Morbidly Beautiful

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It’s Women’s Month, and we’re thrilled to spotlight the multi-faceted author and artist Tilly McGill, a talented woman of horror.

Book cover design by Tilly McGill


One of the biggest decisions facing a first-time author, outside of committing to finishing a story in the first place, is who to entrust with the finished product. Do they take the plunge and face the potential avalanche of rejection letters from big-name publishing houses?

Or do they forgo the pain, retain creative control, and brave the treacherous waters of self or indie-house publishing?

Yes, the potential for a large advance from an established entity is tempting. More than tempting, honestly. Most upcoming authors dream of writing for a living, and an established publishing house is the most surefire way to make that dream a reality. Cash money talks, after all.

And yet…

We’ve all heard the horror stories of the endless waves of rejection letters that most first-time authors receive. Outside of that, there is also the frequent loss of creative control of the finished product. With the sheer quantity of new projects being submitted and only a fixed number of big-name publishing houses to choose from, a fresh author getting discovered is akin to winning the lottery. There can only be so many winners.

As an author who first opted for the self-published route before getting picked up by an indie publisher, I stand by that decision a year later.

I relish the creative control that I retain over my works; I get input on all aspects, including the cover art, the tie-ins, the promotions across various mediums, my release schedule, and the ability to do whatever I choose with my finished products.

And, more than anything else, I am eternally grateful for the extended indie family that I have made along the way. From up-and-coming publishers, fellow burgeoning authors, cover artists, editors, publishing assistants, and reviewers, I have inadvertently found my tribe.

And I couldn’t be happier.

There are some universal truths in this biz.

First, indie authors will almost always be in the hole as far as profit goes. We aren’t doing this for the paycheck; we’re doing it for the love of writing.

Truth number two: a book needs a cover. And you better damn well believe that your product WILL be judged by the artwork associated with it.

I am always seeking the next cool art to attach to my works.

And it was while perusing Instagram for an available artist that I first came across Firefly Design.

I’m not gonna lie; like self-published authors, digital artists are a dime a dozen anymore. Searching for one will lead to a veritable rabbit hole of options. However, finding one with the right mix of talent, panache, competitive pricing, and effective communication is ridiculously difficult.

Tilly McGill of Firefly Designs is all of those things and more.

I initially approached her with the possibility of taking over cover duties for my ongoing thriller/mystery series, as my chosen artist had bitten off more than he could chew with other projects. “Hey, can you emulate another artist’s style for me?” is never a question you want to ask an illustrator. It seems disrespectful. Assumptive. That said, Tilly was instantly down for the challenge, knowing fully why I was asking.

Once the lines of communication were open, however, I realized that Firefly Designs had much more to offer.

Mock-ups? Yep. Advertising images? Uh-huh. Videos for trailers/promos? Sho Nuff. Tilly McGill does it all — and so much more besides. Firefly Designs is now my go-to provider for promotional materials for my writing, both the mainline Monochrome Noir series and my various side projects.

She’s sassy but fair, responds quickly, and is damn good at her craft. It has been a joy collaborating on projects with her, and I am consistently impressed with her curated creations.

Since she has done so much for my business, I wanted to turn the spotlight back onto her for a moment, giving Firefly Designs and Tilly McGill some well-deserved time in the limelight.


Not only is Tilly McGill an accomplished writer, who uses her voice to challenge and bring awareness to topics close to her heart, but she is also an artist specializing in book cover design through her company, Firefly Designs. Though she’s only been designing professionally for a little over a year, she’s already making quite an impression in the world of indie genre publishing. And while she may be starting out in her business, she’s been designing personally for over a decade.

Hailing from Southeast Michigan, Tilly’s design work is as beautiful as it is dark, and it definitely makes an impression. As a writer, she often speaks about mental health and surviving trauma, “shedding light on taboo subjects and honoring her divine femininity within.”

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Tilly to learn more about the creation and evolution of Firefly Designs and find out what guides and inspires her.


What informed the decision to focus on book covers and mock-ups?

I chose to do book covers and other author materials because, for one, I am an author myself. I wanted to learn how to do as much as I could on my own. I also like providing a service for like-minded individuals. And book covers are specific enough to provide guidance while offering loads of room to explore many different genres and art types.

Is there a story behind the name choice for Firefly Designs?

Firefly Designs came to be because “firefly” was and still is a sort of my namesake. When I started sharing my writing on social media, I did so under a pen name and made the decision to conduct business with the same name. And I chose “firefly” to accompany Tilly.

Firefly represents the light in the dark, a spark of hope, a glimmer of inspiration.

Those are all aspects of my experiences with sharing my work and skills with the writing community.

What do you love most about graphic design for books? What do you like the least?

What I love most about designing book covers is getting to know the author — the person behind the story. The collaborative process is amazing, as I get to hear about the genesis, concepts, and ideas straight from the source. I then fine-tune the details with each author in order to nail down the final design. It’s an exhilarating process. Even though I have their input and suggestions, I still get to use some of my own intuition on the design.

Honestly, the author’s first reaction is my favorite part, especially when they get a design that is more than they had initially imagined. That’s part of the job that you can’t put a price on, and I love it.

My least favorite part of creating book covers would have to be how each print-on-demand service is different. Kdp, IngramSparks, Barnes and Noble Press, Lulu… they all have different specifications that the covers are required to adhere to.

What was the harshest lesson or reality check you’ve had so far with the business?

The biggest lesson or harshest one I’ve had to learn is that if you give some people an inch, they will absolutely take a mile… or ten. I learned early on that being agreeable while compromising work ethics and good business only ends up costing more in the future. Having an established set of standards and boundaries and then sticking to them is important and will garner more respect from others in the long run.

What are a few of your favorite projects so far, and what made them stand out to you?

Oh gosh! My favorite projects so far would have to include the covers I’ve designed for Christopher Stanfield‘s series. I have designed four covers for him, and each one shows progression and growth in my craft. Plus, working with Christopher is a pleasure. I am so very proud of each one.

What does Tilly do outside of Firefly?

I write when the muse is with me. I write poetry and am revising my first novel. I enjoy time with my son, hiking, exploring, doing science experiments, and playing sports with him. I am also a photographer and love capturing the outdoors.

Finally, where can people follow you and your work? 

You can find me on Twitter @TillyMcGill, or Instagram at @firefly_creative_designs. (You can also find my author page on Instagram at

In addition to hiring me for a truly custom book cover and promotional package, you can also purchase one of my many high-quality pre-made designs. It’s a great way to save time and money while securing something unique and attention-getting for your book. You’ll find a selection of my designs on my social channels.

You can also visit my website at

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