Self-Publishing & Merchandising : A Book’s Interior Design

When we speak of books, we mostly speak of them as one of two things: an object, made up of surfaces and contours and textures, or as a vehicle for ideas.  We rarely pause to consider the interior design of a book, unless of course it is a book that draws attention with smart graphic design and accentuation.  What readers and producers of comic books, graphic novels, and illustrated fiction take for granted, the prose community has by and large neglected; that is, when we crack open the cover of a new book by Hugh Howey or Rachel Swaby or Sarah Taylor, we forget that every letter on those pages, every jot of ink and swathe of white space, has to be carefully arranged in order to make for a pleasant––and submersive––reading experience.

For the self-published author, a book’s interior aesthetic can spiral out of control quickly.  This is because a self-published author is not, generally speaking, a renaissance man with phenomenal powers of writing and artistry and graphic design.  A beautiful cover may seem like a more worthwhile use of a self-published author’s limited time.  Though there may be the rare exception, the average person who chooses (or is required by circumstances) to bypass traditional publishing also lacks the legion of highly specialized editorial staff who comb through manuscripts and ARCs looking for even the tiniest flaw––an orphan sentence, a snafu in line spacing, you name it.  And believe me, even though we don’t tend to think of readers as detail freaks, they have a sensitive nose for anything that feels “off.”  Your job as a self-published author is to keep your reader reading your book, not caught up in the intricacies of its design.  For that reason, a book’s interior should look as polished as possible.

Here are a few tips:

1. Choose your typeface carefully.

Whether you decide to opt for a serif or a sans-serif typeface, make sure you know what it will look like on whole blocks of text at once––pages and pages of text.  Also keep in mind that while sans-serif fonts have a sort of “cool” factor and are often evocative of popular science and science-fiction––and therefore add a dash of visual interest as well as genre resonance––serif fonts are actually easier to read at length.  That’s what the serif tags are there for, to help your eyes track seamlessly from one letter to the next.  Still, your choice will come down largely to preference (mine is for Monotype Bell and MVB Sirenne, both of which read well in multiple sizes, as well as in italicized passages and headings).

2. … And about those headings?

Not every book uses chapter headings on every page.  Take a look at the books in your genre, to get a feel for what’s normal there.  I’ve found in my collection that there’s a tendency toward headings in nonfiction and certain chapter-driven science fiction pieces, but that for the most part, fiction sticks with simple page numbers.  Also keep in mind that your inclusion (or exclusion) of headers and the positioning of your page number will affect your margins.  It’s absolutely essential that you leave extra white space on the edge of the page with a page number or heading––both of these things are considered extensions of your typewritten page, and they affect the eye as such.

3. Margins do deserve the attention, I promise.

Take a look at the nearest book.  (In my case, it’s Howey’s Wool.)  Compare the inside margins of the pages (the ones adjoining the binding) to the outside margins (the ones your thumbs touch as you flip pages).  In the standard book, the standard traditionally published book, those inside margins are significantly larger.  This is to allow the book’s binding to curve as you crack open the spine, letting the pages curl away and yet remain readable.  It is not uncommon for self-published authors to forget this tiny detail, and for the book to suffer for it.  If I have one piece of advice for authors looking to format their own books, it’s this: Don’t sacrifice your margins––for anything.  Yes, it’s cheaper to pack in more words per page, and so to save on printing fees.  But I promise, more people will want to buy your book if they pick it up and it feels gracious, spacious, and easy to read.  It’s wise to aim for about 12 words per line of text––this is the standard in traditional publishing, for good and time-honored reasons.

4. Justify your paragraphs.

Take a moment to modify your text alignment from “left” to “justified.”  This means that your text still begins at the left-hand margin of the page, but that it’s right-hand side also ends at its respective margin, creating a smooth visual block of text, all the way from the top to the bottom of any given page.  Leaving that text simply aligned “left” will create a jagged line along the right-hand side of the page, wherever the words leave off.  You want to check your kerning line to line before you release it to the printer, in order to ensure each page looks perfect, of course––that’s par for the course.

5. Leave no blank right-hand pages.

The first page of your book is going to be a right-hand page, and the first page of content––not the title page, not the copyright information, not the dedication––will be “Page One” and should be marked such.  (Page numbers should only appear once the content of your book begins, and not before.)  Every succeeding chapter should begin on a right-hand page, even if the previous chapter ended on a right-hand page.  The solution is to leave a blank left-hand page, which you can utilize for illustrations, quotations, or other related material.  The point, however, is to play to a kind of “psychology of reading,” which asserts that readers find it easier to begin new thoughts if there’s that reliable visual cue there.  Blank pages should be left entirely blank, including of page numbers and page headers.

6. Go easy on illustrations, graphics, and other addendums.

It’s easy to get carried away inserting pictures into our books––after all, a picture is worth quite a few jots of ink, right?  But there are a couple of dangers to watch out for here, as with everything else related to design.  First of all, your images need to look every bit as polished as your text.  If you’re inserting inexpert photographs, clipart, or hasty sketches, they’re going to negatively impact the reader’s opinion of your book’s quality.  (We do judge ideas based on their presentation, for better or worse.)   Secondly, they need to be important.  If they’re not somehow integral to a reader’s understanding of your book, then they don’t need to be there, and they shouldn’t be there.  Illustrations, like your words, have to work to earn their keep.  And finally, your images need to be high enough in resolution that they hold up and read well at different scales, both large and small, and on multiple platforms, including tablets and e-readers.  If readers can see pixellation, they’re likely to dismiss a book as amateurish.

And last but not least:

7. Fresh eyes are vital.

The best advice I ever received from a writing instructor was to work until I thought a piece was done, and then to walk away for days, preferably a week, and then to return for a final (or quarter-final) evaluation.  Invariably, coming back with fresh eyes led to me spotting weaknesses and glitches and errors that I would never have seen otherwise.  It’s also important to remember, as a self-published author, that there’s a promotional benefit to showing early readers advance copies of your book, with a plea that they give you feedback on what’s working and not working, in terms of design as well as content.  Their advice will help you tweak your book to perfection, while also spreading the word that you have an upcoming publication on its way!

[ NOTE: If you’re looking for the first blog in this post, a general overview of merchandising for self-published authors, you’ll want to look here.  If you’re interested in reading up on extras and special editions, take a look at my second post in this series.  For last week’s post, on book cover and jacket design, follow this link. ]

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Book Cover and Jacket Design

So here’s the thing: you’ve written a book.  Now you have to sell it.  But you’re going to self-publish, and you’re just self-conscious enough to do a little field research, so you drop on by your local indie bookstore, and you start thumbing through covers to see what you like and what you don’t like … and you start noticing a pattern.  The self-published books on the shelf are, for one thing, pretty thin on the ground, and they’re also often less … attractive.  What’s going on here?  And how can you prevent your own book cover and jacket from fading into the background?  Here are five tips to designing a standout, quality book cover or jacket.

[ Right now, I’m just going to deal with the outside of your book––and I’ll save the design components of the inside for next week. ]

1. Design with an awareness of genre.

Some of your greatest assets––and, potentially, stumbling blocks––as a book designer are the legacies of bygone books and the expectations of current readers.  Designing a book specifically to fit in may not be the wisest move––it may remain undiscovered by blending in too well––but there are enormous benefits to paying attention to the visual brand of your book’s genre.  Just think about it!  We know in a flash––in less than a tenth of a second––and with great accuracy whether A, B, and C are all of a set in those popular web-based IQ tests.  We will absolutely know if a book “fits” with its shelf-mates in the bookstore, because we can pause and linger and physically pick up the books involved.

Bold and blocky typefaced titles that occupy almost the whole of a book cover scream crime fiction; slim and minimal sans-serif fonts speak of literary nonfiction; distressing alludes to zombies and post apocalyptic literature; and a hand-lettered style hints at popular romance or young adult novels.  (John Green, I’m looking at you.)  There are, of course, a great many exceptions across all genres, but the clues are there: aside from title fonts and their size and placement, every genre has a long legacy of embedded symbols, imagery, and dynamic organization.  Silhouettes, guns, and blood splashes are easy to place in the crime genre, but do you notice the color balance in a Nora Roberts book cover?  How about the placement of carefully curated quotes on a nonfiction book, above or below the title?  Or the fact that nature guides will often crowd out the author’s name altogether in favor of a full-page still shot of a bluejay, or a slice of Sydney Harbour?  Before you settle, browse the aisles––and the Kindle store.  If you’re going to depart from your genre’s expectations, then do so knowingly, with every keystroke.  You may be setting your book up to stand out, but you may also be removing it from the visual radar of every reader who’s looking for a book in your genre.

2. Design with an awareness of spatial dimensions.

No, I don’t mean the astral plane, or the multiverse.  I mean you should examine the balance between text and image, busy and clean, light and dark.  Often a book cover will look radically different at different dimensions––say, as a physical book and as a thumbnail on the Kindle store––and seemingly small design choices can make your book look either extraordinary or extraordinarily terrible when the size of the image changes.  Keeping your book cover design free of unnecessary clutter––shapes and colors and forms that you don’t need to convey important information––is essential.  I can guarantee you that the titles leaping out at you as you’re scrolling through Amazon are the ones keeping their design simple enough––and uncluttered enough––that they appear beautiful, even as a tiny, 60 x 90 pixel thumbnail.  Again, browsing what’s out there is your best guide to designing a great book cover yourself.

3. Design with an awareness of industry requirements.

By this I mean, particularly, to watch your back cover.  You need to display your book’s EAN barcode somewhere on the cover, preferably without squashing or crowding the design.  You’ll need to include an author photo and biographical snippet (“John Doe works as a marine biologist at Eckard College.  He lives in Tampa with thirty mollusks and one delightful parakeet”).  You should also include the book’s genre or category, a readable price, and contact information.  The category may prove problematic, if your book is indeed cross-genre, but keep in mind this isn’t about smashing your book into a preconceived category, but about making your book findable for your readers.  If you’ve ever heard of a keyword search, your book’s category performs many of the same functions.

4. Keep it legal.

“Don’t steal other people’s artwork” sounds a bit strong, but this is essentially what you’re doing if you utilize an image on your book cover or jacket that you don’t have permissions for.  As you design your book, you absolutely must ensure you use only your own images, images you obtain by payment or permission, or images under the Creative Commons license.  Creative Commons can become complicated to work out after the fact, if you just pluck something off of a Google image search, but there are many fine websites out there that are dedicated to providing nothing but Creative Commons photographs.  Take a look at Stock.xchang (now FreeImages.com), Wikimedia Commons, Free Pixels, Fotolia, Image Base, Abstract Influence, and Flickr’s Creative Commons page (easy to find by clicking “Learn More” on their website).  Basically, there’s no excuse for taking someone else’s image if it’s not on a Creative Commons license … there are so many legitimate options to choose from!  (And if you really want, well, that image, then you should go to the necessary lengths to ensure you have the artist’s permission anyway, right?)

5. Make it yours.

One of the most commonly-heard questions in the self-published community is: “Should I pay someone else to design my cover, if it’s really so much work?”  Ultimately, the answer is up to you.  Will it significantly improve your quality of life by reducing the stress of learning new technologies and softwares and managing a writer’s life on top of all of that?  Possibly.  Never underestimate the power of a professionally-designed cover, especially in a world saturated with marginally acceptable self-published covers. 

On the other hand, will releasing the design process into someone else’s hands also take creative control out of your own hands?  Often, yes, it will.  Always remember where you draw your line in the sand––at which point you’re comfortable surrendering the artistic direction of your book.  If you want or need a designer, that’s great!  Just make sure to do a little research, and to make sure you choose someone who chooses you back––and chooses to get on board with your vision for your book.  That way, no matter who is out there shaping your visual brand, you can be confident that it will reflect … you!

[ NOTE: If you’re looking for the first blog in this post, a general overview of merchandising for self-published authors, you’ll want to look here.  If you’re interested in reading up on extras and special editions, take a look at my second post in this series. ]

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

The Importance of a Custom Cover

You’ve heard the cliché “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is especially true in the publishing industry. The cover is the first impression a reader gets of your book. Therefore, it needs to be appealing and professional, but it should also reflect the tone and style of your book. If you have a specific vision of your book’s cover, you are probably considering a custom cover. However, there are two different types of custom covers. Here are the basics.

Regular Custom Covers vs. Illustrated Custom Covers

Regular custom covers are created with photos from a photo image site. Illustrated custom covers are drawn by professional illustrators. If you take a trip to the bookstore or browse book covers online, you will see that covers with photos and covers with illustrations are two very different styles. Also, illustrated covers offer more unique designs. The type of custom cover you choose depends on your vision.

Choosing a Cover

When deciding whether to choose a regular custom cover or illustrated customer cover, consider these questions:

  • What do I want my finished book to look like?
  • What do other books in my genre look like?
  • What insight has my market research provided about cover art?
  • What is my budget for cover art?

I’d love to know, do you plan on using a regular custom cover or an illustrated custom cover?

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.

The New Era of Digital Books

Not too long ago, if you wanted to read a book, you had to go to the bookstore, library, or online store and retrieve a print copy. Now, it is becoming easier and easier to read digitally formated books. Readers can purchase and download e-books on their computers or digital book readers such as Kindles or Nooks.  Even smart phones have digital book reading options.

Having a book published in print is no longer enough. Readers expect options, and successful authors are willing to accommodate different reading styles. If you only publish your book in a print format, you could potentially miss out on a large audience — those who prefer digital books.

Not only is digital publishing in demand, it is also a smart choice for authors. In many cases, it is less expensive to produce a digital book than it is to produce a print book, and the publishing option is eco-friendly because there is no wasted paper. If you are interested in taking part in this growing trend, find out what options  self-publishing companies offer and keep those options in mind when choosing a publisher.

I’d love to know, what questions do you have about digital books?

ABOUT WENDY STETINA: Wendy Stetina is a sales and marketing professional with over 30 years experience in the printing and publishing industry. Wendy works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; and together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction, or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Wendy Stetina can put you on the right path.

Submitting Native Files Can Save You Money

Many self-publishing authors are concerned about submitting print ready files. Often, an author will submit print ready files only to discover that the files do not meet on-demand printing requirements. This results in frustration, extra work, and additional fees. To help you better understand the process and avoid spending extra money, here is some basic information you need to know about print ready files and on-demand printing requirements.

On-demand Printing is Unique

On-demand printing is different from offset and home printing. Therefore, the requirements are different. On-demand printing is digital, and machines are not recalibrated to complement the book and file settings. Therefore, the file needs to meet the on-demand requirements.

Your Files Need Reviewed

Authors who submit print ready files often complain about being charged for the self-publishing company reviewing the files. However, many authors will submit print ready files that are not correctly formatted. This results in frustration and extra fees. To avoid this, authors can submit native files and allow the designers at the publishing company to format the book.

Cheri Breeding ABOUT CHERI BREEDING: Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.