-executed covers that are as boring as anything. I’m sure we all have. Genre-appropriate, eye-catching, design and image themselves say something about the book you’re (hopefully) about to buy.

Do some research. I LOVE doing research! I get to visit book stores and buy books! Hooray! You’re a publisher now. It’s a business expense! Look at covers you like. Look at covers of books in your field, and other fields, that have done well. You can get a GREAT idea for a cover from a book that is in an entirely different genre.

Buy design annuals! Look at what other publishers/designers are doing. It’s okay to get ideas from somebody else -- just don’t steal them outright. We have ALL been influenced by other writers/artists.

Geoff, maybe you could talk about your How to Find Treasure From Space cover and how you came up with the concept?

Yes, would love to! This is an example of a very complex concept I had and how I made it come to life. We used REAL meteorites in a treasure chest, hired a prop artist and assistant, and carried meteorites out into the desert. I took over 100 photos to get it just right. Adding the astronomy image was an afterthought and that’s the best part. It didn’t work before that, so I got advice from a photographer friend. Sometimes you are VERY clear in your head what the cover should be, and when you execute it, it doesn’t work. Have to be able to adapt and re-evaluate.

Do you have a preference for illustrated covers or photographed covers? Does it depend on the genre?

I definitely work with both and love both. There is a place for both. As an art director/publisher I need to decide which is most appropriate for a particular work. I am non-fiction writer AND a photographer, so I find that photos usually more appropriate for my work. Sometimes there is a photo that you know is going to work and the cover has to be built around that [ i.e. “Rock Star].

For my comics book I wanted illustration as it’s about comics : ) Surprised myself by hiring ANOTHER illustrator/cartoonist to do the cover. I wanted someone else’s vision of my characters. A collaboration is often better than one person working alone. Another music analogy: IMO Lennon/McCartney songs [Beatles] typically better than their solo material

“Hybrid” covers: James Vaughn and Ad Astra

Illustrated covers: legal usage, image needs to work with the text

Great example of hybrid: Science magazine about future of spaceflight. We don’t have much in the way of photos of that! Great opportunity to use an illustrator who does photo-realist images. Have built a lasting relationship with our artist James Vaughn.

Also, think about the spine: what do you want your book to look like when it’s on a shelf?

What advice would you give to new indie authors about their cover design?

DO NOT try to do it all yourself. Concentrate on what you’re best at, which is hopefully writing. There are artists out there who would LOVE to work with you and have their work on the cover of your book. In most cases, there art is better than what you could do, just like your writing is better than their writing [laughs].

It's important to fairly compensate your artist! Make them feel part of the creative process. In a sense, it becomes THEIR book too! Share the love : )

Find or hire a good designer who known what s/he is doing, so you can concentrate on your writing. Some great places to look: Facebook groups / Fiver / Craigslist in your local area -- lots of artists there are hungry for work. I like to work with local artist if possible (but not critical, it’s my preference. I like to have a sit-down and sketch).

Invite your artist to your book release party. Give him/her some free copies. That artist can/should help you promote the book! It's in his/her interest too!

Be involved in the process and work with your designer; enjoy the collaborative experience

Tip of the week: Think about how your book cover will look as a thumbnail because that's how your readers will see it when they are browsing books on their favorite retailer's site.

On our next podcast, we’ll have another great publishing topic to discuss. We will also have another Tip of the Week. And don’t forget where to find us! Find our podcast at or follow us on Spotify or subscribe to Indie Chicks on iTunes. Please rate us! You can follow us on Twitter @Indie_Chicks or

So, remember, we’re all part of a publishing community, be kind and review your fellow authors’ books. Thanks for listening!

Indie Chicks out.

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