Monday, January 01, 2007

Self-Publishers: Spend Time on Design and the Look of Your Book

How many times have you heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”?

Although it is solid, sage advice in most of life’s dealings, the distressing fact self-publishers don’t seem to realize is that most book buyers do exactly that! Unless they are looking for a specific name or title, people will likely base their buying decisions on tactile and visual aesthetics.

As a boy growing up, I loved comics, but on my very limited allowance, I had to be discriminating on what I bought. One thing almost always determined what I bought: the cover.

The comics industry has long used what is called a “shock” or “scare” cover (usually depicting some cliff-hanging scene with the hero in mortal jeopardy and having nothing to do with the story inside). Although I remember always being mildly disappointed when I discovered the truth, by that time it was too late. Besides, a good looking cover made the book a keeper, regardless of what was in it.

Thinking back, I was relying on two things to help me decide: name recognition and/or some type of intriguing hook, be it a tagline or graphic image. Chances are you don’t have a reputation. That takes time to build. Designing something visually interesting, on the other hand, or at the very least writing a compelling back cover blurb, is completely within your power.

When the average reader steps into a bookstore he is faced with a million choices, so you, as publisher, must do your best to make him pick your book over all the others.

Take off your writer’s hat and put on a shopper’s hat instead. Think about your own book buying experience. Go to bookstores and look at the selection available in your genre. Answer these questions: Which book stands out from the crowd and what gets lost? What appeals to you personally? Think of ways you could recreate a certain look with your skill and budget.

Avoid a plain cover with the title and your name in some generic font like Arial or Times New Roman. A published book should not look like a manuscript or a work-in-progress, nor is your book the literary version of the Beatles’ “White Album”, so take pride in your hard work by showcasing it in an attractive way. The home computer offers a huge palette of colour and an exhaustive range of fonts. Add to that an amazing array of papers, cover stock and printing processes and techniques, and the only limit is your imagination. So why limit your imagination? Inside your book, be kind to your reader and make the layout clean and easy to read.

If you are going the simple centre-stapled chapbook route, be aware that many bookstores won’t carry books without a spine, because shelf space is limited and chapbooks need to be laid flat on the shelf if they are to have any impact.

The reviews and synopsis on the back of a book can also be important selling tools as well.

Finally, make sure you put contact information where people can find it. Stay in touch with your fans!