In Your Corner: The Guts of the Thing

Welcome to the sixth episode in our ongoing series about the myriad difficult decisions a self-publishing author makes in the process of pursuing publication!  In previous weeks, we’ve discussed:

But just as the decisions about the outside of your book are important, so too are the decisions you make about the inside.  That’s right, we’re talking about:

Illustrations & Formatting

OR: the ‘look and feel’ element.

We all know how important it is that your book look good on the outside, so that new readers will pick it up off of the bookstore shelf (or the library shelf) and have that immediate “AHA!” moment.  The problem is, while first impressions like these are one make-or-break moment for your relationship with your reader, so too is the moment when they thumb through the pages and take a look at the actual pages.  Most readers I know will crack a cover open before committing to taking a book to the check-out (or circulation) counter, so–what gives?  What elements of your book’s interior design will give a resounding second cheer to the good impression made by your book’s beautiful front cover?


As good a place to start as any, let’s take a look at illustrations and what role they play in a reader’s impression of your book.  First off, let’s clear the air: we recognize that the appeal of any single illustration is largely a matter of taste, and we’re not here to cast aspersions or shame at any self-publishing author’s style of illustration.  Many self-publishing authors crave the option to illustrate their own books, so there’s a wholeness of purpose sometimes behind illustrations that don’t immediately appeal to us–but again, that’s not what we’re really talking about here.

Take a look at these illustrations, all of which are courtesy of books my employer (Outskirts Press) has published in the past:

You can see that’s there no one common thread connecting them all.  They’re all different styles, all different degrees of visual impact.  They’re as unique as the books that give them a home.

Professional illustrations like these give your book an oomph–a real kick of appeal–that your book wouldn’t have without them.  But are they appropriate for every book?  Probably not.  You might see how one style of illustration–simple, cartoonish, minimal–might fit perfectly in a children’s picture book, and how something a little more stylistically complicated–with detailed, fine pencil work–might fit well in a book for older readers, perhaps young teens.  Novels for adults don’t often have illustrations–which isn’t to say they shouldn’t–but this may also be a question of audience.  And one might imagine contexts–a cookbook with historic recipes, for example, or a book involving complicated geography–might benefit from a couple of beautiful illustrations.  The key is to know thy audience and to make sure any illustrations you include are as polished and professional as they can be.


Ugh, now we’re really getting down to the nuts and bolts of your book aren’t we?  But your book’s formatting is a vital component of whether it can hold a new reader’s attention or not.  There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like you’re being made uncomfortable by a book’s layout–and there are some rather well-research theories out there to explain why dense paragraphs, poor kerning or character spacing, poor font choices, and a poor handle on the virtues of white space can doom a book.  Without getting lost in the details, it’s rather easy to summarize the visual impact of bad vs. good formatting with the following comparison:

book formatting

Sound complicated?  It can be.  But it’s mostly a matter of balance, and consistency.

If you’re feeling … at sea, don’t worry.  As with good cover design and illustrations, there are quite a few resources out there to help you navigate the decisions that await–including whether or not you should outsource some of your design sensibilities to a paid professional.  We’re one resource, and companies like Outskirts are another, and there are plenty–and I mean an almost obscene number–of self-help guides out there.  The problem is, as it is with many things in the Internet age, that it’s almost impossible to know where to start.  And that’s why we’re here!  If you have design or formatting questions, give me a shout-out here on our blog, or track me and my compatriots down where we work.

You are not alone. ♣︎


ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process 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, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

The Book Beautiful: Illustrations

We all started out reading illustrated children’s books; perhaps your parents would read the words as your eyes were captivated by the images of a hungry caterpillar, the Berenstain bears, a Curious little George, etc. As we grow older, however, it’s probably not too often that the books we fill our time with have accompanying illustrations. Nevertheless, it has not always been the case that book for adults went unillustrated. Charles Dickens, for example, was known to have very close relationships with his illustrators, to whom he would give plot outlines before he’d even written the text itself. So while it’s easy to pull up references to colorful children’s books illustrations, that is not to say that they don’t have a valid and important place in other genres of books geared toward young adults and adults as well.

curious george illustration

So you want to write an illustrated book? First of all, don’t look at the illustrations to an illustrated book as supplemental, but as a crucial aspect to the themes you are trying to convey. Images help augment the reader’s imaginative experience, they make a book fun and easier to read, and they definitely help hold on to the reader’s attention.

There are certain genres that illustrations or photographs seem to be an obvious and necessary accompaniment–cookbooks, DIY-books, textbooks, autobiographies and biographies, and as we’ve previously mentioned, children’s books. The illustrations for a cookbook could simply be photographs of the final result of your recipe, and for a DIY-book they could be drawings or photographs of the different steps of the project your book conveys. If you’re writing an autobiography or a biography, photographs of the subject throughout their life or at pivotal moments in their life will help the reader further identify with the subject as a person rather than as a character in a story whom they have to fabricate an image of in their mind. As far as children’s books goes, the adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ doesn’t really apply–kids will always judge a book by its cover and they will be inevitably more drawn to eye-catching, colorful illustrations.

Quantity is another important consideration to make as far as illustrations go. For a young-adult book, one illustration per chapter will usually suffice, while a children’s book should probably have one illustration per page. With a children’s book then, layout becomes another consideration–will your images be a full-page spread, or will they be next to, above, or below the text? If you’re writing a biography or an autobiography, you may want to have your photographs placed at the relevant points in your text–for example, your subject won the Olympic gold medal and here is a picture of her doing just that. OR, you could have a center panel with multiple pages of photographs and use footnotes in the text that will direct the reader to the relevant images that they can flip to easily.

Now, assuming that you yourself are not going to illustrate your own book (not to at all doubt your artistic abilities), the question of how to get your book illustrated become important. Outskirts Press offers custom, full-color illustrations for authors, even if they haven’t published through our company. By using this service, you can be sure that you’ll never have to split royalties with an artist, a cost that is always nice to avoid. Remember, no matter who you choose to illustrate your book, that quality illustrations are going to be a very important factor in the marketing value of your book.

Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠


ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, 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,

From the Archives: “How Much Do Illustrations Cost?”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.


[ Originally posted: April 16th, 2012 ]

Like ghost writing or copyediting, illustrations take time and require a great deal of skill and talent. It is important to remember that illustrators must be paid fairly for their time and expertise. The price for illustrations can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. It depends on the size and complexity of your project. When considering illustrations, it is important to do some research, figure out your goals, and create a budget. Once you know your expectations, you’ll want to find an illustrator who meshes with your style. To do this, find out if your self publishing company offers illustration services and get a quote. You can also look at sites such as or to find a freelance illustrator. Be sure to always look at sample work before choosing an illustrator. There are many different styles, and you want to find an artist who matches your vision.

For more information on illustrations, check out these articles.

The Importance of Illustrations

What You Need to Know About Custom Covers

Illustrations Affect the Success of You Children’s Book

– by Cheri Breeding

I love Cheri’s post from 2012 in part because she has such a legacy on this blog of creating a space for illustration and fine art in the context of self-publishing.  Her attitude is not all that common!  Like many contractors with carefully curated skill sets, illustrators often struggle to make ends meet as well as earn the respect they deserve for a lifetime of work.  Why is this?  In part, it’s because illustrators often do not own the rights to the work that others commission, or pay for.  This depends on what contract they sign with the commissioner, of course, but self-publishing authors know all about what it’s like to sign away rights to something, and thereby lose access to future profits.  Illustrators also often struggle because making art for someone else just doesn’t have the social cachet or respect as making art for the sake of art.

The world can be an very unfair place.  But you don’t have to be!

To expand a little upon what Cheri rightfully included in her original post, I thought I’d provide a couple of resources to get you started calculating hard numbers–actual figures to pay any illustrator you hire.  And I won’t lie: good art doesn’t come cheap.  In fact, if you’re hiring someone and they’re not asking for much, you should always go back and re-read the fine print.  They may just be young illustrators starting out and looking to build their portfolios, or otherwise inexperienced in the market, or something more sinister.  It’s worth checking.

The first step is finding the illustrator whose art you like, right?  Between the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (very respectable, high-end) and DeviantArt (a real mix of experienced and inexperienced illustrators) it’s fairly easy to find what you need.  If you’re still feeling a bit lost, this article from The Creative Penn provides a handy launchpad for further illustrator-sleuthing.

The second step is negotiating a commission fee and contract.  I find it’s most helpful to start from the same materials that illustrators are using to determine their requested charges, and this article from the Business of Illustration blog is one that my illustrator friends keep pointing me to.  It is thorough, and allows for multiple different scenarios.  Illustrators Online provides a handy chart to start your rough calculations–another excellent resource.  And Elizabeth O. Dulemba provides a list of questions to ask before hiring an illustrator, specifically geared towards authors.

Last but not least, it’s worth keeping bundles in mind.  I mean the service bundles provided by hybrid or self-publishing companies like Outskirts Press, which provides options for a custom-designed book cover as well as full-color illustrations.  If you’re already looking for an avenue to self-publish your book, keep an eye out for deals and price specials amongst these bundles–it’s a great way to save money and let someone else manage the fiddly bits.

No matter which option you choose, do your own calculations.  Price check your illustrators!  And most importantly of all, get in direct contact with every contractor who is going to design material for your book.  The more an illustrator knows your mind, the more quickly and easily he or she will be able to create artwork that meets or even exceeds your expectations!

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠



KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, 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,

In-House vs. Third Party Illustrators for Book Covers

Children’s authors already know the importance of a great graphic artists, but even authors who write for older audiences need to understand the importance of a great artist and how to find one. While your book may not be filled with graphics, there is one image that can make or break your book’s success — your cover.

A great graphic artist will help you great a custom book cover that catches readers’ attention, demonstrates your professionalism as an author, and represents the essence of your book. By using a generic cover or a poorly created one, you may send your readers a negative message about your work and they may be less intrigued to buy and read it. Because a graphic artist is so important to the success of your book, you need to make sure you hire a talented, trustworthy one.

Before hiring a graphic artist, understand that there are two types of custom covers:

1)      A custom cover –created by a professional graphic artist

2)      An illustrated custom cover – The illustration is created by a professional illustrator and then that illustration is used in a custom cover design created by the professional graphic artist.

It is helpful to know which type of cover you’d like for your book before hiring a graphic artist. Another important decision is whether to use a third party graphic artist or an in-house graphic artist. Using a third party artist can be more expensive and complicated to work with.

It is important to know . . .

  • Some third-party graphic artists require you to share a portion of your royalties. This creates an ongoing cost instead of a one-time fee for the service.
  • You need to know what the trim size of your book is prior to the artist beginning work.
  • The graphic artist needs to know specifications about bleed and gutters for the self-publisher being used.
  • You should arrange for the graphic artist to provide high-resolution image files, not just hardcopies.
  • Be sure to get a written contract.

If this sounds like a headache, there is an easier way. Instead of hiring a third-party graphic artist, you could hire an artist through your self-publishing company. To learn more about hiring a graphic artist from your self-publishing company, contact a representative at your publishing company.

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 25 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps, publishing consultants and marketing professionals; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams and on assisting authors with marketing and promoting their book once published. 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.

Friday Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer 11/15/13

I love the concept of self-publishing!  Since I’ve been connected with my publishing staff, I’ve learned a lot and have been encouraged as if I was their only client.  Then, when mentioning my hope to branch out into children’s book writing, their genuine excitement renewed my enthusiasm and gave me the needed-nudge to move forward.  I felt sure that my stories are good, and a few other folks think so, too.  Then came possibly the best advice I’ve had so far, “When you talk with our illustrators, talk visually.”

I’ve known for a long time—and practiced—writing with visual/descriptive language is important.  It is important for me that my readers are given the best opportunity to see the scene as clearly as I have imagined it.  However, I’m not the best verbal communicator.  Talking with an illustrator whose creative language is art has become quite a challenge.  How can I be specific enough so that an artist understands my version of a “joyful expression”?  How will I share my vision of my character’s constant “happiness,” even after a scary event?  How many levels of the visual concept of “subdued color” are there?

So recently, I’ve gone to the internet bookstores for more examples.  I’ve looked at the covers and first pages of dozens of children’s books and when I come across something that speaks to what I’m hoping to develop, I’m writing out my descriptions of what I see “illustrated.”  I am also making note of the book title and author to share with my illustrator.  Some of the thoughts repeated in my descriptive sentences are eyes are a focal point for main expressions; basic shapes and sizes are comparable to reality; solid colors are better for younger eyes; and, similar to the words on a written page, blank space is necessary.

I’ve also decided to consult with the person who will be my self-publishing marketing assistant for this project, as well as a friend who is a marketing director in the corporate world.  So far, two excellent suggestions have been made: 1) Think Like a Mother.  2) Research Early Childhood Learning.  When the mother is shopping, will she imagine herself reading this book to her child?  Will it “teach” something of value—something that most mom’s want their child to appreciate?  Can the parents point out basic colors and shapes?  Are the characters realistic enough for a child to begin associating the picture book image with the real thing?

Discovering all these levels of needed development for my “simple, fun” children’s story has surprised me.  But I am not discouraged.  In fact, I’m more excited about this project than ever because now I feel I’ll be able to give my grandchildren something even more valuable—something that might survive even to the next generation.

Royalene ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.