Self-Publishing Advice from Mark Twain

Famous for more than a few pithy quotes, as well as great stories, Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

I was reminded of this quote the other day when I opened an email from the owner of a new website that offered designers the opportunity to “upload your works and set prices for each one of them.” A visit to the site revealed that these “works” would be offered to self-publishers who would then “edit the image in our in-browser editor, change the book cover size, and put various text on it.” Then came the comment, “Most self-published books have crappy covers because self-published authors have tight budgets and cannot afford to hire a professional book cover designer.”

There are so many issues here I hardly know where to begin. For starters, the site owner ignores the entire field of typography, and apparently believes that authors can “put various text” on a nice picture and wind up with a quality cover. He and his customers should only know how many hours designers spend on a book cover.

Once a concept is created, it’s not uncommon for a designer to experiment for quite awhile with different font combinations, in different sizes, in different arrangements, using different colors, until the look is “just so”. And that’s before we show the cover to the client, which is often followed by even more adjustments.

In the FAQ section for authors, the site doesn’t explain what happens after authors create their covers and send the resulting file to a printer. Were adequate margins left all around so that the printer will not reject the file? Was the correct amount of bleed added? Is the spine size accurate to 2 or 3 decimal places? Is the image CMYK and in the proper resolution? Does the digital file meet the printer’s ink limit requirement? Is the browser view of the file anywhere near accurate, so that there will be no nasty surprises when the printer’s proof arrives? All of these issues and more are quietly taken care of by a competent book cover designer.

Pity the poor authors who spend hard-earned money on this site because they “know” that “book cover design is easy” and “anyone can do it”. When they send these files to the printer, they’ll be informed that all of the above issues (and more) do matter. Quite often today, the printer is a large “self-publishing company” with tens of thousands of customers, so the bad news will be delivered by a software “robot” that names the problem, but doesn’t explain how to fix it. What follows is often a frustrating loop of file submissions and rejections that can make anyone question why they wrote a book in the first place.

It’s not difficult to understand why authors are attracted to free or low cost design services. Most admit that they’re not sure if the book will sell, so they don’t want to spend money. But this approach can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; a poor book cover can doom a great book to failure when buyers pass it over for another that looks more professional.

Once the writing is done, you’re not an author anymore; you’re a publisher with a different goal…generating sales. To do that, you must “package” your work so that it appeals to buyers.

My advice? Hit the pause button and consider saving up until you can afford to give your book the cover and interior design it deserves…that your buyer demands, knowingly or not.

Please take Mark Twain’s advice to heart. Forget what you “know” about book cover design and consider hiring someone who really does know. Your book will look better, and sell better, and that’s smart business.

1106 Design offers 5 levels of book cover design to meet every need and almost every budget. How can we help you?

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