When designing the cover for my own novel, Waves, I tried a number of approaches before settling on a design that worked for me. This article details my process.
Before I even finished writing, I played around with an idea, initially planning to release a 5×8 inch paperback.
Original Draft Cover Design
I liked the juxtaposition of themes from the story; physical waves, waves of life, the waves in the girl’s hair, but it’s too busy. It’s also a bit drab; too balanced and static. I just never fell in love with it. Also, the contemporary approach to book cover design so often starts with a photo search. It often works, but it’s predictable. Maybe a good designer should go beyond finding photos that “go with the story?” At least some of the time? Continue reading →
Today’s post is from Lisa Ryan, CEO and Lead Strategist at Tinley+Ryan, former Marketing Manager of On-Demand Publishing Services at Amazon.com and former Vice President of Marketing at BookSurge.I’m honored to have your contribution, Lisa.
On a macro-level, independent and traditional publishers not only co-exist amicably, they are full-on partners in the publishing and production of books. They are not competitors.
Today, publishers large and small are concerned with digital rights management, monetizing assets like out-of-print titles, and the lightning-speed evolution of alternative format books/readers. Because of these and other economic factors, they work hand-in-hand with digital publishing houses and POD fulfillment providers for support. They in turn support self-published authors. It happens every day. It’s a symbiotic eco-system on the back end, no matter how the surface-level factions consider the issues.
Self-published works provide the data traditional publishers need to take calculated risks on new authors. One initiative we worked on at Amazon was a reporting system that allowed large publishers to monitor the sales velocity of our best-selling self-published titles. We’ve seen some pretty impressive deals come out of that – of note, a three book, six figure deal for a fiction series. Continue reading →
In November, I spent three days at the Miami Book Fair in a booth talking to writers and would-be writers about publishing. For my efforts, I sold about twenty books; not really worth the effort in terms of time vs. money, but certainly a worthwhile experience from the standpoint of talking to writers and hearing what their interests and goals are. One thing impressed me over everything; put hundreds of thousands of paperbacks in one place and it all blends together into a gigantic literary flea market.
There was a single glimmer of shining hope that floated over the cacophony of the exploded confetti factory —McSweeney’s. Started by author Dave Eggers, McSweeney’s offers a variety of whimsical offerings. Beyond great writing, they offer great book design ranging from classic to innovative to absurd; unusual binding, interesting boxes, experimental typography, design work that implies the contents is worth reading. Hold that thought.
As a designer, it got me thinking a great deal about the relationship between the cover and the writing—and I don’t mean what’s on the cover. I mean the whole package from the binding to the artwork.
Consider the paperback book as a packaging form. It certainly offers a number of advantages. It’s cheap to print in volume, lighter to ship, consumes fewer resources (printing is a high-pollution industry) and ultimately gets the writing to the reader cheaper. For self-publishers, printing paperback books and bypassing hard cover editions means less up-front investment. Also, we see big publishers shipping countless paperback books to bookstores, and we want to be just like them, don’t we? Continue reading →
Book trailers are a recent fad in indy book promotions. While they don’t solve the problem of people having to find them to appreciate them, they require a lot less time to consume than the books they represent. This trailer for my novel, The Dance, is 45 seconds long with a five second freeze added at the end (because youTube fades out after the video ends). Book trailers are a feather missing from the caps of most self-published book campaigns, and most amateur video doesn’t achieve any higher standards than the majority of self-published books. In other words, there’s an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. I don’t expect a big spike in the sales graph, but it will be interesting to watch the YouTube view stats. I suspect the majority of viewers will be writers.
There are plenty of good reasons to self-publish, but not all are profit-oriented or even rational. Before you invest in your book, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself some serious questions.
Why did I write my book?
If the answer is, “I don’t really know. I had a story inside me and it just had to come out,” you’re the sincerest kind of writer, but you may not have a good product upon which to build a publishing business.
Who is my book for?
If the answer is “anybody who loves a good tale with a surprise ending,” you may have a great story and a well-written book, but you may not have a good product upon which to build a publishing business.
What are my goals as a publisher?
If the answer involves the bestseller list, Oprah, selling movie rights to Warner Brothers and licensing a series of toys based on your characters, your ambition is admirable but your expectations for massive success with a startup venture in an industry with which you have no experience are probably unrealistic.
What’s my time and money budget?
If the answer is “I can part with a few thou and I’m willing to work a few days a week after the kids are off to school,” you’re typical and your dedication still counts, but you may not have the time and capital upon which to build a publishing business.
A great technology is getting a bad rap for the wrong reasons. Print On Demand (POD) technology is often mislabeled “Publish On Demand,” which consequently associates it with the Vanity Publishing world; a realm inhabited by a few reputable operators and a large number of scammers waiting to prey on naive writers.
While it’s true most Vanity Publishers do rely on POD technology, the majority of reputable self-publishers and many small traditional publishers do, too. POD is entirely disconnected from matters related to whether you own your own ISBN numbers, share rights and royalties with a third party, own your cover artwork or choose one distribution chain over another. After all the business arrangements are decided on, a file is sent to a POD printer and books are then manufactured to order in quantities as small as a single book. POD is a digital printing technology, not a business strategy or a scam. Continue reading →
I was participating in a forum discussion about self-publishing where the topic starter expressed legitimate concerns about poorly written, poorly edited and poorly designed self-published books ruining the market for those of us who work hard to produce books of the highest quality.
“All the connections, marketing strategies, publicity packages, and so on won’t save a mediocre book from itself.”
I’d like to believe this is true. It’s the writer in me. The good guy should win. And I’m the one always pushing for excellence. Nobody likes a story where the main character struggles to be the best, works hard, overcomes obstacles, gambles it all on a long shot and then…nothing happens.
You can have the best book in the world, but chances are, it’s the best because it was written from the heart, not as a well-placed product for market distribution. The book still has to be excellent, but the big money is in mediocre books that are excellently marketed – not the other way around. If you want a quick parallel, turn on top 40 radio for as long as you can stand it.
Sadly, good marketing saves mediocre books from themselves all the time.
We self-publishers have to be that much better and that much more clever with our marketing strategies and cover designs—and that still may not do the trick. Continue reading →
If you’re hoping to have mainstream bookstore distribution, using a Vanity Press may present some obstacles. Book buyers will likely tell you, “your book may be excellent, but you’re using a Vanity Publisher and the vast majority of their books are poorly edited. We’d have to read hundreds of their titles before locating a gem. We have neither the manpower nor the time to spend on that endeavor.” While this isn’t true of all Vanity Publishers, it’s true of many.
There is a difference between engaging a Vanity Publisher and being a Self-Publisher with your own imprint. A Vanity Publisher charges others to publish their works and then uses a service like LSI to do their Print on Demand printing. A Self-Publisher with their own imprint and their own ISBNs can use either a traditional offset printer, an offshore printer or a POD printer depending on their needs and circumstances. Apparently, many book buyers won’t consider POD-printed books citing the same concerns they have about Vanity Publishers.
Having your own publishing entity won’t guarantee bookstores will be willing to carry your book for many of the same reasons they won’t carry a vanity published book, but it can protect your work from “guilt by association.” What’s clear is serious self-publishers must maintain the highest standards of design and production or risk being sucked under by the tide of mediocre books retreating into the ocean of well-meaning do-it-yourselfers. Continue reading →
My only difference with the article is based on the following assertion:
The top-five Kindle selling authors of all-time, over 500,000 copies each, are all fiction writers (including Stieg Larsson, Stephanie Meyer, and others). In the top-50 Kindle bestsellers right now, I counted just three (3!) non-fiction books. If you’re a non-fiction author, I’d think carefully before jumping the gun to all digital.
My challenge, posted as a comment (plenty of excellent commentary on this post worth reading) is as follows.
Great post and excellent commentary following.
I’d like to differ with one perspective. You make conclusions about the fiction vs. non-fiction eBook markets based on statistics for the top 50 books. These are likely to be driven mostly by outside sources such as book reviews. You suggest that since only two non-fiction books are in that top 50, fiction is the better market.
But like local bands who never sign with a record label but bring in the dancers and drinkers night after night, there are excellent opportunities for writers to make decent income well below the #50 slot on the list. It’s not a get rich game, but it can mean decent money and indy writers don’t have to set their sites on the top of a pyramid controlled by mega-industry.
Many eBook selections are made after people search for specific topics, and in these cases, success has to do mostly with your findability on Amazon. My novel is a needle in the fiction haystack, but my One Hour Guide to Self-Publishing shows up near the top on a kindle book search two weeks after being published.
Consider sampling the top 5,000-10,000 books before directing writers towards fiction as their best opportunity. I’m a novelist at heart, but I’m betting my publishing business on nonfiction. Fiction is an art product, while nonfiction provides a solution to a need recognized by a reader in search of an answer. That sounds like a sounder business proposition to me.
All the best and thank you,
Ultimately, while anything is possible, the odds are enormously against an unknown writer producing a blockbuster mega-hit. However, indy writers get to keep a much larger slice of their smaller pie. Selling a few thousand books can bring in some nice financial rewards regardless of whether that places you anywhere near the top-50 list, and Amazon searchability has much to do with whether people will find your answer to their problem or not. Nonfiction has a distinct advantage, here.