Archive | Production & Printing RSS feed for this section

“By” the way

29 Oct

One of the 53 self-publishing mistakes I discuss in my ebook is putting the word “By” in front of the author’s name on the cover. Most authors and self-publishers are surprised to learn this, until they go to the store (or peruse Amazon) and find out it’s true—you don’t see “By” in front an author’s name on a book cover.

So, recently, I joined an online conversation about a book-cover design. The commentary included many designers and book lovers, and even Seth Godin. Everyone focused on various aspects of the design, but no one mentioned that the author’s name is preceded by the word “by”—so I brought it up. I gently mentioned that it’s a good lesson to keep in mind, especially for designers who aren’t familiar with the nuances of book covers.

But the funny thing is, this isn’t a self-published book with a cover design by an amateur. The book is Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. (Check out the online discussion on the cover.) Isaacson is a well-known, best-selling biographer and the book is published by Simon & Schuster, but I didn’t know either at the time. How embarrassing!

So, what to make of my no-“by” advice? Well, though I put my toe in my mouth (if not my whole foot) in that online discussion by not knowing it’s a professionally designed cover, I stand by my calling this a self-publishing mistake, for two reasons:

  1. It is still extraordinarily unconventional, and I have not seen another professionally designed book cover that does this. My bet is that it was done to solely accommodate the design as is—meaning by using Steve Jobs’ name as the title and putting Isaacson’s name to the right of it, it is practically necessary to visually define the relationship of title and author. Though Jobs’ name is black and Isaacson’s name is gray, this isn’t enough (or at least the designer felt so).
  2. Because the publisher is Simon & Schuster and the designer is (presumably) a highly experienced pro, they can get away with such a “mistake.” When you have demonstrated your expertise, you can break certain rules. Stephen King is excused for writing a sentence fragment; a freshman college student isn’t. Likewise, a self-published author (at least an unknown one) whose book’s cover design violates the “rules” will most likely be seen as unprofessional. In fact, because the author is self-published, this perception and prejudice is heightened.

I will do some digging to see if I can learn who this designer is and contact her/him. I’m very interested to know the story behind this design choice. However, I would still recommend against any self-publishing author following suit.

ISBN #

7 Oct

I recently caught a little problem for an author that I hadn’t seen before — “ISBN #” — which preceded the ISBN on the copyright page of his book. While I’ve heard many people say “ISBN number,” I’d never seen it in print.

ISBN stands for “International Standard Book Number,” so having the number sign follow it is like saying “International Standard Book Number number.” I realize people do this all the time with “PIN number” and “VIN number,” but as author-publishers, we should have a higher level of awareness and usage of our industry’s terminology. And people have less tolerance for mistakes in writing versus those in speech.

In this particular case, the author-publisher is very intelligent, educated, and experienced in publishing, so I know this was a slip of attention rather than an error of ignorance. And that’s all the more reason for all of us to keep an eye on our works; none of us is immune from an “unprofessional” publishing mistake.

Yes, books *are* judged by their covers

23 Sep

The other day, a friend showed me a new book by a new author she knows. It was a proud moment for her, so I didn’t want to spoil it — but the cover was awful. I’m not sure whether it amazes me more that these publishing services (in this case, Author House) have the lack of shame to publish these covers or that the authors honestly can’t tell a bad cover from a good one.

Now, I’m not talking about stylistic, design subjectivity; this cover has a visibly blurry image of a handgun on the cover that was probably pulled from the Internet. Even if someone lacks the design savvy to see why the cover is bad overall, it escapes me that the average person wouldn’t see a badly blurry design element like this gun.

In addition, the back cover is nothing more than black text on a white background. BORING!! And on top of that, there were numerous typos just in the back description. Wow.

So, authors, pleeeeeease be ruthless critics of your book covers, especially when using a publishing service. The poor author above probably spent several hundred dollars, possibly a thousand, on his book. (Author House’s set-up fee starts at $598, according to 2009 Writer’s Digest directory of “self-publishing companies.”) If anything seems obviously wrong or questionable, don’t accept it as is. You have the right to a competent (if not great) book cover. If you don’t feel you have the knowledge to discern problems on your cover (before you approve it), then hire a book-cover designer for a consultation. This can be done for around $35-50, but it can save you hundreds of dollars you’d waste on a blatantly poor cover.

Your book’s cover is paramount to your book’s success. I won’t go so far as to say it’ll make or break your book, but it sets the tone for the reader and, more important, is the first impression a potentialreader has when considering buying your book. A cheap cover will convey (at least subconsciously) cheap content.

Adjusting your cover design when using print-on-demand services

23 Sep

Print-on-demand (also called publish-on-demand and usually referred to simply as “P.O.D.”) has been one of the four corners of the self-publishing revolution at the onset of the 21st century. Perhaps nothing else has truly put the benefits (and risks) of publishing within reach of most authors. It is the model on which nearly every subsidy or vanity publisher (often calling themselves “self-publishing companies”) is based.

Although P.O.D. has come a long way since its inception not so many years ago, it still requires some consideration when it comes to your cover design. For most interior designs (black ink on white paper), you’re pretty much free to roam design-wise; however, the color capabilities of P.O.D. is limited.

Know that your colors may be inconsistent from book to book. The variation may not be much, and may not matter to you, but if color accuracy is critical to your book you may have a problem. Due to the nature of P.O.D., it’s simply not possible to guarantee consistent color reproduction. Instead, you’d be better heading over to the world of offset printing and buying a larger print run.

Avoid photos, especially of people. While some imagery may not look bad if the colors are off (and no one will notice), others will look horrible. This is especially true of skin tones and food. No one wants to see faces with a greenish or purplish tint. Remember, it’s not the photo itself but rather the variance in how it will be printed. If you have such a photo that you absolutely must include in your cover, consider having your designer incorporate it in grayscale (black and white) or duotone.

Lastly, flat areas of color (as opposed to gradients, fades, and other effects) will reproduce best in P.O.D. This is not to say you must use flat areas of color, just that you will reduce the chances of a problem. Again, all this can vary significantly across the many P.O.D. services.

Print-on-demand has truly opened up exciting possibilities for self-publishing authors. For all its current limits, I wouldn’t trade it for the “old days” for anything. But as with any budding technology, it requires adaptation for the most effective use. And remember, when going or considering the P.O.D. route, be sure to mention this to your cover designer before starting your project.