Recommended Book Cover Designers

Yesterday I posted 7 Tips for Authors Working with a Book Designer.

7 Tips for Authors Working with a Book Cover Designer

I also created a new page of recommended book cover designers. You can find it under the “Getting Published” tab in my navigation menu.

Have an illustrator or book publicist you’d like to recommend? Comment below! I’d like to create recommendation pages for these services as well. Please include link to their website.

(Comments are moderated. If yours doesn’t appear right away, it will once I’ve approved it.)

The Road Goes Ever On: Tolkien’s Publishing Journey

All editing services are 15% off in January!

J.R.R. Tolkien was born January 3, 1892. I know I’ve envied his abilities as a writer—perhaps you have, too. So to encourage you, I wanted to share some facts of his published works and show you a timeline.

But first! A Happy New Year card from his mother, featuring a baby Tolkien:


“Taken by our own vines!” Someone write me a novel about Mabel Tolkien.

Doesn’t her handwriting look like Tolkien’s? Fantastic. Anyway:

The Hobbit

Published in September, 1937, nine years after Tolkien scribbled out the idea: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” The Hobbit was an immediate success.

Farmer Giles of Ham and The Simarillion

Written the same year The Hobbit was published, Farmer Giles of Ham wouldn’t be published for another twelve years.

The Silmarillion interested Tolkien’s publisher, Stanley Unwin, but he ultimately rejected, wanting more hobbit literature. The Silmarillion would be edited and published by Christopher Tolkien (Ronald’s son) in 1977, three years after Tolkien died and forty years after The Hobbit was published.

The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King

Tolkien began writing a sequel for The Hobbit in 1939. Over the next ten years, the story evolved, becoming darker and written for an older audience. The Lord of the Rings was written in six parts and published as three books over two years, from July 1954 to October 1955. Tolkien wanted the books to be published in one volume (it would have been over 1,500 pages) and wanted to call the final book “The War of the Ring,” thinking “The Return of the King” gave away too much. He also thought that The Silmarillion needed to be published first, but the publisher did not agree. (Honestly, I agree with the publisher—The Silmarillion works better as an appendix-sequel than a prologue-prequel.)

Tolkien did write more than what is offered here (see The Tolkien Society, below), but these are the only book-length works of prose fiction published during his life. Here’s a timeline giving Tolkien’s ages for reference:

  • Age 36—Tolkien writes down an idea: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
  • Age 41—Tolkien starts telling his children bedtime stories about hobbits. Then he starts writing the story down.
  • Age 44—Tolkien finishes The Hobbit.
  • Age 45—Stanley Unwin publishes The Hobbit; Tolkien writes Farmer Giles of Ham and works on The Silmarillion
  • Age 47—Tolkien begins writing a sequel to The Hobbit which, in development with The Silmarillion, would become The Lord of the Rings.
  • Age 55—Tolkien finishes writing The Lord of the Rings and sends the manuscript to his publisher’s son Rayner Unwin, who had recommended The Hobbit for publication when he was a child.
  • Age 57—Stanley Unwin publishes Farmer Giles of Ham; Tolkien finishes editing The Lord of the Rings.
  • Age 62—Rayner Unwin, now working at his father’s firm, publishes The Lord of the Rings.

Not only did Tolkien take years to write books, but the publication of these books took years also. Remember that traditional publishing takes time. Don’t get discouraged by the wait—keep writing! The more you write, and the more people in the business you get to know, the better your chances of getting published by a traditional publisher. Traditional publishers are always looking for the best stories. Writing good stories and having good relationships with other writers and readers will get the attention of publishers—if not now, then eventually. Keep writing, reading, and connecting.


  • 3-Minute J.R.R. Tolkien by Gary Raymond
  • “Books by J.R.R. Tolkien” list from The Tolkien Society

Self Publishing or Traditional: Which is Better for You?

Are you trying to decide between self-publishing or traditional publishing? Both have pros and cons! Here’s a quick summary of the differences.

Traditional publishing is about collaboration and takes time.

Self publishing is about control and costs money.


Traditional publishing pays you some thousand dollars* at the beginning and some pocket change per book once the advance is paid off.

Self publishing costs some thousand dollars to put together your publishing team, but you earn a bigger percentage of your book.

Either way, you need to market your own book if you want to be successful. Traditional publishers will handle 40–60% of your marketing. The rest is up to you. That’s why people with huge followings are easy deals. Publishers know they’ll sell books.

*The average advance for a first-time novelist is $10,000. See the link to the SFWA post for more information about small presses and vanity publishers.


Self publishing is starting your own business. You make the hires, you pay everyone before the book hits shelves (physical or digital).

Traditional publishing is working in partnership with agents and editors. Freelance editors and agents work for you, but you only pay the former out of pocket. The latter gets a cut of your pay. If you don’t get paid, your agent doesn’t get paid, so she will fight for the best deal. But you work for the publisher when you get a book deal. It’s up to the acquisitions editor and publisher how much you get paid and how many of your books they’ll publish.

If you’d like to see more of a breakdown between the differences, read below the break.

Time vs Money

Traditional publishing

After writing, revising, sending to critique partners, revising, querying agents, hiring a freelance editor (optional), getting an agent, and editing based on their notes, your agent starts sending your book out to acquisitions editors, looking for the best fit and the best deal. If you get a deal, then your acquisitions editor gives you editing notes, you edit, and then you give it to your publisher’s in-house team to proofread, layout and format, and design the cover.

You will have some input on the cover design and will make a marketing plan with your publisher. You pay for only a freelance editor—everything else is covered by the publisher, who invests in you.

Self publishing

After writing, revising, sending to critique partners, revising, hiring a development editor (optional), and editing based on their notes, you begin putting together a team. You hire a freelance editor who specializes in fiction to copyedit your entire novel. You hire a designer to make your cover. You hire a designer to layout and format your text. You hire a publicist. You hire a proofreader to make one last pass at the final proof. You put your book online. You buy paperback copies to sell and give to reviewers.

You pay for everything because you are investing in yourself. You have control over every aspect of your book (though for the sake of editors and designers everywhere, I’ll tell you that if you’re hiring actual professionals, give them parameters but then let them do their job and pay them for their work).

You get what you pay for. A $100 cover design isn’t going to get you what a $1,000 cover design would, unless you buy a pre-made design. However, dishonest people might have high prices in an attempt to appear professional, but then don’t deliver.

So you also need to do research. I see lots of designers and editors online charging a lot of money for unprofessional work. Do your research, start small (with a free sample edit from editors or seeing past, complete novel covers from the designer), read over their contracts and design briefs, and then hire them to do the whole work. Do not waste your money or shortchange yourself by hiring unprofessionals.

Contracts and design briefs protect freelancers and protect you. They ensure that the freelancer will be paid for his or her work and ensure that you receive the work you’re paying for.

Other options

Traditional publishing and self-publishing are two different routes. However, there are other options.

You can submit to some publishers without an agent. If you do, rather than giving an agent a percentage of your sales, you should hire a lawyer to look over the publishing contract before signing. Repeat for each book sale. The last thing you want to do is hand your book over to a con artist or crooked business.

If you can handle NSFW language, Chuck Wendig’s post talks about hybrid authors—authors publishing some books themselves, others with publishers. Wendig talks about his experience with self publishing and traditional publishing here.

This excellent post from SFWA explains the difference between big publishers, small presses, and vanity presses, warning about the latter.