Writing, Articles

Cover Story: Nightmare Tenant/Foundations

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is the traditional adage; however, in today’s self-published and digital world, it’s increasingly idealistic and out of date. In this post I want to go over some of the behind-the-scenes design choices I made when commissioning the Nightmare Tenant cover, and that of its companion book and prequel, Foundations.

Comparison Titles and concept

The first step was to look at my genre and identify some comparison titles for an idea for how I wanted. It’s important to look along your virtual “shelf” to see what comparable books in genre look like so what is commissioned is not incongruous – there’s conventions and standards within each genre that should be acknowledged.

For instance, rainbows and butterflies would not have been appropriate for Nightmare Tenant:

  • Incongruous to the feel and vibe of the story; ergo this could deceive the reader
  • Incongruous to the genre conventions I had identified; the book just wouldn’t sit right as a horror book

I found two such books on the Amazon store when researching my genre that I felt would be great inspiration for the Nightmare Tenant cover:

Book cover comparisons and the Nightmare Tenant concept

I then thought about how I would like my cover to look before creating the roughest of rough concepts.

It was at this point I commissioned Les (aka GermanCreative) to design and create the final cover. We discussed what elements to use and what stock images to use to create the photo-manipulated cover but beside my concept and picking images, I left the “design” largely to her to realise and visualise, based on my concept and the comparison covers.


When I received the first version of the cover I was beaming from ear-to-ear as I was so pleased with how Les had transformed my concept and comparison covers. The added elements – the textures, backgrounds and effects really sold the effect and vibe of Nightmare Tenant and I was pleased that she had gone above and beyond in adding those details.

However, I didn’t immediately accept the first version – I took a day or so to digest and look at it critically before calling it done.

I showed the cover to a couple of author friends who were impressed. But beyond a few minor tweaks – such as moving the Nightmare Tenant title slightly lower, there wasn’t significant changes.

High-res vs low-res

The high-resolution, full size cover image of Nightmare Tenant looks fantastic; so much so I have an art print of it in my office. However, an important note is that is not how a large amount of people will view it.

First version of the Nightmare Tenant cover as resized to Amazon’s display size (desktop)

When I received the initial version, one of the steps I took when considering my revision was to resize the image to the size at which it is displayed on Amazon.com. This was a crucial step – when viewing it at this resolution I noticed that the author name simply wasn’t prominent enough. Why is this important? My author name is my brand so it is important that it is prominent and legible at the resolution that readers will see it on the web when browsing or scrolling – I only have perhaps a fleeting moment to grab their attention in that time so it’s crucial that everything important on the cover is legible.

Nightmare Tenant Amazon search result with the amended cover

These two corrections were made without incident to my satisfaction and the final cover is one I am immensely proud of.

Comparison of the first version (left) and final version (right) covers for Nightmare Tenant


Foundations is the free reader magnet I currently give away to subscribers to my newsletter. It also serves as a standalone prequel/introduction to Nightmare Tenant.

I went to the expense of commissioning a cover for Foundations because, even as a free reader magnet, it deserved to be treated as “seriously” as a full paid release. This is the book I use to introduce readers to my author community and it’s an important marketing tool for that reason.

The cover design process was streamlined; as it was a companion to Nightmare Tenant I used a lot of the motifs and layouts to tie the pair of works together visually and graphically.

I did have a late change to the imagery; the initial image with the party scene on the bottom half of the cover just didn’t quite gel for me so I had it swapped out for the crypt scene which I feel worked much better.

When it comes to book cover design – whether covers I design myself or commission, attention to detail is key for not only getting the effect you want but in maximising exposure of your author brand – you may only get one opportunity to “wow” a particular set of eyeballs and those first impressions – and making them memorable – really do count.

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