Guest post: Book covers by Vonnie Winslow Crist

I’m delighted to welcome back novelist, short story author, poet and illustrator Vonnie Winslow Crist for tonight’s guest blog post.

Book covers

We’ve been told by teachers, librarians, and our mums: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” That saying might be great life advice – but truth be told, most readers pick up a book because the cover has caught their eye. So what’s a writer to do?

If you’re lucky enough to be published by a major publisher, the art director and editor will ultimately choose your book’s cover. As the author, you’ll have little input. If instead, your book is published by a small, independent publisher or you self-publish – you’ll be involved in cover choices. So what do you need to think about?

1-You’ve only got one chance to make a first impression. You need to grab the eyes of the shopper (or library patron) and hold their attention long enough for them to read the title of your book. Store shelves are lined with books. Yours must stand out from the rest. But how? Answer: Color! There are certain color combinations that our eyes are naturally drawn to. Black lettering on bright yellow is one. Others? Look at traffic signs. Certain color combinations attract the eyes and can be clearly read at great distances. But how to find a color combination that works for you? Visit a library or bookstore. Don’t look at the covers; instead, study the book spines that line the shelves. You’ll naturally gravitate towards certain book spines. From studying those spines, you’ll discover which color combinations and lettering styles are the most legible.

2-The right title. Remember, the most eye catching color combination can’t correct a poorly chosen title. Titles should be content appropriate, as brief as possible, and catchy! A title that makes a reader curious enough to open the book is what every writer is looking for.

3-Cover style. While at your local bookstore or library, look at the covers of books. Make a list that clearly states which covers appeal to you and why. Then, make a list of which covers ”turn you off” and why. And forget about the covers which aren’t strong enough to cause a reaction at all—if they’re as bland as elevator music, you’re not the only one who barely notices them. By looking for common threads in the best covers, you’ll be able to list what attributes your cover needs. Maybe simple, uncluttered cover images are your cup of tea. Maybe a fabulous photograph surrounded by a thick, solid-color border on which to place text works for you. Maybe a dark mysterious image with bright, bold letters is appealing. Once you have an idea which covers attract you, then you can begin the process of selecting the artwork or photography for your book. And if you’re not a photographer or artist yourself, there are places where you can buy images – just make certain to acquire the rights you need.

4-Communicate to a reader what’s between the covers. Your book’s cover needs to tell a potential reader what’s inside. First, the cover image must match the content. The bright colors and bold images of a children’s book wouldn’t be a good fit for most romance novels. Just as dark silhouettes and bloody knives wouldn’t be the correct image for most self-help books. Next, the title and author’s name must be readable – so make sure there’s a place to layout text. A beautiful photograph or piece of artwork doesn’t necessarily make a great book cover if the artist hasn’t left “open space” for placing the text. Most good cover art has an area that’s free of images or complicated patterns on which to position the title and author’s name.

5-Lettering counts. The color of the lettering is another consideration at this point. If the cover art background is sky blue, then it’s best to pick a color that contrasts with it. Orange lettering with a black shadow or outline would “pop”, whereas white or pale yellow lettering would blend in. Also, the font should be easily read. It’s a good idea to skip the fancy fonts when choosing a style for your letters. And remember to make the lettering large enough to be legible from an arm’s length away. Readability is important.

6-Get the opinions of others. Technical help is available from professionals, but every one of your friends and family members can tell you if an image interests them and what sort of book they think that image represents. The potential cover, including text, can be shown to friends. Be prepared for both positive and negative responses. If everyone you show the cover to has trouble reading the text or doesn’t get the message from the cover art that you’d hoped to convey—maybe it’s time to re-think your cover.

7-Think small, too. Paperbacks and hardback books are sold from electronic sites as well as traditional brick and mortar stores. If your book is an eBook, its cover may only appear online. Your cover should not only be attractive as a small image on readers’ computers, but customers need to be able to read the title. The boom in Amazon and other online stores has added another challenge to authors hoping to attract readers with their book covers.

In conclusion, congratulations on completing your book! The good news is – selecting a cover isn’t as difficult as writing hundreds of pages of text. Use these 7 tips to help you with your book’s cover. And remember after one book is published: keep writing and believe in yourself.

Thank you Vonnie, as a self-published writer who designs my own covers, I loved that! 🙂

Vonnie Winslow Crist, BS Art & Education, MS Professional Writing from Towson University, is a columnist for ‘Harford’s Heart Magazine’, an illustrator for ‘The Vegetarian Journal’, the editor of ‘The Gunpowder Review’, and a contributor to ‘Faerie Magazine’. A firm believer that the world around us is filled with miracles and magic, she has had a life-long interest in reading, writing, folklore, myths, legends, fairy tales, and art. She lives at the edge of a very green forest in a rural area of the USA, loves to hear owls hooting, feeds wild birds, adores toads, tends Faerie-friendly plants in her garden, and often has toadstool fairy rings sprout up beneath the trees in her yard. ‘The Greener Forest’ is her new book of fantasy stories:

You can find out more about her from…

Her website:




If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with novelist Greg Messel – the two hundred and forty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.

Author Spotlight no.16 – writer and illustrator Vonnie Winslow Crist

To complement my daily blog interviews I recently started a series of Author Spotlights and today’s, the sixteenth, is of Vonnie Winslow Crist. You can read the others here.

Vonnie is an author of YA / adult speculative fiction, a poet, nonfiction writer, and illustrator. She also occasionally teaches creative writing classes at a college near her home, Wood’s Edge. Her love of myths, legends, folklore, and fantasy began at age 3 when she taught herself to read using fairy tale books from the 1930s published by Platt & Munk Co. She shares a poem that tells that story.

As a girl, she graduated from reading A.A. Milne and Beatrix Potter to C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, and L. Frank Baum. A fan of Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Terry Brooks, and Neil Gaiman, her favorite author remains, J.R.R. Tolkien. But it wasn’t only the words in books that fascinated her, the illustrations served as the impetus for her to pick up pencil and paintbrush. The art of Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle, Eulalie Banks, Brian Froud, Michael Hague, Alan Lee, Linda Ravenscroft, and others continues to inspire her.

Her newest book, The Greener Forest, is a collection of fantasy stories (with a few poems and drawings tossed in for good measure). In each tale, the world of Faerie spills into our mundane world of city streets, flower shops, amusement parks, public beaches, and backyards. Between the book’s pages spriggans, goblins, Brown Men, mermaids, dragons, sprites, gremlers, giants, and more interact with humans. A poem that describes how to find Faerie creatures serves as the introduction to the stories of The Greener Forest.

And now from the author herself:

I believe the world is full of mystery and magic. You just need to look, listen, and believe that wondrous things are still possible. And I live my life certain that the magical is nearby.

Like many other writers, my life is the source of writing (and illustration). People I meet, places I visit, stories in the newspaper, snippets of overheard conversation, and just about everything else I encounter are the beginning places of my work.

“Wait a minute,” you might say. “You write fantasy. How can that be?”

Let me explain. In “Birdling,” the first story in The Greener Forest, The protagonist, Cora, goes outside after a storm to pick up broken branches that litter her yard. She finds a baby bird, nurtures it back to health, then tries to help the robin rejoin his wild kin. That part of the story relates an event from my life. I just added a Brown Man to the tale. Sadly, in reality, a hawk swooped down and snatched the robin from beside me. I like the fictional ending more!

Another example from The Greener Forest is “Angels.” In that tale, the protagonist is a woodcarver. I’d met a man from the Appalachian Mountains of the United States (my home country) who whittled animals from wood to entertain himself during the winter when he was snowbound. I asked him how he knew what to carve. He answered: “My hands know – the wood tells me.” I based the story’s other main character on a barber I took my sons to who had a barbershop in his house. Lastly, I added bee-lore I’d either read or learned when interviewing a beekeeper for a freelance article. A pinch of imagination, and you have a story.

A third example from my book is “Shoreside.” I’ve been to the beach with my husband, three children, and mother-in-law. I don’t like to go into the water, and my mom did go to a gypsy who made the dire prediction in the tale. My husband and kids do go into the sea – I watch them and read. And like Hiromi, I’ve spotted dolphins and felt an unnatural urge to swim into deep water. As to the gull-back riders and ningyo… Well, I’ll let the reader decide what’s real.

I encourage writers to write what they know, but also to speculate. I’ve been to Balnuaran of Clava, Iona, Tinturn Abbey, Conwy Castle, Giant’s Causeway, Dunbeg Fort, Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge, and many less touristy places that offer opportunities for experiencing the mystical. I’ve also been to the library (and online) to research the facts before stepping into the fantasy worlds I love to create.

My advice: read, experience life, research, imagine, and have fun writing. Speaking of fun, to download a free Greener Forest maze I drew.

Thank you Vonnie. 🙂 You can find more about Vonnie and her work via…

…her website, blogTwitter and Facebook author’s page and purchase her The Greener Forest here or her other books here. You can also read her guest blog on writing fantasy and she’ll be returning to talk about illustrating on Tuesday 25th October and I shall be interviewing her on Tuesday 15th November.

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with fantasy novelist Catherine Stovall – the one hundred and forty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. They love reading your comments (as do I and if you’d like to get involved in anything you can email me. You can also read / download my eBooks here.

Guest post: ‘Writing fantasy’ by Vonnie Winslow Crist

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today by the multi-talented YA / adult fantasy author / illustrator, poet, and non-fiction writer Vonnie Winslow Crist (

‘Writing fantasy’

Good fantasy writing demands the same standards of grammar, story or verse structure, characterization, dialog, and proper word usage as any other form of writing. Fantastical stories have characters, settings, and plots. Fantasy poems still have a tone (the writer’s feelings), mood (how the reader feels), and theme (the larger idea the writer wants you to remember). And fantasy literature uses the same writing devices: alliteration, metaphor, simile, personification, sensory language (imagery), onomatopoeia, etc. as mainstream literature.

But fantasy writing needs more:

1- Magic. In fantasy writing, there needs to be something magical, miraculous, or mysterious. It can be an item or person with special powers. It can be a mystical place or an incantation that transforms the mundane into the extraordinary. It can be a potion, a carpet that soars through the air, an angel, or a wishing well that grants wishes. Whatever it is, there needs to be the feeling of drifting beyond our day-to-day world.

2- World-building. A fantasy writer needs to build a believable world for their audience to inhabit for the duration of the reading experience. When constructing this world, the writer must decide on language, clothing, food, weapons, plants, animals, landscape, characters, modes of transportation and communication, employment, housing, religion, family structure, etc. If the world is quite complicated, drawing a map can be helpful, too. The clearer the writer’s vision, the easier it will be for readers to “suspend their disbelief” and enter the universe of the story (or play or poem). But remember, be selective which details you include in your piece of writing. The reader doesn’t need all of this information – only the writer needs to know everything!

3- Rules. Fantasy worlds must have specific rules, and the writer must adhere to those rules. For example: in mainstream work, gravity and breathable oxygen are part of the accepted world, so we don’t usually have characters floating off the earth or using special breathing apparatus to convert a toxic atmosphere. A fantasy story could have different rules, but it must have rules just the same. Everything does not go! A note here about magic: Magic or use of magical items should have rules – what works and what doesn’t. And consequences – there should be a price for using or encountering magic.

4- Imagination. Fantasy literature requires a lively imagination and excellent storytelling abilities if readers are to accept the strange worlds created by the writer. Think how quickly Frank Baum drops us into Oz, C.S. Lewis walks us though a wardrobe, J.R.R. Tolkien has us cheering for Bilbo Baggins, and Poe drapes us with the gloom of Usher. One of the tasks of the fantasy writer is to not only imagine what comes next, but what comes after that, and after that. To paraphrase an oft-repeated introduction from the Star Trek series, we are challenged to “write where no one has dared write before.” Or at the very least, come up with a new way of looking at the oft-viewed.

5- Characters the reader can identify with. This is trickier for a writer when the protagonist of a story is a werewolf, fairy, or unicorn. But as long as readers can recognize a part of themselves in fantasy characters, they will come along for the story. No matter how alien the characters, by including familiar emotions a writer can weave a successful tale about vampires, halflings, or dragon-slayers living in a fantastical world. Your characters need to have complicated relationships with others, be neither all good nor all evil, and have flaws, weaknesses, dreams, and goals. In short, fantasy characters should be just like you and me.

Things that go bump in the night, talking animals, and fairy godmothers of childhood tales and nursery rhymes, prepare us to not only read and accept magical worlds, but to create them. If you focus on writing well, adding a pinch of magic, building a believable world, having consistent rules on that world, stretching your imagination, and creating characters your readers can identify with – you’ll be a successful fantasy writer.

Here are a few sites I’ve found useful. For markets: and and for anthologies For lots of information about writing fantasy:

I loved that, thank you Vonnie!

Vonnie Winslow Crist, BS Art & Education, MS Professional Writing from Towson University, is a columnist for Harford’s Heart Magazine, an illustrator for The Vegetarian Journal, the editor of The Gunpowder Review, and a contributor to Faerie Magazine. A firm believer that the world around us is filled with miracles and magic, she has had a life-long interest in reading, writing, folklore, myths, legends, fairy tales, and art. Her fantasy, science-fiction, and dark fantasy have been published in Canada, Australia, Finland, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the USA. In her latest book, The Greener Forest, she draws from the world around her where still sees angels in the trees, trolls under bridges, pillywiggins in her garden, and goblins of all sorts in the shadows. Please do go visit her website:

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me at with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).