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May 11, 2009


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Point taken on the editing :(

Ha! It wasn't aimed at you, or any individual in particular. My frustration comes out of the fact that I want to support self-published authors and give them a bit of airtime but so many of them let themselves down.

Now, it is unfair to expect them to be as good as books from big publishers. Big publishers have teams of people working on all aspects of the publishing process. But with covers, it just takes a pair of eyes to realise that what you have produced isn't up to scratch.

I do see some good self-published covers. From Zaftig to Aspie was a good one, clearly whoever designed it had looked at what was on the market which puts it leagues ahead of most.

I'd love to help self-published authors more. I just wish they'd help themselves.

Probably spot on. However, part of the problem with covers for self-published offerings probably lies in persuading a potential designer to read the book, or at least a sufficient amount of the text, to get a good enough feel for the work. If, as you say, 90% of self-pubbed books are shit, then at the point when required to read the material it surely follows that 90% of honest designers are going to walk away. And writers don't have sufficient experience (if any) of drafting design briefs. It's tricky - emergent writers are consistently advised to not worry their heads - nor even think about jacket designs - as they will not have any say whatsoever over any final design. Then if, or when, it comes to self-pubbing they're supposed to know enough to be able to brief a designer. Know any good practical books on jacket design you could recommend to self-pubbing writers?

p.s. Why show off chart position 13 at Top Book Sites? If you visit the site and click general in the drop-down menu Me & My Big Mouth comes out Number 1?

HP - you make a very good point about design briefs. In my experience designers can make wonderful covers without ever reading a word of the book. Others make a point of reading them and that is great, often producing something much more closely linked to the text.

But a good designer will, more often than not, get a good brief out of you. I would highly recommend Snowbooks who have a first rate design service and a briefing form that is both simple to use and detailed. You can see their stuff at http://www.snowbooks.com/angels_design.html.

Liam Relph is a young designer who really tries to get under the skin of the books he works on. He has done a number of covers for us, including The Third Pig Detective Agency which is a cracker. He doesn't have a website yet but I can pass on his details to anyone who wants them.

Oh, and the blog ranking thing is just a bit of fun. I only signed up a week or so ago so my stats are catching up with the others.

Thank you, Scott. Absolutely bloody brilliant! And, unfortunately so true. The trouble is that too few writers bother to learn about publishing and book-selling. I tell everyone to work for at least a year on the shop floor of Waterstone's or Borders before they even think of writing a novel. Or at least visit a bookshop more than once.

Pedantic nit-picker that I am, I have one or two rservations about the cover of my soon-to-be-published novel but at least it looks hugely professional and was designed by a proper grown-up design company. Thank you Myrmidon and Black Sheep.

Harsh but fair.

I have self-published a children's book and I am very proud of the book and its cover, which incidentally, is doing quite well with the second in the series due out soon.

I would love to find a mainstream publisher, but as you must know, this is not the easiest thing to do.

At a Waterstone's signing during the Christmas period, I outsold the likes of Paul O'Grady, Parkinson and all those Christmas wonders that sit in the window over the festive season.

I do agree with you on several points Scott, but what a shame you couldn't write without the use of profound language.

Forthright, and so true. Thanks for spelling it out, Scott. This is something I try to tell authors all the time but the message is so hard to get across. Unfortunately a lot of people CAN'T see the difference... and they don't understand why they should have to pay a fair fee to get a professional job done.

It doesn't matter how fantastic the content is - readers really do judge a book by its cover, so if the cover's no good then a reader is not going to pick up the book to see that fantastic content, let alone bother to go to the tills and buy it.

There are always exceptions, but mostly the chances of selling something which looks amateurish and homemade are virtually zero, and this makes the whole venture a sad waste of time and money. Selling books is really tough. The competition is fierce, and if self-publishers want to sell their books and try to compete with the mainstream, then they have to do everything they can to level the playing field - and the start of that is making self-published books look as professionally-produced as those being published by the mainstream. Good cover design + careful editing + clever and opportunistic marketing might mean that a self-publisher stands a chance of breaking even on their publishing venture.

OK, so I meant PROFANE language!!!!!!!!

You are quite right about the editing!!

Helen B, I am glad you meant profane, I am rarely profound.

I make no apologies, the clue is in the name of the blog, but I am pleased that you agree with my main point and delighted to hear that your book is doing so well. There are some really good ones out there.

Harsh but fair. Helen B, I suspect Scott uses such language to shock, and that's a good thing because - quite frankly - the *last* thing authors need is cossetting, or being told by wife/husband/favourite aunt that the book looks 'great' when in fact it looks dreadful.

Scott, you should also mention price point. If the cover is good, the customer will pick the book up, flip it over and read the back. They then make a decision on price. And they expect to see something around £7.99. If it's in the £10-£15 range, forget it. It's too big a risk on an unknown author. And that was *before* last year.

I think the reason that authors drop the ball on the cover is a misunderstanding about cost. By the time the book is ready to publish, quite a bit of blood,sweat and cash will already have parted company, and they are (quite understandably) keen to see the bl**dy thing published - and reluctant to part with yet more cash. But it really is a ha'pennyworth of tar. Helen's points are spot on. It's a fiercely competitive marketplace and you can't duck the cover design. The best place to start is your nearest bookshop.

(I'm also constantly amazed by the number of self-published authors who don't visit bookshops - but that's a whole other topic).

A few months ago, we had a local author come into the shop and when I pointed out - as subtley as I could - that the cover let it down, I got a lecture from her about how the cover shouldn't matter. I agreed that the cover *shouldn't* matter, but it does. We commented on how the cover price was too expensive for a paperback (£12). She explained that she had to price it like that to recoup costs.

In the end I agreed to stock the book as an experiment. I read it, attempted to hand-sell it - no-one bought it. I reduced the price, just to see what would happen. No sales. Table, face out, spine out - nothing.

In the end the (extremely harsh) lesson here is, that by the time you've published the book, got a professional cover done, priced it correctly - there is almost no chance you will make money or possible even recoup your costs. At this point, as an author (and more fundamentally as a writer) you have to ask yourself one or two very awkward questions: why do you want to be published? If it's to get rich or famous, there may be easier ways to do both.

BTW, I can thoroughly recommend "A Seriously Useful Author's Guide to Marketing and Publicising Books" - ISBN: 9781848761513. Bang up to date, with a great section on cover design. Published incidentally by Troubador who are the gold standard in self-pubbing (IMHO). The author Mary Cavanagh has walked the walk. We've got copies in the shop of course...

When doing an internship in a literary agency last summer one of the submissions that came through consisted of a chapter outline plan, a blurb, NO sample chapters (he hadn't actually written the book yet) and a REALLY bad amateurish-looking cover design that looked like it had been made in Windows Paint, not even Photoshop. It was for a non-fiction/novelised real-life story, but still, submitting a badly self-designed cover when trying to get an agent for a book you haven't even written yet has to be one of the best/worst examples of someone just not doing any research into the industry they're trying to get in to and guaranteeing themselves no success in the process. Shame, as the premise was quite interesting. And if he ends up self-publishing he definitely won't get anywhere with that cover.

Is tomorrow's letter to other publishers? (Have you SEEEEEN some of the commercial covers lately? - silly question!)

Bit harsh on school textbook cover designers perhaps? They've come a long way since I (and presumably your good self) attended school ...

Sad but true comments. Only too often self published writers forget that they need to be publishers, not just writers. So they need to factor in all the elements that make a bestseller - the PR, the marketing, the distribution, the design etc. Check out David Eldridge of Two Associates (www.twoassociates.co.uk) - he is the best in the business and works for both publishers and also individuals. I work as a literary agent and am also a co-founder of the www.londonwritersclub.com and am finding that self published authors are increasing in numbers so its time to make the books look as professional as trade published books.

Mark T-- interesting experiment, thanks for sharing the details as these tidbits are interesting and informative to read about.

I kinda agree with the commercial cover comment too. BTW, does anyone know of any famous or well-known artists that work on cozies? Yes, cozies. It came up because there's a guy I know highlighting sci/fi fantasy artists on his blog and on the BSCReview site. I thought about highlighting/discussing cozy artists only...when I looked under the cover...it seems names are rarely mentioned. Curious about why and how that is because obviously it's done a bit differently than the fantasy genre.

It always amazes me the number of novels that end up using the same photos and or paintings as their cover, just cropped in a different way. i realise there are only so many images to go round, but you never see this with cd covers

I can kind of understand it with U2 after all they have world to save!

Catching up with the various comments here....

"From Zaftig to Aspie" had a fantastic cover, which I liked very much indeed.

Mark Thornton wrote, "A few months ago, we had a local author come into the shop and when I pointed out - as subtley as I could - that the cover let it down, I got a lecture from her about how the cover shouldn't matter. I agreed that the cover *shouldn't* matter, but it does."

I disagree with you here, Mark: I think that the cover SHOULD matter. It's the bookshop-equivalent of the query letter: it tells the potential reader an awful lot about the book that they're considering buying, and is the first point of reference that readers have when choosing books to buy (apart from reviews, of course, but that's a whole other story).

If a writer is prepared to work hard, for quite some time, on their manuscript, why then slap any old cover onto it under the impression that it will do? This makes me think that the writing "will do" too, which isn't the case at all.

I am ready to self publish/or be published but am put off by the look of the covers on self pubbed books. I did not know what the answer was - we don't all have money to spend on designers. Not many of us have money to spend on self publishing either.
What with paying for the editing, then the publishing and design of the cover, it all gets a bit self indulgent. I think I will press the delete button, stop sitting at the computer and spend the money on building an orpanage in India.

It's not only the cover, but the spine as well. Most books don't get front table or face out displays, and the only bit of literary real estate the reader gets to see is the spine jammed in among other hopeful spines on the bookshop's shelves.

Covers (of which spines are a part) are hugely important. They're the book's only chance to make a good first impression. No wonder publishers spend so much money on them.

I was that man! I did an outdated cover, didn't get a copy editor ... and made just about every other mistake going. However, as someone else has commented, self publishing is not about writing the book - it's about publishing it. A publisher (whatever type) is presumably producing the book in an effort to make money. In order to make money, one must do some marketing. Where most self published authors fail is not in the writing, editing or cover - it's in the marketing and promotion.

I'm living proof that a poorly edited book with a mediocre cover will sell if you work hard enough at the marketing. However, I should add that I did go back and do the editing and replace the cover on later editions to preserve a modicum of self esteem!!

As an aside, I've recently sold the translation rights to the four self published books I produced to Random House in Germany, so good things can come to those who work hard.

I should also add that it was on the strength of Scott's advice that I spent a lot of money on the re-worked cover ... and it paid off in spades.

Jane - we have an unpublished manuscript (i.e. a pre-proof) from a well-known children's author that we are all enjoying in the shop at the moment. This is the proverbial printed-out ream of A4 hole-punched and bound together with string. It's a fab read - the cover on this occasion is irrelevant. I think that was the point I was trying to make about the fact that the cover shouldn't matter. But you are correct about the query-letter. The less well-known you are, the harder your cover needs to work for you.

It's not just the cover design though. It's a whole slew of familiar pointers to the seasoned book-buyer: genre-identifier, price-point, well-crafted blurb and cover quotes. I half-joke to self-published authors that even if the only quote they've got is from their Mum, stick it on the cover - a book with no cover quotes makes the browser slightly uneasy.

Brenda - you need to ask yourself why you are writing, and why you want to be published.

Mark - I happen to know from a 'mutual contact' how superbly you market your books and engage with your readership. So for you to reinforce the 'proper cover' message is very powerful indeed.

I believed having a strong cover for my POD book would help attract readers. I've stuck a link below so people can see the cover if they're interested.


Did it work? well I managed to get the book onto several branches of Waterstones (including their flagship branch in piccadilly). I've done two Waterstones signings and had the book reviewed by two branch managers. Both managers told me that having a cover that A) was eye catching and B) did not scream 'Self Published' helped put the book on the shelves.

It was a lesson I took to heart.

Barry, that is a striking cover. Nice job.

Cheers Scott!

One of the things the Waterstone's manager said to me was that a lot of her customers aren't bothered if a book is self published. However if the cover screams this is a self published work (she showed me some examples that weren't selling at all) then most will not bother picking it up.

(by the way the url was spelt wrong in the previous message. It should be ok now if you ever want to check out the book's website)


I would suggest that everyone who is self published look at every way to market their book once it is ready to publish. Publishing on the amazon.com site for Kindle is cheap, there are many major authors who do not publish their books in Kindle format, you have a much better chance in getting the exposure you need to make more sales - plus, you don't have to do any shipping.

Check out my website: www.Kindilicious.com. We will convert your book so that it will look professional when someone downloads it from amazon.com. We have real word customers and you can ask for references if you like as in all things on the web, there are a lot of scams.

Thank you for your time - market those books.

PS. a recent converted book "Blog Your Book to the Top" is now number 66 on the kindle list!! We converted that one also.

Jane, I have been trying to self publish my children's book. It was considered by Blackie years ago but I was ill and couldn't rewrite/edit it. But now, going down the self pub route I have just realised what it costs and to hold a few copies of my book for family and that moment we dream of in a bookshop is an indulgence, and I know that I can build an orphanage in India for £6000 - and an orphanage that is run by some americans has 29 children and they all live on such a tiny amount of money and he knows if he could get a bigger place he could house 100 children - maybe that is why I too have procrastinated for so long and am tempted to dump it in the bin!!

Hi Scott

A&C Black are commissioning me to write a book on Getting Published. (I'm a novelist, a non-fiction author, and run the Writers' Workshop - a large literary consultancy).

In that book, I'm going to have a chapter on self-publishing. And in that chapter I'd love to quote your letter above in full - or at least, in full, if my editor doesn't object to a certain four letters of it. Is that OK with you? I'll credit you in the proper manner, of course. Thanks

Harry (Bingham)

Your message is spot on and hit a chord. However, there are a lot of sharks out there wanting to rake money in from the great unwashed masses of the self-published author. I sent off a chapter to 4 on-line editors, all wanting $1000 to edit my book and they all came back with different edits. It made me wonder which, if any was correct.

It is the same with cover designers. They will churn out anything and quickly to make money.

My problem was writing a trilogy and that quadruples the costs. (I have an omnibus version). Authors only make about 1$ per book so it takes an awful long time to recover costs.

Having said all this it is rewarding when you get good reviews. My book, the Prophecy of the Kings, has received some extremely good reviews (and one or two bad ones). Check it out on my website (and let me know what you think of my covers) http://davidburrows.org.uk/

Saw this flagged on twitter today. Good points - needed to be made. We do ourselves no favours as self-publishers if we do not produce as excellent and professional a book as our funds allow. I paid for a cover designer and editor. It'll be a while before I recoup (if I ever do) financially but at this stage in my writing career it's about investment rather than income.

Keep that big mouth blaring. It talks a lot of sense.

I also work in self-publishing and I love books and I am a writer. My blog began as a resource for self-published writers and then it devolved into a "Dear Self-Publishing Author" mini-rant. If you're interested: sabrinaplots.blogspot.com

The comments to this entry are closed.

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    Very dark. Very funny. (****)

  • : Somersault

    Australian indie film from a decade ago. Spellbinding central performance from Abbie Cornish. Well worth seeking out. (****)

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