Self-Published Graphic Novelists Rejoice – Indie Aisle Here To Save The Day

A surge in self-publishing popularity not only helped the fledgling romance novelist take bookstore sales to new heights, it is also bearing fruit for authors of all kinds, including those of graphic novels.

Indie Aisle, a service that turns two in November, offers a robust suite of self-publishing services that are especially friendly for the graphic novelist. While the site pitches itself as a tool for any self-published author looking to convert, publish, and promote their book, we think the design-focused author might benefit the most from the tools offered on Indie Aisle. Here’s the rundown on this up-and-comer.

Conversion

Indie Aisle offers your standard e-book conversion formats like turning your book file into PDF or ePub format, but the added-value of publishing through the site comes from their comic-friendly conversions of files like CBZ and CBR.

90/10 Royalty Rate

Sell your book through Indie Aisle for $10 and keep $9 no matter how the buyer pays, what credit card is used, how the book is downloaded. Compared to the royalty split to Amazon’s KDP program where the most an author can hope for is 70% of the sale price this is more than attractive cut for authors, now if they could just send all that traffic Amazon gets to the niche site we’d really be talking.

Promotion Tools

The most profound artist-friendly touch comes by way of the customizable promotional widgets Indie Aisle offers all authors that publish on their platform. A self-published book that is as much about visual images as it is text can really benefit from a slick promotional widget embedded throughout the web. All authors publishing on the platform have access to the Indie Aisle storefront. While Indie Aisle’s concept of offering authors a storefront isn’t new to self-publishing, the Indie Aisle storefront feels a bit more web 2.0, allowing books once stamped as nothing more than vanity works to have a more credible sheen to them.

As the market for self-published work grows, and the stigma of such continues to diminish, expect more niche outfits like Indie Aisle to emerge as players to serve their specific community needs better than the big boys could. We’d love to see a cookbook-centered self-pub service like this one, as well as a coffee table / photo book site with more functionality than blurb. Thanks to sites like Indie Aisle we just might one day soon enough.

 

The Rise of Ancillary Services for Indie Authors

Once stigmatized as vanity publishing, the white-hot trend of self-publishing has not gone unnoticed by savvy marketers, web designers, and time-tested entrepreneurs who have gotten together to build out some pretty awesome tools to assist the self-published author. These ancillary services aim to solve indie author problems from book development to discovery.

While this list is far from comprehensive, it does offer a glimpse into a fast-growing world that will surely spit more startups out in the near future, and grow to include many more for as long as self-publishing stays on it’s rocket trajectory of popularity.

StoryBundle

A novel idea for sure, the StoryBundle concept pairs same-genre books in a low-cost Priceline style pay-what-you-say format.

Authors potentially will be able to gain more revenue from the sale of their books with a 70% take on sales, and pickup new audience members in the process by piggybacking off of other author names. Author endorsements? Who needs them when you can get your book bundled, and sold together for one low price to a book savvy audience?

See what the buzz is about HERE.

BookDaily

Great writing sells itself, well if it gets in front of an audience anyways. That’s the idea behind BookDaily, which connects authors with a dedicated SEO-friendly landing page, and an option to include a paid blurb in a large, genre-segmented email sent to a group of avid readers in the four-figure range. Yep, that’s a good clip of exposure for any author, nonetheless a bootstrapped self-published one. And they support our website, so now you’ve got plenty of reason to give them a look.

Check them out and setup a free author profile HERE.

Writer.ly

Undoubtedly the hardest part of reaching bestseller status is creating a product of quality in a field of glut. There are so many self-published books, many of them with DIY style covers and editing that frankly suck. It’s not a money issue for all authors, though some might just go sans any support to save a dime, others simply don’t know where to look. Enter Writer.ly, a soon-to-go-live marketplace for self-published authors.

Need a cover designer, editor, layout pro, and PR help? No problem. Have a certain price, style, timeframe you are shooting for? Not an issue. Writer.ly takes the friction out of finding the essential cogs to producing the bestseller status you’ve always lusted for. Check out our interview with the Co-Founder HERE.

Be the first to know when the site goes live by joining the invite list HERE.

Grub Street Reads

At their best traditional publishing houses and big box book retailers are described as quality control mechanisms for readers. Down the ladder of agents, editors, designers, executives, book buyers, and merchandisers we are told by the big outfits what to buy, when to buy it, why, and the aisle number the book is located on to boot. In the new and barely pubescent world of indie e-book publishing we don’t have said QC managers to tell us what to do anymore when it comes to investing in great books, a problem Grub Street Reads hopes to solve.

Grub Street Reads provides authors with a thorough review of their book, and if a given criteria is met, a star of approval. This notoriety will apparently carry the author forward to a new and eager audience that are trusting the analysts at Grub Street did their job, and are now ready to read your book. Think of it as quality control 2.0.

See if your book is right for Grub Street Reads HERE.

Did we miss any interesting startups that help self-published authors? Comment below and let us know!

The Paperback – Anything But Dead

Reporter Tatton Jacob’s thoughts after a day talking to people about what and how they are reading.

Despite a clear push to advertise and manufacture new tablets and e-readers, people simply seem unable to find a reason to give up traditional books. Benefits such as portability and quick access to content online seem dulled by a sense of passion that permeates from proponents of traditional books.

While developing rapidly, the digital ecosystem is somewhat segmented, which can be confusing to consumers. A proprietary system with passwords and protection is a cold contrast to the hometown appeal of a secondhand bookshop, book swaps and tangible, tactile engagements.

Interviewed subjects showed confusion even discussing the subject of e-reading. Several mentioned computers and tablets from a number of different makers with different screens and sizes. They referenced purchases from different libraries, and mentioned the difficulty of losing an e-reader.

One subject claimed research indicates less physical strain on the eyes when using traditional books, though some scientists disagree. He admitted e-ink screens may be exempt from that, but pointed out their inability to be read without illumination. Oddly, in this category, people seem to expect illumination.

Another subject owned a Kindle but hadn’t yet bothered to open it. Device registration and accounting details can introduce tediousness where tediousness did not used to be. Passwords are a minor source of terror for some over the age of 40.

Many subjects were not happy with note taking capabilities on digital devices. Cross-referencing or otherwise reading multiple books at the same time seems to be easier with physical copies as well.

Additions such as Amazon’s lending library, book-sharing and the adoption of e-borrowing through public libraries have addressed many early complaints, but because digital concepts are flexible, the digital system will continue to adapt and will ultimately reign supreme.

Clear early adopters of the digital system have been medical and research institutions. With such a high volume of constantly changing content to deal with, the digital benefits of a compact library hold more weight. Open formats such as .pdfs have proven easy to distribute and are significantly changing said industries.

Small, individual and low-cost publishers see opportunities provided through e-reading. This has allowed them a foothold for freedom from the constraints of big-book publishing.

To an individual, the ambiguity of a digital screen can be troublesome. Aesthetically, a book presents itself in a rather obvious way, while an iPad can be seen as a portal to any number of digital venues.

Interestingly, the environmental implications of traditional book publishing were not mentioned by anyone I interviewed.

The simplicity of a book is hard to interrupt. It is a gift that can be given again and again. To improve this is a lofty goal.

Check the clip out here-

An E-Reader Under $100? No Problem Says eBay Mystery Deal

Found today under the “Mystery Deal” category on eBay is this Ematic MID 7″ Google Android Kobo eReader for a paltry $59.99 with free shipping.

While the deal itself is great for readers looking for a new piece of hardware to consume e-books on the cheap, it’s also a sign of things to come for digital books. Similar to the pricing of Mp3 players and CD players before them, as the price of hardware decreases, the adaptation of the format will only increase. This is good news for the e-book industry at large, and self-published authors alike, as the more eReaders penetrate the consumer electronics market, the more likely smaller e-book retailers like Kobo will have a shot at gaining new users, and authors new readers.

Interestingly enough, the current Kindle Fire offers a similar Android-based touch screen operating system on a 7″ screen, though it does come with 8 GB of memory instead of the MID’s 4. 

Stand Out: Building An Author Website That Sells Books

Image courtesy of Wes Peck

When people hear of something new—a product, business, celebrity, book, or author—what’s the first thing they do? Get online and find out more. Just like judging a book by its cover, people judge authors and books by their websites. That makes effective web design another way to prove to readers that your work is worth their time.

Since most writers don’t have to time or skill to pursue web design effectively alongside their writing work, below is a list of web designers who have experience designing engaging blogs and websites. Each has unique strengths and styles, and they range from independent artists to members of larger design groups and publishing organizations. Each shares their advice for authors and a bit about their work in their own words. They’re listed alphabetically by first name. (Leave a comment if you or a web designer you know would like to be included in this directory.)

There are many other ways to find a web designer. Start with referrals from other writers or by tracking down the designers who created websites you love. The Graphic Artists Guild also has listings of web designers to help you find the right fit. You can also find web designers on LinkedIn, or you can post an ad on Craigslist or Elance. If you’re on a tight budget you can hire students at a local design school.

What you can expect to pay varies, of course. Some of the factors that influence price include the complexity of the site, number of pages, type of artwork, and overall level of customization. The designers below have a wide range of services basic website design beginning around $450 to $1000 for simple, template-based sites to completely customized websites starting around $2000 to $3000. Some are higher, some are lower—but a good price doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good fit for your site.

Aimee Steckowski

DO make sure your site has a search box, social icons in the top header, a strong and consistent logo/brand throughout, share icons on the bottom of each blog post, categories for blog posts to allow users to find the topic of choice, and a blog post signature. Choose a topic or theme for your blog/website and stick to it.

DON’T change your website design, layout, or brand/logo more than once a year; it will confuse your readers.

What platforms, widgets, plugins, or other tools do you recommend?

Platform: Genesis by Copyblogger, Studiopress.com themes. Plugins: ShareThis, CommentLuv, MailChimp, JetPack for WordPress.com, WP-DB Backup, WP125 for Ad Spaces, Antispam Bee.

The most effective website you’ve seen—but not worked on: http://www.thesaleslion.com/

Your favorite website you’ve worked on: http://www.magpieeventsblog.com/ and http://www.redouxinteriors.com/

Website: http://www.byaimee.com/

Lindsey Riel

DO invest in your blog design, whether it be modifying a pre-made theme or having a completely custom design built. Readers are much more likely to stick around if your content is easy to find and aesthetically pleasing. Do make your content the focal point. Good design should enhance your content, not take away or distract from it.

DON’T use small type (16 pt. or above is recommended) or flash. Flash websites are often times not viewable on mobile devices and even some home computers as well. 

What platforms, widgets, plugins, or other tools do you recommend?

I highly recommend, and use myself, WordPress as a platform to build your website and blog. I also highly recommend the Genesis Framework for WordPress (an explanation of Genesis Framework). It is all I use anymore and cannot imagine working without it.

The most effective website you’ve seen—but not worked on: http://www.chrisbrogan.com/

Your favorite website you’ve worked on: TheTomKatStudio.com. The owner, Kim Stoegbauer, and I just clicked and have similar style, making the project more fun than work. 

Website: prettydarncute.com

Rachel Gogos

DO make it easy for your readers to connect with you. A great way to build your readership and your target audience is to be somewhat accessible—not overly accessible because you don’t want to create an email nightmare for yourself. One great way to do this is by offering virtual book club readings via Skype, FaceTime, or a Google Hangout. This will encourage more people to buy your book and read it and put you in direct contact with your fan base. Take the time to figure out your long-term goals before designing and developing your site.

DON’T forget that your visual presentation of yourself and your books is just as important as your incredible writing. Because authors are so literal it’s sometimes a challenge for their visual representation to match the caliber of their writing. On the web it’s important for both to be in alignment with one another.

What platforms, widgets, plugins, or other tools do you recommend?

WordPress is the best content management system out there for authors. It’s a fairly easy system to update on your own without needing the help of anyone techy. You can easily add images, photos, or video to blog posts. WordPress is very Google friendly and also very flexible, so if you want to add a page to your site later on, it won’t require an entire redesign. Use a social media share plugin so your content can easily be shared. Also, don’t forget to use video—either for your book trailer or even of yourself talking about your book. Video is an extremely powerful tool to use in connecting with your audience.

The most effective website you’ve seen—but not worked on: StartWithWhy.com. I love the design. It’s smart and it pops. Notice the ability to tweet the header copy on every page? It’s a brilliant use of space and makes the author very quotable. The site totally positions the author as an expert right on the homepage. The book is easy to buy as well as some of the author’s other offerings.

Your favorite website you’ve worked on: http://www.EleniGage.com. This website captures the author’s personality, interests and essence. The pomegranate logo has an entire story behind it in Eleni’s personal life and her strong Greek roots. The mosaic in the logo pays homage to Eleni’s love of Byzantine iconography. The writing is top-notch and the design highlights the writing without the content overwhelming web audience. The author’s books are both visible and easy to buy directly from the homepage without it appearing to salesy. As you can see from the social media icons and the contact page the author is accessible but not overly so.

Website: http://www.thebrandiD.com

 

Author Blogging 101: From Content to Web Design

Image courtesy of Green Pilgrim

In many ways blogging comes naturally to writers. After all, writing is writing. But in other ways, when you take writing off the page and put it on the Web, it becomes a whole different challenge—one that carries rewards for both novice and experienced authors.

On and offline, focused content is central to writing. Freelance writer Kelly James-Enger says, “Make sure you’ve identified the your audience and your purpose before you jump in [to blogging].” That way readers know what to expect when they visit your site. “There’s nothing wrong with blogging because you’d like to write and sell a book,” she continues.

In addition, author Eleni Gage says, “Write about things that interest you, not just to plug your book.”

Author Lillian Brummet highlights an aspect of blog writing that is often different from the topic-focus required by book writing: content variety. “Make your posts interesting and change it up a bit so that you don’t appear boring and repetitive.” To balance the variety with reader usability, use tags and categories to help readers find information on a given topic—much like the index of a book.

Laura Hazard Owen at Paid Content gives writers several ways to vary their content and engage readers. “Do new things with data. Don’t assume people know what you’re talking about. Write about something nobody else is willing to talk about.”

Amid determining content strategy, author Rochelle Melander cautions readers not to forget that good writing matters. “Read a few of your posts aloud. Does the writing reveal your unique personality? If not, keep writing and revising until your posts sound like you,” she says. And just like good print writing, “create titles that rock. People click on titles that stir their imagination, capture their attention, or clarify something.”

Similar to finding the right pace in fiction, timing is a challenge bloggers face—how frequently should you post? First, Brummet says, “Choose the frequency you plan on having posts published on your blog and stick to it—this way readers know when to expect new content.” It also helps you as an author manage your workload and define your expectations.

Gage says, “The more you blog the better, but I think any little bit helps, as it gives your readers more opportunity to interact with you. I had dreams of blogging three times a week, but life gets in the way, so I’ve re-evaluated my expectations and now aim for once a week.”

“Ours is a daily blog,” Brummet says, “so there is a lot of behind the scenes activity.”

No matter what audience, purpose, frequency, or writing style, entertainment blogger Jane Boursaw tells writers: “Have faith in your abilities and your message, whatever that may be.”

One of the biggest ways blogging is different from print writing is the level of reader interaction. Brummet advises bloggers to “respond to blog post comments so that people who write a comment feel like they’ve been heard.” And pass the benefits of interaction to readers—”Utilize Facebook and Twitter buttons so that others can share information they’ve read.”

Successful bloggers also interact with other writers. Boursaw says, “Network with other bloggers and people in your niche as much as possible. Spend time on Twitter and Facebook and join groups with like-minded bloggers. If there isn’t a group for your niche, start one.”

Gage suggest a way to get more mileage out of your work as you connect with other bloggers:  ”A mentor of mine once said ‘write once, publish often.’ Guest blog on other blogs, then repost on your own (acknowledging that it’s currently on the other site), for example. I often repost my blogs on the Huffington Post if I feel it’s a relevant topic.”

Just like writing a book, it can sometimes feel like blogging takes over your life—or your writing career. “One of the hardest things for people who make their living as writers is justifying making the time to write for free, as opposed to working on the assignments that pay your rent,” Gage says. “So it’s important to make sure that all the writing you do is personally fulfilling. I love blogging because on theliminalstage.com I write about folklore, rituals, cultural connections, and conflict—all topics I’m obsessed with in my daily life.”

“What I find helpful,” Brummet says, “is taking a day every two weeks and devoting it to developing a week or two worth of blog posts at once, prescheduling them for publication. Then I’ll drop into the blog once a day to respond to comments and check on the stats and quality of the post that day.”

Many writers aren’t equipped for the technical side of blogging—but that doesn’t have to be a hindrance. Gage says, “I’m not a programming expert or web designer, so I hired someone who vastly improved my site—you can’t always do it all yourself!”

Gage hired Rachel Gogos of BrandiD to create her website and Thoma Kiki designed her logo. Gage, Gogos, and Kiki worked together to create a cohesive look for her site. “Rachel Gogos urged me to do some personal branding work first. That really helped me see the links between my book writing, journalism, and blogging, and to understand what set me apart as a writer, regardless of the genre I’m working in—a step that helped a lot in developing my blog.”

If you’re hiring a professional, Gage says, “You’re paying for custom attention and a sophisticated look that you couldn’t create yourself, so make sure you’re working with someone who gets your style and voice or will take the time to get to know them. Look for someone who has designed websites for disparate types of clients, and created a number of websites that are impressive but also unique, which shows that they tailor their work to the client as opposed to fitting the client into their own aesthetic.”

Brummet adds, “Web designers can vary greatly in the price they charge and the results they can muster, so be sure to check out their references. To limit time-related costs be sure that you have your content ready—know what you want to say and how you want to say it—and have your images ready. Then contact the designer with your ideas and files of content to work with.”

Never lose site of the purpose of blogging: tangible results. Brummet uses her site as a piece of a larger promotional plan. “The blog is reaching something like 300 readers a day—whereas the radio show is reaching nearly 3000 people every 2 weeks. The blog supports the radio show and main website by referring readers to those sites in every single post.”

Gage says, “When I started out as a journalist, there were more outlets for publishing personal essays. Now that kind of writing is harder to place in magazines, but I’m able to showcase it on my blog. Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve been assigned a number of personal essays for magazines, newspapers, and websites by editors who knew I could do that kind of writing just because of my blog.”

“I’ve also set up Skype book club meetings with clubs who contacted me through my site,” Gage continues, “so I have to assume it has resulted in new book sales of my novel, Other Waters, as well.” 

 

Choosing Page Layout Software

With built in page layout in popular self-publishing options like CreateSpace, many authors don’t consider DIY page layout methods and software. But for those publishing through many POD providers, page layout is a must. Proper page layout ensures that the book has the consistent margins, paragraph and character formats, and readable type. Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular tools for page layout. Most of this product advice is geared toward print publishing, as ebook formatting has its own characteristics and challenges.

(If you want to hire a professional designer to lay out your book, these cover designers also design book interiors.)

InDesign ($699 individually; $1,299 as part of Creative Suite)

InDesign is far and away the favorite of graphic designers. It has industry-leading features for producing high quality print and digital books. As a result many authors conclude, if you want your work to look professionally designed, use the tool of professional designers. But if you’re not a graphic designer, you may have some learning to do in order to fully utilize InDesign.

Ken Chapman, Publisher at League Entertainment, Inc., says, “For layout and ebook production, we use Adobe InDesign CS6. If you don’t know how to use it or want to become more proficient, I highly recommend getting a subscription to Lydna.com.” Adobe TV also provides tools and instruction.

Eric Anderson, editor at Chromoschema, agrees. “I recommend InDesign, though it can be expensive and have a steep learning curve. The flexibility is unmatched!”

Author Joel D. Canfield finds that InDesign is “great for [laying out books] for a living, [but] overkill for doing one or two of your own books.”

Page Plus ($99.99)

Page Plus from Serif is an option that has a beginner friendly cost and usability. It works well for print or digital publishing.

“[Page Plus has come leaps and bounds in recent generations, closing the gap to high-end packages like Adobe InDesign,” says tech writer Nick Peers. “Although template-driven to give users an easy entry point into the basics of design and layout, PagePlus is also packed with all the design tools a professional would need to start publications from a blank canvas.”

According to Top Ten Reviews, “The software offers a wide variety of features, including the best photo editing tools we found in any page layout application.” However, “Export and save-as options are slightly more limited than those in other applications.”

Microsoft Word ($199.99 as part of Office) & Apple Pages ($19.99)

Microsoft Word and Apple Pages are both word processing tools that support desktop publishing. For authors looking to format books for e-publishing and print on demand, both products have similar features and strengths. Both are best suited for heavy-text, hard copy books, though they can also be used for e-books and books with images.

Many authors and designers look down on using these programs for book design because they lack the design-centric focus and features of software like InDesign and Page Plus. However, one key benefit is that most authors are already familiar with these programs. Book designer and editor Heather Shaw asserts, “You can do your own interior design using Word or Pages.”

In her book The Indie Author Guide, April L. Hamilton explains step by step how to format a book in Word—the same concepts apply to Pages. Hamilton recommends creating a manuscript shell, a template file that contains the paragraph and character styles, margins, page break setting, and more. After creating the template, authors can compose each section of the book in a copy of the manuscript shell file or import their text into the shell. Having a manuscript shell ensure that formatting is consistent throughout the book.

Other Programs

There are other options, of course, all across the word processor and publishing software spectrum like Scribus (free), PageFocus Pro ($69), Page Stream ($99.95), Corel WordPerfect ($99.99), Corel Draw ($399), Adobe PageMaker ($499), Creator Professional ($499), Microsoft Publisher ($499.99 with Office Professional), Corel Ventura ($699), QuarkXPress ($849), and more.

So how do you pick the right one? In short, do your research, get opinions from other people, and know what fits you best. Here are some key considerations:

  1. What do you need the software to do? What functions are most important?
  2. What technological skills do you have—and how much are you willing to learn?
  3. How much can you spend?
  4. Read consumer reviews: Does the product keep its promises?
  5. Find author laid out books you like: What program did that author use?
  6. Are the strengths and abilities of the program compatible with your end goal (the type and format of the book you’re producing)?
  7. Find authors who’ve used the program to create their books and see what they say—they’ll have even better insight than the general customer reviews.

Self-Pub Success

When people cite examples of successful self-published authors, they often draw from a short, oft-repeated list: Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath, or more classic authors from William Blake to Virginia Woolf. Certainly these authors are all accomplished, but looking at a broader sample of successful authors can better equip today’s self-published authors to replicate others’ successes.

Here are the stories of an assortment of authors who have achieved a variety of kinds of success through their self-published efforts. Compare their characteristics, strengths, and goals with your own to plot your own track to success.

Robin Sharma used his book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, originally published through Haunsla Corporation, as a calling card for his leadership consulting business. With a cover designed by Dunn+Associates, he shopped the book around to major publishing houses, securing interest from five of the Big Six, according to Hobie Hobart at Dunn+Associates. Sharma accepted an offer from HarperSanFransico and has gone on to traditionally publish more books based on the success of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.

Cook and restaurateur Pauli Halstead used her expertise to equip readers to make healthier diet choices, including how to minimize carbohydrates, which oils and fats are healthiest, and how to save money by eating sustainably. She used Jennifer Omner at All Publications to design her cover. “Jennifer did a spectacular job on designing my self-published book, Cuisine for Whole Health, Recipes for a Sustainable Life,” Halstead says. “The book was so attractive that it was picked up and distributed by Chelsea Green Publishing. The book eventually sold out.”

Halstead’s next book Primal Cuisine, Cooking for the Paleo Diet will use another type of powerful partnership: it will be a companion to Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas. “Nora was my nutritionist when I lived near Portland in 2009. We became friends, and when she republished her book through Inner Traditions & Bear Company, I was invited to publish my new book with them as well.

Educator Ruby Payne‘s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty took hold of readers, particularly in the education field. Through its unique insights and her speaking engagements, the book gained popularity and was adopted in college courses. Along the way, Payne enlisted Dunn+Associates to perfect the book package. A new cover gave the book a more professional look. According to Hobart, the demand for the book grew so much that Barnes and Noble approached Payne about stocking the book. In all, the book has sold about a million and a half copies.

Payne presented one of her follow up books, Crossing the Tracks for Love, to Dunn+Associates. The team worked to craft an effective title (it was originally titled When the Girl with the Silver Spoon Loves the Boy from Across the Tracks) and design to keep the book from looking like a cross between a romance novel and a reference book. They wanted the book to be authoritative but for the title to create an immediate emotional response in readers. The often-compound purposes (or even genres) of many self-published books make framing readers expectations a challenge. Payne used a professional team to prevent reader confusion.

Lela Davidson is a former CPA who left the business world behind to write humor. Her book Blacklisted from the PTA, a collection of comedic essays, has led to “healthy sales, speaking engagements, and new and improved freelance work”—she’s a commentator for TODAY Show Moms and a video correspondent for iVillage iVoices. “The key elements [to success] are approaching the book as a business, and working very, very hard and consistently to promote it. I had a fabulous launch party that drove sales and buzz,” says Davidson.

“The thing that helped me the most was setting measurable business objectives and then working backwards to think through the steps I needed to take to make them happen. For example, at the book launch we wanted to sell a certain number of copies and garner a certain number of press impressions.” Davidson’s business perspective never loses sight of its end customer: readers. “They aren’t going to buy my book just because it’s good. I need to keep giving them specific reasons to buy my book,” she says. As a result of her hard work and success, Davidson acquired a literary agent to represent her future work.

Steven Power was a sales trainer and consultant with well over a decade of experience in the document industry. His consulting took him around the country, teaching and training sales professionals. In an effort to minimize his time on the road, Powers wrote a book—Power Selling. The cover was designed by Dunn+Associates. According to Hobart, they chose to feature Power’s image prominently on the cover and tie the whole packed tightly to the branding on his website. This unified, author photo–focused approached helped establish him as an authority in the sales training industry.

Powers took the book further through intentional marketing efforts. Powers used the book itself as his business card. Hobart says Powers once found himself seated next to the CEO of Salesgenie on a plane. Powers gave him a book and scored two referrals through the encounter—resulting in $350,000 worth of business. 

Book Cover Design Resources

Like it or not, people do judge books by the covers. And poor cover design is one of the areas where self-published authors are most often panned by critics. Self-published authors know this risk, and they know one of the keys to a good cover is a good designer. According to a survey from Taleist, 41% of self-published authors pay for cover design. The survey also shows that authors who get help with editing and design of their books make 34%—so the investment pays off.

Below is a list of graphic designers who have experience designing book covers. Each has unique strengths and styles, and they range from independent artists to members of larger design groups and publishing organizations. Each shares their advice for authors and a bit about their work in their own words—and they almost unanimously bristled at the “favorite cover” questions. They’re listed alphabetically by first name.

There are many other ways to find a book cover designer. Start with referrals from other writers or by tracking down the designers who created covers you love. The Graphic Artists Guild also has listings of designers to help you find the right fit. You can also find designers familiar with book cover design on LinkedIn, or you can post an ad on Craigslist or Elance. If you’re on a tight budget you can hire students at a local design school.

So how much can you expect to pay? It varies—of course. Some of the factors include who owns the rights to the art, how many sketches and revisions the designer will do, the complexity of the project, whether it’s a paperback or hardcover or ebook, and more. The designers below have a wide range of services from an ebook cover for $395 to original art for $3500. On average (a rough average) an author can expect to pay around $800 to $1000 for a cover by one of these designers. Some are higher, some are lower—but a good price doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good fit for your book.

Betsy A. Riley

DO find someone who’s familiar with your genre. There are some genres I don’t do—like romance. My style just doesn’t work for that genre.

DON’T forget that you hired the designer because they have some knowledge or skill that you need—give consideration to their advice.

Favorite book cover: Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Song and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: That One Left Shoe, edited by me, and Furred & Feathered Friends: Katrina Castaways by Nancy Clark Townsend.

Website: http://brws.com/; http://bluedragonpress.com/

Claudean Wheeler

DO have a clear idea of what you’re looking for in a book cover. Do you want it to be serious, whimsical, authoritative, badass, conceptual, energetic, modern, clean, grungy, etc.? Have examples available of covers or design styles that you find effective. Your designer will be able to hit the ground running and dive right into the project.

DON’T assume it’s a good idea to include family photos on the cover of a book. Trying to make something personal may appeal to you but not necessarily to the masses. Even if you don’t have family photos in mind, don’t let personal attachments to certain elements get in the way of a marketable cover.

Favorite book cover: I love what Penguin and B&N do to reinvent classics.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: Currently Where Do You Get Your Ideas by Fred White is my favorite cover. It changes daily.

Website: http://www.behance.net/claudean

Damonza

DO provide the right information during the briefing process. Providing too much information for the designer is almost as bad as not providing enough. Other than the basic storyline, the most helpful information to provide the designer is an idea of the tone of the cover—do you want to convey mystery, humor, fear? It also helps to provide samples of other covers that you like. If you have a main character who you would like to be on the cover, then you must describe that character as fully as possible but allow for the fact that it may simply not be possible to find the exact image of the character that resides in your imagination.

DON’T clutter the cover with your entire storyline. I get this pretty often, where the author wants to tell the entire story on the cover. It’s never a good idea, as it makes the cover too busy and loses focus. Ideally, you only want to hint at the story, while conveying the genre and tone of the book on the cover. Actually, that’s one way where you can often see the difference between traditionally published and self-published authors, just from the covers. The well-known authors almost always have a very simple, powerful image with clean, well-placed text. Self-published authors often have busy, overly detailed covers and far too many focal points.

Favorite book cover: One of my clients recently sent me the cover of Frost by Marianna Baer as a reference for a design—I think it’s beautiful. 

Favorite cover you’ve designed: I don’t have a favourite cover that I’ve designed. In most cases, as I finish designing a cover, I love it. Every new cover I design becomes my favourite until I finish the next one.

Website: Damonza.com 

Dave Bricker

DO find out whether you’re talking with a designer or a software owner. Everybody with Photoshop and a computer calls themselves a designer, but bootlegging the latest version of Photoshop is not much of a qualification. Do ask the designer if they’re familiar with electronic prepress; they’re going to have to make sure the design is produced to the printer’s specs. Ask if they have favorite styles, designers, and typefaces. A good designer can explain these tastes and choices.

DON’T tell the designer what to design. Some people will tell their dentist what drill bit to use! Of course, your input counts, and of course, your designer wants you to love the cover, but allow a professional to guide your design away from comfortable clichés. Find someone good and then trust their instincts, experience, and advice.

Favorite book cover: Though I don’t emulate his style, I love the innate spirituality of Alvin Lustig’s work, like The Man Who Died.  I also like Chip Kidd’s cover for Dry.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: Richard Geller’s Living On The Outskirts of Heaven

Website: http://www.theworldsgreatestbook.com

Duncan Long

DO know what you want for your cover design with a good feel what covers in that genre look like, and then be willing to let the cover designer have a little freedom and listen to their suggestions. Also be sure to look through the designer’s portfolio to be sure their style matches your vision for the cover.

DON’T micromanage a book cover project. Designers know their strengths and what does and does not work for a cover design; often you can browbeat them into making bad changes—to the detriment of your cover. Also be sure to have one person who knows what they’re doing have the final say on the design. Too much input will create what designers sometimes refer to as “death by committee.”

Favorite book cover: As an illustrator, I’m biased: The Michael Whelan cover created for Robert Heinlein’s Friday.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: My favorite illustration (but I didn’t do the cover layout) is Dale Allan’s Lead Me Not Into Temptation. I illustrated and laid out P.J. O’Dwyer’s Relentless.

Website: http://duncanlong.com/

John Jackson

DO check references. Lots of people can draw and paint—big deal. Unfortunately, it’s easy to spend a lot of money and get literally nothing in return. Especially important is the artist’s track record on meeting deadlines. An unreliable artist won’t be able to provide any proof that they can do what they say, when they say they can deliver it. That’s a big red flag.

DON’T try to make the cover about the story. The cover, in most cases, is evocative not illustrative. The point of the cover has never been to tell the story. The only point of the cover is to get the audience to spot it on a website, or across the room and be interested enough to turn it over and read the back cover copy. Let the artist and designer do their job. There are proven formulas to cover design.  Don’t second-guess the work because “My protagonist never wore a black dress. I specifically said in chapter six, that it was grey.”

Favorite book cover: The Michael Whelan cover for Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: I make it a point for each cover I do to be better than the last, but I’m still fond of the Simon Vector cover and Correction. 

Website: www.atomiccovers.com

Kathi Dunn and Hobie Hobart

DO find someone with experience (several years) in the book design field. They should understand the nuances of creating a cover design that gets results from a specific chosen market, not just make something look pretty. For example, if the author’s purpose in creating the book is to generate more business, the designer must understand how to use the cover design to establish credibility, open doors, and create results and totally resonate with the target audience.

DON’T be lured by a low design cost. It usually means that a template is involved and the designer is cranking out a “look-alike” not a custom design for your book that will set you apart from the rest. Or that you’ve chosen a neophyte who is using you to gain experience. Or your cover is spit out as quickly and cheaply as possible with no thought about the author’s objectives in writing the book. Cover design is the most important investment you’ll make in your book since the cover is your most important marketing tool, so it is the last place to cut costs. You get what you pay for!

Favorite book cover: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari  by Robin Sharma and Crossing the Tracks for Love by Ruby Payne.

Website: http://www.Dunn-Design.com 

Kimberly Leonard

DO find someone with considerable experience both in book cover design and marketing—if you’re interested in actually selling thousands of copies of your book and making an impact on your book’s market niche. Just because a designer can put what you want on a cover doesn’t mean you’re getting the book cover you need to sell your book. Find someone who connects with you personally, connects with your book’s subject matter, and can bridge the gap between your vision for your book cover and a saleable book cover.

DON’T price shop your book cover, unless it is simply a vanity project that will be given away to family and friends. You will never know the negative impact that a cheap book cover has on your sales! Don’t take the risk. Here’s a good metaphor: Your book is your child. Would you put a generic, bland, or awkward face on your child, or take the time and care to craft a face for your child that is unique to them and tells everyone their personality and purpose?

Favorite book cover: Where I Was From by Joan Didion.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: Intuition Involution, Activating the Promises of God, The Agony of Winning, and Performance Under Pressure.

Website: http://www.bookcovers.com

Rachael Ward

DO find someone who is experienced and familiar with your genre. Book cover design is a breed all its own and not every graphic designer will understand publishing and the constraints that come with it. Make sure the designer you hire has a book cover portfolio for you to review. This will be the best way for you to find out if their style matches yours and if their quality of work is at the level you expect. Make sure you sign a contract with your designer that states exactly what you are paying for. Some designers only allow so many rounds of changes and anything beyond that will be extra. You don’t want any surprises when you get a final bill, and you don’t want to pay for half up front and then your designer disappears and never sends you the files. It’s best to have everything in writing.

DON’T forget you always get what you pay for. Sometimes it’s wiser to invest in a designer who costs a little more. Usually they will have more experience and a better understanding of what you need.

Favorite book cover: I’m in love with the line of classic book covers Jessica Hische came up with for Sterling Publishing. There is so much you can do with typography and printing to make your cover really stand out. 

Favorite cover you’ve designed: Elegant Knotted Jewelry and Sell Your Book Like Wildfire

Website:  www.rachaelann.info

Ted Ruybal

DO find a book designer. Make sure they have designed many books of all genres and types (paperback, hard case, dust jacket, etc.). Contact the authors for additional feedback. Word of mouth is valuable for a book designer, his/her work must represent the best of the author as well as the best of the designer.

DON’T hire a graphic designer or anyone who is just playing around with Photoshop and does not consider this as a profession. There are a lot of details and tricks to producing a well published book. A graphic designer may not know these tricks resulting in a book that looks self-published or rejected from press for not following their guidelines.

Favorite book cover: Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange cover designed by David Pelham in 1972.

Favorite cover you’ve designed: Nightmares from Eberus by J.C. De La Torre.

Website: www.wisdombooks.com

Tamian Wood

DO find someone whose portfolio of work makes you drool. Do get the opinions of others who are readers of your genre. Most of today’s writers are Internet savvy. Post a few cover designers samples on your Facebook page and ask your fans/readers to say which one makes them drool. (You should ask permission from the designer to display their work, but most probably wouldn’t mind the added publicity so long as you are giving credit where credit is due.)

DON’T ever let your second cousin, twice removed, create your cover. No matter how much money you think she is going to save you. If you want to have a bestselling book, your cover must look like a bestseller. Don’t base your decision on price. Period. Even if you have to save up for a year, your cover is worth it. And most good designers are aware that budget is a concern for self-pub authors and are willing to work out payment plans. So you skip your favourite coffee house a few days a week and save up your pocket change.

Favorite book cover: This may sound corny, and oh so teenage girlish, but I really love the simplicity of the Twilight series.

Favorite cover you’ve designed:
I always find that the book I’m working on at the moment seems to be my favourite, but I still like The Everdark Gate by Elisabeth K. Burton and Rising Above Enron by Carey Falter.

Website: www.BeyondDesignInternational.com; www.tamianwood.com

Self-Publishing Success Strategy: Make the Most of Social Media

Image courtesy of Kathleen Donovan

Social media is ubiquitous. It has the power to suck up an afternoon of productive time, but does it have the power to sell books?

Some marketers find that trying to sell on social media isn’t effective. Reporter Ashley Lutz suggests that while hopes were high that Facebook would be a place where people come to shop, the result is more like “trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”

Ronny Golan, CEO and Founder of BookPulse, counters Lutz’s argument and supports Facebook’s usefulness as a discovery tool with this data:

“One-in-three consumers bought a product or service due to recommendations made via social media, as reported by an analysis of US and Canadian consumer consumption habits.

- In 2010, Amazon saw year-on-year increase of referral traffic from Facebook of 328%, or 7.7% overall. The top 200 Internet retailers saw a 203% increase in traffic from Facebook during 2011.

- Facebook was a more powerful referral source than Google, SumbleUpon, and Twitter combined, according to a survey conducted by Shareaholic, based on aggregated data from more than 200,000 publishers that reach more than 260 million unique monthly visitors each month.”

Golan explains, “Facebook acts like a vast social recommendation engine. But the dynamic that make Facebook so effective is really nothing new. ‘Social recommendation’ is really just another way of saying ‘word of mouth’—which has always been the main driver of book sales.”

Like Golan, many marketers trust that social media is worth their time. In Social Media Examiner’s fourth annual survey, 92 percent of marketers used Facebook, 82 percent used Twitter, 73 percent marketed on LinkedIn, 61 percent spread word through blogs, and 57 percent used YouTube or other video sites.

Social media consultant Angelique Seditieusement summarizes the purpose of social media in one word: interact. “Social networks are places to a) interact with fans, existing and potential; b) interact with potential publishers; c) interact with other writers; d) interact with people who share your interest in your subject matter; and e) interact with editors.”

“Most marketers already know they can’t interrupt conversations on Facebook with a sales pitch and expect good results,” Golan says, “but I believe Facebook and other social networks can be especially effective at driving book awareness and yield demonstrable sales.”

Social media expert, Jane Friedman provides authors with tips to get the most out of their time on Facebook. “If you post helpful, interesting, or valuable stuff on Facebook, targeted to a particular sensibility, you will attract an audience who matches what you post—and will reward you for it through likes/shares. … If you don’t like the activity or conversation surrounding you—or you’re not getting the results you think you should—look at what you’re putting out. Don’t assume you need to increase your fan/friend count.”

For authors deciding whether to use a Facebook fan page or profile page, Friedman offers these guiding questions: “Are you prepared to develop a content strategy for it? Are you prepared to spend time on it? Otherwise, there’s no point. Would it make sense to allow people to subscribe to your personal profile instead? Is there a huge divide between your personal friends and your target audience? Do you need the functionality of a fan page? Would you prefer to shut down your personal profile but still have a Facebook presence?”

Each social media outlet has it’s own personality. TIME Magazine journalist Graeme McMillan examines effective use of Twitter. “According to Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, the media is doing Twitter wrong. The problem, the study argues, is that most media outlets look at Twitter as an alternative to an RSS feed, and just push links to stories and other information that’s available elsewhere, instead of trying to engage with other Twitter users (93% of all tweets from the thirteen media outlets studied during the course of a week for the survey were links, according to the results), which seems to be missing the point and potential of Twitter altogether. While individual journalists may use the service to solicit information or retweet comments from others, institutional Twitter accounts exist, it seems, merely to be a voice of authority.”

Friedman is an advocate for a “less is more” philosophy for content sharing on all social media. “We all have too much to read anyway, so why bother sharing anything except the absolute best and most essential stuff?” Friedman says. For example she suggests authors “avoid automated posting, such feeding in every last one of your tweets [onto your Facebook page]. It’s one of the fastest ways to get muted. Plus, you’re missing an opportunity to say something geared toward the audience you have on Facebook, such as asking a compelling question to spark a discussion.”

While there are overarching best practices, the philosophy and application of social media is a personal choice and the variations show themselves in the attitudes and practices of authors.

In an interview with Tweet Magazine, author Christina Katz, explains her personal approach to Twitter and social media, “My experience of using online tools is that you are basically plugging in and expanding your sensibilities the same as when you walk into any room. Writers should think of all of the online tools as an extension of their own nervous system. If you walk into a room, you would get an immediate intuitive sense of the environment. The same is true of Twitter or any online environment. When you connect into to theses contexts, you are not acquiring billboard space. You are entering a context, an environment. Don’t over think how you are going to act. Just do what you would do if you were entering any new room. After a while, you will become ‘a regular’ and people will look forward to seeing you when you show up.”

Author and social media expert Douglas Idugboe says, “The easiest way [to manage time on Twitter] is to use third party solutions like Hootsuite and Bufferapp. Schedule your broadcast, but more importantly, come back to engage—schedule your the time to engage the process. That’s when the impact deepens.”

What about all the other social media avenues beyond Twitter and Facebook (and those that will appear over the coming months and years)? All My Friends Are Dead authors Avery Monsen and Jory John explain how their social media strategy fits their content and readership: “We’re relatively active on Tumblr in our non-book-release seasons. We have a comic called OPEN LETTERS, which appears in weekly newspapers around the country, and which we post on Tumblr once a week. Avery also has his own page. Most of the stuff we put up doesn’t relate to our books at all. This is important, we think, for a couple reasons: 1. It’s just good to stay active and keep producing things. Creativity is a muscle that needs to be stretched even when you’re not getting paid for it. 2. Giving things away for free online builds up goodwill.”

In short, authors should evaluate each media outlet based on their content and audience. If the media outlet fits the book’s content or if the audience spends time there, it can be an effective place to get the word out.

With all the places available for online activity, Friedman explains the importance of a personal website. “It’s the place online that’s totally mine. I own it, I decide what happens there, and it collects everything I do in one central place. It has the most comprehensive information about who I am and what I do. No matter where else I am active online (social media, community sites, e-mail, etc.), I always point back to my website so people can find out more and stay in touch by whatever means they prefer.”

“All serious writers need this kind of hub so they can start learning more about their readers and formalizing a connection with them,” Friedman continues. “Facebook, Twitter, and other sites help you find readers and connect, but those connections can disappear at any moment or gradually over time. Having your own site gives you more control and insight into your connections, how people are finding you, and why people find you.”

Melissa Anne Wuske is a freelance writer and editor. She is also the communications director for Stop Traffick Fashion where she writes about human trafficking.