The REVISED new LONGVIEW covers, and how to run a solvent self-pub business

Book covers…GOOD book covers, anyway—are a big flying pain in the ass on a good day, and they are so very much easier to get wrong than right. And blithe comments about hiring a professional cover designer don’t help.


The Longview stories are, right now, low-margin.

I am using them to give people an inexpensive route into my Settled Space universe. With that in mind, I’m looking at experimenting with pricing again, which means they’re probably going to become LOWER margin for me.

Someday, if the series develops a large enough readership that copies of the whole series are selling regularly, I may be able to hire a professional to do cover art for them, but here’s the deal on self-pubbing. You need to be able to make your investment back on each project within a set time period.

For me, that time period is two months. I need for every single thing I do to pay me as much as I’ve invested in it, including time, two months after it debuts.

My time is my biggest expense, because creating writing courses pays much better than writing fiction. I have to look at every fiction project I do, look at every nonfiction project I could do in the same amount of time, figure out whether I’ll still be able to meet my budget every month if I do fiction rather than nonfiction, and plan accordingly.

And I have the same hard expenses most people have: housing, automotive, insurance, food, etc. Plus I have independent contractors I pay monthly to help me with various aspects of my business. All of that comes out of my budget before any money comes to me.I can offset some of the cost of these stories onto the HTWAS course, but not very much of it, because I invest time into creating the HTWAS course, too.

The HTWAS course, though, is buying me the time to write Longview stories in between HTWAS modules.

And I cannot do basket accounting. Basket accounting is when you count all the money coming as one lump, and ignore how much individual projects earn. If you basket account, you can throw your heart and soul into something that is not earning its own way, and wake up to discover one day that the projects that were paying your bills have fallen off because you have not added more like them, while you have been tossing your time and work into a money-sucking black hole that has a minimal readership.

My earn-through number is two months rather than the one month for these books because I built HTWAS with planned time for writing them, and I am using them as part of the course. They are teaching me and I am teaching them. So with the Longview series, I have a tiny but real buffer.

I can pay bills and make payroll if I can get my investment of time and cost out of each book within two months.

But that means that I cannot be frivolous with expenses. I have a budget of about fifteen bucks to spend on each cover. Which means I MUST do them myself.

I paid off the software I do part of the covers with years ago, I buy stock art for the images, and, and paid off the new software that does the fonts and a couple other neat tweaks with the first course I used it on. Everything I buy, everything I do, has to pay its own way, and has to do it quickly. Stories can sit in your backlist earning you money for as long as you choose…but they have to pay back your expenses quickly, because you have to get back the money you invest in each project so you can invest it in your next project.

Your next cover, your next writing time, your next editing.If you cannot invest your last project’s earning into your next project when you’re ready to do it, you’re running your business in the red, and you won’t last long. Running in the black—making sure every project pays its own way—is the secret to being able to afford to write full time. It’s not much of a secret—but this is how you do it.

End of Digression

So the last covers were close. I had the background right. I had the concept of the font and overall look somewhere in the ballpark.

These, though, are significant tweaks.

These are PROBABLY final, but I’m going to have to run them past Matt, who first came up with the retitling fix yesterday, and then looked today at what I came up with yesterday, shook his head, and said, “Not yet.” He came up with the layout concept for these, but he and I work opposite shifts (I’m up days, he’s up nights) and I just finished these, so I’ll run these by him when he’s up and if he has any strong objections, I’ll probably do another set of tweaks.

Episode 1: The Prisoner

Tales from The Longview Episode 1: The Prisoner
Tales from The Longview
Episode 1: The Prisoner

Episode 2: The Courtesan

Tales from The Longview Episode 2: The Courtesan
Tales from The Longview
Episode 2: The Courtesan

Episode 3: The Philosopher

Tales from The Longview Episode 3: The Philosopher
Tales from The Longview
Episode 3: The Philosopher


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19 responses to “The REVISED new LONGVIEW covers, and how to run a solvent self-pub business”

  1. Carrie Avatar

    I like these covers but honestly if it weren’t for the spaceships, I wouldn’t know these books are sci fi. I am new to the Holly Lisle Universe, so I am not familiar with what “Tales from the Longview” is in reference to. The spaceships are my only point of reference for recognizing these books as sci fi. I agree with other commenters that illustrations representing the prisoner, courtesan and philosopher might be more effective combined with the spaceships — unless prisoner, courtesan and philosopher are the names for the spaceships? In that case, the spaceships make perfect sense. I like the visuals on this cover because it creates a sense of intrigue and pleasant anticipation for me. I immediately thought, “Looks interesting. What are these stories about?” Based on these current covers, I would definitely turn the cover to read the plot summary to find out.

  2. Claudette Avatar

    I’ve read sci-fi for over 50 years–God, I hate how that sounds, but in that time I’ve seen how covers have changed and found faves along the way.

    these are, as some have said, very hard science fiction in looks. I have no problem with that. I love hard science fiction. But, and this is a big but, I wonder if the readers of the hard stuff will find disappointment inside. I say this because each of these stories is purely character driven, rather than a physics driven series.

    I’ll take any Holly Lisle story I can get my hands on. The name has my hands on the cover. I’m just wondering about those who don’t know the name as well.

    My preference, too, goes to the old covers and titles. They’re blatantly honest about what to expect inside and gives the reader a sense of anticipation. These new titles do not, and the covers only reflect the genre’s slices of bread, not the meat inside.

    JMHO for what it’s worth. I like these covers as covers, but they say something different to me than what I know is inside.

  3. Margaret Avatar

    These definitely read more as a series, and are clear SF. The titles might cause some confusion with your existing readers, so make sure to make it clear in the description that they were previously published as, but I think these will do what you’re trying to do.

    And thanks for the breakdown on the expenses. It’s good to make that clear especially when everyone is not in the same situation.

  4. Amy Avatar

    So many mixed feelings. Oy! I like these covers. If I knew nothing about the books, these definitely scream SciFi, but they feel more hard sci-fi (I’m thinking Greg Bear – ugh) than space opera (Ender’s Game, Star Trek, etc.). So, honestly, I might or might not have picked up these books based solely on these covers. But because I know these are your books, the covers don’t really matter. I will read anything you write.

    I have to agree that your original cover for book 3 wasn’t working really at all, and these do. But I still much prefer the original covers on the first two books, as well as the original naming conventions. Maybe you could keep the original titles and just add subtitles (The Prisoner, The Courtesan, The Philosopher). Although then you’re getting into really long names if you’re also including the series title on each cover.

    As to making covers you hate – I am left thinking of you telling us often to write what we love, to not create something just because it fits someone else’s vision or will be popular. Would the same not hold, to a certain extent, to the covers? If you hate these, don’t use them. Because if you hate them, they don’t really represent you, which, to me, means they can’t really represent your stories as well as they might. I understand that sometimes expedience is the best policy. But if at all possible, I’d rather see covers you love.

  5. gabby Avatar

    Hi Holly, I am a bit behind with these I guess. I love this 3rd version the best of all. Love the font/color change to the words.

    If there is any way to stretch the part with the stars to behind the lettering too, I think that would make a big difference in making the title feel integrated with the picture. (so for example on 1, the section below the ship with the 3 stars, if you could have more of that on the top and bottom bands, rather than just black, I think it would feel more like the whole cover was one thing) and repeat for all 3 covers…

  6. Anthea Avatar

    Very interesting to see the progression here, and observe my own reactions.

    Based on the title and cover, I had no interest in reading “Enter the Death Circus” – it felt like something dark and difficult, which is not my thing these days.

    “The Selling of Suzee Delight” – even more so – dark, gritty, unpleasant, along the lines emotionally of The Walking Dead. (this is just my emotional reaction to the titles and covers, mind – I didn’t even get as far as reading the summaries.)

    “Bashtyk Nokyd takes the Longview” was just meh, both because of the difficult title (indicating this isn’t going to be an easy read) and because I knew it was sequel to the ones I had no interest in.

    Now, though… The covers catch my eye and make me want to read the summary. They scream science fiction – and the titles don’t make me work.

    Reading the summaries… I still feel like it’s not my thing, but that’s ok! It’s now at least a maybe, next time I get in the mood for something dark.

    Thank you for sharing the process. It makes me want to go back and re-evaluate what my covers might be saying that I don’t realize. 🙂

  7. Sara Avatar

    Lovely covers, Holly! The spaceships look great. 🙂 I’m not too fond of the text, but that’s just my two cents. It seems unusual for fiction covers to have such strong glow effects…? What about a more “unadorned” font? Like e.g.:

  8. David Ivory Avatar
    David Ivory

    Even better. I like that the title treatment is now not the same as the author name.

    This is definitely an improvement again.

  9. Kelsey Avatar

    I definitely understand and respect the fact that you do your own covers, Holly, since sure $200 for a cover once a year isn’t going to break the bank but $200 per cover for multiple novellas/novels/writing courses coming out all the time will.

    I do really like the more closely-tied theme these have, but I feel like I’m missing a bit of the human connection with just the different images of spaceships as the main thing that changes.

    I really like the first one and for Longview #1, I think the spaceship is a great emblem. But… there’s nothing inherent that I can see in Spaceship #2 that reminds of Suzee Delight (and I’ve read it and really, really liked it) and I have the same issue with Spaceship #3… there’s nothing in it that inherently makes me think of Bashtyk, or of a philosopher.

    Could there perhaps be sci-fi ish objects other than spaceships that could change cover to cover? Like, a pretty dress/knife/interrogation chair on the Suzee cover, etc.? Not sure yet what might work for Bashtyk.

    I know that kind of thing presents its own Photoshop challenges because the new image has to work with the colour, tone, texture etc of the background.

    But, basically, I feel like they’re now TOO interchangeable as covers–without the “#4: The Joker” titles, I wouldn’t be able to glance through them and immediately tell which is which.

    Best of luck! I know you’ll get there.

    1. Kelsey Avatar

      *I should say MAY not break the bank…sometimes times are tough.

  10. Krystyna Avatar

    I feel terrible for saying this, especially after all your hard work in creating the new covers, but I liked the old ones better. Don’t get me wrong, these new covers have the sterile, coldness of science fiction that draws a lot of die hard fans, but I’m not one of those. I liked the old covers because they were different (and colorful), think the quirkiness of Firefly coupled with titles that sounded like episode titles. One of my favorite things to do before I watch a new t.v. series is read the episode names (okay, okay I also read ahead, sometimes to my own disappointment – this only works on Netflix) to see if they sound interesting. I have no doubt these will work wonderfully, I just wanted to throw in a little defense of the old ones.

    1. Holly Avatar

      I STILL like the old ones better.
      I like the old titles better.
      I like the stretched and abused fonts better.
      I like the colors on the old covers better.

      I don’t like bleak, or stark, or cold, or interchangeable.

      I don’t like the new covers. I made them because I got hammered for the other ones being unprofessional, and a lot of comments from people saying they would never read stories with those covers.

      But I don’t like them at all, and for exactly the reasons you list.

      1. Holly Avatar

        Well, the test cover for Bashtyk Nokyd was Crap In A Box (TM), and I never did find a title I liked for that episode.

        Still, my comments stand for the other covers.

        1. Kelsey Avatar

          Count me in the group of people who prefer the old titles. “The Selling of Suzee Delight” just has a draw to it that “The Courtesan” doesn’t. And “The Philosopher,” to be totally honest, sounds even less appealing.

          Good luck.

        2. Krystyna Avatar

          If I may, I’d like to offer a reason why the third cover seems out of place (someone mentioned a floating head and I chuckled). Your other two covers offer what Kelsey mentioned, a human connection. The first had a marvelously captured planet at a perspective that looks very much like the view from the front row of a futuristic circus. The second captured what looks like a geisha in make-up and clothing (suggested) that screams high-end courtesan, a profession that many of us marvel at. The reason both of these were so appealing? The art was secondary to the episode title. Read: Would you like some art with your title?

          The third, unfortunately asks – Would you like a title with your art? Your episode titles are awesome, they should be in the forefront.

          Before I forget, I regret not being a part of the “hammered for unprofessional cover art” conversation – I probably missed it.

          All the Best!

  11. Mel Corbett Avatar

    I like them much better than the original covers (in particular better than the floating head). And they also definitely all have an similar feel so they feel like the same series.

  12. Stephanie Avatar

    Ooh, these are good. The font is gorgeous, especially the title font! The blending between the bars and the picture is not so stark, at least in the first cover, the other two are harder to tell for sure. Love how you used size of the font to emphasize the important words. I’d pick em up in hot second without knowing you wrote em. ESPECIALLY that first episode. There is something about that cover that I cannot put my finger on that makes it work better than the other two in my opinion. Maybe it’s the glowing red contrasting with the cool blues? I dunno but that one is gold!

    1. Holly Avatar

      I DO like the title font. A lot.

      1. Stephanie Avatar

        I can only imagine how hard it is to do your own covers. I did really like the old ones, with their unique titles. (Except the third mock up…that one lost me). But these will work for the genre despite their ‘interchangeable’ feel. Although I do wonder if there is a way to keep the uniqueness of the first two covers and integrate it into this style….

        Regardless, the covers really just have to do their job and announce the ‘type’ of story inside, and these do that. Maybe in some ways they do it better than the old ones…they certainly work better as as set or whole, which I suspect will draw people into the series since it will be much more obvious which ones belong together!

        Thank you for showing us how the covers change as time goes on and how you decide which ones to use and when! I really hope this series gets lots more readers now because it truly deserves to be read and enjoyed!

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