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The Self-Publisher's FAQ

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Why is the cover so important?

Many people make the mistake of thinking that covers don't matter—after all, we've all been told as children that "it's what's inside that counts" and "Never judge a book by its cover." (You know they were speaking about people, not products, right?) Besides, how will anyone know what's inside your book if it has an ugly, dull or inappropriate cover? A cover is your single most effective sales tool. Make it something that a person who knows nothing about the content has to pick up or click on. Studies show you have just seven seconds to make an impression with your cover. That's not much time!

A critical consideration these days is that most people will only see your cover as a one inch "thumbnail" online. Complex cover images will just look muddled. You need something that is clear and visually interesting or arresting. As you design the cover, I recommend you blow it up to full size (whatever that will be), then stand ten- to fifteen-feet away. If you can see the main elements of the image and the main title (which we'll discuss in a moment), you've created a cover that can be seen on the internet.

Why should I hire a professional book designer?

Especially if this is your first book, you'll want to hire a professional to give you the best possible cover. A professional knows the market, has the design experience and can help you / your book look your best.

Be sure that the cover design you decide on is right for the type (genre) of book. While a cover with only the title and author name against a neutral background is OK for a business book, it's death for a Romance (unless you're Danielle Steele). Likewise, an entirely illustrated cover screams YA (Young Adult) to the book world, so your literary novel will never get reviewed by the right people—or even shelved in the adult section.

Why can't I just use "clip-art" and do it myself?

A cover that is a collection of cheap (or free), off-the-web clip-art looks amateurish. The same goes for "cover templates" offered by many publishing services. There's no getting around it—the second biggest fault in self-publishing is having an unprofessional looking cover. Your neighbors may tell you it's very nice, but they aren't in the book trade. Show it to a bookseller. He'll tell you it's not something he would stock.

If you have a little talent with visual arts, by all means, do try your hand at this. But work with a professional to get your first cover out.

How should I design the title?

Make sure the title is in a clear, sans-serif font. Be able to read the title (not necessarily the subtitle) on the cover at least ten feet away—or as a "thumbnail" picture on a computer screen. Don't use more than two font types on the cover. Again, you should be able to read the main title in a thumbnail or at a distance.

The author name(s) usually goes on the bottom half of the cover. It is often helpful to put author credentials (especially for a non-fiction) after the name. For example: Bob Ratpoison, M.D.

Some books have an endorsement / blurb (see explanation) on the front cover. Unless this is from someone very important in the field for which the book is written, this only makes the cover look cluttered. There is some belief in the book world that a front cover endorsement is the sign of a publisher who has no faith in the ability of the author's name to sell the book.

The Back Cover

Obviously, if you are doing an ebook-only book, you won't need a back cover. However, some elements will be part of your ebook, and we'll go over this in the ebook section chapter. You might skip to the "How do I get endorsements" section to get more info on covers.

What is Cover Backmatter?

Now that your beautiful, professional-looking cover has enticed the customer to pick up your book, the very next thing she or he will do is turn the book over and read the back. Key elements to put on the back of your book (Paperback):

  • Description or Synopsis: This is a snappy summary of the book. Don't fill the whole back with a description. This is a sales job. Just as TV commercials are short, you have very little time to capture the interest of your customer. Get the message across in 100-200 words. This would go on the inside front flap of a hardcover dust jacket.
  • Author bio: Tell the customer why they should believe this author (even if it's you). Even if you have no credentials prior to writing your first novel, tell why writing the novel was important. Tell it in third person. Say it in 50-100 words.
  • Author picture: A snapshot just won't do. Get a good publicity photo done. This and the author bio goes on the inside back flap of a hardcover dust jacket.
  • Endorsements / Blurbs: These are from people who have read the book in its manuscript stage. They are in some way important, and are usually connected to the topic of your book (ie: a business book would have a business expert, a novel would have another novelist).
  • Category Line: In the upper left corner put what type of book it is so that the cud-chewing, know-nothing book cluck... er, clerk, at the big-box bookstore knows where to put it. For example: Business/Career; Science-fiction / Steampunk. You can put this is in small, unobtrusive type. You can use the categories from your BISAC subjects
  • EAN/Bookland bar code: This is the bar code specially designed for books. It goes in the lower right corner. You can get one from one http://www.tux.org/~milgram/bookland/. Make sure you use the barcode image at the 92% size.
  • Price: On a paperback you can put it in the upper left corner, in the lower left corner or just above the bar code. On a hardback this goes on the upper left of the inside flap. Some people object to putting a price on the book, because they may want to raise or lower it later. But think of the last time you bought something without a price... right. You probably put it back down if you couldn't tell how much it was. We'll talk more about picking a price in the business chapter.
  • Publisher info, logo and website url: goes on the lower left.

How do I get endorsements?

Believe it or not, many professional authors are very nice about helping other, less-well-known authors out. You can find out agents who can pass your request to the author at the Who Represents website, (The biggest name authors aren't usually helpful, though.) Ask. Write a letter telling them what the book is about, your credentials and why you want them to blurb it (a little flattery goes a long way). Once they say yes, ask if they would like the manuscript in hard copy or a PDF. If a hard copy, print out your book and have it comb-bound (you can have this done at Kinko's or your local office big-box store). Have them e-mail their comments back to you.

Do I need a UPC (Uniform Product Code) bar code?

You do not need one. The EAN/Booklan Barcode now does the job of a UPC.

What goes on the Spine of a book?

In most cases, your book will be on a bookshelf spine out. (When you see a book front cover out ("faced") it generally means the book's publisher has paid for that to happen). That means the spine is very important! Make sure the lettering for your title (excluding subtitle) is readable from at least five feet away. Most books have lettering running from top (head) to the bottom (foot or heel). When the book is laid down so that the front cover faces up, the title runs left to right (in Europe, the lettering is placed so it reads left to right when the back cover is on top). Few books "stack" the title—that is, put one letter on top of another, so that the title is read top to bottom.

Put your title in the largest letters, a space, then the author name (usually just the last name) in a slightly smaller font. Across the foot of the spine, place the publishing company name and/or logo. (You'll also place this logo on the title page, underneath your publishing company name.)

Why do I need a logo?

Go to any row of books shelved (as they usually are) spine out, and look at the bottom (also called the foot or heel) of the spine. Almost all modern books have a logo—also called a colophon—and/or distinctive lettering telling the name of the publisher. Again, the aim here is to look as professional as possible. A company logo lets the book world know you are a professional.

How do I get a logo?

You'll need to find a graphic artist to assist you in putting one together. Browse the web for sites that feature graphic artists looking for small jobs.

Why is the title so important?

This is one of the largest parts of "packaging" your book—what to name it! Make a list of ideas. Bounce ideas off your friends, the folks on publishing blogs, chat rooms, Facebook and any gathering of authors. Try to come up with something "catchy" that is also relevant to your book.

Remember that Books in Print only lists the first 30 characters of a title—that includes spaces. Think carefully about what you want booksellers and librarians to see when they look it up.

Once you think you have a good title, look in Amazon for that title. Then look on Google. Titles cannot be copyrighted, so you can have 151 books titled Possession. That makes it harder for your customer to find your book. Come up with something at least somewhat original.

Do not, for Heaven's sake, name your book the same as a famous book (like Gone with the Wind or Pride and Prejudice). While it's not actual fraud, you will get a lot of people angry if they buy your book instead of the classic they were planning on.

I mentioned that your can't copyright a title, but you can trademark a series title. For instance, the For Dummies guides are protected by trademark. If you are planning to produce a series of books, then you might want to come up with a trademark-able series title. Note how short the For Dummies title is, and that it occurs after announcing what the book is about (ie: Typesetting for Dummies). Again, the thirty character plays against you: a longer series title means no one can see the differences. Keep it short!

One of the most important things you can do to help sell your book is to pick a decent title. Yet, over and over I see authors and publishers picking titles that don't describe the contents, are misleading, too long, or just flat uninteresting.

How do I get a trademark?

Go to the Library of Congress website. These are pricey and the process is complex. You may need to contact a lawyer if you are unclear about the steps.

   
   

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