Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Tag Archives: book design

Is Professional Book Design Necessary for A Self-Publishing Author?


Self-Publishing is developing so swiftly that it can be hard to keep up with what it means.

Book Designing

Image Courtesy of Ove Topfer ~ http://www.freeimages.com/profile/topfer

Some folks claim it means writing, editing, designing, and printing a book essentially by yourself.

Some would say the printing can be outsourced but all the other tasks are up to one individual.

Some are now urging writers to consider hiring or trading services for a team of professionals to create the physical and digital book.

The most practical approach would seem to be doing, for yourself, what you can do or learn to do and then finding others for the rest, whether you pay them or trade with them—admitting that crowdfunding is possible and crowdsourcing of editing is beginning to be used…

But, what is “Designing” a book and does an e-book need the same design considerations as a print book?

Today, I’ll share information from two folks who’ve appeared, many times, in this blog—Joel Friedlander and Jane Friedman.

The first resource-link is How Much Attention Should You Pay to Book Design?

This is an interview of Joel by Jane and I’ll only give you the questions Jane asked and let you take the link to read Joel’s answers.

By the way, in case you aren’t a regular reader of this blog, Joel is a true Expert in Book Design with over 30 years experience.

Jane is “…the co-founder and publisher of Scratch, a magazine about writing and money, and is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest” with “15 years of  experience inside the book, magazine, and literary publishing industries.”…

Here are Jane’s questions:

I’m a firm believer in the power of design. I think it affects purchasing not just in obvious ways, but also on a subconscious level. So it often frustrates me when independent authors do their own design work to keep costs low. But I also understand the need to limit financial risk. Let’s say we have to make a compromise. What do you think an author might be able to accomplish reasonably well on her own (that has least potential to adversely affect sales), and what’s the No. 1 thing an author should hire a designer for (because of its potential to increase sales)?

What are the most common mistakes you see authors make when they design their own book interiors?

How can an author find a good interior designer who’s right for their book? How do you properly evaluate one?

When hiring a designer, how much should an author expect to spend for a typical trade print paperback novel (cover and interior)?

Should an author ever use design contest sites (e.g., 99designs.com)?

Do you think there should be a different cover design for print vs. electronic editions? What special considerations come into play for e-book covers?

If an author wanted to educate themselves on what constitutes good book design, aside from reading your blog, what resources would you recommend?

Even if you don’t take the link to read Joel’s answers, those questions should get you thinking about the issues involved in book design…

And, here’s the second resource-link—22 Top Book Designer Tasks for Getting Your Self-Published Book Into Print.

That article is from Joel, the guy with over 30 years experience in Book Design :-)
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The Top 5 Goals for A Book Cover + A Great Course of Study In Self-Publishing . . .


You may know I’m in the class of poor writers.Notes from An Alien

My military pension is quite small so, when I got to considering a cover for the book I published back in May of 2011, I needed to get real resourceful

Luckily NASA’s Hubble Telescope Image Site had just what I wanted and adding the words to the image was within my own skill set.

Even though the cover you see here may not have people on it (like so many covers do) and even though many folks won’t relate to a picture from space, I feel it captures quite a bit of the mood and theme of my short novel, Notes from An Alien

I’m no “Book Designer” but Joel Friedlander certainly is and clicking on his name will let you check out the 26 other posts on this blog that feature him.

The post I’ll feature today is Top 5 Goals for your Book or eBook Cover.

From Joel’s article:

  1. Announce its genre—This is very important for genre fiction, but it’s equally important for any book to be clear right away about exactly what kind of book it is. This seems to me to be the first concern of the cover designer.
  2. Telegraph its tone—Particularly important for fiction and literary fiction, where the whole effect of the book rests on the skill of the writer. A cover can give you an idea of the writer’s voice in many subtle ways.
  3. Explain its scope—Mostly for nonfiction. Understanding the extent of the book’s subject helps to define its target market.
  4. Generate excitement (the “hook”)—Let’s face it, book covers are a subspecies of advertising design, and they can be powerful sales tools. But if nothing about the cover stops people, or evokes instant interest, fascination or curiosity, it can’t accomplish its aims.
  5. Establish a market position—This is almost the sum of all the other goals listed here. Taken together, they establish the exact space we see the book occupying amongst all the other books that address the same topic or which are in the same genre.

Joel doesn’t just throw out short descriptions of his goals.

He lets you know he’ll be covering this aspect of book design (along with many others) in his up-coming Self-Publishing Roadmap.

Clicking on that last link gets you on an email notification list for Joel’s unique offering and here’s what he says about it:

“Trying to publish your own book? Getting confused? I bet. Listen, I’ve been publishing books for over 30 years and it’s never been easier—and more confusing—than it is today.

“That’s exactly why I created The Self-Publishing Roadmap: to help authors like you get up to speed with how to figure out the best strategies, the best practices, and the most profitable ways to publish today.

“The Roadmap is better than any book. Even the best books are out of date almost as soon as they’re published! With online training we keep up-to-the-minute with the latest developments.

  • Proven strategies for any niche
  • Self-paced instruction and a helpful community
  • Get a marketing edge with hours of insider secrets
  • Step-by-step learning from the internet’s leading authority”

By the way, care to share in the Comments how many of Joel’s goals you think my cover accomplishes??
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Is Something “Good” Just Because It Has A “Tradition” Behind It?


Whether you’re a Reader, Writer, or Publisher (or, all three), this post should make you think.

Think about how damned hard it is to define something that’s undergoing massive change.

The words “good” and “tradition” have quotes around them because, in my experience, different people have vastly different meanings for those words.

Good can mean anything from “what God says” to “whatever I decide to do”.

Tradition can be “something to rely on” or “an impediment to progress”.

I’ll leave that slippery word “good” for a possible future post

And, I’ll do what I usually do when I’m writing a post and want you to “think afresh”

Here are the major root-meanings for “tradition”: delivery, surrender, a handing down.

“Handing down” is the most “neutral” root meaning to me—yet, what’s handed down can be very good or simply horrid—it can be a transfer of an honorable heritage or a bad legacy.

“Delivery” as a root for tradition is a “defining” meaning—if it ain’t delivered, it ain’t gonna be a tradition.

“Surrender” is the one that gives me pause

If we surrender a way of doing things when we hand down a tradition, does that mean we expect it to be changed or that we’re praying it won’t be changed?

When I type the word “traditional” into the search widget on this blog I get the posts I’m linking to right now—all spotlighting traditional publishing [ feeling a bit spunky today and wanted a touch of self-reference there :-) ].

I can do the same thing for self-publishing

If you’re a reader and not a concerned writer, you might ignore all the posts those last two links pull up.

However, if you’re a reader who doesn’t write, I’d love to hear your opinions of this post on the publishing “war”—readers should care about what’s going on in the effort to supply them with books

For the writers reading this, especially the ones who don’t have time to or merely refuse to click on links in blog posts, I’ll pull excerpts from a book designer and a literary agent to round out this article.

In my previous post, Where’s The Gate? ~ More Thoughts On Publishing…, I quoted Joel Friedlander, the book designer, saying:

“…publishing is a business, and publishers businesspeople. Books that find a home with profit-oriented publishers can be defined this way: books that might sell enough to make the publisher a profit.

“That’s the reality of gatekeeping, no matter how romantic it may sound. Publishers who make no profit are no longer in business. The business of business is profit, pure and simple.”

Rachelle Gardner is a literary agent, one of the traditional “gatekeepers” Joel mentioned. In her recent post, Publishing in the Brave New World, she says:

“Part of the value publishers bring is a sense of history, a sense of tradition and permanence. Many authors still want to be a part of that. It’s about great stories and important thoughts. It’s about legacy. It’s about a dream. People in publishing still see this dream as worth it. They’re willing to swim against the tide because publishing isn’t just a business, it’s a life, it’s a calling, it’s a passion.”

Personally, I have no problem with “traditional” publishers since I have many good reasons to be a self-published author

Can traditional publishing “surrender” to the new tools and methods of our digital age?

Will they “hand down” the best they have from their vast experience without attempting to demonize those who travel a different path?

Is their system of “delivery” of books to readers a guarantee of “quality”?

Can the traditional folks and the people self-publishing work together to create a hybrid method of placing an author’s work into the reader’s hands (whether those hands hold paper and ink or technology)?

What are your thoughts and feelings??
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Jargon & The Self-Publishing Writer


I chose FastPencil as the company to help me self-publish Notes from An Alien. With their services, I didn’t need to know much jargon.

But, my way of self-publishing may not be your way of self-publishing and my way may have to change as the whole industry of publishing continues its transformation.

One of the most important areas in which to know the jargon of the specialists is the design and layout of your book.

If you come to this blog for posts about reading or what writers do when they write, I encourage you to use the handy search box in the upper right to find articles of interest :-)

For those who still want to know about design and layout, I recommend Joel Friedlander’s blog, The Book Designer.

The specific article I’m going to point you toward today is, Don’t Let me Find You Bleeding in the Gutter—Understanding Book Terminology. Pretty cool title, eh? :-)

Do you know what these terms mean? Bleed, Bulking, Colophon, Imposition, Signature

Even the ones that look like common words have very specific jargonistic meanings in the business of book design and layout. Joel defines those and 26 more in his article.

I avoided needing to know terms like this because I was publishing a simple trade paperback novel. You may be considering a very specialized or niche book. You may need to know if, as Joel says, “…you want to carry on a conversation with a book professional about the design and layout of your book.

“Use them wisely.”
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Taking Advice ~ Who’s Experience Do You Trust?


Blogs written by writers–like this one–can be fascinating places to find experience that can serve as a guide for action.

But, they might be the worst place to trust another’s judgement.

It all depends on what guidance you’re looking for and the quality of the blogger’s experience.

Most writers’ main goal is to be published. Many of those writers want to make money, too.

The world of publishing is undergoing massive flux. Of course, flux doesn’t have to mean the industry will change beyond recognition. The new self-publishing methods are still in their early stages of growth and traditional publishing has some strong points that may never change

My novel is published and its Companion Volume is beginning to come to life. This was a perfect time for me to evaluate what I’d learned through my own experience with the novel (that learning is still in process, by the way) and find out what that evaluation might point me toward in the way of supplementary advice. And, as the Writerly Fates would have it, I found some solid information.

I’ve mentioned Joel Friedlander in this blog before and linked to his posts. Gonna do it again, right now :-)

The Completely Backwards Way to Amazing Self-Publishing Success, is advice from a man I’ve come to trust. A person who’s been there and done that and can speak his wisdom in ways I can understand and put to use.

Do read the full post. He tells the tale of being involved in a mind-mapping exercise that turned into a self-publishing outline for action.

I’m going to list his main points and make personal comments about what I’m working toward with the Companion Volume (a short story collection in the same universe as the novel).

Research the market: I’ve been doing this with the novel and it will continue as sales pick up.

Write the back cover copy: I love having this point so early in the process. I’ve read other writers say essentially the same thing–get a clear, concise statement about the book written as early as possible–make a beacon to guide your voyage.

Design the cover: Again, I feel the seemingly too-early position of this advice is sound. Make the book’s image Real–create a visible icon that can help you stay on course.

Write a sample chapter and outline: Enlist your creativity for writing a chunk of the book and form some kind of outline–again, committing to the life of the project.

Design the book: Some folks don’t really know what this means… I’d recommend exploring Joel Friedlander’s blog, very carefully

Test the concept: I’ll be checking in with readers of the novel (as well as a few other folks) with the test-pack produced in the last four steps to see how they feel about it.

Announce the book: Everyone I can reach who’s heard about the novel (whether they’ve read it or not) will know its Companion is being produced; plus, some folks in a few new “channels of interest”.

Write the book: I honestly feel some of this step will have already happened by this point in the process but I will hold off on “serious” writing until I’ve at least Tested the concept.

Launch the book: Joel’s comment on this point is, “Everything should now be in place for success.”

One more quote from Joel: “At the end of this process, you ought to have a book that’s in demand, has a compelling offer, is properly positioned in its genre, and which people are avidly awaiting.”

What are your thoughts and feelings on this process?
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