Book Covers: Some thoughts for Self-Publishers

Eoin Purcell

A lot of traffic
Comes to this site looking for answers about book covers. Generally, I’m guessing, this is more from self-publishing authors than traditional route publishers. I say this because it is rare for traditional publishers* to leave cover choice to the authors.

I thought I would add some thoughts for those visitors. Feel free to ignore it or to get in touch with questions.

Essentially there are five steps

1) Decide what genre your book fits into
I don’t want to hear that your book is unique. To some degree all books are. Responding that your book is unique indicates either laziness or lack of knowledge of the market you are writing for. Should you be going ahead with this project if that is the case?

Take some time to investigate the market, search for books that have similar themes or writing styles and try and think how you can fit into those genres. The questions you need to ask yourself are, is this a definable genre? That could be as broad as General Fiction if you like, or as narrow as 19th Century British Merchant Shipping if you prefer. But make sure you know what it is.

2) Figure out how you are publishing the book
This may seem trivial, but it will have a direct impact on your work-flow. Some publishing routes are easier than others, some may require you to have cover files ready earlier than internals, some may not offer you customized covers.

Whatever way you choose find our how they want cover files submitted. This will be be as .jpg, .tiff, .psd or perhaps even .pdf. Be sure that they also tell you what DPI and size the image/file should be. All of this information will be vital to making the cover look perfect at the final stages.

I’d use this opportunity to ask them about paper weights and make decisions about gloss, matt or demi-gloss stock. No option is necessarily the right one, but each has its uses. As with 1) take some time to search out the types and styles of covers that your competition favours.

3) Write a designer brief
I’d counsel drawing up a draft designer brief to give to whoever is designing your cover, even if that person is yourself. Why?

Just putting together the details about the book will help focus on the task at hand. I have drawn up a very loose sample you can use if you like. It’s here.

4) Hire a designer
You probably say this one coming but here goes. Many people who are pursuing self-publishing feel that they should be free to design their own cover, and indeed they are. However, the cover is THE key selling tool your book will have. Online and in-store, the cover is what the buyer sees first.

With that in mind, a professional, pitch perfect cover will sell more copies of your book than any other factor. Search for a good designer and pay them for their work. Don’t even dream of paying more than you need to though. A good design should cost you between €600 and €900 and not more.

There are cheaper options available and places like are great sources of freelance ability.

5) Allow time for a proof or even a rethinking of your cover
Whatever your timetable is, make sure that you plan all of these steps to ensure you have sufficient time to rethink a cover. Perhaps when your designer is finished you will not be happy with their work, or it will need serious tweaking.

Don’t be too worried. Even trade publishers rethink and comprehensively rework jackets at the last minute.

Wrap up

I am speaking from a trade perspective. I have heard that some academic houses do allow for authors to decide on covers if they don’t want a plain or series cover. I think the money is better unspent on the authors part in such cases.

A lot of this advice is only worthwhile if an author is intent on selling copies to a wide audience. If the market is limited to a few friends, then feel free to designer your own cover in whatever way suits!

Tired but happy to be finished driving for the weekend,

Good Vanity Publishing: How it should be done

Eoin Purcell

First decide what it is you want:
I have written before on the importance of knowing what you want from a book before deciding what route is the best option for you to take. I wanted to restate the case by pointing people in the direction of a service that I have stumbled across over the last few days. The company is called Granville Island Publishing and what I like about them is that they make no bones about what it is that they do:

When you have a manuscript and you want it published, you have three options: you can send it around to traditional publishers; you can publish it yourself; or you can publish it with us.
Sending your manuscript around to traditional publishers may well be the best option for you, especially if you would like someone else to finance the publication of your book, but it is generally very time consuming and often both frustrating and discouraging. And even if your book is accepted, you can expect an additional wait of up to two years before it is actually published.
Publishing your book yourself has the great advantage of allowing you to follow your own schedule and avoid these lengthy delays. True, it requires a financial investment on your part, but in return it enables you to control every stage of the publication process and to retain 100% of the profits from the sale of your book. And while the financial investment involved is significant, it is certainly less expensive than hiring someone to oversee the process for you.

You can read their explanations and FAQs and see more of this refreshing perspective.

And there are bad sites too
The main reason I was prompted to write about this topic again was stumbling across Original Writing’s site. Just read the differing descriptions of their service:

Our affordable package makes publishing your work simple. You’re guaranteed a finished product you can be truly proud of and the support and tools needed to promote and sell your book to a global audience.

Your work deserves to be beautifully showcased. Our expert designers will work closely with you on all aspects of your book’s design and layout. You retain full control at all times and can avail of:

* Professional inside page layout and typography.
* Full colour cover design.
* Access to our full range of book formats.
* Up to 5 full electronic proofs in PDF format for review.
* 1 hardcopy proof for final author approval prior to printing. See your work exactly as it will be printed.


Once you are fully satisfied with the design and layout of your book we will print and ship direct to your door:

* 75 free copies of your book to distribute locally or give to family and friends.
* 75 custom designed bookmarks to accompany your work.

We will also ensure that all appropriate legal and administrative requirements are fulfilled. These include:

* Assigning ISBN number and author’s copyright notice.
* EAN bar coding for retails sale.
* Deposit of copies in the National Libraries.(SIC)

Right out the door they are miscasting their service to authors and overcharging for the pleasure of it. They charge €1250.00 for the service (which in dollar terms works out at about $1650.00).

Other options
You can get these services at considerably cheaper prices too. For instance you can get free consultation from Integrative Ink who also offer some nicely priced design & formatting offerings. They start at $100 (for a short book of 40 pages and under) and the custom offer is $450.

When you consider that an extensive edit is $500 or so, and the design is $450 Of course you might need to have someone design a professional cover, which if you post the project to Elance or some other freelance site should cost under $250. At worst you can have the service offered above except for the 75 free books at $1200. Assuming a trim size of 6″x9″ and a page count of 160 and that you have chosen a black and white internal layout you can buy as little as a single unit from for about $8.00. If you want 75 books then it’ll cost you $473.25 before dispatch. All in all the cost will be in the same region as Original Writing but here is the rub. It does not have to be. You don’t need to have an extensive edit if the book is for your own purposes, you do not need to have a professional cover if you are aiming the book at only your family. You sure do not need 75 copies if there are only 20 people who want to read a copy.

Do it yourself
What is even more important is that you need not have your book professionally designed. You can if you choose use a guide like Perfect Pages and do the whole thing on your personal computer using Microsoft Word and PDF creator technology. Then print with Lulu or some other POD printer and you have a book that cost time and effort and perhaps $8.00 a book.

If you want full colour and images then Blurb offers you a free design program that works. Though to my mind their books are expensive for anything other than very short runs, the execution is excellent and they are a very good company and one that is opening up the market to consumers.

Honesty is everything
Be honest with yourself about your purpose in publishing. Are you aiming for huge acclaim or bestseller status? Then traditional publishing is still your best route (not everyone has the built in market of the 37signals folks, see here). If you expect modest sales through retail outlets and know how to reach those outlets and get them to order your book (a harder task than it appears) you may well be a good candidate for self publishing of the type I have described or for a Vanity Press. On the other hand if you want six books, or thirty, for your family and friends perhaps of the online POD services will be easier, quicker and most importantly less expensive.

Its blue Monday today, apparently the most depressing day of the year, ever!

If anyone is interested in discussing these ideas my privately feel free to drop me an e-mail:
eoinpurcellsblog AT

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) ALWAYS ON

Eoin Purcell

I love Google Reader

I know I have been quiet the last few weeks but I have made one huge change and I love it. I have shifted all my blog reading to Google Reader.

It is actually the business and enables me to do something I have longed to do for some time. The real hint for this though i have to admit came from Robert Scoble who writes the phenomenally successful blog Scobleizer.

I now have a links blog.

You can access it here

I will still be highlighting some features that just are too good to leave in the side column but I love this feature and really want it to work out well. The selection will be much more diverse than the focussed Links of Interest (At Least to Me) posts so do check it out.

I have a post in the works on the Coming Digital Tsunami. More soon!

Wondering at my poor poker play.

Don’t end up in the long tail of the Long Tail

The Long Tail Series Part One(August/September 2006)

1) Introduction to The Long Tail for newbies
The Long Tail is basically the idea that beyond the bestseller lists and the top X hundred number of products in a given market there are many hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of alternative products that might actually be of more value to different consumers. These products are not necessarily good but amongst them there may be exceptional and wonderful products. In the book Chris Anderson of Wired discusses how this Long Tail is emerging, what forces are driving it and how companies are exploiting it and how it will benefit consumers. It started as an article and he maintains a good blog too.

And you are saying, how obvious is that? Well you are right BUT Anderson brings together some interesting insights into how the Long Tail works, the forces driving it and the reason why it is important in the current times.

2) Important notes for writers
The most interesting aspect of the Long Tail concept for authors is that it relies on tools and techniques for sorting information and building context to work and to drive user/consumers down the tail towards information that is valuable to them. He calls these tools Filters. If you are having trouble getting to grips with what tools are thing of iTunes where you can search by Genres, by Artist or by ranking and even within the genres by ranking and by sub genre.

This is exceptionally important for artists, authors and publishers because in essence these Filters are the new gatekeepers. Anderson underplays the barrier role the filters are now playing. You only benefit from Long Tail Effects if you are within their system i.e. if they can find you, process you, assign you metadata, decide who might like you, see you in other users play lists/reading lists and generally collect information on you.

Anderson keeps saying that it is important to have good tools and systems for accessing information but the sad truth is that if you don’t get within the system then you will not even register with the filters. So for say, a subscription based music model, the company controlling the subscribers can decide if your song merits attention or not. Amazon for instance is open enough to allow you join their associate system and start from there. Who knows perhaps enough reader have bought and reviewed your book to catapult you into good company on their recommendation lists and thus some extra sales.

My point here is this Long Tail Effect will not happen by accident. You need to make them happen. In the same way that publicity and PR don’t just fall from the sky you need to build contacts, encourage newspapers and radio stations. In the Long Tail World you need to build relationships, encourage friends readers and fans to write reviews and include your work on top ten lists and within their notes, general to evangelise your material or it will not even register with the filters, never be suggested to a new fan and remain in the long tail of the long tail!

More to Follow.