Self Publish or Outsource? Details on Book Design & Cover Design for Writers

It’s clear from the large number of titles self published on (over 1.1 million since 2002, rising daily) that many writers go down the route of self publishing for themselves. As someone who provides self publishing services for the writers who choose not to do it themselves, I have great admiration for those talented all-rounders who are not only creative writers but also have the skills and confidence to take in their stride all the other tasks involved in bringing their work to a printed book outcome. In what follows, I will try and outline in detail (based on my experience of having self published book types ranging from novels, plays, poetry and memoirs to medical text books, Christian tracts and self help manuals) exactly what is involved in the mechanics of self publishing a book.

First, Cover Design which involves:
– Being able to use software such as Photoshop to set single or multiple images on various parts of the cover – this often involves resizing or manipulating those images for best effect. Images can be used on the front cover, the spine and the back cover.
– On the front cover, choosing suitable font and font sizes for the title and subtitle (if any) along with the author’s name and fitting them in with the images on the front. Photoshop allows many methods for manipulating the text for various snappy effects depending on the type of book.
– On the back cover, a suitable ‘blurb’ to summarize the contents of the book and a ‘bio’ to describe the author with covering photograph if wanted
– Also on the back cover, a barcode and standard book descriptive data such as the price of the book, ISBN (if required) and the book’s genre: eg Fiction, Christianity, Memoirs etc.
– For the whole cover, selecting a suitable background effect whether plain color or textured with any of the special effects available in Photoshop.
– Creation of a single cover document, usually in PDF format, which shows (left-to-right) the back cover, the spine and the front cover as one seamless display.
– Calculations on overall cover width and height, including the spine, have to be exact for the page size of your book.

Work on the inside of the book requires a whole lot of extra creative skills:
– A key choice is page size:
clearly, A4 is unsuitable for a novel but might be fine for an academic work. With a novel or poetry, common sizes are A5 or 6″ x 9″ or Pocket Size. The choice of page size is one of the easiest decisions for a self publishing author to make.
– Use of white space: personally, I like to see a lot of white space in a book. For me, there is nothing more off-putting than seeing a page which uses a small font and narrow margins to produce a dense mass of black ink on the paper. So, when designing the main page design, good use of margins (left, right, top and bottom) is essential to producing a page which you want to read.
– Use of font: if you’ve got a 150,000 word novel a large font size would be balloon the page count. On font selection (and there are 1000’s of fonts) Times New Roman would clearly be wrong for a Mickey Spillane novel – although it might be fine for an academic work.
– Fancy Stuff: chapter headings and drop caps can enhance the start of the chapter along with the use of border illustrations. One book I did for an author writing about soccer showed a black and white image of a football to start off each chapter.
– More Fancy Stuff: the header and footer of a page can be used in a variety of ways. Even the page number can be formatted in imaginative ways to good effect.
– The ‘Bumf’ Pages: formatting the start of a book is a special task quite separate to the main body of the book and includes the title page, the pages showing the address of the publisher, ISBN data and copyright text, acknowledgements, dedications and tables of content. To give a professional look to your book, all these pages must be done well.

Other Tasks
Further tasks include the sales and marketing of the book,
proof-reading, editing, managing the storefront on the free-to-publish website and registering or obtaining an ISBN. Add to that, many writers are incredibly creative in writing their novel, poetry etc. but have a ‘blind spot’ where computers are concerned – so even a simple task such as uploading a file can be daunting.

Skill Sets
Along with ‘technical’ or computer skills and creative writing skills,
there are creative skills regarding cover and book design. Some rare writers combine all of these creative skills and successfully self publish works which are outstanding both in terms of the book/cover design and the content. Some other writers, however, are not so fortunate.

Self publishing is complex and that’s the reason
why many writers pay for self publishing services. The alternative approach, for writers without the required skills, expertise and confidence (but unwilling or unable, for whatever reason, to pay for self publishing services) is to muddle through as best they can on sites such as and successfully self publish their book – but with a finished product, whether cover or book interior or both, which is sadly lacking in quality. And this could be a great shame as the writing may well be outstanding, a future Hemingway or J.K. Rowling spoiling their chances through poor presentation.
Vincent Walsh
Rossendale Books

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