Tag Archives: design rules

“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.