Make Your Cover Stand Out: An Audience With Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics

Greetings readers! I am Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics writing to you from rural North Carolina, USA. First of all I want to thank Stephanie for inviting me write a guest entry for her blog! It is great to be here and to be introduced to all of her readers. And I hope that I can offer a little guidance and valuable advice for anyone in the process of publishing their book.

I specialize in creating book cover jackets, promotional material and book trailer videos for authors all around the globe. The majority of my clients are self published or utilize publishing assistance through independent publishing houses, so I typically work directly with the authors in bringing their books to publication.

So I'll just jump right into what my role is and why book cover design is important. Once the manuscript is written and prepared for publication (via traditional outlets, POD or eBook format), the next and perhaps final step an author takes is choosing a book cover image (or jacket design) for their manuscript. And whether or not an author hires a 'designer' to create one, I cannot stress enough how important it is to have an attractive and professionally designed cover for your novel. The cover is the first impression any potential reader will have of your book. And despite that old adage 'Do not judge a book by its cover', nearly everyone does! A cover quickly pasted together in a word processor or novice-level graphic program sticks out like a sore thumb, and people automatically assume the book inside is just as un-polished as the cover without even picking up the book! A poorly designed cover screams 'amateur' just as much as endless typos and bad grammar within the book itself.

Only a professionally trained designer knows the tricks to attracting potential buyers, industry standard design layout rules (the mechanicals), possess appropriate image resources, understands copyright regulations, and can successfully bring your novel to life through that cover image.  Remember that you are visually marketing yourself as a writer through your book covers; an important part of branding your name as a reputable novelist. Therefore, I cannot stress enough the importance of not cutting corners on the cover design!

And the second most important point, if you choose to create your own cover, is about selecting proper images to represent your book. It is never okay, or legal, to simply grab whatever images that you can find on the internet and stick them on the cover of your book. Someone owns the copyright and you are infringing on that right if you have not acquired, up front, their permission (royalty license) to use an image commercially.

For example, one cannot use a photo of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow found online and place it on their own book cover to represent their character. Jack Sparrow and Mr. Depp's portrayal are owned by Disney and their respective agencies.  Most people understand that they cannot use a celebrity likeness for their own designs, but don't forget that non-celebrity images are also the intellectual property of their creators as well. Any professional designer knows the laws and has a multitude of resources for royalty free stock photography and art. Searching for images of any subject matter online and using one that you like for your cover places you at risk of lawsuits from the photographer who took that photo –  just because the photographer chose to publicly display the image does not give anyone else the right to use it for their own purposes.

For more information on copyright:

Again, hire a graphic designer to design a professional cover for your book, or at the very least consult one who can advise you in creating your book cover. I, for one, have several stock image agencies that I purchase royalty free rights to use in my design work. I also understand the laws of using images within the public domain if need be: 

I only resort to public domain works when I've exhausted other resources or if a particular project calls for historical likenesses. But if costs are a factor, than stick to public domain images if you cannot take the photos for your cover yourself. Many times, especially when I was first starting out, I've used my own photography in my designs. My husband features on three covers (Sea Witch, Bring it Close and Pirate Code) for Helen Hollick!

I follow the same copyright rules when producing book trailer videos for my clients. I purchase stock photography from various reputable image resources to include within the videos. I also should mention that copyright laws also pertain to music, so I use only original compositions written and performed by Bronwen Harrison for all of my trailers. Bronwen's music can be sampled on her website:

I hope that I have been able to shed some light on the often daunting process of creating a book cover design. And I would be more than happy to answer questions on book cover design, copyright laws, fair use and the like for anyone interested. Feel free to comment here or contact me directly. Thank you for having me, Stephanie, it was a pleasure stopping by!

Cathy lives with her husband of twenty years in Maiden, North Carolina. She earned her degree in Advertising and Graphic Design in 2008 and founded Avalon Graphics in 2009. Years before she attended college and gained a formal education in the medium, Cathy taught herself how to create graphics for the web and print media with Photoshop. Her formal education in 2008 gave Cathy the technical skills required in order to apply her creative talent in book cover design and book trailer production. Cathy is a member of the Historical Novel Society and will be attending the September conference in London. More information:

Cathy HelmsAvalon Graphics
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5 thoughts on “Make Your Cover Stand Out: An Audience With Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics

  1. Great post! Cathy is so right to warn people about copyright etc and what beautiful covers. Love her work.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Linn! Glad you could make it. She is wonderful, isn’t she? And what an excellent job she does.

  3. Absolutely agree with everything here. Cathy did the cover for my ebook and i’m really pleased. i got what i wanted and so much more than i could have done myself

  4. Thank you very much Linn! And I do hope authors who create their own covers are very careful.
    Pete, I am thrilled with your responses to the cover I created for ‘Echo’ and it was a pleasure working with you! Helen, you are a diamond – MY treasure!

    Stephanie, thank you again for having me and for the great collaboration!

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