Self-Publishing for Business Owners: The Wrong Way


1106 Design

January 19, 2011

Today, like never before, it’s possible for entrepreneurs to promote themselves and their companies with a self-published book, and many are taking full advantage of the opportunity. The trouble is, what they’re doing is not truly SELF-publishing. The industry has been hijacked, and the unhappy result is that many well-meaning, smart and ambitious business owners are walking around with books that don’t begin to meet professional standards.

It’s understandable that people would be misled. A Google search for “self-publishing” returns page after page of companies, some small and some very large, who offer “do-it-yourself” publishing solutions.

Major newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal in this recent article, correctly emphasize the benefits of self-publishing, but instead of writing a balanced article that includes the tried-and-true way to turn a manuscript into a quality book, they focus only on the cheesy companies who  encourage people to do exactly the opposite.

It should not be a surprise that professional book publishing takes a team of experts. Book editors, book cover designers, book interior designers and others combine their talents to produce a product that makes a terrific first impression, and then keeps that promise with quality information and easy-to-read text inside. What business owner would want any less than that, when a book is being used as a business card or as an introduction to sell consulting services?

Unfortunately, the self-publishing companies encourage clients to design their own book covers, and upload a Word file for the book’s interior. This may seem like perfectly sensible advice to anyone with a computer, until you compare the results to a “real” book.

Here’s an example of a typical self-published book that came to my attention last week. I never met the author of this book, Dave Cooke, but I’m certain he put a tremendous amount of effort into this project, and has high hopes for its success. (If you see this post, Dave, I hope you’ll accept the following analysis as an offering from one business owner to another, as a sincere effort to help.)

First, let’s look at Dave’s cover and compare it to one released by bestselling sales guru, Zig Ziglar. Zig’s images are screen shots from Amazon. See the difference?



The photo on Dave’s cover isn’t bad. It needs a little color adjustment (his face is too red), but otherwise it’s a nice, open pose with attractive negative space around his figure. This negative space could have been used to make Dave look even more friendly and approachable, but instead, it boxes him in, not once, but twice with the blue corners. Then the photo is placed on an olive drab background. With a rainbow of colors to choose from, why olive drab?

The type faces used on Dave’s cover are old fashioned, and the use of all caps with a drop shadow gives the cover a homemade look. (Designers use drop shadows, too, but usually in a more subtle way, so that they are barely noticeable.) The dark blue text on the olive background is difficult to read. The “Sales Cooke” play on the author’s name is clever, and since the cooking theme is carried throughout the text, it’s appropriate. But using it four times (title, apron, author name, and subtitle) is a wee bit overwhelming.

Now look at the Zig Ziglar cover design. Zig isn’t in a box. He’s there in the room with you. His dark suit causes him to almost, but not quite, blend into the dark background of the cover. His picture is small, which leaves maximum space for the title and subtitle.  The typography on this cover is top notch, and the subtle ornamentation gently guides the eye from title to subtitle. The use of caps and small caps says “first class” and the author’s name in a wide red band at the bottom anchors the design.

Now let’s compare the interiors of both books. Dave’s chapter opener is on the left, Zig’s is on the right:




Dave’s chapter opener is rather dull. The chapter number and title start high on the page, and barely stand out from the text below. It would be easy to miss the fact that this is, indeed, a chapter opener, and not just another page of text. Dave’s text is set ragged right instead of  justified, which is one mark of a self-published book. The gaps on the right side are huge. Much of this is due to the inadequacy of Word for the job.

Zig’s chapter opener is much more eye-catching and attractive. The chapter number is small and placed at the upper right hand side of the page. The chapter title is large and the chapter subtitle is smaller and italic, with a line above to divide the two. White space is used beautifully in this design. The space between the chapter number and the title is slightly smaller than the space between the chapter subtitle and the beginning of the text, so it looks open and airy, but with a purpose. The text is justified, and it begins with a drop cap. The first subhead toward the bottom is beautifully set in slightly letterspaced text for an overall classy appearance. There’s no doubt that this is the beginning of a chapter.

Now let’s compare two more interior pages:



At the top of Dave’s page on the left, look at the downward angle of the text in the first paragraph. The sidebar below is much too dark, and the type is practically crashing into the edges of the box. You can’t see it here, but this sidebar continues on the next page, and on to a third page for a few lines. A book designer would have started the sidebar at the top of the page above, and made the text fit on two facing pages. A book designer would also make the gray background much lighter for POD printing, due to the limitations of the equipment.

Zig’s interior page is much cleaner and more organized. Even though his sidebar text is much smaller than Dave’s, and not a direct comparison, the text wraps around it in an interesting way, to keep the reader engaged.

Not visible in the above examples are the typos in Dave’s text, or editing that leaves quite a lot to be desired. All in all, this book doesn’t make Dave look like a professional consultant,  even though the advice in the book is very good. That’s a shame, and I’m sure it’s not what Dave intended.

Dave was misled by a company that didn’t want him to “go away” once he found them. They lied and told him he could do everything himself, rather than encourage him to search for the right experts to help with his book design. Why? Because those experts would have told Dave to run away and never look back; that there are better, more profitable ways to self-publish.

Every designer and editor I know is frustrated about this situation. We’re not sure how to make ourselves heard against the overwhelming noise produced by the self-publishing companies, but we’re working on it. If you’d like to  help, please share this post.

What do you want to know? What topics should we explore together? How can we help you along your publishing journey? Everyone here at 1106 Design wants to help. Post your comment here or email us using the Contact Us page.

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