I am a book whore. I have never denied it, nor been ashamed of it. Books and I have a special relationship. However, as much as I love all things about the written word, I can also be a fickle monster. The more I learn about all the work that goes into producing books the pickier and more judgmental I am about what I choose to read and what I myself put out there as an author.
Cover art matters, book formatting matters, blurbs matter. Yes it sounds shallow, but it is the truth. How a book is packaged tells me a lot about the book:
- Whether the author/publisher take the book seriously
- Whether the author/publisher take themselves seriously
- Whether the author/publisher respect the fact that I’m spending money to purchase their product
- Whether the author/publisher understands the genre the book is being marketed toward
Yes a book’s packaging tells me all of this. Because if I see a book with an obviously amateur book cover, poor formatting and a rambling or too long book blurb, I’m not going near it. These things are warning signs that if an author isn’t willing to do their due diligence and run a basic Google search on dos and don’ts before they press “publish”, then they won’t do their due diligence in learning the writing craft either. The few times I’ve been swayed from this, stance, I’ve only been proven right.
As an author, why spend the time to write a story you want people to read, then package in a brown paper bag smeared in poop? No one wants to open a bag of poop. And if you manage to convince them there is gold in the bag, they’ll still hesitate to touch it.
I can hear the naysayers now. “But it takes money, to do all these things right. I’m an indie I don’t have that kind of money. This is my first book, I’m relying on my agent/publisher to guide me.” In this age of the year two thousand and sixteen–these excuses are bullshit.
The internet is overflowing with information about publishing and marketing books. Many authors, agents, and publishing companies have published articles and books on these very topics. Forums such as KindleBoards and Absolute Write Water Cooler are filled with how to posts, and real life experiences and recommendations.
THERE ARE NO EXCUSES.
All of that being said (and whined) below is my list of top don’ts for authors and publishers in regards to book packaging and design.
1. Don’t Be Cheap…
Authors, if you have zero experience in graphic design or illustration, step away from your computers. You do not have the necessary skills to create your own book covers. Ignore the compliments you’re getting from friends and family members. They are lying to you. Your cover looks like garbage and you secretly know it. There are great book design options for all budget levels that are professional and beautiful. ALL LEVELS.
If you’re new to this whole thing in general or not and indie author, know that you should still speak up if you think something is sub-par. Yes contracts have already been signed, but there may be some wiggle room, and often your concerns will at least be taken into consideration.
The same advice applies towards e-book formatting. If you don’t know the difference between an epub or mobi file, don’t attempt formatting on your own. If the letters HTML mean nothing to you, don’t attempt formatting on your own. If you don’t know where a table of contents belongs get thee away, open your wallet and get someone to do this for you.
2. Don’t Be Ignorant…
If you’ve never had to choose a book cover before, take the time to peruse your local bookstore or go online and look at what covers look like for your book’s genre. Understand that just because you have a favorite color, doesn’t mean that it should be in your covers. Neither should puppies or unicorns if they don’t fit with both your book’s story or genre. A reader should be able to have a general idea of your books genre at a quick glance. Don’t make them guess. Also don’t confuse them. If your hero is a cop, don’t choose a model wearing a fireman’s uniform…They are not the same thing (#truestory).
Authors with publishers should also take the time to flip through that publisher’s catalogue online or in a library. If the publisher produces “meh” book designs then they are probably not worth your time or brand, to submit your hard work to.
3. Don’t be a Basic Bitch…
Yes I said it. Take the time to actually style your book. This means everything from the book cover design and the interior design of the book. Times New Roman as a font has its place. It just may not be in your book. Take a walk on the wild side and look at Garamond, Georgia and Theano Didot as font options. Take the time to learn the difference between sans and sans-serif fonts. When you should use them and why.
Explore the concept of dropped caps. Think about how you would like to see your chapter headers. I’m partial to chapter headers that begin about a quarter the way down a page. Think about your scene breaks. Should there be basic asterisks (which can be fitting and done very well), or should there be an actual graphic of some sort. Style does matter. If you’ve written a contemporary story, try to style your book in keeping with that feel.
4. Don’t Have Diarrhea of the Pen (or keyboard)…
Your book blurb should not be the length of a common first chapter, nor should it be the length of an excerpt. If your blurb is more than 250 words, all you’ve related to me is that you don’t know what your book is about. So if you don’t know, why should I care or want to read it? Your blurb, should both entice and quickly relate the plot and genre of your book. If your book has werewolves as main characters, make that explicitly known. Let me know I’m about to buy a paranormal book and not a contemporary romance.
If it takes me more that 30 seconds to read your blurb, I pass on your book. #sorrynotsorry. You just made me work too hard to figure out if I want to read it.
5. Don’t be a Mystery…
When the stars align and readers not only buy your book, but read it from start to finish, don’t leave them hanging, and don’t make them work to find more of your books. Pay as much attention to the back matter of your book as you do to your actually story. The back matter should include a select list of other books you’ve written, your author bio with a professional headshot if available, and your author website and social media information. If I loved your book and I have to take the time to google you in order to find more of your work, you have failed.
It is a sad but true. If you don’t let me know where and how to get more of your work, then, you just prevented a single purchase from converting into a long-term fan. If as an author you don’t have a website, Amazon Author page, or Goodreads account, then please comment below and let me know the location of the time-machine you have obviously been using to travel here from the past.
6. Don’t Be a Big Fat Liar…
If your characters are people of color, but your book cover design has managed to whitewash them, I hope you are up on your cardio, because distraught readers will come running for you. And not in a “I’d love to read your next book”, kind of way. If your book is a contemporary romance between two straight laced characters, but you decided to put a tatted up hero holding a gun on your cover, because you thought it looked hot, find a nice place to hide.
If you think for even a second, that you can categorize your book because you feel a smaller genre will offer you more discoverability, congratulate yourself on alienating a large amount of readers and potential fans. Enjoy the initial sales bump, before the 1 and 2 star reviews start rolling in from readers who are upset at being duped.