It goes without saying that a book cover plays a very important part in how your book is received. Yet many authors, especially those who self-publish and have a role to play in the design of the book cover, consider it an inconvenience that comes in the way of getting their book out into the market. Given the freedom to do so, many would use freely available templates or images downloaed from the net and slap it onto the cover. Nothing could be more harmful to the success of your book than such a hastily (and badly) designed cover.

Here is a quick checklist to consider while designing your cover:

a. Stick to one element: Choose an element (or feature) of your book that is perhaps its best selling proposition. Resist the temptation to include everything within the cover. Usually, with covers, less is more.

b. Design for the full cover: Cover designers sometimes forget that a cover is made of the front cover, back cover, and spine (and the flaps, if those exist). The cover should therefore be designed in toto. A cover whose front and back look distinctly different does not sit well with many buyers, and conveys an impression of bad design.

c. Design for the genre: The book cover should convey the genre of the book, to the extent possible. Using a good mix of typography and imagery, an accurate metaphor of the book (and its genre) must be conveyed.

d. Pay attention to the spine: On many bookshelves, it is the spine that holds out so pay attention to what you include in it. At the least, try to incorporate the author and title. You should be able to read the title left to right when the book sits on its back cover (with the front cover pointing upwards). Like we mentioned above, unless you have good reason, the spine should blend with the rest of the cover.

e. Do not crowd out the back cover: Use the space on the back cover to include a synopsis of the book, a small bio, perhaps, of the author, even some blurbs from people who are easily recognized (or provide an introductory line from them). However, you should resist the temptation to include too much text. Adequate space should be left for the publisher’s logo, the barcode and the price.

f. Pay attention to bleed and type safety: This ensures that sections of the cover that you wish to retain do not get cut off during the trimming process (while the cover is made).’

g. Typographic covers can leave a lasting impact too: While most designers are tempted to use only images for their covers, a good typographic design can have an equally powerful impact.

Here are a few of the covers we have designed:

  • The Vanishing Stripes

Check out the Book Cover Archive for good ideas on how to develop a book cover. Or read this article for a deeper understanding of book cover design.

Here are other examples of book covers on Flickr and Pinterest.

Among the many questions that we receive from authors wishing to self-publish is one that compares apples to cars: “What is the difference between self-publishing and print-on-demand?”

There is a world of difference between the two processes although one often encompasses the other. First let us consider self-publishing.

Self-publishing is when the author takes it upon himself (or herself, although henceforth, for convenience sake, only the masculine pronoun will be used) to publish his own book. Unlike the traditional mode of publishing, where the publisher invests its money into a book written by the author, here the author invests his own money. Consequently, he has to ensure that the book is properly produced, and distributed.

During this production process, the book, should the author choose to have printed copies of his book, needs to be, well, printed. Here’s where print on demand, a technology that allows as many copies as needed, even one, to be printed, can be employed. An alternative to printing on demand is to print a large quantity of books (print in bulk).

So when would one choose to print on demand? Consider the following instances:

a. An author, unable to meet the costs of printing in bulk, decides to list his book for sale on a web portal and gets the book printed post-sale.

b. An author employs a digital-first approach (i.e. primarily producing the book as an e-book) and prints only a few copies to promote the book, or for family and friends.

c. An author decides to limit sale of his book to just a few bookstores in the vicinity (probably because the book touches on a very local topic) and prints only a few copies for that purpose.

d. An author, in order to avoid shipping, arranges for the book to printed in the buyer’s location and shipped to him.

e. More importantly, an author opts to print on demand because POD allows copies to be printed and distributed while still limiting investments. So while the unit costs of a copy printed using POD technology will be more as compared to the cost of copies printed in bulk, the total cost of printing will be lesser.

So, imagine you have written a book and have decided to take the self-publishing route. You get your book edited, lay out your text, design your cover and approach the printers. You see a market for only 100 copies (for argument’s sake) but your printer says you must print a minimum of 500 copies. The cost of each copy is small, say Rs. 40 per book, but having to print 500 copies means a total investment of Rs. 20,000/- upfront. You are not sure if all the copies will sell but that is a gamble you are forced to take. Besides the money for printing, you also have to pay for its transporation and have sufficient space for its storage. And hope to God all copies sell.

Or imagine your book is made available for sale on a few online bookstores. When a book is sold on these platforms, the book is printed (on demand, POD) and dispatched to the buyer. Because the buyer has already paid for the book, you, the author, do not have to spend on its printing. In this case, the same book that cost Rs. 40 when printed in bulk might, for example, cost around Rs. 120/- when just one copy is printed (using POD technology). But because 500 copies have not been printed, the author has to spend lesser (Rs. 120 instead of Rs. 20,000/-) and not have to worry about shipping and storage costs, or about whether or not the remaining copies will get sold.

To exercise the option of printing on demand or not, is a choice that you, as an author, has to take very seriously, as your decision will impact the MRP of the book. While POD is a term sometimes used to denote small quantities (“print runs”) upto even 500, note that a company promising POD should give you the option of printing even one copy (maybe a maximum of two) at a time. The cost of this one copy should then dictate your MRP, even if you choose to exercise this option (of POD) at a later date. That means, if you print 500 copies at X and plan to print one copy at a time at, say, 3X, after the 500 copies are exhausted, your MRP should be governed after factoring in 3X as cost of printing.

POD, when used judiciously, can prove to be an excellent tool to get your book to market fast and at a low cost. You can make it work well for you.

picture credit: www.unsplash.com

If you have decided to opt for the self-publishing route for your book, chances are there have been many people who have advised you on how you should proceed. If you asked us, for example, we would have advised you not to adopt a package-based approach. And to make sure your book was edited.

But what about things you should not do? Things vital to the process that you should not miss out on? Here’s a small list we put together, of what not to do if you are self-publishing.

a. Do not underestimate the value of “learning how to write”: Yes, you heard it right. Writing is a craft that must be developed, then honed. A good writer understands that and seeks to improve at every step, without assuming that writing “comes naturally.” A lot of effort goes into developing a good narrative, then writing a good book, and an author would do well not to take this task (of writing) lightly. Moreover, the nuances of syntax and grammar have to be correctly understood so as to be able to communicate your thoughts and views accurately.

It is always advised that you complete your book and put it away before you approach any publisher. This is your book, there will always be the temptation to make a change here or correct a sentence there. Resist that temptation unless the suggestion comes from an editor (see point f. below). We therefore suggest you put away the book after making all the changes and reading it one last time.

Completing your book before submitting it to a publisher not only means that the publisher has a completed product to work with, it also allows the publisher to work unhindered. Repeated changes during the process introduce the possibility of delay and the possibility that some of your changes are not reflected in your book, given the many versions that might be floating around. Many self-publishing service providers now charge for changes in manuscript if they are introduced after the publishing process has begun.

b. Do not assume you cannot do it yourself: While there are many self-publishing service providers who can help you publish your book, you should not assume you cannot have the book published yourself. These service providers help by aggregating all services at one place, making it convenient for you. But if that is your style, you can get a book edited, its cover and interior designed, and the book printed all by yourself. You won’t be the first one doing it.

c. Do not skip on the research: Assuming that you have decided to engage a service provider to assist you with the publishing process, do not settle for the first one you have heard about, or the first in the list when you search for one on Google. Once you have found a service provider, look for many reviews of their performance, not just one. Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of questions you should ask any service provider before you engage them. In any case, you need to know what are the costs involved (and decide for yourself if all costs have been explained to you), what are the estimated timelines involved, what level of marketing and distribution will be provided, and what is the general image of the company among its authors. Ask them to show you their portfolio, so you can make an informed decision on the quality of their work. Browse through their website to understand if they are transparent about their processes.

While on the topic of research, if your book is based on events and occurrences, or people and places, make sure all your facts are checked.

d. Do not forget to sign an agreement, before work on your book commences: This is perhaps one of the most important “do nots” in this list. Before beginning any kind of work on your manuscript and before making any payment to the service provider, ensure that you are party to an agreement with the service provider. Read the agreement properly – it is very often an online agreement, that you just “agree to”, so make sure you read what you are signing up for. (We get queries from many authors who have, for instance, signed off their ability to publish elsewhere.) This agreement should, ideally, clearly spell out all the deliverables expected of the service provider, wherever it is possible to provide such clarity. It should also tell you what you can and cannot do with your book. The agreement should be signed by the person leading the company, not an employee who might soon leave that company and have no legal liability. You should keep a hard copy of the agreement, signed by both parties, for yourself.

e. Do not pay for all services at one go: Although you will not be able to do this with service providers who deal with packages, it is wise to pay as you go, each time for the next service down the process. This means you pay for editing, and only after the manuscript is edited pay for cover design before that process begins. That way you have a handle on expenditures and you will know if you are being charged extra. If there is a request for extra charges, make sure you understand why you are being charged (it would have been better if you had anticipated this and asked beforehand if there would be an extra charge).

If you agree to pay all at one go, you should have a more compelling reason than to say “they asked me to”. You should want to pay all at one go, not be forced to. There are reasons for authors wishing to pay a lump sum amount but these are exceptional cases rather than  the norm. For example, an author might be going abroad for a while and wish to make all payments before he leaves. Or an author has crowdfunded the book and must pay it all together. But whether to pay together or in staggered amounts is your decision to make; it cannot, and should not, be forced upon you.

f. Do not skip on editing: This is advice you will hear often, and if you are serious about ending up with a good book, we think it is advice you should take. And it’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes look at the manuscript. Nothing turns away a reader, or makes a lasting bad impression, than a book that is badly edited and, therefore, is replete with spelling mistakes and bad grammatical usage. Take all your time during the editing process to ensure that your book is rid of all errors. In the self-publishing process, you, as an author, are required to approve of the changes that are being made. Take the time to read and understand why a change is being suggested, and only after you are convinced, approve of it.

g. Do not agree for a cover that’s not specifically designed for your book: A cover template might do when you wish to cut costs but otherwise make sure you have a cover designed that reflects your tastes and accurately represents the book. In any case, don’t settle for a collage of cliparts or other “pre-fabricated” graphics. Pay a lot of attention to the back cover text. Here too, make sure the back cover text is edited. This is the first text a potential buyer will read and you don’t want a spelling mistake or grammatical error turning her away.

h. Do not ignore copyright concerns: This starts with you – do not give in to any temptation to mimic or imitate writing styles or copy conversation snippets when writing your book. If you are using borrowed texts (whether quotes or speeches or song lyrics), make sure you have the permissions to do so. Ditto with images and other graphical elements that you may use within the book, or on its cover. Remember, Google images are not all copyright free. Similarly, when you are getting your cover designed by your service provider, make sure they are sticklers for copyright guidelines too. In matters like this, it is better to be safe than sorry. In fact, a well-written agreement will ask authors to testify that all material in the book is their own.

i. Do not be pressured into printing a fixed number of books: As an author, you should be able to decide how many copies of your book should be printed. Do not allow yourself to be coerced into printing a certain number of books. Since the quantity of books printed (print run) will affect the price of the book, it might be a good idea to print a quantity that allows you to have a low price. Nonetheless, the various costs and their impact on the price should be explained to you so that you can decide what quantity to print.

j. Do not be coerced into buying a marketing package you cannot understand: It is a fact that a marketing outcome cannot be certain, and cannot guarantee sales of a certain quantum. However, if you are being offered a marketing solution, ask what it will do for you and how it will help your book particularly. You might be told that it will attract a certain number of views or click-throughs. That’s fair enough. These are good metrics to go by and, in fact, you should be worried if someone is promising you a definite sales volume. In any case, make sure you know what you are getting for the money you are paying.

At the end of the day, it is important that you enjoy the publishing process you have chosen to undertake. You have probably enjoyed the process of writing your book, the publishing process should not take away that joy from you. We hope this list of don’ts ensures that you have an enjoyable time publishing your book.

picture credit: https://stocksnap.io