Book Launch Learnings 4 – Cover and Interior Design

Part 4 – Learnings about writing and publishing a book Series – Cover and interior Design

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I’m going to move from editing to a couple other contracted roles: Cover Design and Formatting.

I’ll start sounding a bit like a broken record here, but when I started thinking about this, I figured that I can draw my own cover pretty well, and formatting, well, honestly, how hard can it be to pick a font for the book…

This was typically foolish of me, as I have learned pretty quickly. I can make a cover that looks really amateur, and an interior format that looks like I wrote a high school report, perhaps a little better than average, but not professional.

Formatting

My editor, Bobbi, suggested that I get the interior formatted. I have grown to trust her judgment now, and not knowing any better, and the costs not being too rough, I decided to take her advice. This was a good decision. She is affiliated with Indie Publishing Group and she was up-front about that, but strongly encouraged me to get it formatted by somebody professional. I talked with Chrissy, the head formatter, and felt good about it so I took the leap. It really made a huge difference. It didn’t cost a lot, it didn’t take a lot of time, but what she sent back was significantly better looking than what I had sent. Better font, took care of necessary margins, consistent titling and accents, and a bunch of little touches I don’t even recognize to name. As a bonus, they also posted my first interview as an author!

As a result, I would also recommend any would-be self-publisher get their book formatted as well!

Cover Design

Similarly, but more easy to demonstrate, I’ll show off the same kind of feedback about cover pages. I expect I’ll take some ribbing for this, but here was my original cover draft:

Not really meant to be a finished product… just a working title page… Knowing more, I bet I could do better, but I still wouldn’t.

This wasn’t actually meant to be the finished product, more of a proof of concept idea. Still, looking back on it, it isn’t very good.

I searched a bunch of places for cover designers and for a while I considered putting a competition out there for graphic designers to submit an entry. It sounded like a great idea, for not a lot of money, get a bunch of different designers to submit their entries and get a great cover. When I thought about it a little more, and thought of some of my friends who do that kind of work, it occurred to me how horribly unfair that would be. Dozens of people do a bunch of work, submit an entry and only one of them gets paid anywhere near what their work was worth. Writing a book wasn’t about getting rich, but that would have been a nice perk… Writing On Swift Wings was about sharing ideas and hopefully having some great experiences, conversations, and to grow as a person. I didn’t think screwing a bunch of poorly remunerated artists would help me achieve any of those objectives.

A second idea was to contract an artist friend to paint something for me. I approached a friend of mine, but she turned me down as she wasn’t able to find sufficient time to do it. Pity, that might have been something pretty special. I thought it would be cool to have the cover be a piece of art that people might be as happy to have sitting on their shelf as it was to read.

Ultimately I conducted a long web search for professional designers and found one a couple that I quite liked. One of them turned me down saying they don’t do illustration… which wasn’t what I asked for, but the other, JD&J design stepped up.

I gave them a little guidance… I gave them too much guidance. I wanted to let them be artistic, and use their skills, but I steered them too much. I got the cover that I thought I wanted, I was happy with it, and it is the original copy that I used for the first year of publication.

I certainly have no complaints about them, but a key lesson I learned was that giving an artist too many instructions and not enough rope results in less-than-optimal results. I got what I asked for.

After a year, I approached JD&J again and said, I’d like to revisit the cover. I don’t think that this tells the reader much about the story. It doesn’t really tell them that it is a fantasy-adventure novel at first glance, and a strong lesson to take away is that you have to give the readers what they are expecting in a cover unless you’re already a huge recognized name.

I phoned JD&J and we discussed it, and after a full revision they returned with a series of great ideas and we settled on the current cover.

Beautiful Cover by JD&J Design

Much better. Wish I had let them do their thing completely from the start…

Beyond making it look great and professional, the benefit of hiring a professional cover designer, much like the interior designer is that submitting the book to the various services I used to publish (IngramSpark and Kindle Direct Publishing) was a breeze. It just worked the first time… I can’t imagine how much pain it would have been for me to try to pull that off myself.

Next: Publishing (Oh, did I learn a lot here.)

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Going it alone (with freelancers)

July 31, 2019

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Hiring service providers brings its own challenges and rewards.

Once I had decided that I was going to self-publish, a whole new world opened up. Without a traditional publisher, and keeping away from vanity publishers, I would need to research, find, hire, manage, and pay each of my various contracted freelancers myself. I have mentioned before that I really didn’t know anything about publishing at the start, and totally overestimated my own abilities. I’m OK with that, I’d rather think I can do more than I can and pull back when I realize my own limitations than to underestimate myself and achieve less than my potential. At basically every stage where I ultimately hired a service provider, I experienced the same or a similar process.

Stage 1 – I will do it myself!

Original plans called for me to do everything. I was going to plan, write, edit, and format the book. I was going to draw my own cover art and market the book on my own. Tag me as arrogant, but I wanted to try all of these, and I felt like I could do a good enough job if I tried hard enough. I am ok at all of them, but I definitely didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Stage 2 – Research requirements

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Self-publishing requires a lot of research.

Unlike a school project where a teacher tells you all the things that need to be included, there is no definitive requirements document explaining what you need to do to properly edit a book, format the interior, and design a cover. Even now that I’m done, and properly understand the end requirements from experience, I’m not sure that I could properly do any of these myself. Anyway, I researched each one before I gave them all a first try. A blessing and a curse of writing is that the other people who are experts are also writers. They like to write, a lot. There are a lot of resources out there (like this blog is turning into) of people who are eager to tell you everything about their experience. Many of them have written books about how to write books and have them published, I’m not planning on doing that, but rather than a calm stream of helpful advice it is a bit more like a tidal wave of information. Once I had found her, my editor helped to filter some of the more important things. I can’t emphasize how valuable it is to have a guide on this travel.

Stage 3 – Try and try again

I edited my book several times myself, checking for grammar, consistency, idiocy, structure, content, etc. I made several book covers, sought feedback on my Facebook page, edited, and refined them. I formatted my own document using a template I bought online. I took each part as far as I could manage. I did my best, and I felt I did OK, but not good enough. I resolved early on that I would not let myself say, “imagine if I had actually…” like an athlete who sabotages himself before a big race. I wanted to run right through the finish line. The right way to do that is to get the correct people on my side.

Stage 4 – I shouldn’t do it myself!

I concluded that I couldn’t get it sufficiently edited for a professional product. I came to the same conclusion that for a good book, a properly created cover was necessary. With the formatting, I felt confident that I could put a reasonable product together on my own experience, and I think I did come up with something passable. I trusted my editor at this point, who suggested that proper formatting would be a worthwhile investment.

Stage 5 – Research the freelance market

There are a lot of freelancers out there in every field. Whether for editing, cover design, formatting, etc. I wanted to find people compatible with my communication style, who were interested in my book. I did a lot of research, I searched on Editors Canada for Calgary-based editors and found a few people to talk to, I polled my network to see if they knew anybody and drummed up a couple names from there. For the cover design, I considered doing a design competition, but pulled back on that idea when it became clear that experiences there varied dramatically, with all parties generally being dissatisfied with the result, both the artist who feels undervalued and the buyer who doesn’t feel like they got what they wanted. It also hardly feels fair to ask hundreds of people to do the work and only have one or two get paid anything for their troubles. Ultimately I found a few people online who had done a number of covers that I quite liked. Formatting was easier, my editor recommended someone she had worked with and I trusted her judgement.

Stage 6 – Contact

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With the exception of the formatting, which was done on my editor’s advice, I had the same thing happen with both the my choice of editor and book cover design. I contacted several people about doing my editing and my cover design. In both cases, the person who I had thought would be my likely first choice rejected the contract.

The first editor to whom I spoke said that I had done a great job of staying very true to the original in terms of tone and voice, and that her editing style was better suited to a close narrative distance. The second editor, who I ultimately picked, was Bobbi Beatty of Silver Scroll Services. When I got in touch with her she wrote me a novel of advice even before I hired her. I felt like she was thoroughly engaged immediately, and I liked her communication style. She seemed interested and excited. I told my wife that I think I had found my editor.

A similar thing happened with the cover design. I found a group that I thought had done some really great covers, but when I contacted them with my book and idea they told me that because my book included ‘fantasy’ worlds and characters, they would be unable to source appropriate images. I don’t hold any malice about this, they didn’t understand my book, and obviously weren’t familiar with Gulliver’s Travels. I pushed on and found a great team at JD&J Book Cover Design. They responded virtually immediately, gave me a timeline and details, took my information and ideas. As with Bobbi, I felt confident with these guys that I had the right people for me.

Stage 7 – Contract

This was pretty easy in every case. Each of my team requested some percentage of the contract up-front. I wanted some details like non-disclosure agreements to protect my own work. (As with most first-time authors, I was unreasonably afraid that somebody was going to steal my ideas.) Each of them provided me with the cost up-front, the timeline within which they would get the work done (and all of them succeeded in completing on schedule) and communicated with me any issues or concerns.

Stage 8 – The Waiting Game

Hungry hungry hippos!

Oh man this is a hard part. Sending something I’d worked on for so long to the editor, formatting, and even book cover designer was like sending my kid to their first summer camp… which I haven’t done yet, so I can only imagine. I told each of my team that I wanted to be the model client. I promised to pay them immediately upon receiving the invoice, to respond promptly to any questions, and to not pester them. I asked them to take their time and do a great job, rather than worry excessively about hitting deadlines. I meant it! I even said that if the book was bad, to just tell me that. I meant that too!

Once the manuscript was out of my hands, I couldn’t do anything about it until it was returned. Every day felt interminable. I waited with bated breath, unsure, and lacking confidence that somebody wouldn’t come back and say, “your book is awful.” Even though I had told them not to worry about deadlines, I still had them circled on my calendar hoping that they would meet them anyway. (they did)

Stage 9 – Final refinements

At each stage, there is always a little back and forth as some details are touched up. A little font change here, a couple last questions about the edits, a few details on the cover, etc. As I had chosen people with whom communication was easy, these refinements went smoothly and quickly. As well as I could have hoped. Ultimately, I was very pleased by the results.

Stage 10 – Payment

promised I would, and I believe that I did pay each of them within a couple hours of receiving their invoice. I know it is important to be paid promptly. One way to show respect and appreciation is to pay quickly.

Stage 11 – Thanks

Really mean it!

I can hardly emphasize how valuable it is to find the right people for your team. I wouldn’t have nearly the final product today that I’m proud to say is mine without all their help. They were worth their weights in gold.

Bobbi, my editor, was my MVP. Beyond cleaning up my rambling, comma-soaked, first-timer manuscript, she provided the guidance and feedback that I increasingly realized I desperately needed. Her ability to match her edits to the tone and voice that I desired was fantastic, her comments and direction were right on point, and her attitude was brilliant. I would strongly recommend her, and when my second book is complete, I will certainly get in touch with her again.