Make Your Self-Published Book Look Professionally-Published With These 5 Tips

The goal for any self-published author is not only write an amazing book, but to create a product that can stand out and endure the critical eye of a traditional system.

Your competition are not only other writers but other publishers too. Naturally then, you want to make sure that what you produce is nothing but as good as you can make it. This article will go through five things you must do to ensure your book looks professionally published.

Print Your Manuscript

You might see this as extra time and a waste of paper, but you would be surprised how many additional mistakes you will be able to find. Printing your manuscript out in paperback format (using a recommended type face) will give you the opportunity to view your book in “real life”.

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Reviewing your book this way will allow you to check on things like margins, overall alignment of chapter headings, paragraphs, and words placement (i.e. Are your words getting cut off mid-sentence?). Printing in this format will also get you into mindset of a reader, not a writer. As a reader you will pick up typos, missing words and incorrect word usage than if you were reading off a screen.

Here’s what to look out for:

  • Page Numbers
  • Chapter Headings: are they positioned in the same place every time and numbered correctly?
  • Paragraph indentations: are they consistent?
  • Widows and Orphans: single lines at the bottom the page or parts of lines on new pages.
  • That all Notes and Comments from Track Changes are gone.
  • All Subheadings are formatted correctly and consistently.
  • Margins are all the same.

Beta Readers

By this stage your manuscript should have already been looked over by your beta readers, but it’s recommended to give them a copy of the completed manuscript once your formatting has been finalized.

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This allows you to get one final check-over. It is a far better thing for a trusted beta to spot the mistakes in your final proofs than to release the book into the world for your readers to find: because they will. It can be embarrassing to see reviewers commenting on simple mistakes, and ths can damage your sales.

So make use of your beta readers even in the final stages. The more eyes your work sees, the higher change that any remaining errors, whether grammatical or in your typesetting, will be spotted and corrected.

Blurbs

A blurb is your back cover description. A snippet of story line to get your reader interested. It’s an industry standard that blurbs are 100–180 words in length, so be mindful of how much you are revealing.

Remember, a blurb is not a synopsis. You want to briefly introduce your protagonist and some of what they must overcome. You don’t want to give away the entire plot, nor introduce too many characters. For practice, go to your bookshelves and read the back covers of your favorite books. Try to see how they sparked your interest enough to make the purchase.

Remember Blurbs need:

  • Length: 100–180 words
  • Protagonist: ntroduce them, and create an attachment
  • Tone: this should be the same as in your novel

For more details read our blog on writing the perfect blurb.

Tagline or Testimonial

Finding a suitable tagline can take some brainstorming but it’s worth taking the time to get it right. Your tagline is your ‘hook’ to intrigue people enough to pick your book up and read your blurb.

A testimonial from an author in the same genre as you can also help. It is their stamp of approval and if you’re lucky enough to have such an author interested in your work, you want their praise on the front of your book for all to see. This can help legitimize your work and draw their fan base to yours.

Matte Vs Gloss Covers

There are many schools of thought when it comes to choosing a matte or gloss cover for your final paperback.

Some writers think that gloss paperbacks have a cheap mass market look about them. But depending on your cover design, gloss can actually bring out richer colors in dark designs and reveal more intricate details in the illustration work. Gloss tends to be favorite for non-fiction works as it can enhance cover photographs and is less likely to be handled as much as a paperback.

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Matte covers, on the other hand, provide an aesthetic quality and durability to paperbacks. These covers are less likely to peel if handled extensively and won’t show up fingerprints and scratches.

It’s worth noting, however, that fine illustration work can be hidden and colors won’t be as vibrant with matte covers. Be sure to speak to your designer about your preference so they can adjust the colors accordingly.

Matte covers can compliment the art and provide an added bonus of the sensory experience to book buyers who like soft covers. Once again, it comes down to the personal preference of you, the publisher, but it it’s important to research what is popular in your genre and choose what will compliment your design work.

What Else Can You Do?

As a writer it’s your job to create an intriguing story with memorable characters that readers will enjoy. But as a publisher, it’s as equally important for you to provide the best possible, market-standard product for your potential buyers.

Having a well crafted blurb and an effective tagline or testimonial can hook readers into wanting to read more. Printing your formatted interior before finally choosing effective covers will ensure your book looks great and will appear to both booksellers and customers alike.

What else do you think should be included to ensure a book looks at home sat along side a traditionally published book?

 

Image Credits: Manuscript by Seth Sawyers (Flickr). Reading by Shelly (Flickr)

Judging a book by its cover: Designing Book Blueprint (by Jacqui Pretty)

Today, we have a post written by an awesome client of ours, Jacqui Pretty of Grammar Factory. The post, about her experience of finding and working with us to receive a cover she eventually loved, was first published over on her site. Thanks to Jacqui for gracefully allowing us to repost this here. So without further ado, here it is:

Jacqui PrettyI have a mixed history with designers.

You see, my significant other is a former graphic designer. Today he’s a training manager at a software company, but tends to take on a lot of design responsibilities there on the side of his main role. As a result, any time I’ve wanted to create anything with a visual element (websites, brochures, business cards, etc.), he’s been the first one to raise his hand.

The problem is, I’m a word person, not a visual person. This means I struggle to explain what I want, because I generally don’t know what I want. My direction involves words like light, bright, quirky, clean and polished, rather than descriptions like, ‘I want an A5 portrait brochure with a two-column design where one column is white with dark grey text and the other column uses white icons against a blue or orange background.’

Unfortunately, he’s someone who needs those specific directions, which means any attempts at design collaboration haven’t been very successful. As a result, most of what you see online is a DIY job, while any printed collateral was designed by a lovely designer I found on 99designs who gets my vague directions and turns them into polished, professional brochures that still manage to be bright and quirky.

However, he’s not an experienced book cover designer. So when it came to designing Book Blueprint, I needed to find someone new who would be able to take my vague desires and turn them into a cover that I and my readers would love.

I originally connected with Scarlett Rugers through one of my clients, and she’s been the designer I recommend ever since. Why? She does good work, she has experience working with entrepreneurs rather than just fiction authors, and she makes things simple and straightforward with standard packages. She’s also well priced and was able to work to my tight publishing schedule, which was a plus.

 

The formalities

We got started by catching up for lunch where we talked about our businesses, my book and my concerns about finding the right cover. After the official bits and pieces were out of the way (payment of the deposit and signing of the Ts&Cs), she had me fill out a very long survey about my book and what I wanted.

Beyond the dimensions of the book and details of the package, some of the questions included:

  • Who is your target market?
  • Do you want the book to be legible at the size of a thumbnail?
  • Do you have a specific idea/design that you’d like to see?
  • What’s the impression you want to give your audience when they first see the cover of your book?
  • What don’t you want on the cover?
  • Which adjectives do you want to describe your cover? (Multiple choice)

The most interesting one, though, was choosing whether I wanted Scarlett to design something that was typical of my genre (business books) or something different and unique.

 

The designs

Scarlett got to work on June 1st and had three concepts in my inbox on June 10th.

When I saw them at thumbnail size, my heart sank. I didn’t like any of them. It was exactly what I’d worried would happen.

I took a deep breath, downloaded the designs and opened them up at their full size so I could give more detailed feedback.

Design 1

jacquipretty_bookblueprint_web1
While the colours of this were right on brand and I could see she was playing with the blueprint idea, this just didn’t look like a business book to me. The font of the author name and tagline was too informal, and the grid lines made it look more like a text book than a paperback.

In some cases it can be helpful to deviate from the standard designs in your industry. However, when I saw this, my worry wasn’t about whether or not my book would stand out – it was whether or not an entrepreneur would even recognise it was a business book.

 

Design 2

jacquipretty_bookblueprint_web2
My first thought was that this one was very … orange. Yes, I know Grammar Factory has an orange logo, but this just felt like too much. It would also clash with pretty much everything in my wardrobe (I like greens, purples and reds), which may seem like a silly concern, but if you’re planning to pose for photos with your book at events, it needs to be considered.

I also wasn’t a fan of the feature font. I understood there needed to be a feature font to help break up the cover, but handwriting fonts always make me think of memoirs. Once again, I was worried that this didn’t look like a business book.

Once I looked more closely, though, I noticed all the little notes around the key features of the cover. There was a testimonial from ‘Reputable person’. There was a note indicating that I was an ‘Experienced and knowledgeable author’. There were even measurements for the cover size! The more I looked, the more I realised that this was quite cool.

 

Design 3

jacquipretty_bookblueprint_web3
This design was fine. I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t love it either. It was just a bit ‘meh’ for me, though I would have been willing to take it as a backup if we hadn’t been able to find anything else.

 

Round 2

I went back to Scarlett with my feedback – I wanted to develop the second concept, but make it blue instead of orange and use a more professional feature font.

She got to work and the next day had sent through some new versions of that cover with different fonts, one of which was this one:
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I loved it!

From here I went to my target market for some feedback on the tabs and got to see a rather vigorous debate unfold before my eyes on Facebook. The consensus was that if they were real tabs (i.e. if they marked out different parts of the book) I should go for it, and if they were just on the cover it would be better to go without. Given that real tabs would have drastically increased my printing costs, I went without.

This brings us to the final cover:

book_blueprint

Key learnings

So what did I learn?

  • While it can be helpful for you to know what you want up front, the right designer will be able to take your vague ideas and give you something to work with.
  • It doesn’t matter if you don’t like your initial designs – they are just a starting point and help your designer figure out how to create something you will
  • Feedback from the market in the early stages can be helpful, but it’s only really necessary if you have a couple of designs you like and are trying to decide between them. If you have one you like, focus on developing that and then get some feedback once you’re comfortable with it.
  • There are only two people who need to like your cover – you and your target reader. No one else matters. Therefore, feel free to ignore everyone else’s feedback. No matter how well-meaning, if they aren’t your target market (meaning they wouldn’t buy your book or your other products or services) then their feedback isn’t going to tell you what your target readers want.

3 Reasons To Hire A Designer Instead of Buying a Premade Cover

As writers and readers we judge books by their covers and as a self-publisher choosing the right covers to represent your books is a major step towards getting sales and building your brand. This blog is going to provide you with 3 reasons why as a self-published author you should hire a designer instead of using a premade cover to represent your works.

07042015_scarlettrugers_thesacrifice_7001. Your cover will be about YOUR story

It’s the job of the designer to visually interpret your book. Designers at the very least will want details about the story including a synopsis, settings, main character descriptions and themes. Here at Scarlett Rugers we are unique in taking this process one step further and will read your manuscript so that we can gain an even clearer insight into your books style. Hiring a cover designer will ensure that your cover will be specifically accurate to your story and that it is presented in the best possible way.

Pre-made covers lack personal insight. They are often a generic representation of the style that is trending in that genre. In fact the chances of you finding a cover that says visually what you need it to is very slim. You will end up settling for a cover that may, almost, be right for your story but will most likely leave it wanting.

After working on a manuscript for years to have it reach perfection you have a book that is uniquely you, hiring a designer will ensure your cover reflects that in a way that a pre-made never will.

2. Your unique brand as a self-published author

The-Great-GatsbyThink about all the really great classic covers out there like “The Great Gatsby” and more recently “Twilight.” These covers are instantly recognizable because they are distinctive, memorable and are a visual brand for that author. Influential design work will assist in building an iconic style for your future books, like Josh Kirby’s amazing illustrated covers that established Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Working with a designer will always guarantee that your cover will stand out amongst its peers and build up an identifiable brand for your publications.

One of the major problems with pre-made covers is that they lack that certain something extra that will individualize your book or establish you as a professional author. The majority of them are made by stock images with typography applied to them. This can have a flattering effect, but the image used on that cover will also have been used on three other covers as well. They use the general mass market styles as a guide, selecting the most commonly occurring elements. Unfortunately your book will end up getting lost in the sea of similar covers and won’t define your brand in the future.

carpe-jugulum3. You get one-on-one advice through the project

Designers work closely with authors, consulting and advising them every step of the way. They will make sure that you end up with a cover that that blends your wishes with a professional, market standard design. Many pre-made covers are not made by qualified designers, and you don’t get much flexibility in what you can and can’t change. You only have to look at the quality between a professionally designed cover and a premade one to see the difference. You don’t have a say on what goes on it aside from your name and the title. That’s an important point you must remember, whatever cover you choose will be what is associated with your name. A badly designed cover could send the message to your audience that the writing is of the same quality and rob you of potential sales. I know there are exceptions and that some pre-made cover designers will alter elements on their cover to more suit your needs for a fee, but if you are willing to pay more money you are better off hiring a real designer to get what you want.

A book cover designer’s mission is to create works of art that sell. They won’t just copy what is already out there but will use their strong knowledge of the industry and through extensive discussions with you will design something one of a kind to establish you as a brand. Premade covers, while appealing as a cheaper option, may end up causing your work to be unnoticed and limit your sales. As publishers you need to think and invest like a business. You need to ask yourself what is going to be the best representation of you as a professional writer and publisher because it will be what your audience will immediately associate with you.

What are your thoughts on Premade covers? What kind of experiences have you had with designers or the premade option?

Redesigning your book cover can make you a full-time self-published author

You’re lacking in sales, you’re not reaching new readers, and you’re running out of promotional steam. What’s one thing that could make all the difference in boosting sales and getting you onto the best seller list? Changing your book cover.

Getting sales

ahmadardalan_1 On July 29th 2014, an author named Ahmad Ardalan published a book titled The Gardener of Baghdad. He had been pushing to get it traction, sharing out the link where to purchase it, hitting the social media wave and working hard for reviews. But the success Ahmad had hoped for wasn’t clicking, a piece of the puzzle was missing.

He was ready to submit to the almighty Bookbub. The standards of Bookbub are high, which is why it makes it such a successful platform for self-published authors to get new readers through. In order to be accepted your book has to be at a decent standard, have a good concept, well written blurb, and a cover that doesn’t look DIY.

Ahmad tried three times to get into Bookbub, but he couldn’t crack it. He approached the KindleBoards for help and the problem seemed immediate- his cover wasn’t good enough, he needed something new.

Your story doesn’t matter if your book cover sucks

I know how hard it can be to be in the constant push to get your book into a consistent tide of sales, and sometimes affording a cover designer just isn’t on your list of priorities when you’re publishing. We can only invest so much, and if we have a few spare dollars of change it normally goes into editing and polishing so that the book reads well. That’s the most important part of publishing a book, isn’t it? The story?

Not if no one wants to pick it up in the first place. Your cover is what sells your book, not your writing. After you get a reader hooked, you’re in, but you have to get them to purchase it in the first place.

Remember, your readers aren’t just spending their money, they’re spending their time which is much more valuable. So does your book cover promise hours of adventure, heartbreak or conflict? Or does it say ‘I spent about as much time editing my book as I did on this cover-so that’s what you should expect’?

When authors go full time, thanks to book cover redesigns

M. Ward redesigned her book covers and her life changed overnight; she shared her experiences with us about it on our blog. When she changed over her books to a more genre specific cover for her romance books, she blasted her way onto the New York Times best sellers list.

Were the covers traditional publishing quality? No.

Did they do the job? Yes.

So what was the problem with H. M. Ward’s original covers? They weren’t genre, or audience, specific. They were creative, and beautiful, and the quality of them was stunning. But they weren’t reaching her intended audience. They weren’t genre specific enough.

Your potential readers are looking for books that:

  • Are in the genre they like reading
  • Hold a concept they are familiar with
  • Have a character they could relate to
  • Is “like this other book they just finished”
  • Looks interesting

The job of the cover: Sell the book

When I saw Ahmad’s plight at reaching new readers for The Gardener of Baghdad, I reached out. The cover needed an overhaul so that the audience knew:

  1. What to expect
  2. The genre
  3. Who it is targeted to

I offered the chance to redesign his cover which he graciously accepted, and got started on some new designs. His original concept made use of a painting but the concept wasn’t clear enough. He wanted to show the light and darkness in comparison to the past, and the present, in Baghdad. The beautiful Garden of before to the war torn city of now. I really liked that idea and thought it just needed refining, needed to be presented in a new way.

The concept he approved does exactly that, by using the bright beautiful garden against the contrast of a dark modern city, with simple, soft text we have grounded the design.

ahmadardalan_2The target demographic: people who love historical fiction, mainly women. By using the pastel colours and painted effects, combined with quiet typography, we have nailed the historical/literary fiction genre. We don’t need to tell the whole story, just make it look interesting and give the audience a sense of what’s coming, to get them onto the blurb.

Ahmad submitted the book with his new cover for the fourth attempt this week. He was accepted.

If your sales aren’t working for you, consider the cover. Reach out to a designer, consult with your self-publishing community for feedback, don’t be afraid to change it up. Covers aren’t permanent, even the professionals don’t get it right first try! Authors like H. M. Ward have proven it could mean the difference between working your regular job, and becoming a full-time author.

Why wouldn’t you change it?

I get asked all the time: What’s the most important element on a book cover?

the_war_on_words.largeI get a lot of e-mails from designers finishing school, to designers just entering the industry and have changed from a hobbyist to a professional, and there is one reoccurring question that comes up:

What is one thing that will help me create a good book cover?

You can’t ever just say it’s one single thing, design is such an all-encompassing experience. It’s like building a house, you can’t ask: what will help me build a good house? without expecting a list.

I’m going to tell you the one thing that is at the very top of the list. Often ignored, rarely thought out, and separate from the imagery. It’s seen as like a third cousin who lives out in the country, people don’t really want to talk to it.

What is it?

TYPOGRAPHY

the_king_of_methlehem.largePurpose of type:

Pfft, game over, I can hear you saying. I just put on some Garamond, or even just Arial or Times New Roman and it’ll look great.

NO, it doesn’t.

The purpose of type is to support the design, enhance the message, while being completely undetected. When you open a paperback and start reading, it is considered good typography when you are never distracted by the font face and the layout, and it is an ease to read. This is the same with type faces on a book cover. It should almost remain invisible, but add to the beauty and grace of the cover.

If the interior of a paperback looked like this it would drive us mad and we’d have to put the damn thing down:

tightleading

Think of it like… a bride getting her hair done for a wedding. The rest of her looks beautiful, from make up to dress, but if the hair isn’t done it’s alarmingly offensive. When it is done, it works together with the ensemble and never draws attention to itself, yet it can be complemented and singled out as beautiful on its own.

i_was_a_dancer.large

Typography rule 1: Keep it simple, and legible

The first mistake I see on book covers is the use of overly technical, decorative or distorted font faces. The author/designer thinks:

Well, the genre of the book is paranormal romance so I’m going to use some really curly font I found on 1001 fonts, because it looks paranormal-ish.

Like this:

vtks-38.regular vtks-beauty.regular billy-argel-font.regular

The rule keep it simple means: Let the image do the talking. Choose a font face which takes a back seat and doesn’t scream LOOK AT ME!!!! 

The rule make it legible means: Your readers have to be able to read it fairly easily.  The typeface is going to get completely lost if there’s already a lot going on in the imagery, so don’t be scared to pull it right back.

utopia.largeTypography rule 2: Don’t use more than three fonts, try and just use two

What is the main focus of your book cover, regarding type? It’s the title. If you decide on a decorative or distorted or flourishy font then use it for the title to bring it to attention. You can also combine a decorative font with a serif/sans serif font face in the title to create a bit of excitement, and you’ll see this done a lot in Romance.

The second focus is the author name. If you want to use the same or a different decorative font face for the name then you end up diluting the focus of the title. To support the title rather than fighting with it, go with a serif or sans serif font face. Your name can still be big if you want, but there is a hierarchy to everything.

Title is King, the name is Queen.

At the high court of typography if the Queen wants to look like the King then the people won’t know who to follow, or focus on.

The tagline needs to be smaller than the name and very easy to read. I suggest using the same font face as the name, if it is a serif or sans serif. Consider it a whisper, but it has to fit with everything else. By going for a third type face at this point can splinter the cover unnecessarily, especially if it’s a poor choice.

the_mad_ones.largeTypography rule 3: Your type should be a part of the design, not an afterthought. Integrate it.

A pet peeve of mine is when I see a piece of art work that’s been created specifically for a book cover, by an artist that is so talented I want to puke, and the title name and author is plastered on in five minutes, and it shows.

What is the relationship of the title to the image? Does it need to be in the same colour palette, placed carefully into the right corner, does it need to be big or small? Take care when choosing font faces and try different layouts. Just like writing you have to work through drafts before you find the right one.

we_must_love_one_another_or_die.largeTypography rule 4: Work with grids

Grids are used everywhere in design. You can head on over to The Grid System or Thinking With Type to see how extensive working with the grid can be.

Grids bring control and balance to design. Don’t be afraid of them but work within their boundaries. Set up some margins over your document and follow them to ensure the width and height of words, letters, and lines fall into the same structure.

You can follow this tutorial at typophile to figure out how to layout a grid in InDesign.

This tutorial shows you how to set them up in Photoshop.

the_thing_about_life_is_that_one_day_youll_be_dead.largeTypography rule 5: If unsure, get a professional to do it

If you’ve hired a professional illustrator for your cover, why aren’t you investing the same sort of time and money into a designer who really knows their typography stuff? Learning how to work with type takes time and experience, the greatest typographers can act like an invisible Superhero. They take out the baddies, but you never see them or hear about them.

It is the typography that can make or break a cover, in some instances. 

If you don’t have the knowledge, invest in it. I offer type-only book cover packages for a much cheaper price than my standard book cover packages.

 

This article is for those still learning design, or aren’t a designer and still want to give their book cover a crack. Once you get a handle on typography you can go ahead and break all of the guidelines I’ve mentioned here. Experiment with it, see what comes about. Learn from example and research other book covers, look to see how others have done it. You don’t have to start from scratch. You’re allowed to seek out inspiration, direction and motivation.

What are your experiences with typography? What have you learned along the way that you can share with others? What is a book cover you’ve seen where the typography makes or breaks it?

How does a book cover look in the early stages?


You’ve been waiting for it all week… the first visual concepts from your book cover designer… and they’re going to be AH-MA-ZING. You’ve seen everything else they’ve done and this is just going to be the icing on the cake.

A ping in your inbox; it’s here! You open it up and… what the hell is this?

pUxM5FY

Imagine that designing is just like writing (because it truly is).

The first drafts are always, always the worst.

You’ve been dreaming and imagining for a while now, expecting you’ll be overwhelmed with the first magical round of design, but that’s not how design works. Design is a collaboration, and requires input from two people: The designer and the client.

Step 1: Your expectations are too high

The first obstacle is that you’ll already have something in mind. Something that crosses all boundaries of standard design. You’re imagining the Willy Wonka magic ticket and setting yourself up for disappointment.

Willy wonka golden ticket

How to fix it: Enter your partnership with your designer knowing it is art, and art requires time, feedback, and development. Don’t expect your designer to create something off the bat that is 100% what you want because you’ll be writing yourself into a corner. Talking about, and working with the design, is normal.

Step 2: You lose trust in your designer

7bueiVm

The second obstacle is losing trust in your designer. Because your perfect book cover hasn’t immediately happened, the trust and confidence you had in your designer dims a little bit. You start asking yourself,

“How did we get here?” [Naturally. This is a part of the process.]

“Why did they misinterpret what I wanted?” [They didn’t. More communication is needed.]

“Should I have gone with someone else?” [No.]

How to fix it: Understand that this is part of the process. Remember, design is like writing. The first drafts are never the perfect ones, and the designer needs to start somewhere in order to work towards the final result you really love. You have to make the first step before getting to the top of the mountain, or something like that…

concept_rough_examples_scarlettrugers

Step 3: It looks low res and choppy

You were expecting perfection and it’s possible you got something with watermarks, low res images, and a whole lot of collage-like mess. They might have sent over three or four different designs, but they all look like this.

How to fix it: Let it go. If you’re responsible for purchasing stock images then the designer has to work with what they can (i.e.: low resolution, watermarked stock images) before you commit to the final concept and they can buy the high resolution images. Trust the process.

Step 4: There’s been a lack of communication

This cover isn’t what you were expecting at all. It has totally different concepts. You wanted people; they’ve put on scenery or use symbolic images.

I specifically wanted salmon

How to fix it: Did you tell them you wanted people? Did you share with them other covers you like that have models on them? Did they read the brief properly? It’s just down to communication. Before jumping the gun and telling them they did it all wrong, perhaps ask them to explain the concepts to you and why they went in this direction. They might just change your mind.

 

All of these conflicts can be solved with communication. Remember talk to your designer, ask questions. You aren’t expected to know how it works, that’s the designer’s job. And remember that design is an artistic job and will always need your direction and feedback to end up where you are totally happy with it.

Have you had a shock when dealing with designers? Ended up with something totally different? How did it work out for you?

Are book cover designers working for readers or authors?

The reader or the author
When I started designing I thought I knew everything. I thought I knew more than the author’s that I worked with, and I was the bees knees. But… with experience comes knowledge. The more I understand, the more I realise I don’t know shit! So I’m writing this article to share what I’ve learned with you, that there is no black and white answer. Yeah, there’s a lot of grey scale- but there’s a lot of good in that grey scale so don’t stop reading now…

Before self-publishing designers were hired directly by the publishing house and given a brief. Over time the book cover was designed and developed by the guidance of a head designer who knew about the publishing industry and how to communicate to readers.

When Penguin arrived on the scene in the early 1900s, with their simplistic paperbacks and clean outlines, it was obvious their trust in the book’s success lay implicitly in the literature between the two covers. Now a lot of the trust is gone. To an extent we must convince the reader that the work inside is a good one, so those simple, block colour, single type family covers don’t cut it any more.

Unless your name is known it is upon the shoulders of the designer to make the siren call to the readers. 

Why I’m asking this question: When an author comes to me to design their cover they often have an idea in mind. If they don’t, there is still a level of expectation remaining that I will do what they want, in a way they want it. They are, after all, my client and I’m here to work for them. But 90% of the time the author doesn’t know as much about book cover design as I do.

Case Study: Designing for the author

bookWhen the author comes to me it’s ultimately my responsibility to fulfil their needs. We’ve talked over ideas and I’ve gotten a general idea as to what they want for their cover. Some may even have a very specific idea for what they want which could be anything from a particular typeface, to a model, to a background.

The outcome for this case study is that the author is happy with the outcome.

Pros:

The author gets what they want

They feel proud to share their book cover

They feel like they contributed greatly to the process

They understand the connection between the final design and their book, they understand the message

If they have a background in design or art, they will already have a good understanding about what is needed for the cover

They know their book better than anyone else, and can give an informed opinion as to what will work best.

Cons:

Just because they understand the concept, doesn’t mean the reader will

The author may be stuck on wanting one single image, something they’ve put a lot of time and thought into, but may not be right for the design.

They run the risk of eliminating readers because of their biases, opinions, and personal judgements as to what they feel should or shouldn’t be on the cover.

Case Study: Designing for the reader

Although it may seem like the designer’s obligation is first to the author, we must consider the purpose of the design in the first place- which is for the reader. This requires a lot of trust on the part of the author, which is hard. No matter how great the artist, creating something from scratch is scary if you don’t know what to expect.

Pros:

The designer draws from experience and industry knowledge to design a cover that will target your readers.

Will offer concepts about your cover that you may not have considered

Will draw off themes from your book that you didn’t realise were in there

Gives a third party perspective

Makes decisions on layout, composition, typography, colour and semiotics

Interpret your story into a visual medium in the most simple form, for easy understanding.

Cons:

Well founded and considered opinions of the author may not be taken into account

The designer might believe the author doesn’t know as much as the designer does, when it’s important to take on all thoughts and ideas.

If the designer doesn’t have a lot of experience their interpretation of the brief may be unsuccessful.

 

I believe it is the designer’s responsibility to work with the author for the best outcome for the reader.

The reader’s delight is the true purpose of the project, not the author’s. But the author and designer must work together to get to that point, and have an open mind for it.

Each person brings their own knowledge and experience to the table, why discount it? This isn’t a war or a conflict but a great artistic collaboration. Great things can come out of it, so long as ears are open and everyone is open to change.

So when the author says,

“Look… I think it’s important to have the stencil typeface to show that it’s a military book, and combine that with the script type face, to show it’s romance.”

It’s important to listen to what the designer has to say. They can tell you why stencil and script typefaces don’t work together, and how tacky stencil font faces can be.

BUT I think it’s also important for the designer to at least give it a shot. They won’t truly know until they try it out.

So when the designer says,

“Look… I’ve used illustration on your chick lit book cover because it is an easily recognizable genre style and it shows a fun, frolicky side of your book. ”

It’s important to listen to what the author has to say. They can tell you why illustration might not be the best choice because, although they’re writing chick-lit, they know from the books that they read that photographs can be used just as well.

BUT consider the amount of research the designer has in the field, and that the book cover they designed for you has come together from comparison of others in your genre.

So when starting out with your designer it might be an idea to talk about who you feel is the priority in your project- is it you, or your readers? When you’ve figured it out, then you know how much input you should give your designer, and what kind of input.

Keep your readers in mind, figure out what they want and find out the best way to get there.

Do you feel it’s the reader or the author who the designer is working for? What’s your experience when designing a cover? Do you keep your readers in mind or find your own desires for the cover taking over?

10 Frequently Asked Questions About The Book Design Process (by authors I’ve worked with)

WFAQs from book cover designershen it comes to what author’s want to know there are some reoccurring themes. I’ll sum up the top 10 questions about the book cover design process that have been most asked by my clients so that you might have a bit of a head start when getting in touch with me, or another designer.

Disclaimer: These questions and answers come directly from my own experience and it may not be the same for other designers. Think of it more as a rough guide to other designers, and the definitive guide to working with Scarlett Rugers Design.

  1. What do you need from me?

    1. Your title
    2. Your name
    3. A synopsis of what your story is about. The general overtones.
    4. Any ideas you may have
    5. Any examples which support those ideas
  2. How long will it take?

    First concepts take 7-10 working days to develop. Once I send them over I then make changes and adjustments within 24-48 hours (normally within a day). From there it really depends on your own schedule. Some authors like to take an hour to respond with their feedback, some like to take a week. Sometimes real life gets in the way and you have to go on hiatus. I have some book covers that are wrapped up in two weeks, some that take five months. Book cover design is not supposed to be rushed. It is an art form and needs time, patience and dedication.

  3. Will you read my book? Will you give me a review/your opinion on it?

    shutterstock_94351819_400

    So long as you send it to me, yes I will read it. I need a couple of weeks to read it over, as I will be working through your MS as well as many others in preparation of their book cover design launch.
    Will I give my opinion and/or a review? No. To keep things as professional as possible I do not share my personal opinion of you work. I use it as a tool to guide me in the right direction but I will not share with you or publicly what I think of your book. It just comes down to a conflict of interest, and respecting the bond between designer and author.

  4. Do you think this is the right title?

    I might seem like the right person to discuss if it’s the right title for you, because I deal with them so often, but I’m not.

    1. Title comes under copy, and I deal with design, not copy. Although I, myself, am an experienced writer my practised skills and expertise are in a visual field, not a text field.
    2. A title is also an incredibly personal thing, and it is your most dedicated readers and close writers who should share their opinions with you.
    3. I’m not your demographic. If you are publishing a heavy science-fiction novel, you wouldn’t ask a reader of romance their thoughts on the title, and vice-versa.

  1. Can you please tell me what you think of the blurb?

    Please re-read point 4. Your editor is the best person to talk through this with you as they know your book as well as you do, but can come at it from a 3rd party POV.

  2. When do I make the payment?

    It is a 50% deposit up front, and then 50% at the end of the project before the final transfer of files.

  3. I don’t know my final page count yet, and I won’t know it for a while, is that a problem?

    That’s very normal, especially if you’re looking to do an eBook release prior to the paperback. I can use a .5″ spine until you give me the final page count.

  4. How quickly do you need feedback from me?

    I don’t work with any deadlines, so I’m very flexible. Book cover design is not a rush job, and sometimes it can take a long time. Getting feedback from outside sources, getting polled responses, sharing it with beta readers, sharing it with your family, working through your editing, marketing and planning for the initial release… all of this takes time. You take as long as you need to, to send me your feedback.

  5. Can you make it look exactly like this book cover on someone else’s book? Or even like this, but with some flying monkeys, some romance, and I want it to show action and I want it to show my characters exactly as I imagine them, and there’s also a death in there so add that in too.

    This is where I come in. I read your book, analyse your brief, hear your ideas, and tell you when there’s too much/too little/too conflicting and realign ourselves with the true purpose of your book cover. This may mean working with your ideas, it may mean refining them into something that will work magic.

  6. What do you need for the promotional extras that come along with my book cover package?

    They’re promotional extras which you’ve going to scatter throughout the internet. The standard extras my packages come with are:

    1. Facebook cover
    2. Web banner
    3. A3 poster
    4. Bookmarks
    5. Your choice (if those 4 aren’t what you need)

    So you have to ask yourself, “When am I going to be using these?” Are you running a promotion, where you need to add a date/location? Do you want your website address on there? Do you need a block of room where you can put in your own copy, and chop and change it whenever you need to?

What additional questions would you add to the list? Do you have anything that you’ve wanted to ask a designer but haven’t had the chance?

One thing to make your book cover better in 10 seconds


There’s one major thorn that is sticking out of the DIY thumb, when it comes to self-publishers giving their own cover design a crack. It happens over and over again. I browse self-publishing forums and see book covers posted up, the author looking for feedback, and this one piece of design tactic is always missing. What is it?

Hierarchy.

What the hell am I talking about?

Definition of hierarchy: any system of persons or things ranked one above another.
In this instance, I’m talking visual hierarchy. It is the way elements are organized to let us know what is most important, to least important, in the design.

On a book cover, what is the most important element? The title. There can be images, or no images, but there must be a title. Seth Godin’s book Poke the Box has no title at all on the cover- which further emphasizes the importance of it since it’s such a break from tradition. In Seth’s instance, the lack of title makes us immediately intrigued and will go on a search for it.

The problem:

If you don’t have a background in design you may not be aware of how important hierarchy is. Design is a visual language, but authors are used to working with words, not images. Text is laid out without any thought of how it relates to the images, all the words are big, there’s a mix of information, emphasize is made on the wrong element.

Here are some examples I’ve mocked up:

V1: The text feels like it’s yelling at us. We don’t know where to look first. Is that a series tag or does it actually belong with the title?

gardenpath1

V2: The name has more emphasis than the title. If you’re a huge best seller, then go for it. Stephen King is the ruler of his domain and can have his title at about 1/10th the size of his name, but there’s a good chance that you’re not there just yet (yet). So we need to bring the title into focus, and let the name take a back seat.

edgesoflight1

V3: Everything is white, and flat. There’s no interaction or relationship between the image and the type.

gunnar1

V4: Interior Layout: How your book will look with everything at the same size

interiorlayout_examples

The Solution:

Remember, type has a really important role to play in book design. It’s the most important factor- above the graphics. If it’s not legible, and not readable, it’s not doing its job.

In design there’s a theory that is used as the basic, most simple guidelines, called the Gestalt Principles. There’s tonnes of information about it online, so I won’t go through it here, but it outlines how to help your audience interact with your design.

Emphasis and importance can be (briefly) outlined by:

Placement-

Are there elements on the page that are close together, or are they far apart? Is one shape or element different to all of the others?

Size-

Is everything the same size, or is there a heading, and a sub heading, and general text? Is size used to convey figure and ground (foreground and background? Something close to you, and something small in the distance?)

Colour-

Is there contrast between the elements, or are they all the same colour? Is there a bolder colour on the title, or is it softer?

Typeface-

Is the title typeface simple or decorative? Is the name typeface more decorative than the title? Are there more flourishes on one word than another?

Here are the examples again, using the Gestalt Principles and working with hierarchy. You should now be able to clearly identify what is the most important element in design, and what is the least.

gardenpath2edgesoflight2gunnar2

If you’re going to design your book cover yourself, then this should be your first port of call when figuring out layout. You don’t even have to decide on your font faces yet, this is just to do with visual communication.

Imagine your text as an image, that it is not read but simply looked upon as a picture. With everything else involved- what is the most important element and what is the least?

 

What do you find is the most important principle of hierarchy in design? Do you find it is something easy to tackle, or challenging? What covers have you seen that perfectly displays the principles, or a lack thereof?