Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book World: Behind the Scenes {1}

Hey readers! Ethan here introducing to you a brand new blog series!

Getting a book from a word document and onto the shelves at your local bookstore takes a lot of work and, often, a small army to do it. Many believe that the authors are the only rockstars in the business. After over a year of blogging, I've learned that this simply isn't true. There is an entire community of 'unsung heroes' doing the hard work behind the scenes to get the book ready for our hands!

In this series, I'm honoring those awesome unsung heroes.

Book World: Behind the Scenes will be a weekly post, each Thursday, that will spotlight one awesome individual from the book world. I will not only be spotlighting that person, but also conducting a one-on-one interview with them covering an array of topics such as the current state of the book world, trends they are seeing, and some information about their background in the field.

I think this is an incredible opportunity to show readers and the rest of the bookish community just how much work goes into making a book successful! Let's give those unsung heroes a moment in the spotlight!

Week One: Meet Marya Heiman

What an amazing way to start out our very first Book World: Behind the Scenes! Today I am hosting the absolutely incredible Marya Heiman. Marya wears many, many hats including Chief Creative Officer for Clean Teen and Crimson Tree Publishing. Marya is here today, however, as a cover designer and literary guru on all things graphic design. With so many book cover artists out there, it's hard to find one that really shines. You guys know how big of a cover snob I am, so you know how important it is to find great covers. In Marya, I have found some of my absolute all time favorite covers. Her portfolio is truly incredible. 

Before we get to our sit down, let's learn a bit about Marya Heiman:

Marya Heiman has ten years of experience in customer relations and creative design. In 2011, Marya entered the publishing world when a friend asked for her help in designing their book cover. Soon, she found that she had a knack for image manipulation and an eye for bringing multiple elements together to create a visually stunning cover. Marya decided to do what she loved and began freelancing as a cover designer, and later went on to open Clean Teen Publishing. Marya was recently honored with a RONE Award for one of her covers and has received numerous other accolades for her gorgeous designs. Marya believes that people do judge a book by its cover and she’s determined to make the Indie publishing world a more beautiful place, one cover at a time.

Find Marya at Strong Image Editing

Interview with Marya Heiman

Name: Marya Heiman
Location: DFW, Texas
Book World Occupation: Publisher/Cover Designer
Years in the Business: 3 years
Favorite Book/Genre: Fantasy and Sci-fi

1. We’ve read your bio, but tell us a little more about yourself and your work within the business. What exactly is your role in helping a book get from a word document and into the reader’s hands?

As a cover designer I work with the author to give a face to their story. This involves searching for images, mocking up and doing the back and forth dance, research on any new techniques and genre trends, polish on the finished product and then any side items for swag and the like. It's not too complicated but can be time consuming... and rewarding. ;-)

The publisher end of things is waaaaaaay more complicated. I do nearly all the covers for CTP but I also coordinate with the artists who do various other things for us, I schedule our blog tours, I make and order book marks, I coordinate with our distributor and printer for cover work, I answer questions from authors and help to foster our family type atmosphere, I research... lots of research on new ideas and ways to improve, I design banners and swag and any other graphics we might need, I'm always looking for cool new ideas for give always, I do my best to interact on our authors social media pages, and on our own pages, I attend conventions and help to do everything from set up, to tending the booth, to meeting with other vendors, to attending classes and learning ever more about the constantly changing publishing world. And this is just off the top of my head! There is so much more that goes into publishing books and as an owner of the company I'm involved in all of it even if I'm not actually doing the leg work. All three of us are involved in the decisions for the company; who we sign, what direction we take, what vendors we use, and on and on. It's a crazy world but I love it very much.

2. What kind of training do you have? What prepares you for this type of work?

I don't have any sort of formal training, I am all self taught and constantly learning more every day. I do, however, come from a long line of artistic folk. My Aunt is a muralist in Austin, my mother was a writer, and many others in my family dabble in creative avenues even if they never made a career of it.

3. Marya, your covers are, by far, some of my all time favorites. What do you use for inspiration when designing your covers? Do you actually read each novel or do you work with the authors for elements to include?

Aww, thank you!! And no, I don't always read the book before I do a cover. Sadly I don't have the time to read them all any more. Though I wish I could!! So I mostly work with the author and bounce around ideas with them. They tell me their favorite scenes, I look at their Pintrests boards and inspiration images, and we search the stock sites to find the right  look. My authors are very involved in the process because it's their vision I am bringing to life. It's my job to take that idea and make it amazing.

4. How much time goes into each cover you design? Can you walk us through the process a bit?

Oh time... such a tricky beast! Lol! I've found that each cover is unique when it comes to difficulty. Some fall into place and are done in an hour, some take days. It depends on the complexity of the manipulations, the ease of finding the right images, fonts, and other elements, and just hitting the right mark. Some times a cover will go through a few iterations before we find just the right 'OMG!' moment. I would say though, that on average from start to finish it's about a two week process.  This includes discussion and image searching and everything. That said, don't contact me two weeks before you need a cover! Lol! My schedule is usually booked for months out and running a publisher takes priority over everything else. I've even been considering not taking on any more outside clients because I am just SO busy with CTP things. But that is a hard decision to make as I love this community and the authors I've worked with.

5. As someone who designs covers, I’m sure you see some great and some… not so great, work. What are some of your pet peeves when it comes to cover design? What makes Marya Heiman tick?

Oh yes, there are some covers out there that should NOT be out there. But I don't have anything that really irks me. There are things that make me cringe, like putting a stroke (an outline) around the type.  It just doesn't look good to my eye. There are some fonts that should be retired and never used again. And just bad editing, where the lighting doesn't match and you can tell it's one image cropped onto another. But again, it doesn't get me riled up, just doesn't look good. ;-)

6. Covers, much like books themselves, go through phases and trends. What are some of the more common trends we are seeing in the current book market?

Honestly, I try not to follow trends too much. I LOVE good cover art, and I do spend time ogling the top seller lists. But I don't often seek out what's trendy. I think right now for YA it's all about being vibrant and dramatic. There seems to be a move to covers with out people, but covers with the MC's on them are still popular too. But beyond that, like birds, or thorns, or fancy dresses... I don't want to be a lemming and I find that following my own trends leads to a more eye catching cover. For other genres what I usually do is go out and find a style I like in other covers and save those as inspiration for that project. It's called a mood board and it's very helpful in getting the mind into the mood for the project.

7. What advice would you have for an author who is looking for a cover designer? What criteria do you think is most important when searching? With so many to choose from, how is an author to decide who best to represent their vision?

First and foremost, find someone who does covers you love. And not just one, but like, nearly all of their work you love. If you don't like what they have already done, you wont like your cover. Second would be price; figure out your budget and search for that among the designers you like. And always ask your fellow authors who they recommend. You can have the best designer in the world but if their work ethic is sloppy then it will not be worth the money.

8. Not only do you design covers, you also design swag and help with website design and graphics. In your experience, how important are these other aspects of the book world?

Very important! Your visibility doesn't end with the cover. It's certainly what draws new readers to your book, but if you want someone to become a long time fan of all your work, then your swag and web page and all of that has to be just as good.

9. What are some of your all-time favorite book covers? 

Oh man.... I love so many! My favorite authors have some of my favorite covers too, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and Anne McCaffrey's Pern series. I love dragons so that's an easy way to get me to 'Ooooo!' at a cover. I'm also a big fan of Regina Wamba and Conspiracy Digital Art as designers. And Phat Puppy does stunning art work.

10. What is your favorite part about cover design? How do you feel when you see a cover you designed on bookstore shelves?

LOL! Are you kidding me? I want to do cart wheels in the aisles when I see my covers on a shelf! Maybe someday that will be old hat, but right now it's like a kid in a candy store for me. I want to go grab random people and drag them over to see the awesome. ^_^ I think my favorite part of the design is when the author falls in LOVE with what I've done. I aim for that every time.  And also the creative outlet it gives me is a close second.


Check out some of my favorite covers from Marya!

  ... aren't they beautiful?

This past weekend at UtopYA, I had the great honor of actually meeting Marya. She was absolutely amazing and made me so glad to feature her and her work here on my blog. I can't say I know many cover designers, but Marya will forever hold a special place in my bookish heart. I swore I took a pic with just Marya and myself at some point this weekend, but apparently did not so... Here's a pic of Marya and I alongside the rest of the CTP team!

Left to Right: Ethan, Marya Heiman, Rebecca Gober, and Courtney Nuckels 

Alright everyone, that's all I have for you on Marya Heiman during my very first Book World: Behind the Scenes post! I hope you've enjoyed learning a little bit more about some of the BTS work that goes into making our favorite reads awesome! Be sure to join us next week when we meet another amazing industry professional! 

Thanks so much for stopping by. Until next time, Happy Reading!


Are you an author? Do you work with an incredible someone who holds a career in one of the above fields? Are you a blogger who has worked with one? I want to honor those awesome people!

I already have a handful of interested parties lined up, but I'd like to add more. If you would like to nominate someone for a spotlight, please don't hesitate to let me know.

Interested parties are encouraged to fill out the Goodle Doc by clicking here or to contact me (Ethan) directly by shooting an email to

Google Doc:

I think this is an incredible opportunity to show readers and the rest of the bookish community just how much work goes into making a book successful! Let's give those unsung heroes a moment in the spotlight!


  1. Love this article and the idea of showcasing those who work hard behind the scenes. You seem to be missing my covers in that showcase, though, Ethan. ;-)

  2. Hmmmm I think your blog ate my comment ....

    Anyway GREAT blog! Love seeing this side of things. I think it will be great for readers to see how much work goes into doing what they do!!!

    Marya - Your work never ceases to amaze me <3 V""V

  3. Thank you so much for featuring me Ethan!! It's so weird to step into the spotlight but I love that you are tooting the horns of all the artists that pour their souls into the book world just as much as the authors do. Books are our babies and it really takes a whole community to raise them. <3 ^_^

  4. Great article, Ethan. Marya, your covers are stunning, as always. ;)

  5. Sweet Scythes, this is enlightening. I know once the author removes their claws from the story it goes through so many hands after. Like passing your child around your family to give them a chance to shower their attention and love. It shows in Marya's covers. I know she feels an array of emotions and it comes out in her work. I believe that is her magic and I'm so honored she made my story something special. Great article Ethan. I'm looking forward to reading more of your features.

  6. Great article, Ethan. I LOVE Marya's covers!