Blue Harvest Creative is a full-author services company, including website design, graphic design, print and advertising, and social media. But it’s their book designs that I’m featuring on my blog today.
Based in Michigan, U.S.A., Blue Harvest Creative works with independent and best-selling authors from across the globe. With over 700 book designs, BHC is fast becoming a one-stop shop for authors looking for the best design, and guidance, to enhance their product.
I am delighted to invite two of BHC’s talented design and marketing specialists, Joni and Vern, to my blog to talk about book design and what the future holds for Blue Harvest Creative.
How did you get into book design?
My background is in graphic design, and I’ve designed everything from business cards to billboards. Many moons ago, before the days of eBooks and self-publishing, the industry was very different. When a client asked if I could design a book, a new challenge presented itself. With our love of reading and books, designing them was a natural progression and soon it became a passion. We’ve been working in the publishing industry for over 20 years now and the speed at which things are changing and evolving is exciting. It’s a welcomed challenge keeping up with the new trends, and when you are blessed with doing what you love, it’s a wonderful thing.
What makes a good cover design?
Ask yourself this question: What is the purpose of a book cover? It’s to engage the reader. To entice them to either click on the title online, or pick up the print book, in a sea swimming with choices. When we design our covers, it is for this purpose. Each cover design takes every detail, no matter how minute, into account in order to design for marketability. It’s not just about an image or a font. Remember, the job of a cover is to entice, and it’s a very important aspect of book design, but the rest of the book components are equally important. A book design isn’t only about the cover.
You offer complete book design services. Can you tell us more about them and why they are important?
Good book design contains four components: cover, print interior, eBook, and branding. One of the most overlooked products we see in self-publishing is the print book. It’s interesting to note the resurgence of print books and that many readers actually prefer print over eBooks. By offering a book on both platforms, it opens their book(s) to more readers. A cover captures interest, but the job of the interior is to close the sale. Having a professionally formatted interior opens doors to reviewers, bookstores, and readers. A poorly formatted (and edited) interior, however, will lose that very opportunity the cover created.
This same concept applies to eBooks as well. Being avid readers, we always use the “look inside” feature before purchasing an eBook. Poor formatting, no justification, improper line spacing, and overall sloppiness is not enticing to a buyer. If an author doesn’t care enough about their book to present the best possible product, why would a potential reader care enough to buy it?
This is why we put as much effort into the design of the print and eBook interiors as the cover. By allowing us to create the cover, interior, and eBook, it also allows us to effectively brand an author or series, and it’s also why we offer a complete book package, which includes these components.
Do authors need to look for anything specific for book design or is everything the same when it comes to designing a book?
That’s a great question, and we could fill up your blog with our answer, so here’s a shortened version. Authors need to be sure they understand what they are receiving when requesting services for a book. For example, premade book covers violate copyright issues with most stock photography sites. Many companies charge a lot of money to “format” your print interior or eBook and yet they are simply supplying a Microsoft Word document “formatted” as an eBook file, or they turn a Microsoft Word document into a PDF and pass it off as a print interior. And if a cover designer designs your entire print cover for you, with the spine and back cover, before your interior is done, there will be issues there as well. We use the same software that the traditional publishing houses use for our print books, and we design our eBooks to match the print. By bundling everything into a package, we also make it affordable, and an author gets the advantage of working with one company for all book components.
Is working with an independent author different than working for a publisher?
Working with an independent author is much more personal and gratifying as it’s their book, and they are invested in the project. With publishing houses, it often feels as if it’s all about the deadlines and pushing product through. You turn it in, maybe make a few revisions, and that’s it. With an independent author, the whole experience is much more rewarding on both a creative and personal level.
Do you think designers should have creative freedom?
Absolutely! Sometimes authors are too close to the book and their cover idea is so specific it stifles the creative flow and marketability in design, especially when the idea isn’t the best fit for the genre. This interferes with the author’s objectivity, and we often feel boxed in. That being said, we want our clients to be happy, and we will design what they request. This doesn’t happen often, but on the few occasions it has, it’s interesting to note most authors have asked us to redesign the cover using our own concepts. When an author hires a design team, it’s important to let the designers do the job they were hired to do.
You’ve created book covers for every possible genre from romance to science fiction, do you prefer working on covers for a specific genre?
Every book brings a unique and fresh design, no matter the genre. YA, for example, has many different sub-genres and nuances, allowing us to explore different design aspects. Our approach to contemporary YA fiction is different than YA fantasy or even a YA romance. This is the challenge in designing and also what makes it so much fun because each new book project brings an exciting new canvas to create.
Do you usually read the book before designing the cover?
As much as we’d love to spend all day reading, we wouldn’t get anything done if we did. Instead, we speak with every author, read the synopsis, and request a cover questionnaire be completed for every project. This allows us to get up close and personal with the novel. One of our main focuses is to partner with authors and create lasting working relationships. We’ve been fortunate to have designed multiple books for most of our authors. This makes our job easier because we know what they want. That said, we both eventually read many of the books we designed, especially those in the BHC Author Program. We are blessed to work with pretty phenomenal authors who write some of the most unique and fresh books in the industry. So, yes, we do end up reading the books.
What is your process of drawing up the first concept?
After reviewing our notes and the requested materials authors send, we go into research mode. It is the research process which takes the most time. Then we begin to brainstorm and formulate ideas, from rough pencil sketches to imagery and fonts. Sometimes our original ideas morph into something completely different and sometimes they match. During this phase we revise until we have a concept, or several concepts, to present to the client.
Does the design concept differ between fiction and non-fiction?
Both genres have a story to tell and that is where the similarities end. Depending upon the type of nonfiction book, the design concepts do vary greatly. Although designs can be more limited, we’ve created complex interiors featuring charts and graphs, sidebars, indexing, footnotes, and photos. We’ve also designed textbooks and cookbooks. Covers for nonfiction follow a different approach, which can often be more limiting and challenging, but they also allow us to get creative in different ways.
Are there specific challenges you face when designing a book cover or interior?
The costs involved for a custom photo shoot, not to mention exclusivity for a particular image, are astronomically priced. These days, almost everyone, including the traditional publishing houses, is turning to stock photography. This is where the challenge lies. We see a lot of cover designs using an image “as is” and just slapping it up. We strive to offer innovative covers, from the creation of elaborate fantasy cover wraps in which we create an entire scene (some covers contain over 25 images) to simplicity at its finest. We also use different effects and techniques to give our covers an edge, allowing us not to rely on mundane stock photography.
Our BHC staff illustrator, Alli Kappen, does amazing work. She’s designed everything from children’s book illustrations to complex graphics such as dragon emblems.
Another area we are pushing the envelope with is our elaborate interior print designs. The resurgence of print books is alive and well, and readers are eager to snap up out-of-the-box designs. We also carry the print design over to the eBooks so readers have a reading experience as close as possible to the print.
Can you share your three favourite book covers and talk us through why you like them?
Hardest question by far! That’s like asking us to pick a favorite pet, but here goes:
- Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (picked by both of us). This cover caught our attention while at Barnes & Noble and is our favorite cover in the series, although the other three covers are also very well done. We love the sleek, simple covers and the maintaining of the black, white, and red color scheme. It’s a shame they updated these covers with images from the films, as we prefer the originals.
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Joni’s pick). Another simplistic cover that just draws you in. The title and the image of hair both complement each other and leave you wondering: Where has she gone?
- Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz (Vern’s pick). The original cover for Odd Thomas is truly engaging. Before even meeting Odd, the way he is presented on the cover is intriguing. Truly fabulous!
- A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (the all-blue cover, picked by both of us). An extraordinary design. We love the all-blue cover and how the title block and symbols are the actual design of the book. Clever and well done.
We purposely selected traditionally published covers as it wouldn’t be fair to select our own work, and we wanted to give examples of styles we apply to our own cover designs, which we all love for different reasons. We can’t pick a favorite, but we will list our award-winning cover designs: The Selkie Sorceress by Sophie Moss, Anything Goes On A Friday Night by Sara Daniell, A Winter’s Romance anthology (BHC Press), and most recently, Bitch Witch by S.R. Karfelt.
You’ve mentioned branding several times. What is it and why is it important?
Branding is what sets you apart, and it is what we specialize in. We work very hard to create brand recognition for every author, book, and series we work on because we truly want every author to succeed. Branding for an author helps readers recognize them and their work. Everyone knows Nike by their “swoosh” brand. This is what we create for our authors and their books.
You provide your authors with a full package to complement their book cover design, including Facebook and Twitter headers and advert images. Do you believe that your attention to detail and dedication to the authors you work with is a unique selling point for BHC?
We created our company to be different from the very beginning, and we really do believe our dedication is what sets us apart. That’s the awesome thing about dedication. When you give it, you receive it back tenfold. The authors we work with are amazing.
You go above and beyond to help independent authors; why do you enjoy working with indie’s so much?
With today’s traditional publishing philosophy, we feel the best stories are coming from independent authors. The well is drier in the trad world, which tends to be stuck in reverse and the dark ages. Independently published authors are here to stay. And with that brings individuals, companies, and vanity or small publishers, all preying upon independent authors who are trying to find services. Not to mention most of these service providers charge outlandish fees. Toss in the amount of misinformation floating around the Internet and self-publishing soon becomes mindboggling. We created our company so authors receive outstanding services and products, and most importantly, guidance so they don’t have to go it alone.
To further support your authors you launched a BHC Authors website and incorporated a reader program where the public can sign up to receive ARC copies of books before launch. Has this been successful?
BHCAuthors.com, our dedicated author website, as well as our reader program have both been extremely successful—for us as a company as well as for the authors.
The BHC Advanced Reader Program is a program we developed to provide ARC copies to readers, bloggers, and reviewers in advance of publication. All we ask in exchange is a fair and honest review upon the book’s release. And we do mean fair and honest. Readers have an amazing opportunity to spread the word about books to other readers in the form of a review. By leaving reviews, readers can share their love of favorite and not-so-favorite books. Two readers can read the same book and one may think it’s great and another may not. Reviews are amazing feedback for both the author and potential readers. They inform authors of things to work on for future books, which helps an author grow and get better. But they also inform potential buyers about the pros and cons of new titles as well. So if you are a reader, especially a reader of the independent authors, please take the time to leave a review. They truly are important and valued by every author—and potential reader.
Our author program has been recognized by many trade sources as an effective, reliable, and professional solution for publishing. We are able to help get opportunities for authors that they themselves could not get on their own, such as trade reviews (all unpaid as we do not believe in the paid review philosophy), more bookstore signings, local radio and newspaper recognition, as well as books being carried in stores. Our authors have received numerous accolades, and many are best-selling authors and have hit bestseller lists like USA Today.
We hope everyone enjoys the website we created for BHC Authors. We drew inspiration from independent and traditional publishing sites and then kicked it up several notches. The site is all about our authors, their books, the reader program, author spotlights, upcoming promotions, new releases, and author news. It’s about them, not Blue Harvest Creative, and you won’t find BHC mentioned on the site. We strive to put our authors in the forefront, and this is just another example of how we do it.
BHC has recently launched an imprint and published two anthologies. Do you have plans to publish more in the future?
Our next anthology will be a YA collection. Anyone interested in submitting can visit BHCAuthors.com and click on the BHC Press link for this as well as future projects. We also have a unique project we’ll be releasing in the fall, which should be fun for everyone, as well as the audiobook release for A Winter’s Romance late in the year.
We launched BHC Press to give authors, some of whom have never been published, an opportunity for publication. BHC Press also donates a portion of the proceeds to a charity or worthy cause for the first year of publication.
To-date we’ve released two anthologies: In Creeps the Night, a flash fiction collection featuring 50 stories by 50 different authors, available in print and eBook, and just released in audio. We also have A Winter’s Romance, a short story collection featuring 19 stories, all taking place in the winter with an element of romance, available in print and eBook.
What’s next for Blue Harvest Creative?
We’re excited about what we’ve accomplished so far, but our goal is to be ever-changing, always growing, and keeping pace with the newest trends—and possibly even creating some new trends ourselves. We’re currently working on creating a network with bloggers and developing our retail partnership program with bookstores. Expansion of the reader program is in the works as well as offering new services to the authors we work with.
Thanks so much for having us here, Shelley. We love your blog, and you always ask interesting questions. It’s been a pleasure. You are more than welcome. I’ve loved having you on the blog and found your interview incredibly interesting, thank you. 🙂
HUGE thanks to Blue Harvest Creative, and all the incredible authors who have provided interviews and guest posts for The Big Blue Takeover during the past two weeks. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed reading their contributions as much as I have.