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  • Writer's pictureKyrieWang

My Novel's Cover Design: Behind the Scenes (Tellwell Cover Design Review)

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

Neither the assisted publishing company ( or the cover artist (Sheng Mei) sponsored me in reviewing their services. All opinions are my own.

Update July 11, 2022

I contacted the Tellwell quality assurance personnel shortly after my last post in June, complaining that the post-publication cover update process has been extremely slow. Within a week, I got a draft of my new cover (fitting in the freelancer's cover image, the back cover, the spine, etc) to approve.

I checked yesterday and the new cover is finally uploaded on Amazon. From my initial request for post-publication cover modifications to a new cover being uploaded onto online retailers, it took about 3 months... and that's because I hired my own freelancer to update the illustration. Can't say I was thrilled with Tellwell in this process.

Update June 10, 2022

I am officially disappointed with Tellwell. While the cover design process was a breeze, mostly thanks to how quickly my freelancer artist Sheng Mei finished my drafts, Tellwell has yet to iron out my cover distribution and printing problems. Specifically, the online listing on Amazon is a low resolution image* and the printed cover art details are grainy.

It has been about 2.5 months since my original complaints and nothing has been fixed.

*Granted, it may be Amazon's fault for compressing my image size. But then why do other Amazon book covers not have this same low-resolution, faded-out problem?

Here's my book's cover on It's faded out and you can hardly make out Toby's features. Just scroll down to see what the original artwork looked like.

2.5months months ago, my project manager agreed to revert the cover art back to whatever Sheng Mei did (original colors, quality of resolution, etc)

Since then, only updates that my cover is still on the queue to be modified...

I contacted Sheng Mei directly, out of my own volition, and she updated my cover in 2 days. But it's not on any online retailers yet because again, Tellwell needs to evaluate the colors of the cover and update my book listing online.

Meanwhile, it's been months since my book is out in the world with a less-than-ideal cover. And we all know readers do judge a book by its cover. I will be working with Sheng Mei directly from now on and publishing the next books in the series without Tellwell.

Update May 23, 2022

I didn't forget to update this blog... it's just that my printed cover problems are still on the Tellwell queue and have still not been fixed. It's been about two months since my original complaint of its blurriness (see below for complete details).

To be continued again.

The moment when I received my cover art draft was when I felt like my publishing project was "real". I hired to help me with my publishing journey and was fortunate enough to find a very talented artist, Sheng Mei, to do my cover from their list of illustrators.

Of note, this is not a post talking about Tellwell or Sheng Mei's packages or fees. You are welcome to check out their websites (just click on their names above) for details.

It didn't start out the way I expected

Honestly, the very beginning of my cover design journey is now a fuzzy memory. But I do remember feeling anxious when my original cover designers (and there were 2 of them!) video called me and said, essentially, that they couldn't satisfy me because I had a very specific cover in mind.

Although one of the two designers was also an illustrator, her drawing style was not suitable for the genre of my book (young adult, not children's).

They recommended that I select one of Tellwell's illustrators to do a custom illustration instead. Because I had a premium cover design package with Tellwell (it came free with a promotion), the illustration came at no extra cost. Well then... what are we waiting for?

The illustration questionnaire

Then came the very long illustration questionnaire of exactly what I wanted.

Click here to see what I wrote (haha, a whole essay)

After writing all that, I could see why cover design using stock photos would never have accomplished what I had in mind.

I didn't know what to expect, given that I had asked the illustrator for a lot of historically accurate detail (cross-gartered breeches and gambesons, anyone?). Also, I could describe the scene well enough, but for it to be an exciting cover?

And certainly, I took a risk, now that I look back. If I had chosen a boring/unrepresentative scene from my novel to display as my cover, that would've tanked the whole publishing project. I essentially bypassed cover design expertise by saying, THIS IS WHAT I WANT!

So, I don't necessarily recommend that you tell an illustrator what to draw for your cover... most self-publishing advice websites I have since browsed recommend that you don't design the cover yourself. In my case, I sort of did.

The fun begins

Tellwell told me that because some artists are busy, a draft could take weeks to arrive. So imagine my delight when the draft came two days later.

And of course, it wasn't perfect. But it blew my expectations out of the water. Like, I couldn't even imagine such a cool camera angle because I don't run behind horses all day? And she did this in just two days? Here was the full first draft (click to enlarge)

But the rider's face was not... impressing me.

Neither did the mountains in the back make sense with my novel when I thought about it.

Heather's (lady on the horse) hair was also too long, etc...

(To read all my revision demands as a very demanding customer, click here)

Did you all catch I wanted my rider to look like Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy 7? :)

Thankfully, I had 2 revision rounds to take care of these issues.

Revision rounds...

This was where my perfectionist self, which I am usually able to turn off, was allowed to go full throttle. I didn't want to end up 2 revision rounds later with a face I was still unhappy with, so I used a tablet, taught myself some computer art principles, and drew my own face with the free app, Krita. I still don't know how to use 99% of that fancy drawing app, but I could do... a line drawing of a face. And it took me two hours 'cause my hand kept touching the screen, and I couldn't turn around my stylus and just erase my mistakes .... (paper and pencil, I love you).

This is why I really needed to hire Sheng Mei.

I pasted my own face into her drawing and did some erasing and coloring to make sure the face made sense.

Then I sent her my "face" as a new layer and asked her to paste it in properly.

"Hey, we want some new face!" - Psy

Revision round 2

Sheng Mei diligently implemented all my revision demands. Toby's face was flawlessly integrated and Emma (the nine-year-old girl running alongside the horse) had grown curly hair, hurrah!

Fast forward

I ended up paying for one or two extra rounds of revision because I wanted more trees in the background and also to fix Heather's hair, which didn't make aerodynamic sense to me. In the final, you will see that I made her hair stay against her neck.

Isn't this dreamy (I added the watermark):

Turning art into a cover

But we were not done yet.

I needed to add my book title and author's name. This came much later in the publishing journey, like 6 months later, while I was completing my 2 rounds of substantive editing.

Adding text was more straightforward. By this time I had excited friends who were following my project, so I showed them the images and asked for feedback. I highly recommend that you get feedback for your own cover, preferably from your book`s target audience; it's also a great way to generate hype for your novel.

Also, of course, look up other books` covers for inspiration.

(sticky notes above were my revision edits to the designer)

Color Woes

This is where Tellwell's customer service really shined.

I realized, after two cover design revision rounds and the cover being "finished", that the cover image seems to be darker than Sheng Mei's original work. Too dark. If you see the "original cover" above compared to my final, the background art is much lighter because I insisted the designer go back and fix those colors!

This was essentially revision round 3, but Tellwell didn't make me pay extra.

Results of revision round 3: Tellwell made the image lighter, but the sunset had become desaturated and again I was not happy, and I told them so...

My project manager, Jun Mark, was very patient. He got back to me with these sample covers to clarify things, along with this message:

"...I would like to set a proper expectation that the majority of your book orders (through Tellwell or Retailers) will be printed through IngramSpark, which is one of the largest and most reputable companies in the print-on-demand industry. The quality is generally considered to be in the "Goldilocks zone", where the quality is more than satisfactory for the vast majority of consumers. This is why Tellwell and just about all other assisted self-publishers use these two companies for print-on-demand fulfillment of our authors' books.

With print on demand, slight variances are normal. There will be a slight variance between what you see on the screen and what you see in print. There will also be a variance between print run to print run—meaning, a copy from one batch by the same printer, may have a slight variance from a copy from another batch even of the same printer. At times, it can be slightly lighter; at times slightly darker. However, Tellwell and IngramSpark make sure that these variances are maintained within a certain degree that we deem to be within our printing standards"

We agreed after this that Tellwell would "re-saturate" the sunset, and leave the rest as is. I was very happy I didn't have to pay extra for these color corrections!

The Printed Book

The printed product came yesterday in the mail. Unfortunately, the details of the rider's face were grainy and the color was not as great as on screen. Although I don't think this is within Tellwell's control anymore, I will let them know and report back here if I hear anything.

UPDATE April 4, 2022: I spoke to my project manager, Jun Mark, by phone on March 30th about how the printed cover quality was disappointing. He has agreed to revert the image back to whatever Sheng Mei sent back to Tellwell originally, and will send me a proof copy once it is ready. To be continued again...


My overall experience of cover designing with Tellwell, and Sheng Mei, was very positive. I will very likely hire Sheng Mei again for my subsequent covers (actually there is no reason I won't, but I hate breaking promises so I don't make them :)).

As for working with Tellwell, I have only praise for their patient and thorough customer service. However, the price I paid to publish one book is not sustainable to publish my entire series of four. I have learned many things from working with them and will take use my experience to "truly" self-publish my remaining books. For newbie authors who have no idea what it means to self-publish, and don't mind paying for guidance, I wholeheartedly recommend their services.

For me, publishing with assistance was like an armchair vacation when I couldn't go anywhere from the pandemic. For the price of two years` worth of vacations, I fulfilled my childhood dream of becoming an author. I see this as a win!

What do you think of my cover? Anything you would've done differently?

To buy Forbidden Ties- Enemy's Keeper or get it for free (until July 2, 2022, on NetGalley), click here!

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