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Graphic Design for Authors: Collateral and Marketing Materials by Shauna Aura Knight

Collateral includes postcards, bookmarks, business cards, web banners, Facebook graphics, and advertising. For the moment, I’m not so much talking about promotional items like pens, though those are absolutely part of your collateral package.

All of these items and more can be part of your marketing collateral:

  • Business cards
  • Press kits
  • Postcards
  • Event flyers
  • Sell sheets
  • Print ads
  • Booth banners and signage
  • Table posters
  • Online banners and ads
  • Social media graphics and memes
  • Logos and letterhead, folders, mailing labels
  • Press kits
  • Web sites and blogs count as collateral, in a way
  • Promotional items (pens, key chains, tote bags, t-shirts)

As I mentioned in previous articles in this series, one of the reasons it’s worth investing in a good cover design is that your subsequent collateral and advertising easier to do. I’ve worked with several clients to design postcards or other materials…and I’ve had to work harder, as a designer, because their book covers were bad. Sometimes the covers weren’t bad, they just had poor contrast, or they were simply not very remarkable. In other cases, the covers were ok, but they didn’t really fit the author’s overarching brand.

Ideally, any advertising materials promoting books should show off the book covers. That’s the product you are selling.

Problems With Collateral

Here are some of the top ways that many pieces of marketing collateral can fail to achieve your objectives.

Too busy: I see a lot of postcards, flyers, and other print pieces that are a confusing mishmash. Too many textures, too many fonts, text isn’t aligned…it’s a jumble. If your eye doesn’t know where to go, you’re not going to read the print piece and you’re going to drop it in the recycling bin.

Fixes: Keep it clean and simple. Less text, less cool fonts, and text and images should be aligned to one another in an intentional way. Drop shadows or other ways to add contrast can help. The core is to make sure that any text is legible.

Too many fonts, bad fonts:
Some pieces use many different fonts, or text in too many different sizes/weights and it becomes a visual jumble. In any designed piece, you want to generally stick with two fonts. Maybe three, though there would need to be an exception. One exception is, your logo is one font, and the headline text is in another font, and your body copy is in a third font.


Example: This holiday postcard I designed years ago starts to veer into too many fonts, plus a few too many colors. Some of the design was at the request of the client, and in retrospect I wish I would have pushed for a cleaner design and a little less text. I was able to keep it mostly legible, but overall, the more fonts you use, the harder it is to read. This postcard also suffers from having just a little too much text on the back.

Too much text: You need to have the appropriate amount of text for the piece. On a 4×6 postcard you can maybe feature two books. Possibly three if it’s a series. However, you’re not going to be able to fit your full 100-word blurb for each of them.

Fixes: Edit your blurbs and text down to the absolute minimum. Have someone help you figure out what the text must accomplish, and if any of the text doesn’t support that goal.


Example: Here are several 4×6 postcards (or magazine ads) that show about how much space you have for text and cover images. If it’s a postcard, you can put more text on the back, but you still only have so much space.

Not enough contrast:  You need enough visual contrast that the text is readable. But in addition, your piece needs to stand out. An advertisement in a busy magazine, a web banner on a web page, even a postcard sitting on a table, all need to stand out.



Contrast Example: Here’s a before and after: on the left is a small black and white ad for a magazine. It’s clean and has the appropriate amount of text, but it is going to get visually lost on the page of a B&W magazine. The ad does nothing to draw people into the theme. In this case, the ad was selling a year-long Mystery School program at a retreat center. Each year focused on a myth, and so it was imperative to draw potential attendees into the story. Even with a B&W ad it’s possible to add rather a lot of visual contrast on the page. However, if you have color at your disposal, even more visual emphasis and contrast can be used.

The ad on the right is one that I designed to add in more contrast to stand out on the page. The bottom two advertisements were also designed to stand out on a busy magazine page.

Crazy colors: I’ve seen a few FB memes that had what I can only call crazy colors. The colors (background and text) weren’t legible, and I can’t even see how they connected to the brand of the book they were promoting. I’ve seen red text on a fuchsia background, or neon colors on putrid green, or other heinous combinations that seem to have no purpose other than making my eyes hurt. Color choices need to be legible and help the text be read, and they should show off the book cover. When in doubt, go subtle.

Poor Strategy: Beyond visual design concerns, there is also the need for any postcard, brochure, ad, or web banner to offer a call to action, and ideally, a way to track the responses. I’ll focus on that more in a future post.

What Materials Do I Actually Need?

One of the reasons I focused on marketing strategy earlier in the series is that many people zero in on making the brochure pretty, without understanding whether or not they actually need a brochure. You have to ask yourself, what collateral materials do I need? What purpose will they serve? How will they support my goals?

I approach design as a consultant, not as a production artist. What that means is, when a client contacts me and says, “We want a brochure,” I don’t just take the specs and whip out a brochure for them. I ask a lot of questions about the strategic goals the print piece is supposed to serve and what audience they want to reach.

For one client, a massage therapy school, we determined together that a small postcard would be more effective to send out to a larger mailing list, and then only send out the more expensive multi-page brochure to those who responded to the postcard. In addition, we identified that the school had two primary audiences; existing massage therapists looking to get continuing education, and people who were considering attending the full training to become massage therapists. Each audience would need a different postcard targeted toward their needs.


Types of Print Collateral and Their Differences

Postcards and flyers are often used to refer to the same types of print pieces. Postcards are always on a heavier cardstock, are usually glossy, and printed on both sides. They are often 4 x 6 inch in size, but many “postcards” aren’t even designed to be mailed, just handed out at events. If you are designing a postcard that will be mailed, there are requirements about how much space you need to leave for barcodes, etc. You can print postcards/flyers on heavy cardstock at just about any size: 4 x 6, 8.5 x 5.5, 6 x 9, etc.

Flyers tend to be printed on letter-size paper (not cardstock) and printed on one side. However, these days the line between what’s a postcard and what’s a flyer is a little blurry. Typically I see people refer to them as flyers when they are used to promote an event. Sell sheets are similarly letter size, usually printed on both sides, focusing on a product or set of products.

A brochure can be a simple tri-fold, a multi-page document with a gatefold or more elaborate fold, or it can be printed as a booklet. Most authors don’t need brochures, though there are exceptions. Some examples might include nonfiction authors that are also consultants, business coaches, or they do professional public speaking. Fiction authors could perhaps create a brochure booklet to advertise a particular series, but that would be a fairly expensive print piece to produce. Generally, postcards and flyers tend to be the more effective print piece for an author.

PrintBusiness cards still do a lot of heavy lifting. Here are some new cards I’ve just printed. In the parchment color you have my nonfiction cards, and on the purple you have my fiction, but it’s the same background image and general layout. This template is unique to my work, but makes it easy to design future cards with updated information or to promote specific books. Here’s also an example of some cards I did for a business coach. He used the back of his card to promote an offer of a free coaching session with him.

Next month’s post will continue with examples of collateral and focusing in on more marketing strategy concerns when designing your collateral.




Also, here’s a graphic designer I just discovered, Leah Kaye Suttle, and I thought I’d provide a link to her portfolio as a potential resource. I love her portfolio of work, and it’s a great example of clear, clean designs that stand out and that focus on the books and the author brands.  There’s a lot of strategy to design, but some designers are just going to have a visual aesthetic that attracts you. Leah’s work, like mine, is dark, colorful, and evocative. It’s worth it to hunt around to look at the portfolios of a number of designers when you’re looking to hire someone until you find someone who can achieve the right mood, the right look, for your brand.



A graphic designer, artist, author, and presenter, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations.

She’s the author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels including Werewolves in the Kitchen, A Winter Knight’s Vigil, and A Fading Amaranth. She is also the author of the nonfiction books The Leader Within,  Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path, and forthcoming The Facilitation Handbook: Enchanting a Group

Shauna’s writing and artwork is inspired by the mythic stories of heroes, of swords and magic, and of the darkness we each must overcome. That the challenges we face shape us, and help each character—each person–to become heroes.  Shauna is passionate about creating experiences, spaces, stories, designs, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination.  Web Site:


CoverRitualFacilitationGraphic Design and Consulting:

Shauna’s artwork and graphic design are used for fiction and nonfiction book covers and marketing collateral. Her work often has a dark, mythic, textural flavor. If you’re looking for an honest opinion on your covers or other collateral, she’s happy to offer a brief review for free.  If you’re interested in engaging Shauna for graphic design, mention this article for 30% off your first project (maximum of $200 off).  You can view her portfolio here:


As a child Angel Leigh was quite often found curled up with her nose buried in a book. By her teen years, she was writing as much as she was reading. ...