Smart Design Choices for Self-Published Books

If you are an author who is self-publishing, you definitely do not want your book to look self-published! Poorly designed self-published books can convey a lack of substance that often has little to do with the value of the author’s words and ideas. Smart design choices can make the difference between a book that sells and one that sits on the shelf or in the author’s garage.

The four mistakes most frequently made by self-published authors when designing their books can be found in a book’s:

  1. Font
  2. Cover design
  3. Page layout
  4. Paper stock

Choosing the best font for your book is trickier than it seems. Fonts convey feelings; two fonts that look similar can actually communicate two different moods. Times Roman feels serious and straight-forward, whereas Bembo expresses a lighter, more thoughtful feeling. Some fonts have thinner lines, which allow for a more relaxed read. Others, with thicker lines, convey solidity and firmness. These are important considerations when juxtaposed with the tone and substance of the author’s voice.

The book cover is the first point of contact for the consumer. An inappropriate cover image can mislead and turn off the book buyer when it doesn’t accurately represent the book’s contents. Bad photography and poor image choices cause a book to look unprofessional. Often, it can be worth the cost of hiring a professional designer to create a dynamic cover with which to attract attention and more profitably market your book.

When a reader opens a book and sees large blocks of small black type, they can feel fatigued before they even begin reading. White space is important for readability. Proper margins, allowing for breathing room and rest for the eyes, make a book more readable, and give a more elegant, professional appearance.

When selecting paper stock for both interior pages and the cover, cheapest is not always the best. Paper has thickness; a thin stock can create bleed through, where the text on the opposite side of the paper can be seen as a ghost image on the page being read. Always select at least a 50-pound stock on interior pages. Likewise, a flimsy cover stock not only feels cheap, but doesn’t last long and can start to look shabby quickly. 10 point C1S stock for a soft cover book provides a cover that will last and one in which you can feel proud.

Good book design choices create a vast difference between a self-published book that looks self-published and one that gives the author a professional, elegant platform on which to convey his or her ideas.

Public Appearances – Show Up to Show Off Your Self-Published Book

“Did you ever feel like the whole world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?” asked comedian George Gobel in 1968. But you’ll be surprised at how relevant that question becomes for your self-published book.

Most self-publishers leave it up to the author to market their book. So, you’ve got to have a plan – a marketing strategy. However, when you’re promoting your book, you don’t want to end up “brown shoes” in a “tuxedo” world; you want an appropriate method of promotion. But where to start?

While a great marketing plan consists of a marketing mix, a good way to get started is by jumping right into the network of public appearances, during which you can connect with your potential audience and pave the way for future success.

Before you start making calls and introducing yourself, think about what kind of public appearances will work best for you when reaching your targeted audience. There’s a great deal to consider, including book signings, readings, speaking engagements, book trade shows, conferences and conventions, book festivals, and television and radio interviews.

What’s your book about, and what groups will be interested? What promotional methods will be most effective? What actions might be less fruitful than others?

The below tips will reveal the most effective methods for staging public events that will not only benefit you and your book.

Setting up Events: Tips for Contacting the Media and Managers

Start on your campaign as soon as possible. There’s no time to lose. The best time to promote your book is the first six months after it becomes available for purchase. It’s recent. It’s hot. And your excitement should rub off on those media outlets you contact. If you wait, media members will quickly move onto the next batch of new titles. So don’t hesitate.

Prepare beforehand. Network and compile lists of contacts. Order business cards, start a Web site and compile a media press kit. Consider purchasing an ISBN and retail channel distribution your book to make it available to other retailers. Most retailers and venues will need your book available through their distributor before they move forward with your event.

When you begin to contact the media and bookstore managers, you should be excited and persistent about your book — it’s understandable — but you should also understand that you will get some refusals. You will have to learn to accept a “no” from the media or a manager. They may not believe you’re a good fit for their venue or program at this time. As frustrating as it is, just thank them for their time and move on to the next. If you work hard and your book’s hype increases, they may come looking for you anyway.

Practice what you are going to say before you pick up the phone or write and edit several e-mail drafts. Remember that this is the first step toward getting your foot in the door. You’ve got to sound intriguing, compelling and enthusiastic, without sounding overwhelming, or worse, like a bully.

When dealing with the media, don’t send anything in that could be conceived as an advertisement, such as the price or ordering information. Only send pricing and ordering information when a professional specifically requests it. Keep and update a clear log of those you’ve contacted, messages left of machines, and the dates of your attempts. If you’ve left several messages on someone’s answering machine with no reply, the person probably isn’t interested.

Always follow up after sending in materials, such as a press release or media kit. When you call, don’t ask the media contact if they received your materials. They receive hundreds of press release and requests each day and the answer will most likely be “no” followed by a “click” as they hang up. Instead, simply explain who you are, that you sent them information about your book and are willing to supply the additional materials needed to write a story, a review or conduct an interview.

Public Events for the DIY Marketing Author

Book Signing Events:

After you’ve successfully arranged your book signing – the most common and recurrent public events for authors – there are a few tips to ensure your event is a success. Like all events you host, you first have to prepare. Promote the signing by putting up posters around the store (with the manager’s permission, of course). Visit the store a day early to introduce yourself to the manager if you’ve not met already. Contact local media in the area and inform them of the event. Add your signing to event calendars and try to coordinate an interview beforehand.

Book signings are not only an excellent way to meet readers face-to-face, but also a great sales opportunity. People are much more likely to buy your book once they’ve met the author. Leaving signed copies of your book behind afterward will help customers remember your name and increase your sales as well.

Book Trade Shows and Book Fairs:

Trade shows and book fairs are large-scale events and generally attract an array of book enthusiasts, including: booksellers, authors, book buyers, book retailers at the regional or national level, libraries, media as well as the general public. These events can connect you to previously untapped networks and allow you to arrange future sales. Hosting a seminar or a panel discussion at book trade will bring you even more coverage, propelling your book into the face of retailers and book store owners.

If you’re not speaking at the event, you can still attend. But make sure to research the event thoroughly before you enroll, weighing both the cost and the potential benefit. Booths at these events can become quite expensive, and you want to be certain before you front the money. Trade shows and fairs are not for every author, but can be a good fit for some, especially at a smaller, local level.

Writers Conferences and Conventions:

Conferences generally attract people and companies from a particular trade or niche, and allow for face-to-face interactions with potential book buyers. Getting a spot speaking at a conference will improve your name recognition and establish your credibility among other writers. Plus, you may receive payment for your services. Book selling opportunities can arise at these events, so it’s a good idea to have books on hand.

Like conferences, conventions reach a niche market and can lead to invitations to other speaking events on a non-writing related topic, depending on the convention.

Book Festivals:

Make a public appearance here and sell your book directly to the public and bookstore managers. Because not as many professional book buyers are present at trade shows or book fairs, you may consider book festivals a better alternative for you. A booth at a book festival is usually less expensive than trade shows and fairs, but still provides an invaluable opportunity for sales and publicity.

Book Readings at Libraries:

Check with local and regional libraries and arrange a reading of your words. Many libraries will allow you to sell your book afterwards, so make sure to have plenty of books on hand. A local library setting can allow you to truly connect with readers and develop an audience.

Book Clubs:

Find book clubs and arrange a special speaking event with their group. You’ll make contact with avid book readers and most likely make a sale. Another way to publicize your book is to simply join a book club. Even if they’re not reading your book as a group, it’s an easy way to let other book lovers know about your book.

T.V. and Radio:

Although this form of media can seem quite intimidating, don’t be shy. Radio programs are often more than willing to hold a phone interview, especially if you are a local author, or have expert advice and opinions on a non-writing topic. Though it can be quite difficult securing a timeslot in a large network, morning T.V. shows often have guest spots available. Don’t overlook local public access channels either. These regional channels offer a unique way to reach an entire community.

Start Locally and Promote your Public Events

By getting out in front of the public eye, you’ll definitely increase your chances for book sale success. Remember to focus only on your targeted audience. Avoid situations where you would undoubtedly feel like “brown shoes” in a “tuxedo” world. Even if you adamantly believe your book will appeal to the masses, concentrate your efforts and you’ll experience better results. Work from small to large, saturating the local market before moving on to state-wide, regional, national or international markets.

Also, as silly as it sounds, you cannot forget to promote your promotional events. Just like your book, if you don’t tell people about your upcoming appearance, nobody will know about it. Manage and update a Web site with your events, sending out e-mails, letters or postcards as reminders.

Only you can ensure that your public events bring great returns on your time and investments.

Two Steps to Avoid the Self-Published Book Image

So you have decided to publish your book yourself. Congratulations. Now the true learning process begins. Guaranteed what will set your book apart from all the other independent publishers is the professional look to your book. There are many unintentional mistakes that you can avoid with a little research and guidance. A rule of thumb in creating a professional look is to imagine making the reader so comfortable they will want to curl up with your book. The inside – copyediting, and the outside – cover design are two vital points and these alone will polish your presentation.

Although I am not an editor the following suggestions are some errors that even I, a publicist notice in manuscripts:

• Widows and orphans are copy editing mistakes. Widowed text is when the last line of a paragraph appears on the following page or in the next column. A widowed heading occurs when a heading is on one page and the following text is on the next page or in the next column. An orphan is when the first line of text in a paragraph is separated from the rest of the paragraph on the following page or next column. Another form of an orphan is when a word or part of a word that is not long enough to clear the indent of the following paragraph is by itself on the last line of a paragraph (usually any word less than four characters).

• Lack of consistency in voice and design elements of your book become a glaring error to most readers. Keep the voice consistent “I” always refers to me, Mari. Shawn is always mentioned in the third person. “We” refers to our combined opinion and expertise.

• Consistency also applies to design. When a new section starts, the section title is always on the next right-hand page, even if this creates a blank page to the left. Similarly, the first chapter after a new section always starts on the next right-hand page, always leaving the page on the back of the section title blank.

• Practice writing as a skill. Only amateurs think that their writing spouts from the head of Zeus, fully formed and godlike. Hire a writing coach to help you formulate your ideas. Hire an editor to push you past your lazy use of adjectives and show with your words rather than tell.

As a publicist many cringe-worthy book covers have crossed my desk. Either the images were so muddy I had no idea what the message was, or the subtitle was so tiny it was invisible, or the author’s name was bigger than the title. Your cover is your ad. Make it Pop!

• Your photo on the front cover, unless you are Wayne Dyer, will not help people to know the message of your book. Your cover represents your message.

• Your title needs to be visible from 10 feet away. You want the title to be legible so the first step in picking up your book actually happens.

• The subtitle needs to be short enough that it will roll off people’s tongues as they read it to themselves.

• The image needs to be clearly understood. Though you may be drawn to a collage effect, think less is more and your point will be made.

• The back cover needs to include a synopsis of the book. Once a book is picked up the next step for a reader is to turn the book over and read the back.

• Get endorsements from friends, colleagues, your competition, and readers. Having quotes on the back cover will highlight your professionalism and again make your readers more comfortable.

• Hire a cover designer to format, and guide you in creating a beautiful cover.

Colleagues, editors, publishers, and friends what are the outstanding gaffes that you have seen in self-published books? Do you have pet peeves, or sure-fire suggestions? I would love to hear them! Authors – make the road to becoming a best-selling author easier by doing your research and putting your best effort on the market shelves.