Judge a Book By Its Cover? RESULTS Gets a New One

You all know how much I love my Results Not Typical cover, and if you don’t it’s a lot. Green is associated with health and dieting, and that exact green is the color that Slimmit (the fictional company in the book) use in their branding – in my imagination, at least. The title font captures the spirit of the book perfectly and is big enough to survive in an e-book cover, and we managed to get across the subject matter of the book without resorting to putting any photographs of skinny women on there. It’s a cover that can be easily changed enough to go on the next book in the series while still maintaining a cohesive brand.

It’s a cover that stands out, especially since we avoided the whole pastel pink, cartoon, swirly writing chick-lit cover extravaganza that always makes me think of too-sweet candy floss and Pepto-Bismol.

That sentence right there encapsulates why I began to let my personal feelings cloud my judgement and override the facts, which ultimately led to me making a decision about my cover that involved just one person (me) when it should’ve involved millions of people, i.e. the women who might like to read Results Not Typical.

I had a thing against pinky-pink chick-lit covers. In my defense, this was because whenever my eye fell on a stack of them in a bookshop, they all seemed utterly indiscernible from one another. Most of them could’ve swapped covers and still been okay. Many of them could also have swapped titles. Neither the cover design nor the title seemed in any way specific to any book, and it turned me right off the thought of ever reading any of them.

I also resented the fact that as a woman, I was expected to be attracted to pink. But my resentment was as ironic as that Alanis Morrisette song was not (which, perhaps, is the irony…? *brain ache*), because I love, love, LOVE pink. I really do. Half the clothes in my wardrobe are somewhere near it, my first iPod was a gorgeous shade of dusty pink and my bedroom is decorated in shades of pink and purple. I even have a pink leather laptop bag.

And have you seen my blog?

So why was I getting my (pink?) knickers in a twist over pink book covers? (And I should say here that I’m of course not just talking about chick-lit covers that are literally pink, but all those that have swirly-writing, a cartoon woman and a color that suggests something girly and fun.) I really don’t know. But I started to change my mind about it a few months back when I started coming across some book covers that ticked all the chick-lit boxes, but yet really appealed to me. Beautiful covers like these:

What information about the book inside do you get from these covers? I see hints that the novels inside are going to be entertaining, possibly funny, a good few hours of escapism, about hopes, dreams and love, and fun. Fun, fun, fun. FUN! And the reason they have elements in common is because if you read and liked From Notting Hill With Love Actually (which I did; I reviewed it here), then chances are The Night Before Christmas will float your boat too, or at least be in with a chance of doing so. These covers aren’t saying anything about women – they’re only saying things about what’s in the book. And by their visual similarity, however small, they help each other out by letting readers know if you liked x, you’ll probably like this.

Plus they’d all look gorgeous on my purple book shelf in my pink room.

(Yes, my book shelves are purple. Jealous?)

The number one message about Results Not Typical that I want to get across to potential readers of it was: this book is fun. The number two message I want to get across is: this book is for women, and the third is this book is about something most of us can relate to: dieting. But yet instead of choosing a type of cover that would instantly convey these three vital points, I chose something that I liked, that I felt conveyed what the book was about. But you know what? I know what the book is about – I wrote it! So am I really the best judge of whether or not the cover conveys what’s inside? Possibly not. Probably not. Therefore instead of indulging myself, I should have been guided by the same principles that guided the designers of the covers of the books – the bestselling books – above. I should’ve put a girly-girl, swirly-writing cartoon cover on it, because I am a girly-girl, and I like swirly writing and cartoons. And I wrote the book I wanted to read, so surely the other women out there who would like this book like those things too?

This wasn’t all hypothetical: the sales of Results reflected that I’d made a mistake. They do reflect this. I promised, back when I started chronicling my self-publishing adventures on this blog, that I’d share both the successes and failures, and so I’ll be blogging about this in detail in the New Year. But in the meantime, I’ve decided to change the cover of Results‘ e-book edition. Something isn’t working, and I think it’s the green cover. My Amazon product listing is as good as it can be—clear and enticing blurb, three glowing and qualified endorsements, links to my other books—and the price is sofa change, i.e. 99c.

When I first thought of changing the cover, I toyed with the idea of an original illustration. I found out the name of the illustrator who did one of the traditionally-published covers above, and daydreamed about commissioning from her a new, girly-girl, fun – FUN! –  Results Not Typical cover. But at the time I’d just put two books to bed and owed hundreds in editing and cover design fees. Who knows how much an original illustration from such an in-demand, talented artist would cost, but I was guessing it would be more than I had, and more than I, at that point, wanted to sink into a book that I wasn’t even making bus fare off of. And what, if after all that, the problem wasn’t the cover? What if the book just didn’t appeal? What if I had no chance of ever getting that money back?

I decided to conduct a little experiment. Test the waters, so to speak. I would try changing the cover into something more affordable—something girly, fun and cartoony (i.e. not photos), but affordable—and see if it made any difference. I e-mailed my cover designer extraordinaire, Andrew Brown of Design for Writers, and explained the situation. I sent him some of the covers above and a bit of a brief, and here’s what he came up with:

Isn’t it pretty? Isn’t it just adorable? Look at that font! Do you see the little sparkles?

And do you see how well it goes with my blog? You know how I love me some color co-ordination.

I love it. Love it, love it, LOVE it.

What do you think?

I’ve uploaded it to Amazon and have a couple of other tricks up my sleeve for Results, which again, I’ll be blogging about in the New Year. But I’m calling this Operation Booster Rocket, and my mission is to get Results selling at a level near or at least closer to that of my other books.

Wish me luck!

(I’ve just uploaded it, so if you go to Amazon the old cover might still be there, and the paperback will still have the green one, for now anyway.)

Announcing: New SELF-PRINTED Shorts (And a Story About an E-mail)

Two things about Self-Printed that happened over the weekend: (i) I got the most amazing e-mail ever and (ii) I released three new 99c e-books, called Self-Printed Shorts.

The e-mail was from Nicola Morgan, who I’m sure many of you know from her blog, Help! I Need a Publisher!, her Twitter feed and her staggering number of (traditionally) published books. When I think of common sense and the publishing world, her name is the first one that comes to mind, and I am in total awe of all her accomplishments, including a novel, Wastedthat was nominated for a Carnegie Medal, one of the highest accolades – if not the highest – a children’s book can get. So when I saw her name pop up in my inbox, I assumed it had to be a different Nicola Morgan. But no, it was her, and the message was about Self-Printed which unbeknownst to me, Nicola had been reading. To cut a slightly longer than that story short, I am ecstatic (and slightly giddy) to now have this glowing endorsement for my book:

“An exceptional breath of realism, real knowledge and hard experience – don’t dream of self-publishing your book without it. This is the self-publishing guide to read if you actually care about the quality of your writing and your readers.”

–Nicola Morgan, award-winning author of 90 books – including the Carnegie-nominated WASTED and WRITE TO BE PUBLISHED – and the blog Help! I Need a Publisher!

How fantastic is that?! Thank you so much, Nicola!

So now onto Self-Printed Shorts. The idea is that instead of buying Self-Printed for $2.99 and paying for everything I’ve learned about self-publishing, you can just hand over 99c (or 69p)* for the information that you need. For instance, if you’ve already self-published, you don’t need the sections about how to use CreateSpace, Amazon KDP or Smashwords, but you might want to read the bits about how I promoted my book. Or maybe you already have a paperback and you just want the e-book bits. Or you already have an e-book and you just want the paperback bits. Or maybe-

Well, you get the idea.

They are three Self-Printed Shorts. They are:

Publish a Print On Demand Paperback

It includes the following sections from Self-Printed:

  • Why Self-Printing?
  • Preparation
  • Publishing a POD Paperback with CreateSpace.

It’s just 99c for Kindle on Amazon.com and 69p for Kindle on Amazon.co.uk.

Publish an E-book

It includes the following sections from Self-Printed:

  • Why Self-Printing?
  • Preparation
  • Publishing an E-book (with Smashwords and Amazon KDP).

It’s just 99c for Kindle on Amazon.com  and 69p for Kindle on Amazon.co.uk.

Sell Your Book With Social Media

It includes the following sections from Self-Printed:

  • Why Self-Printing?
  • Building an Online Platform
  • Launching Your Book (Online).

It’s just 99c for Kindle on Amazon.com  and 69p for Kindle on Amazon.co.uk.

*Thanks to VAT and “international delivery” (cracks me up every time), prices may vary in other Kindle stores. If you’d rather read the full-length book, it’s $2.99 in e-book or $15.95 in paperback (but Amazon are currently selling it at 28% off, or $11.28). Find out more about it and see other buying options on SelfPrintedBook.com.

SELF-PRINTED is Out Today! (And Some Other Stuff)

Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing is out today!

(Rest assured, that’s the one and only exclamation mark in today’s post, excluding the title. It’s safe to read on.)

It’s $15.95 (£9.80 or €11.20) in paperback and just $2.99 (£1.84 or €2.09) in e-book which, like, hello? Is a total bargain, if I do say so myself, especially considering its twice the length of Mousetrapped and I didn’t even get to go to Florida to do the research. And that [clears throat loudly] none other than bestselling author David Hewson thinks it looks worth a read.

(It is worth a read. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

You can download the e-book edition from:

You can purchase the paperback edition from Amazon.com. If you live in Ireland or the UK, expect to spend around £13 or €15 – including the cost of the book, thankfully! – to have that book sent from them to you by standard shipping.

Self-Printed has eight sections:

  1. Why Self-Printing? (An injection of sense)
  2. Preparation (Cover design, preparing your manuscript)
  3. Building an Online Platform (Blogging, Twitter, Facebook)
  4. Publishing Your Paperback (with CreateSpace)
  5. Publishing Your E-book (with Amazon KDP and Smashwords)
  6. Selling Your Book (Using Amazon Author Central, your listing, etc.)
  7. Launching Your Book (Introducing your book to your platform)
  8. Everything Else (Um… everything else.)

You can read the full table of contents here and if you’re still not sure, you can take the not at all accurate Is This Book For You?” Self-Printed quiz over on SelfPrintedBook.com. You’ll also find an excerpt from its introduction on its Amazon listing under “From the Author.”

How You Can Help

I’m feeling a bit nauseous because while I truly believe Self-Printed is a good book, I just don’t know whether or not it’s going to sell. (And because, quite possibly, I had a cup too much coffee for breakfast this morning.) But hopefully it’ll do well. If you want to help there’s plenty you can do, even if it doesn’t include buying a copy. (Although if you do buy and read it, please consider writing an Amazon review. They are hugely helpful.) As luck would have it, I have prepared this handy graph for just that situation:

On the Subject of Release Days

Some people have been taking this all way too seriously and asking, “How can today be the release day? Self-published books don’t have release days! And hasn’t your e-book been on the Kindle store for ages? Amazon says your paperback was published a week ago…” etc. etc. To these people I would say – first of all – chillax, and, second of all, you have to have a release day, even if it’s just an arbitrary date you decided on yourself.

You need something to build your promotional efforts towards and even before we get there, we need a deadline for all our work. So many self-publishers set off doing this without a deadline or a release date (or even release month) and while it mightn’t matter that much if you’ve already published a few of them, if it’s your first it is absolutely vital.

I treat self-publishing like a business; I see myself as an entrepreneur and my book as my product. Everything I do, from the layout of my website to the copyright notice in my book, has to look professional. It has to send a message to potential readers, subliminally or otherwise, that says My book is worth your time and money. And so if I say things like, “My e-book will be out… just as soon as I get around to finishing it!” or “I’m aiming for March… but knowing me, it could be July!!” or “You can buy the paperback now… but I don’t know how long it’ll be before you can buy the e-edition – I’ll let you know!” that’s not going to send that message, now is it?

But On Amazon, This is a Tricky Business

Unlike an author with a traditionally published book, you can’t get your book up on Amazon and hit a magic button that only makes it available starting the day of its official release. (And don’t even mention pre-ordering. Every time a self-publishing author wonders aloud about how to get their book available for pre-order on Amazon, a fairy dies. Fact.) Your book will appear on Amazon.com anytime between 5 and 14 days after you click the “Approve Proof” button, and your Kindle edition 48-72 hours after you publish your e-book. But then you need to link the editions (i.e. e-mail Amazon and ask them to link your paperback listing to your Kindle listing), sign up for Amazon Author Central and add all sorts of lovely stuff to your listing, such as editorial reviews, a “From the Author” message and an extended product description.

This is why my Kindle edition has actually been available on Amazon since the 16th of April, and why my paperback has been on there for well over a week. But I’m only telling you about them today, because I’ve been quietly waiting for them to appear, getting them linked and adding elements to the listing through Author Central. As luck would have it, I talk more about this very subject in Self-Printed. (See what I did there?)

And While We’re on the Subject of Amazon

I’ve signed up for CreateSpace’s expanded distribution “ProPlan” ($39 per title and then $5 a year after that) but Self-Printed has yet to become available on any retailers other than Amazon.com. And I DON’T CARE. If they do become available to buy, great. Fantastic, even. But I’m not going to get my knickers in a twist over it. That’s one of the mistakes I made with Mousetrapped: I got too caught up with the paperback. The paperback doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it accounts for a maximum of 10% of all sales. (If I wasn’t such a book nerd I mightn’t even bother doing a paperback, but as it is I have to have one just for myself and for the other people who refuse to read e-books. Plus, I think this book is more helpful in printed form.) So my days of sitting at home and searching for my ISBN every five minutes on a whole range of online bookstores are well and truly over. And please, don’t bother telling me what company I “should” be using. I use CreateSpace. I love them. End of.

Did You Know About This?

I’ve only been using Mail Chimp for a couple of months, and only for sending out the More Mousetrapped stories. But I set up a Self-Printed mailing list for sending readers updates in the long-term and alerting people to its availability in the short term, and was delighted to find that pre-designed template, pictured above, that enables you to link directly to the content on your Amazon listing. How great does it look? Not only great, but professional (which, if you read Self-Printed, you’ll see is my new favorite word). And it’s completely free, and exceedingly easy to use, so consider building a Mail Chimp mailing list and sending out announcements of your upcoming books. They’ll look oh so pretty.

So that’s it. I will now try not to spend the rest of the day checking my KDP sales stats to see if anyone has bought a copy…

Find out more on SelfPrintedBook.com.

Up next: the longest blog I’ve ever written (I think). Warning: it contains the g-word. (Gatekeepers, if you were wondering.) And it might be a tad controversial. Stay tuned.

Self-Printed Preview #5: What’s With the Be Professional Thing?

Welcome to the Self-Printed Preview Week! Today’s excerpt is from Part 3: Building an Online Platform and it’s called What’s With The “Be Professional” Thing? In Self-Printed I talk a LOT about acting like a professional writer even if you’re not one yet, especially on your blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, etc. But why do we need to? Why can’t we just blog about Jersey Shore, tweet about how our boyfriend’s dumped us and incessantly poke our Facebook friends? It’s because if you want to sell books, acting professional is the only way to go… 

Why do you need to act like a professional? Why can’t you smear your emotional crap all over the place? Why can’t you do whatever it takes to get to a nice round number of Twitter followers? Why can’t you virtually poke me in the eye, especially when after reading this far, you really really want to?

You Have Something to Prove

Self-publishers, in the eyes of the discerning reader, start off fairly low on the Book Ladder. In fact for some, we’re not even on the ladder. The ladder is leaning against a house and we’re across the street and five doors down from it. Before the discerning reader will give our book a chance, we have to convince him or her that we have the potential to be just as good as anything the top-selling, most lauded, international-superstar-authors have to offer, and that just because we’re associated with a group known for bad quality doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve gone down that road as well.

How can we do that? By sending I’m-not-crap signals at every opportunity. On the book, this is the cover. On our Amazon listing, this is the product description. And online, this is how much our blog looks like the website of a professional author, maybe even one who has someone else to make and maintain their website for them, someone with a website manager. (The dream!) When you’re a self-published author, everything you do online is a reflection of the quality of your book. Everything. Because even when no one is watching, Google is.

The More… the Merrier?

When you first start blogging, you feel like it’s just you and the screen. Then a few people leave comments, and you feel like it’s just you and them. Even though you know, intellectually, that whatever you type on those posts is entering the public domain, it doesn’t feel like it at the time. Even when your site stats say a couple of thousand people are visiting your blog on a regular basis, it still feels like a little group of friends, gathered together over a coffee every morning, chatting about quilts or whatever. It’s nice. It’s intimate. It’s safe.

It’s only when something from the real world pierces the bubble of your blogosphere that you realise how many people can, potentially, read your every blogged thought, and who some of those people might be. Maybe you write a post about how your family don’t believe in you, and then Aunty Joanne brings it up at your cousin’s wedding. Maybe you tell people the resort you’re going to on holidays and, while you’re there, someone comes up to you by the pool and says, “Are you the Quilting Queen of the Universe? I read your blog!” Or maybe you bitch about how your boss is clearly a devoted disciple of Satan, and then the next day you get fired.

And not to get all serious and sinister, but a lot worse can happen that that.

Your social media presence requires your personality, but it shouldn’t include your personal life. The easiest way to ensure that we keep one but exclude the other is to behave ourselves, and act the same way a professional writer – who knows, right from the outset, that lots of people, including reporters, agents and editors, are reading his/her every word – would do.

Dress for the Job You Want

You’ve heard that, right? Dress for the job you want, not the job you have? The same applies to your online presence. If you want to be a professional writer some day, start acting like one now – at least on your blog.

And so concludes Self-Printed’s preview week! I hope you’ve enjoyed these little tasters of the book that, through typing it, nearly wore my fingerprints away. (Over 100,000 words, people. What was I thinking?!) If you haven’t, we can still be friends. 

Find out more on SelfPrintedBook.com

Self-Printed Preview #4: What Does The Dream Look Like?

Welcome to the Self-Printed Preview Week! Today’s excerpt is from Part 2: Preparation and it’s called What Does the Dream Look Like? One of the main reasons self-publishing leaves self-publishers disappointed is because they have completely unrealistic expectations about what they can achieve. So before you decide to embark on your own self-publishing – or self-printing – adventure, consider whether or not what can be achieved is what you want to achieve. 

Now that you know more about the logistics and the plain onto which you’re about to walk, I want you to think about your master plan. How are you going to go about this? And more importantly, what does your dream look like? As I see it, there are five things we can realistically achieve here. Now is the time to make sure that what you want out of this is one or more of them. If it’s not, then perhaps self-publishing is not for you and your writing.

Let’s do the bad news first. The chances of the following things happening to you because of this are on a par with you getting struck by lightning:

  • Becoming rich
  • Breaking into the official bestseller charts
  • Bookstores stocking your book without you asking them to
  • Having your book chosen for a TV book club
  • Winning a literary award.

The chances of the following things happening to you because of this are on a par with you getting stuck by lighting twice:

  • Becoming rich, breaking into the bestseller charts, bookstores stocking your book without you asking them to, having your book chosen for a TV book club and winning a literary award.

But now for the good news: lots of good things can come of this. Even some amazing things can come of this, but luck will be a factor if they do. Still, I think it’s reasonable to aim for the following, if you are prepared to do this whole self-publishing thing right, get out there and promote it, basically do everything I tell you to do and consume vast amounts of coffee (or better yet, send me some!) while you do it.

See Your Book in Print

I would dissuade you from doing this if this is your only motivation, but no one can deny that finally seeing their book in a form other than a stack of 400 dog-eared, double-spaced pages is very exciting, and it’s especially exciting if you’ve done it well, and done it well yourself. If you produce a good-looking, quality book, no matter what else happens, no one can take that achievement away from you.

Build an Online Platform

Regardless of what happens to your book in terms of sales or reception, building an online platform, i.e. establishing an effective blog, winning a following on Twitter, finding fans on Facebook and then delivering quality content on a regular basis, will help your writing career no matter what direction it ends up taking. Doing this and selling books might give you a writing career right now.

Find Readers

When I had sold 100 books, I imagined what 100 people lined up would look like (clue: a lot of people) and then reminded myself that that amount of people had read my book. So I hadn’t exactly cracked the bestseller list, but 100 people had read something that otherwise would have still been in a drawer, unread by anyone but me, if I hadn’t self-published it. If those 100 – or 500, or 1,000 – people read and like your book, then what do you think they’ll want to do when you release another one? Every time you find a reader for something you’ve written, you are putting another brick in the wall of readership, finding someone who will look out for your next book, recommend you to a friend or add your blog to their list of favourites.

Prove You Can Sell Books

If, like me, you are still pursuing traditional publication for a different book while you self-publish this one, then proving that you are both willing and able to get out there and sell your own book can be one of the most valuable aspects of this entire operation (especially if you can build an effective author platform while you’re at it). Imagine how much more attractive this makes you to a publishing house. The global economic downturn has affected them along with everyone else, and with the rise of e-books and the other changes revolutionising the book industry, there just isn’t enough money or personnel to get every author on TV or reviewed in the newspaper. Showing that you will do something when your book comes out other than lying on the sofa and waiting for the accolades to roll in will put you head and shoulders (or head, shoulders, knees and toes) above the rest.

Improve Your Financial Circumstances

I’ve worded that carefully because while everyone loves to repeat the headlines of million-dollar e-book success, for most self-publishers self-publishing just about keeps them in ink cartridges. (Or coffee. Or if they’re really lucky, ink cartridges and coffee.) But you can earn money and if you keep at it and do everything right, you might even make a not-completely-insignificant amount of money. Self-publishing, just like its traditional counterpart, also offers writers opportunities to get paid for things related to writing that isn’t actual writing itself. For instance, I have been paid to talk to other people about using social media to sell books. Theoretically I could also offer classes and, hey, you paid money for this handy little instructional guide, didn’t you? If your self-publishing adventure goes really well, you’ll not only be earning money from your book sales, but perhaps also from things like speaking engagements. But very few self-publishers end up giving up the day job or start using gold-leaf toilet paper. Keep this in mind.

All of the Above

What if you managed to do all of these things? See your book looking damn fine in print, established a kick-ass online platform, discovered an army of readers, proved you could sell books by selling loads of them and, ultimately, earned money from it all. It can happen, but only if you work really, really hard at selling your book and make sure that the book you’re selling is in really good shape. As luck would have it though, I’m here to help you do just that.

Tune in tomorrow for the final excerpt, What’s With The “Be Professional” Thing? 

Self-Printed Preview #3: The Minefield That Is Self-Published Cover Design

Welcome to the Self-Printed Preview Week! Today’s excerpt is from Part 2: Preparation and it’s called The Minefield That is Self-Published Cover Design. Why do self-published books look so self-published? Why do self-publishing authors seem to forget everything they know about real, “proper” books when they go to design their own? And what makes anyone think that having a decorative border, using Comic Sans or putting a quote like, ‘”I loved it” – Author’s Best Friend Who, Like, Reads a LOT’ is a good idea? It boggles the mind… 

Remember how I said that there were only two places in this book where, if you didn’t listen to me, you definitely wouldn’t be a successful self-publisher? Well, pricing was one of them and this – cover design – is the other.

You can write a bad book. You can write a truly terrible book, that’s also a little offensive. You can publish it chock full of grammar and spelling mistakes, lay it out sideways and do the whole thing in super large print and upside down. You can call it something boring, do no promotion and claim in your book description that you’re the next next JK Rowling or something equally pompous and annoying. (“My book is the best book I’ve ever read”, for instance.) You can do all these things and still sell books. It’s unlikely, but it can happen. But charge too much money for it or wrap it in a stinky cover and you will not sell books. Those two mistakes cannot be overcome, partly because there are so obvious and the tell-tale signs of a badly self-published book. Hopefully I’ve already convinced you that you need to be reasonable in your pricing, so now let me clatter you over the head with my arguments for why you need to have a good cover and why this may make or break your entire self-publishing career. The good news is that covers are by far the trickiest thing in this whole process so if you can do this right, you’re more than half way to a successful self-publishing adventure.

We are now entering what I like to call The Bermuda Triangle of self-published cover design, because chances are everything you know about books is about to mysteriously disappear. Self-publishing is indeed a strange world: there’s talking purple unicorns, plastic toys come to life and hundreds of thousands if not millions of writers who’ve (hopefully) been reading books all their lives who then go to make their own and instantly forget every single thing they know about them. It amazes me on a daily basis how self-published authors create books that look absolutely nothing like the books they’ve been buying, borrowing, reading, stacking, stroking (or is that just me?) and gazing at adoringly and then, even more amazingly, don’t see that they’ve done anything wrong.

Why does that happen? Behold, the five biggest mines in the minefield of self-published cover design:

Mine #1: Laziness

The antidote to successful self-publishing, laziness gets in between many self-publishers and properly self-published books. You just don’t want to be bothered finding, hiring and working with a cover designer. Where do you even find those people? And you’d rather lie on the sofa and watch The Biggest Loser than think up something to go on the cover of you book. Ugh. BOR-ing. Haven’t you done enough already by writing the bloody thing? You need some Me Time. So you’re just going to watch TV and then spend a few minutes knocking up a cover on the POD website with their cover creator wizard thingy. I mean, they wouldn’t call it a wizard if it didn’t work, right? So get off my back. Gawd.

How to avoid this? Hire a cover designer.

Mine #2: Lack of skills and/or imagination

You either have a very good idea of what might go on your book’s cover, or none at all. Having spent all of your creative energy on writing the thing, it’s not unusual to have little or no clue of what might work well on the jacket. This is okay, but it’s not okay for you to do nothing about it. Similarly, you might not want to get involved in doing anything “too fancy” for your cover because you don’t know how to use PhotoShop or any of those design programs – which, again, is okay. I don’t know how to use them either. But I didn’t let that stop me from getting a good cover for my book.

How to avoid this? Hire a cover designer.

Mine #3: Delusion

This is my favourite one, and I’d hazard a guess, the most common problem. Self-publishers (the ones destined to do it badly, anyway) can be so damn defensive, and they are especially defensive when it comes to choosing a cover design, in particular why they need to choose a good one. “But Catherine,” they’re saying now, if they enjoy talking aloud to books, “I never choose books because of their covers. I read books because the blurb is interesting, or because I like the author. Whatever picture is on the cover doesn’t sway me in the slightest. Why, just last week I bought the new Harlan Coben and I’ll tell you, I didn’t care for the cover on it at all. So I think you going on for pages and pages about how my cover is the most important part of my book is occasionally amusing – mildly – but ultimately utterly irrelevant. My book is, like, the best book I or anyone else has ever read and when people see the thousands of five-star reviews I’m going to get on Amazon, they won’t even glance at the cover before clicking ‘Add to Cart.’ It just doesn’t matter.”

How to avoid this? Don’t be a moron. And hire a cover designer.

Mine #4: Distorted perspective, AKA “My Name is on the Spine!” Syndrome

It is very exciting to see your name on the spine of a book, and words you wrote in between its covers. Very exciting indeed. In fact it’s so exciting that I recommend you go straight to CS right now, upload any old PDF you can find, run through the Cover Creator wizard thingy and send yourself a proof copy just so you can get it out of your system. Then you won’t be so overwhelmed by the sight of your name on anything that looks like a printed book that you’ll fail to notice the book your name is on looks like a pile of self-published poo. It is not enough to produce something that feels like a book in your hands, that has pages inside of it, and that has those pages bound together at one end to form a spine. You need to produce a great looking book, and if your eyes are filled with tears at the sight of your newborn book baby, you won’t be able to see it clearly enough to tell whether you have or not.

How to avoid this? Take a book with a white spine and write your name on it with a Sharpie. Look at it for while, and then hire a cover designer.

Mine #5: Lack of money

Maybe you already knew how important a cover was, but you just don’t have the money to hire a cover designer and get them to make a good one for you. There’s a few ways to overcome this problem, and we’ll talk about them in a minute.

How to avoid this? Keep reading.

You may have got the sense by now – if you’re very astute – that I don’t recommend you use any “cover creation” software available on POD sites, such as CreateSpace’s Cover Creator. This is because the only creation involved is deciding between one bad template and the next, and even if you push it to the max and do the very best you can with it, you will still end up with a cover that screams “self-published!” They look bad because they don’t look like real, proper books, and all of them are on my Top 3 list of Stinky Self-Published Front Covers:

  • A rectangular photograph centred on the front cover that takes up a large portion of it, is against a plain colour background and has text above (the title) and below (the author’s name)
  • A patterned or plain background with no photographs at all, just text
  • Almost anything generated by a cover creation wizard installed on a POD site.

If you insist on using the Cover Creator, then you’ll do it after you upload your interior files and CS will automatically size it for your book’s page count and trim, and then add the barcode for you. As I’ve said already, do not pay for any packages or services offered by the POD site, and that includes cover design. (I’d even go so far as to say especially cover design.) All you are doing here is paying through the nose for a cover that is almost completely indiscernible from one you could have made yourself – and for free – using the cover creation software. So DON’T do it.

So I’ve told you what not to do. (Repeatedly.) But what should you do to ensure that your cover is worthy of your book and of rubbing shoulders with anything produced by the Big Boys, and won’t stand out as a self-published POD book when it does?

Tune in tomorrow for the next excerpt, What Does the Dream Look Like? 

Find out more on SelfPrintedBook.com 

Self-Printed Preview #2: Self-Publishing Goals – What’s Realistic?

Welcome to the Self-Printed Preview Week! Today’s excerpt is from Part I: Why Self-Printing? and it’s called Self-Publishing Goals: What’s Realistic? It plays the numbers game, asking what kind of sales make your self-publishing adventure a certifiable success? 

I don’t believe you should set out to do anything without having some goals in mind, but when it comes to self-publishing it can be hard to find the cold, hard numbers of success. It also depends on what you want for yourself. The vast majority of self-published books on a POD site like Lulu or CreateSpace only sell one or two copies, so if you sold 10 you’d be considered a success. But would selling 10 copies of your book make you happy? I know it wouldn’t do it for me.

When I was setting my own goals, I searched for as many examples of sales figures as I could find and then I tried to find a spot somewhere in the middle of them for me and Mousetrapped. I read on one publishing blog that very few POD books sell more than 200 copies, so I set that as my embarrassment level, i.e. I could avoid humiliation if I managed to sell that much, but would have to dig a hole and hide in it if I sold any less. But of course I wanted to sell more than that.

A pretty level-headed self-publishing book told me that a well-produced POD title could expect to sell between 50-200 copies per month, but would likely only achieve those sales after being on sale for a year, as it seemed to take that long for POD books to reach their full potential. So I took that into consideration as well, and finally decided on 100 copies in the first month, 500 copies by six months and 1,000 copies in the first year. If I managed to reach those targets, then I’d think up some new ones.

Here we are a year later, and I’ve sold 4,000 books. My goals were way off and there’s a specific reason why: e-books. I didn’t factor e-book sales into my goals because when I was getting ready to self-publish and deciding on things like my goals, I didn’t even know I was going to release e-book editions. E-books are easier to sell than paperbacks (mainly because they’re priced much lower) and so that really messes up our goals. However it is easier to find an e-book sales figure threshold to aim for, because one magic number allows entry into the Big Selling E-Book Author Club, and that’s 1,000. Sell a 1,000 e-books a month and you’re playing with the big boys. But despite some recent headlines, it isn’t easy to sell 1,000 e-books a month and even if you do manage it, you won’t manage it right away.

You also need to factor in whether your book is fiction or non-fiction; self-published fiction, as a general rule, will sell more. And whether your e-book is priced 99c or $4.99, because – guess what? – the 99c edition will be easier to sell as people will be more willing to “take a chance” on it. And you may have some outlets through which you can sell copies of your book that will guarantee you a certain amount of sales, such as workshops or seminars. All of this has to be factored in.

I think a good base line is 100 books a month to begin with, or 1,200 books in the first year. If you managed that you would have something to be very proud of, but those sales are still achievable (with time and hard work) so you’re not setting yourself up for disappointment. If you do sell more, well  then, great! If you think 100 books a month sounds like a small number, you may have wandered off into the Forest of Self-Publishing Delusion. It would be a success, and no small achievement. That’s 6,000 books in five years, more than most traditionally published books shift in their lifetime. And remember: we’re only talking about the beginning. Your sales may start to grow – they might even take off – and if they do then you can readjust your figures. But let’s stick to being reasonable for now.

Tune in tomorrow for the next excerpt, The Minefield That is Self-Published Cover Design. 

Find out more about Self-Printed on SelfPrintedBook.com