Judge a book by its cover. (Part one) Making mistakes.

Those of you who have followed my writing career or have read my earlier self-publishing blogs will know that I have a love hate relationship with book covers. Being a self-published author means that you have to be responsible for every aspect of your book’s publication and it’s fair to say that designing book covers is not my strongest suit.

With a new novel on the horizon, I decided it was time for a bit of a rebrand and I’m going to take you through the process.

Before I enlighten you with what I’ve been up to the past couple of weeks, I think it’s time for a history lesson.

Leg It, the early years.

I first self-published Leg It in January 2011. Six long years ago where a combination of naivety, inexperience and excitement led me to commit some horrendous self-publishing crimes. Most of them have been well documented and I’ve even run workshops on how others can learn from my mistakes but I’m going to concentrate on book covers for now.

Some of my recollections are a bit hazy but I think at the very beginning, I didn’t even produce a cover. This sounds insane now but in my haste to get the book out there on the Kindle, I thought just the book itself would be enough.

A couple of days later, I realised the error of my ways and decided to knock one up. I can remember it having photos of a ‘Keep Off The Grass’ sign and a football and I have no idea what font was used. The fact that I can’t find the picture anywhere gives you a hint as to how bad it was.

It wasn’t long before my brother stepped in with a subtle hint that maybe he could do something slightly better. Despite not having a background in design, he came up with a pretty decent effort.


The green and yellow colour scheme reflecting the Brazil strip synonymous with the time period the book was set in. A seventies style font and a small football hinting at a pastime that focussed heavily in the protagonist’s early years. The silhouette at the bottom was a generic city scape but it was something that I particularly liked and would lead to one of the most spectacular cock ups in cover design history.

This cover served me well and was the cover Leg It had when it peaked at the top ten in the Amazon humour chart. At one point I was one place above Alan Partridge in the top twenty.


My problems really started when I decided that I wanted a paperback. Instead of asking my brother to do me another (unpaid) favour, I decided to resize the cover myself. This proved a lot harder than I had thought so I went to create one myself based on my brother’s design but ‘improved’.

I had no experience in design, had no knowledge of Photoshop and crucially it would appear that I had no way of critically appraising my own work.

I kept roughly the same colour scheme but as my copy of Photoshop didn’t have the font he used, I just used another. (Note that at this stage, Leg It still has an exclamation mark that dogged me for a long time.)

I wanted to keep the silhouette but to ‘improve’ it I wanted to make it less generic and more to do with Sunderland where the book was set so I chose two Sunderland landmarks, the Wearmouth Bridge and the Roker Lighthouse. As you can see below, I went through a couple of iterations.

And then, crucially, idiotically, I decided to stick with a silhouette and ended up with this.


If all you see is a bridge and a lighthouse, well done. You are pure of mind and are sure to go to heaven. If, like most people, you see something else, I apologise, I never meant to offend anyone.

Without having the faintest idea of what I’d done and being totally sick of the whole process, I finally posted my finished cover on Twitter. In seconds I got my first response. ‘It just looks like a fat bloke with his knob out.’

I was so determined to do it myself and get it published that I never thought to seek anybody else’s opinion before publishing. This seems like madness now but it’s a trap that most first time self-publishers will fall into.

My error unwittingly got me some publicity and could well have led to some sales. T shirts with the cover that has become known as the ‘original’ Leg It cover have been spotted in Mexico and Disney and whilst running the Sunderland 10k, I spotted one fan with a poster of it sat in front of the Roker Lighthouse itself.

Sales began to dip after a while and I decided I needed another refresh in 2013. Whilst the cover had been fun, it made me look unprofessional. I’m not sure why but I only decided to change the Kindle cover and not the paperback. I suspect it was a lack of faith in my Photoshop skills and the relative low sales of paperbacks.

This time I abandoned the colour scheme and went for a brick wall background with a graffiti font.


Looking at it now, it looks very ‘self-published’ but I was happy to get rid of the naked fat bloke. The refresh helped boost sales again and I kept it until I brought out my second novel, Idle Threats and decided on an upgrade.

I will cover this in my next blog but if you have any book cover distasters, feel free to share them.

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