This week, I spotted an article by Bookbub on eight trends for covers that sell books.

The key elements to lure readers? Animals, beaches, seasonal themes, friendship/sisterhood, shirtless men, great photography, chicklit glitter and cute kids.

Sure, I get that. Certain readers will buy stuff that guarantees satisfaction – stuff that does what it says on the tin. Yet I scrolled through those covers and not one appealed to me. No surprise there. I loathe anything mawkish or sentimental, rarely read chicklit/romance/erotica and I’m drawn to covers which promise beauty, intelligence, new ideas and experiences.

I know very little about design, but as a reader, I do judge books by their covers. Never one to keep my opinions to myself, here are ten indie-published covers which appealed to my own personal predelictions. In no particular order, this is my own subjective beauty parade with links to the designers.



by Jim Williams

(JD Smith Design)

Beautiful use of perspective and depth of field. Not to mention the glorious colours and light.

The positioning of the dramatic items in the foreground stand out against the inky canal and the Caravaggio lure of Venetian architecture is just irresistible.

*Covetous sigh*


These-Are-the-MomentsThese Are The Moments

by Jenny Bravo

(Kisscut Design)

That cover is a story in itself and suits the title to a T. A broken chain, a lop-sided swing… something is going to happen. The typeface also reminds me of the Jonas Jonasson books, hence the suggestion of quirkiness. I have no idea what the book is about but on the strength of this image, I’d want to find out.


Bitter Like Orange PeelBitter like Orange Peel

by Jessica Bell

(Jessica Bell)

Wonderful balance of images, colour and surreal swathe of flaming hair. What’s she doing? Running, dancing?

The juxtaposition of differing fonts not only adds interest but hints at a similar boldness within.

How could one resist picking this up?




Black Sun, Red Moon

by Rory Marron

(The Ebook Designer)

This book promises to take me to another place and inside a different culture.  and I’m intrigued by the figure.

The slightly distressed nature of the background adds a parchment-like texture and the typeface against contrast backgrounds is striking.


The-Mage-and-the-MagpieThe Mage and the Magpie

by Austin J. Bailey

(Bookfly Design)

This appeals to the child in me.

Doorways, the promise of change, forests and a bell with magic hinted at by the Potteresque font.

There’s a lot going on here, but it all works and excites curiosity. And didn’t I read somewhere that turquoise/yellow is an appealing combination?



An Unchoreographed LifeAn Unchoreographed Life

by Jane Davis

(Andrew Candy)

Elegant, intriguing and atmospheric. The image evokes thoughts of Shakespeare and the Penguin Café Orchestra. The shades of blue, as if the figure were subtly spotlit, the choice of delicate motifs such as rose stems, deer and ballet combine to lure you in, convinced the story must be equally beautiful.


kurinji flowersKurinji Flowers

by Clare Flynn

(JD Smith Design)

I’m not usually keen on having faces on the cover as I prefer to invent my own image of the characters. But I do love maps and greenery. For me, the 50s-style portrait, sliver of map and suggestion of landscape work perfectly here. The font is elegant and gives us an idea of the kind of story to expect. As with Black Sun, Red Moon above, the whole package tells us we’re going otherwhere and otherwhen.


We All Reach the Earth by FallingWe All Reach the Earth by Falling

by Bauke Kamstra

(Jessica Bell)

OK, the title would be enough to draw me closer, but the texture makes me want to grab this. Those feathers overlapping some of the letters is subtle and understated. The title is also perfectly balanced, leading me to imagine the poems within will be equally so. These colours remind me of Al Brookes’s The Gift of Looking Closely, another plus.


AbsentLordThe Absent Lord

by Jason Beacon

(Chandler Book Design)

Initially attracted because it bears some similarity to Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, I like everything about this,

The leaves/flames forming a frame, autumnal tones, the typewritten title and the way the light catches the eye all hint at a story within. Plus that strapline couldn’t fail.



With this Curse

by Amanda DeWees

(Bookfly Design)

The author has a whole series of these books, employing the same technique of silhouetted head as portal. They look fabulous.

This one is extremely classy, giving you the genre, central character and sense of polish in the way the cover is edged. You immediately know there is a world within and can’t wait to dive in.


There. Those were a few of my favourites. You?


Joanna Penn nailed it at our CrimeFest panel and summarises it all again here.

Team Indie at CrimeFest15

Team Indie at CrimeFest15

A perfect, energetic, brilliant summary of why we do it our own way.

Yes, that grinner in the middle is me.

In the radio interview with Roz Morris and Peter Snell, bookseller Peter wondered if there could be such a thing as a stamp of quality for indie books. We took his words to heart and thought about it. We realised we already offer such a thing. The stamp of approval from Bookmuse. There are various awards available out there, but ours is a little different. See why below.
So we decided to create an award for books we can honestly recommend, no matter where they come from. If a book carries this badge, one of our team loved it and will tell you why.
This is the Bookmuse Recommended Read Award.

Bookmuse recommends great books to discerning readers.

We read and assess submissions, handpick the ones we love and send out a weekly newsletter to our subscribers. We only feature books we can honestly recommend.

Bookmuse reviews follow this format:

What we thought

You’ll enjoy this if you liked

Avoid if you dislike

Ideal accompaniments

· We read books from trade, small and independent or self publishers

· Our pool of reviewers includes a range of tastes, ages and genders

· Featured books are awarded the Recommended Read Award

· Reviews are promoted across all our platforms

· We never charge for reviews or feedback

The Award

If you’ve been reviewed, feel free to display your award on your website, blog or cover.

If you’d like your book reviewed, check out these incredibly simple guidelines.

Email with a brief description of your book. Although we cannot review all books submitted, we’ll do our best to get back to you.

To promote a book, please post on our Facebook page or tag us on Twitter @bookmuseuk.

To get three carefully chosen book recommendations delivered to your inbox every Friday, sign up here.

Recent events at Foyles Bookshop (see below) in central London created some multi-media perspectives on indie authorship and author collectives.

Roz, Peter and the Gizmo Gonk

Roz Morris and Peter Snell


First up, audio.

Here’s a radio interview with JD Smith and myself, talking about Triskele Books author collective with Roz Morris and Peter Snell on Surrey Hills Radio. (Warning, contains seriously cool music.)



JJ Marsh and JD Smith



Catriona Troth


Next, visuals.

This take on the collective is neatly delivered by our fellow Triskelite Catriona Troth, speaking here to Ingram Spark.

An author collective in three minutes!

Happy Easter!

A bunch of treats and goodies for you to indulge in at your leisure:

1. Writing Retreat

Chateau Saint Mère

Chateau Saint Mère

Writing At The Castle is 5 days of professional tuition and private writing time in the inspiring surroundings of a magnificent medieval Château in Gascony, South West France. Award-winning authors Amanda Hodgkinson and Tracey Warr, together with literary agent Andrew Lownie and publishing professionals including Jill Marsh author and co-publisher at Triskele Books and Anselm Audley, will be among the speakers who will lead practical workshops for a small group of writers looking to make that difficult leap from the private and often solitary writing desk, to the world of published success.

Writing At The Castle 2015 will concentrate on fiction and the novel. Wednesday 1st July –  Tuesday 7th July.


Dan_Jones_MG_9611C copy

Dan Jones, presenter of Great British Castles

2. Words with JAM

THE magazine for writers is just out. If you’re new to Words with JAM (WWJ), please pull up a stool and take a look around. We email out issues packed full of interviews with authors and industry professionals, articles on writing, reading, libraries, the publishing industry and indie-publishing every other month, as well as occasional newsletters.

This is the History issue, containing interviews, reviews, info, opinion and a smidge of sarky satire.


w-green-howl3. Indie-Publishing

Jill Indie Pub – Your ALLi rep’s take on indie publishing in Switzerland. These are the slides from my talk at WriteConZüri15 on 21/22 March. A round of all speakers’ presentations will appear in the next issue of The Woolf,  Zürich’s quarterly literary magazine: pouncing on narrative media, dragging tasty morsels home to share with the pack.



4. Here’s A Time & A Place

Today, Triskele Books releases a boxset of SEVEN fabulous novels, taking you wherever and whenever you want to go. Gorge on gorgeousness and feel saintly as it is completely calorie-free. What’s in the box?

A Time and A Place Box Set Cover LARGE EBOOKCrimson Shore: ‘Hamer does for Anglesey what Rankin does to Edinburgh, what Dexter did to Oxford’
The Rise of Zenobia: ‘Packed to the hilt with tension and adventure, it kept me spellbound’
Rats: ‘An absolute treat for fans of SF, dystopian, and YA novels, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves a great story brilliantly told’
Ghost Town:‘Unique and brilliant… not just a compelling read, but also a learning experience’
Wolfsangel: ‘Fascinating, forceful and extremely well researched… will thrill historical fiction fans’
Delirium: ‘Beautifully plotted and written, this absorbing, enchanting novel is one of the best books I have read this year’
Behind Closed Doors: ‘Warning: once you start this book you may not be able to put it down, and you may find yourself talking to it’

I first encountered Jane Davis when we were both selected as Readers’ Recommended Reads in The Guardian. I was very glad I did. Not only is she a lovely person, but I am a serious fan of her writing, hence my willingness to provide a quote for the cover.

As she is releasing three of her wonderful books in a boxset, I took the opportunity to find out a little more about her, her writing and her reading.


Which book most influenced you when growing up?

The books that I loved the most were those of Alan Garner.  I was drawn to his dark depiction of the British countryside as a strange and mysterious place, almost a character in itself, with its old beliefs and pagan influences. Whilst there was no conscious connection, in adult life I have explored Britain’s prehistoric sites and am intrigued by phenomena such as ley lines.

Where do you write?

I am overwhelmed by guilt just reading that question. I write at the dining table. The problem in our house is the layout. You have to walk through the dining room to get to both the kitchen and the bathroom. Since I need absolute silence to work, I have a habit of glaring at Matt whenever he disturbs me, even if he is offering to make me a coffee. I have also failed miserably in my promise that I would clear away my writing stuff every night before dinner. There is a practical reason why I don’t – I usually carry on working into the evening. But it does mean that we usually eat surrounded by my work – pens, papers, post-it notes, the stack of books I am using for research of my current novel. It’s hardly relaxing. My advice: never live with a writer!

Who or what had the biggest impact on your creative life?

half truths and white lies cover The rejection of my second book by my publisher, Transworld. Strange as it may seem, I think it was probably the best thing that could have happened. (At the time, I didn’t think it was cause for panic as I was assured that another publisher would snap me up.) But, having won the Daily Mail First Novel Award, my reality check came in 2009, when my follow-up was refused because it wasn’t ‘women’s fiction’. Never having considered that I was writing for exclusively women (in fact, I have a growing number of male readers), I hadn’t appreciated the implications of being published under their Black Swan imprint. Without realising it, I had been pigeon-holed – and my new novel didn’t fit.

Personally, I am drawn to books that refuse to conform. When a review of Roz Morris’s My Memories of a Future Life  described it as strange and stubborn, I went out of my way to track it down. But at the point of publication, a book must be defined. Bestselling authors like Joanne Harris can stick their necks out and say that they don’t insult their readers by assuming that they only like to read one type of fiction (she also disputes that ‘womens’ fiction’ is a genre  – a sentiment that resonates with me both as a reader and an author.) Recently, Kate Mosse has distanced herself from the off-putting literary tag by announcing her return to her roots as a storyteller.

As best-selling author Hugh Howey suggested at the London Book Fair, authors should enjoy their anonymity. Over the next four years, I produced two further novels. Had I been under contract, I would have been chasing deadlines. Instead, with the luxury of time, I added layers to plots, depth to characters and a real sense of time and place. In later novels, I have tackled subjects that mainstream publishers might have encouraged me to avoid – a mother who turns to prostitution, for example.

How far are you influenced by other media, such as music or photography?

JD-TFT-AIA-CRE reducedI don’t use music in the process of creating characters, but I make extensive musical references in my writing. For me, 7 inch singles pinpoint a particular time and so they’re useful tools for tapping into a reader’s sense of nostalgia.

In Half-Truths and White Lies, one of my main characters is a musician, while another has been brought up without any popular music in the house (a situation that reflects my own up-bringing) and so the musician takes over the responsibility of educating his friend. These experiences are mine. My mother was a classical musician and my father policed Beatles gigs during the height of Beatlemania, dealing with teenage girls who wet themselves, fainted and threw their knickers (not in that order, that wouldn’t make sense at all). One of my father’s dinner-party stories was how he arrested Georgie Fame for speeding and Georgie Fame asked him, ‘Do you know who I am?’ and my dad was quite proud to say that he didn’t. (Georgie Fame took his revenge by writing a song called Sargeant Jobsworth). But it wasn’t fair to send any girl to guide camp in the Seventies without knowing the words to Yellow Submarine, and I suffered the ultimate humiliation of failing the interview for Crackerjack because I didn’t know the names of all of the Beatles.

My characters are influenced by music to the same extent that I was. Music was what made sense of my teenage years. References are also scattered throughout These Fragile Things. I suspect that only someone who was a teenager in the 80s would be aware when they read, adding her voice, that it is a nod to the Human League. There is a scene in which Graham is reciting the Lord’s Prayer as he walks though hospital corridors. It is borrowed from Yazoo’s In My Room.

JD-IStoppedTimeMy other obsession is photography. It is the theme of my novel I Stopped Time, which is my homage to the pioneers of photography and I was determined to do them justice. The review that most pleased me came from a professional photographer who wrote, ‘This book voiced everything I’ve held inside of me as a photographer . Stopping time…looking at the world with a different perspective. I found it to be affirming of all artists, especially photographers. In the age of digitalization, we are given even more opportunity to craft our art. The novel’s heroine was creating artistic images that were cutting edge for the setting.’ I was very moved by that.

Do you have a phrase that you most overuse?

I don’t know about overuse. My favourite phrase is KBO (Keep buggering on). It is borrowed from Churchill. I find uses for it several times a day – and I managed to squeeze it into my novel, An Unchoreographed Life.

Which writers do you enjoy?

A great book has to transport you somewhere else. There have to be a few deeply flawed but sympathetically-written characters. The speech and descriptions need to sound true. There must be a love interest, even if the love is unrequited. And there needs to be a tragedy. I like authors who write about complex subject-matter in simple language. I don’t want to have to interrupt my reading to look up words in a dictionary. Those are the things I look for.

My favourite author is John Irving and it would be difficult to include only one of his novels in a shortlist. I am torn between Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Both are life-changing. I particularly love John Irving’s use of themes and challenging viewpoints. I have never been to New England, but I feel that I know the area well through his writing.

I was most flattered to have my characterisation compared to Maggie O’Farrell’s, an author whose writing career I have followed closely. I love her warmth for her characters, and her total lack of judgement.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak is the book I recommend to people who tell me that they don’t enjoy fiction, because it is based in fact. The author tackles extremely sensitive issues with originality and simplicity, which is perfection. I got to the very end before I learned that he is the author of several award winning children’s books, and it explained much about his writing style and his deep understanding of his main characters.

The book I return to time and time again is The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy is a difficult, rich and rewarding read. Don’t be put off by the film which focused on everything that is romantic in the book, detouring neatly round the more shocking elements of the storyline, leaving very two-dimensional characters.

Annie Proulx wrote the most extraordinary main character in Quoyle in The Shipping News but her use of language is so full of warmth and humour and sadness that we cannot help but love him.
And don’t get me started on Jennifer Egan. I will start to stutter.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. So clever. Mind you, it would be terrible to have actually written Good Squad and to be aware that you probably won’t be able to top it. As Matt rightly said to me last week when a reviewer wrote that I was at the pinnacle of my career, ‘Of course, you wouldn’t actually want to be at the pinnacle of your career, because there would only be one way to go.’

How do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

A Funeral for an Owl cover reducedA total pantster. I embark on a new project with a whiff of a character. Usually, they’re very vague. John Irving says that he won’t set pen to paper until he has the last line nailed. I just couldn’t work if I set myself rules like that.

An Unchoreographed Life started when I walked into Waterstones at Piccadilly. At the risk of sounding flaky, I become aware of another presence, almost ghost-like. The need to latch onto it before it fades was very immediate. I went home and wrote seven pages of something I called The Book Diviner.

If I get the character right, the plot usually follows – not necessarily in its final structure or even with its complete cast. My books undergo numerous revisions as I throw my characters to the lions and explore their motivations. You write about a detective. Well, the process requires detective work. Sir James didn’t appear until about draft twenty of I Stopped Time. I think we’ve talked before about how in A Funeral for an Owl Shamayal turned up very late in the day. Fortunately he was so vivid that he almost wrote himself.

Unlike life, everything in fiction has to have perfect logic and so every question has to be followed through to its natural conclusion – although I never tie up all of the loose ends. Sometimes the final scene will be as great a surprise to me as it is to the reader.

Do you have a guilty reading pleasure?

In a word, No. I do find that my enjoyment of a novel can be hugely influenced by the book I was reading immediately before it. I really did feel that The Girl is a Half-formed Thing rewired my brain in such a way that my return to reading ordinary prose was difficult. In an ideal word, you would allow yourself a period of mourning between novels. Recently, I read seven novels in a two-week period. Frankly, I ended up feeling so jaded I knew it wouldn’t be fair to another author if I continued. My strategy was to switch to biographies.

Your covers are just beautiful. How does the design process work?

Branding is hugely important to me. Through submitting work to literary agents, I became aware that my fiction was difficult to categorise. The reason the majority gave for rejecting it was because they weren’t sure how to sell it to a publisher. As I added to my back catalogue, I ventured into yet more sub-categories of fiction. In my mind, a book written for market without passion is going to lack integrity.

The brief I gave Andrew Candy was that the books should look like a set you’d want to collect. I was thinking of my own bookshelves: the novels of John Irving; Frank Herbert’s Dune series; the classic Penguin paperbacks. If it were possible, I wanted that certain something that would make people say, ‘Oh, another Jane Davis’. I wasn’t starting from scratch, and so I simply borrowed elements from the cover of Half-truths and White Lies and used them as building blocks: the font and the strong photographic image, repeated on the spine.

In terms of the feel, I try to reflect the themes and the emotions of individual books. I suppose the cover for A Funeral for an Owl, which features a boy and an owl, is the most literal. I am absolutely clear in my approach about what I don’t want. My novel, These Fragile Things, tackles near-death experience and religious visions. I didn’t want to exclude readers who would normally avoid Christian fiction, because that is only one element of the book. I always source the images. For this one, I chose a butterfly with a broken wing, which not only fits the title and represents transformation, but also hints at vulnerability. For An Unchoreographed Life, my story of a ballerina who turns to prostitution, I was very careful to avoid any hint of erotica. Instead I wanted to give the feel of a woman living behind a mask; someone who has not quite left her past behind. That’s how I arrived at the image of a ballerina with a deer’s head.

So the key elements have to be instantly identifiable, inclusive and – I hope – intriguing.

Would you share what you’re working on next?

Women-Writing-Women-Box-Set-Cover_finalJPEGI’m just emerging from a stage when I’ve been juggling projects. I have been involved in Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, a collaboration with six other authors which has resulted in a limited edition box-set. Like you, I am launching my own three- book box set, Second Chapter, and I have also been putting the finishing touches to my forthcoming release, An Unknown Woman. I have written a first draft of a new first under the working title Less Venom More Sorrow. Writing it made me realise how much more research I need to do. My main character – a kind of Edith Sitwell v Vivienne Westwood hybrid – has been anti-establishment her whole life and is horrified to find that she’s on the New Year’s Honour’s List. That’s my starting point. My next challenge is to pinpoint exactly when she was born. Everything else will stem from that.


JD Bench 034 Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey, with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. Her first novel, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was described by Joanne Harris as ‘A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.’ She was hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch.’ Of her three following novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless.’ Jane’s favourite description of fiction is that it is ‘made-up truth’.



Second Chapter:


Outside the Box

More information on http://www.womenwritewomen.comWatch the video trailer: – –


Herewith the oft-quoted and possibly apocryphal Picasso anecdote:

Picasso is sketching at a park. A woman walks by, recognizes him, and begs for her portrait. A few minutes later, he hands her the sketch. She is elated, excited about how wonderfully it captures the very essence of her character, what beautiful work it is, and asks how much she owes him. “5000 francs, madam,” says Picasso. The woman is outraged as it only took him five minutes. Picasso says: “No, madam, it took me my whole life.”

As an author, I’m anti-frees. I spent years honing each of my books, not to mention the years of craft and education it took me to get to publication stage. You want all that – gratis?


Book Snake by Alan Levine (Creative Commons)

Before I even pressed the publish button, I promised my novels two things: Never free, never exclusive. If I don’t value my work, why would anyone else? And I feel the same way as Dorothy Parker regarding eggs.

Things have changed. According to better-informed observers, the ‘free’ phenomenon no longer works in terms of connecting books to readers. It had its moment, filling up e-reading devices with the unread, unreviewed and undervalued. That strategy of luring the reader into your series proved to be largely a myth as many never bothered to read the first one. Some who downloaded and read freebies left poor reviews, reflecting how little worth a free book holds.

Pulp fiction.

But I want to address this issue as a reader, not a writer.

I just had a cleansing cull of my Twitter feed, deleting all those who post largely FREE!!!! announcements and constant book promotion.


I do not want your new free book.

I will not read, I will not look.

If I dig down the back of the sofa and root about in the corners of my handbag, I can probably come up with three quid. An e-book costs me less than a birthday card and contains a lot more words. It holds the possibility of an enjoyable experience. Just that, a possibility.

But you’re not asking for my money. You want something far, far more valuable.

You want my time.

Reading is my sanctuary and my education. It’s my reward at the end of a difficult day. Those precious hours I spend with my paperbacks or e-reader are anything but throwaway.

I listen to friends, read reviews, hoard recommendations and if an author seems interesting, I buy their books. This is a big leap for me. Parting with three gilded coins is one thing, but six to ten hours of my attention is a much greater investment.

Discounted! Free! Limited time only! I couldn’t care less.

For a great premise, intriguing blurb and appealing cover, I’ll have a look. I’ll try a few pages. Plus if the author’s personality is something more interesting than Self-Promo Klaxon, I’ll pay full price, read and review.

Today, I bought some pumpkin-seed bread. It costs more than the bog-standard loaf, but I know I will enjoy it. The cashier threw a honey rice-cracker into my carrier bag as a little extra. I thanked him, took it home, crumbled it up and put it on the bird-table.

After all, it was free.


Image by Alan Levine




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