Friday, 30 October 2015

Apologies - a quick cover poll?

I'm apologising for two reasons - that this topic is a bit of a stretch for a blog which is meant to provide general info about self-publishing (maybe this article demonstrates that you might need to run more than one poll for your readers, but that's a pretty weak argument!), and secondly because it's become clear even to me-the-optimist, that there's no way I can meet my self-imposed deadline of having the new and polished version of my book ready by the end of October (tomorrow).

Just as a little update on that, Dave (my editor) got back to me with a very thoughtful and thorough critique of the revised/new novel (half of it was revised; half was entirely new). But despite having been working on the revision now for eight days, I'm still only one third of the way through the changes required.

So I have to reset my deadline. I'll be aggressive and reset it for mid November: a touch over two weeks from now...

So the main topic of this post is really to ask for people's opinions on the new cover design. New cover design? Well, yes...

Having quizzed about 50 people, voting was about 66% for the version of the cover with the dog, 33% for the cover without. And that was including several of the people who voted against the with-dog version just because the dog was too vicious. Since Faith (the character in the story) is not that mean (though easily that dangerous!), I started wondering about maybe finding another dog...

Another point I found intriguing was that everyone who preferred the version without the dog, did so for the same reason that all the others liked it! Namely, because the dog added more detail, more things to look at; more interest. But the people who preferred it without the dog all felt the extra details made the design too busy and cluttered.

Because I had improved the blurb too, thanks to more feedback, and also felt more-feminine hand/claws would would be a good thing. And maybe a more translucent "monster"...

Anyway, I commissioned Mirella to do a new version incorporating all these changes. But I thought it wise to run another poll. Note that I'm only running this poll for one week, since I need to make a decision for Mirella (I can't leave her dangling), and so I'm hoping people can vote soon!

Here they are, together, just the front cover parts. The options are: (a) With fierce dog, dark & fiery monster, (b) Serene dog & translucent monster, (c) No dog, dark & fiery monster, or (d) do you like them all roughly equally? Or do you prefer the new option (e): serene dog with glowing eye? To avoid interfering with the votes already taken, I've added a separate mini-poll and placed it below the other.


Which cover design?

(I can't get this to work in-situ inside the article, so I've bodged it up by placing it over to the right on the main blog. It appears that Blogger has changed the way the poll tool works, and I'm no HTML guru... Below, is my dodgy attempt to embed it in the post: it won't work, but the "sorry, failed..." page does show the poll(s), so you could just zoom up the poll to a decent size and vote that way. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

Poll: cover design (v2)
a) With fierce dog, dark & fiery monster (top)
  4 (44%)
b) Serene dog & translucent monster, (bottom, left)
  3 (33%)
c) No dog, dark & fiery monster (bottom, right)
  1 (11%)
d) Like them all about equally
  1 (11%)

Change your vote
Votes so far: 9
Days left to vote: 2
Or do you prefer serene-with-glow? (v4)
Yes, serene-with-glow is best (bottom)
  0 (0%)
No, I like an option from (v2)
  0 (0%)

Change your vote
Votes so far: 0
Days left to vote: 2

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Book Expo Australia, 2015

This weekend just past, I went to Book Expo Australia, and I must say I got a lot out of it.
To quote from the web site:
"Book Expo Australia is a dedicated event for the reading public to engage with authors and publishers."
I believe it's unusual in that rather than being mainly targeted at the publishers, this book expo is targeted more at the readers and authors. Here's a summary of what was on:

  • Booths in a very large hall, for authors, publishers, and everyone in between (or "alongside"). It was nice to catch up with people I knew (Edwina Harvey and I were in the ten finalists in the 1998 George Turner Contest: the multi-talented creator has several web sites for her guises as reviewer, editor, artist, and of course author), and Lama Jabr who runs Xana Publishing & Marketing, as well as meeting a lot of interesting and helpful new people.

    The booths were typically manned by the author or publisher personally, and all were approachable and very happy to chat. There were a range of booth options from AU$150 to AU$1950.

    I'd like to mention one stand in particular, since it was all about some technology in development for reducing dolphin deaths in fishing nets: Whale Guardian? (How does that relate to books? Well, the talk about crowd-funding and marketing was just as applicable for writers as for anyone else, with good advice helping build an author platform and brand. Whale Guardian was used as an example.)

  • A small cafeteria, as well as additional food/coffee places nearby and, and the usual amenities, including but not limited to ATMs. :-)
  • An area where various events were held to entertain the kids (like learning to draw cartoons). They had a "pitch fest," where authors could sit with publishers to pitch their book. Again quoting from the web site: "Pitchfest Australia will offer potential and established authors the opportunity to sit in front of a publisher for ten minutes.
    "Book Expo Australia will work with potential and established authors to ensure that they:
    • Have the best manuscript possible
    • Have all the paperwork required by each publisher
    • Have prepared the best three minute "Elevator Pitch"
    • Have worked to have answers to all questions possible for the remaining seven minutes."
    (I didn't take advantage of that because I'm quite happy with my decision to self-publish; but it sounds especially valuable and helpful.)
  • They had a whole series of talks/workshops (and a film!) running on both days:
  • And a writing workshop from very influential screenwriter Karel Segers:
    • Screenwriting – Your next Career
    • From Book To Screen Adaption
    • Setting Up Your Writers Website
  • And the events for kids: Children’s Interactive, Mr Arthur Puppets, Dad Reading Comp, Rob Feldman, Mum Reading Comp, Kingdom of Chen, Duncan Ball, Jodie Wells-Slowgrove, Tony Harris, Eumundi and Friends.
  • A "Getting Published" series of workshops:
    • Social Media Marketing/Crowdfunding (Two experts in the area of Social Media and Marketing talk about building markets and achieving business goals. Presenters: Robert Coorey&Tim Lea)
    • See also How I became a best-selling author on Amazon.

    • Enhanced E Book (Self Publishing an E-Book that succeeds. Presenter: Amanda Greenslade)
    • Ingram Spark Self Publishing: The Challenges – from concept to distribution (Deborah Lee)
    • Book Covers: What makes it Work. Presenter: Julia Kuris
    • Oh, and not to mention "Murder by the Book," an interactive murder mystery (I didn't find time to get involved).

      Last but very far from least, there was a meet-up for lots of booktubers from Down Under – they struck me as a young and enthusiastic group of vloggers who just love books and vlog about anything book-related that takes their fancy. I mainly spoke to Chami (@ReadLikeWildfire) and Miranda (@BooKss101M), but also a little bit to Nicole (@NicsandNacs), and Rebecca, but they all seemed very positive and open. (There was supposed to be a bloggers conference stream too, with very interesting-looking topics, but a misunderstanding/miscommunication lead to its cancellation and forced some urgent reorganisation.)

      Here's my clumsy photo-stitch of a couple of barely-adequate candid photos of the happy crew:

    • Let's see if I can embed a link to their Expo videos here, for your convenience:

      First Nicole's:

      ... and then Miranda's (in which I make a brief and sheepish appearance :-) ) :

    I found some good books to buy directly from their authors (of course!), got info to follow up on more books, got to meet and ask questions of authors, and learned several important things that improve and in some cases dramatically change my plans. But rather than "smear out" the information in several places, what I'll do is update the relevant blog posts with my fresh discoveries, and I'll just post links to the various topics here, so you can find them that way. The new info will be in a "Book Expo Aus 2015 Update" section at the end of the updated posts, and I'll list the updates here as I complete each one.

    [Set of links to be added here]

    All in all I found it very interesting and useful, with some real gems. I also got the impression that the organisers would welcome help. It's a big job, and it was undertaken (in my opinion) out of the love of books, when the main organiser realised Australia hadn't had a Book Expo for twenty years. So I'd encourage people to support their efforts!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Emily Craven's brilliant idea for indie-published authors

I recently connected with Barbara Strickland and had a look around, and a read of, her blog Amorina Rose and the world of writing. There's useful stuff there, and I recommend the site; one link for example lead me to Emily Craven's e-Book Revolution blog, which again has lots and lots of useful information for Indie and self-publishers.

One item for example, happened just as I was discovering the world of book tubers, and found me in an especially receptive frame of mind. So, with that little intro, here is me explaining Emily's brilliant idea, from my point of view:

And just to highlight what people say about video, after I uploaded that to Youtube and shared it to Facebook and so on, I got more comments on the video at Facebook than I've received to any of the drier blog articles here. Which in my mind reinforces the idea that video is more engaging. It reinforced something which Lama Jabr of Xana Publishing & Marketing pointed out in one of her workshops: that Amazon make it easy for authors to include some videos on their Amazon author page.

I think video and text serve very different ends, though there can be a large overlap in the middle (depending on the content, naturally), and each has their pros and cons, but certainly for many kinds of communication, video is far more engaging.

Oh, I should probably add a tip, courtesy of film maker and copywriter Tim Lea (who I met at Book Expo Australia 2015): Google (the Youtube part) and Facebook are very much at war for mindshare in the video space (see his blog: "The Bloody Battle between Facebook and YouTube Part 2"). I think he had figures showing that more video was watched on Facebook than Youtube this year (though he observed that the picture is more complicated than that).

Anyway, Tim Lea's tip, if you want to maximise your brownie points with Facebook and Youtube, is to upload your video directly to each, independently. Don't just upload to Youtube and then link to it from FB: FB won't reward you for doing that. That was just one tip in an interesting talk he presented on some commercial opportunities for writers, related to video. He points out that if the video has dialogue, then it's probably going to benefit from having a writer involved! He shared his presentation with me, and I've made it available here:

(Incidentally, I found how to embed the PDF from here: How to Embed a PDF or Other Document Files in Blogger post. If you see advice where the html code ends with "view?usp=sharing", replace that by "preview" if you want it to work!)

Monday, 12 October 2015

Publishing in 2015

I suspect this post is going to be the second most controversial article I'll write here. (The most controversial is one which I'm still planning.) The subject this time is my overall assessment of the traditional book publishing compared to self-publishing . I think you'll see why the article may be controversial as you read on.

To be up-front and honest about where I'm going, I'll offer a metaphor for the traditional publishing industry:

It's like an ivory tower inside a mediaeval castle-and-keep; where a select few serfs are allowed inside to share in the protection of the walls and the benefits provided by the King. And now, visitors from another planet have landed outside, bringing new technology which they're sharing with anyone who wants it – inside the walls or out.

What follows are my personal views, based on my personal observations. Do take it with a grain of salt. Perhaps one day I'll put some effort into some research to substantiate all these claims, but for now I'm just working from memory.

Book publishers over the last 40 years have changed very gradually. In the “good old days”, most publishing companies were owned and run by people who fundamentally loved books and reading. For them, making money from doing something they loved, which supported authors and the whole culture of books and reading, was a source of deep satisfaction. Money was important, but was not the be-all and end-all.

Of course, these owners grew older; and other business-men and women saw the value and profitability of these publishing houses. Running them on more business-like grounds, with an eye fixed more firmly on profit, was just good sense. Gradually, smaller publishers were bought out by larger publishers. Publishing became concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The love of books somehow drained out of the equation, replaced by the necessity of maximising profitability and shareholder value. Publishing became an industry.

Of course, the spirit of books lived on: but increasingly, concentrated in the hands and hearts of smaller publishers and indie publishers. Some held out, but the money men were always present, waiting to make offers for valuable property and offer golden handshakes.

From what I've read recently, care of the Australian Society of Authors and researchers from Macquarie University, incomes for writers have been in decline for a long time. The average annual income for an Australian writer in 2015, from writing, is $12,900: $248 per week. The poverty line in Australia is defined as less than $358 per week. (Wikipedia: Poverty in Australia)

This is not the result of a rapid change; this is not a new thing. This is how it has been for a long, long time. Everyone knows: you don't choose to be a writer because you want to be wealthy, you choose to write because you feel a desire or even a need to write. You do it for the love of writing.

So, does this sound like the sort of situation that might result when you have a group of people, each basically working solo, and not part of a collective that wields power, who are driven to create and produce, and whose work is commercialised by other people? Does it sound like the sort of situation that would naturally evolve when the standard contracts and agreements are written by the commercial entities that hold the power and make the money – and the commercial organisations have changed from being controlled by people who love books, to people who need to love profits?

The Traditional publishing business model is, as I understand it, like this:

  • Find good authors (find new ones via agents or slush pile reading)
  • Work with the author to improve the book
  • Know the market for the book's subject matter, and predict sales
  • Print a fixed number of books in a single print run; warehouse and distribute these
  • Market the books: advertising, sales reps visiting big retailers, book promotions, etc.
  • Pay a royalty of 10-15% to the author; much of the rest goes in costs
  • If the print run sells out, maybe make another print run.
  • If books are left over, stop printing the book and sell off the leftovers at remaindered-prices

In this model, the publisher lets the writer concentrate just on writing, and looks after all the other annoying and tedious and difficult parts of the work for them. So there's certainly some benefits for writers. The publishers have specialist experts in every aspect, and can do a great job at each task: great book covers, clever marketing, beautiful typography and layout, high quality production, great blurbs, wonderful editors. So, many authors are very happy working with their publisher and agent, and these relationships tend to last a very long time.

One of the big problems with this model is that it's aimed at the mega-successful books: the publishing house may make very marginal profits on most of the titles they publish, making the bulk of their profits from just one, or a handful of, best-sellers. The best-sellers basically fund the other books. The publisher can only afford to offer 10%-15% royalty to the author because of the costs involved.

But there are other problems, too.

Another problem is numbers: there are a lot of good writers out there. The infamous “slush pile” of unsolicited manuscripts from would-be authors just grew and grew over the decades, inside each publishing house. The depth of the slush pile grew from hundreds, to thousands, to many thousands deep. Publisher's Readers were drowning in books. Many stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts at all: only accepting agented work. In other words, the slush piles were pushed to a new group of people, charged with panning the river of slush for the manuscripts of gold.

And a secret that wasn't widely known? That these golden manuscripts still needed editing and working on. Very few (any?) MSS came in where the publisher could say “Nothing to do, print it!” Most books require collaboration between a good editor and a good writer. (Maybe for some writers, this changes over time as they learn what their editor knows, and can produce work closer to publishable quality with fewer iterations of edits: I don't know.) But without this big effort, many wonderful books would have been ordinary. We read admissions of this over and over again, from authors, and I think there's more truth in it than most readers are aware. Not because good writers are not really good: it's simply that it's really that hard to write a wonderful book.

Okay, so one aspect of the “numbers problem” is that the number of writers who could produce a wonderful book is far larger than the number of people available in the traditional publishing industry to find them all, and get their work in front of the reading public. For new writers, being discovered required a lot of luck. I remember Stephen R. Donaldson speaking (over 30 years ago), and saying that he had submitted his first book in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to every major publisher in the US, and been rejected by them all, and was on the second loop through when an editor finally saw the potential. That was, over 50 rejections. I'm sure you've heard similar stories from many other famous authors. (For example.)

So, yeah, luck was required, not just good writing.

All this very clearly means that the traditional publishing model was failing to nurture and develop a whole lot of good writers. Think about that: think of some of your favourite books. I wonder how many great books exist as a pile of printed pages languishing in someone's garage, one day to be thrown out when the author dies; completely unread and undiscovered.

Pretty tragic, eh? The number make that a certainty: the only question, really, is how many hundred, or thousand, or whatever, wonderful books will have been lost to the human race because of this. Ah, well.

The trouble was, traditional publishing was the only game in town.

Enter the computer. As much as many people bemoan the computer, they're a key enabler of modern society. They're a tool that allow us to amplify the power of the human mind. Just the ease of preparing a manuscript with a home PC is a major boost. Even as recently as 20 years ago, most publishers required a printed, paper submission. And the MS was often retyped from that. Then came the internet, and email. Then social media. Then eBooks and eReaders. Then Amazon, and Google.

And consider how dramatically the traditional publishers changed, how their very business model changed: they accepted (and later, required) manuscripts to be submitted in electronic form.

That's about it, really. Apart from that, as far I've been able to see, traditional publishers have stayed with the same business model and the same practices that have worked for the last 100 years. After all, it's worked for that length of time, so why change?

Twenty years ago, when publishers always had electronic files that provided the typeset and layed-out form of the book, in a very small amount of space, I couldn't understand why books were still routinely going out of print. As a computer programmer, I could see how easy it would be to automate the reprint and reissue of a book, and even to keep track of people who would say “Yes, please, I would like to buy a copy if you reprint it for $X.” So that the cost of doing so would have meant the publisher would break even with a print run of about 100 books.

And then came print on demand (POD).

Understanding the alien technology. I don't know, I'm sitting here shaking my head. I see little sign that traditional publishers are adopting the new technologies; I see less signs that they properly understand the potential of the new technologies. I see them fighting and resisting the changes and the technologies that would benefit both themselves and the writers working with them.

Fortunately, the publishing landscape has changed enough, and other companies (technology companies, of course, who do understand the new technologies and who deeply appreciate the potential they bring) have been working diligently “outside the castle walls”, so writers now have another option. And in my view, this other option is a fundamentally better one, and should only improve further over time.

Self-publishing. Now, if a writer wishes to publish, she can do it all herself. The new business model for self-publishing looks, I think, like this:

  • The writer writes the best book she can.
  • The writer polishes it, gets beta-readers, and works on it some more.
  • If they can afford to, and if they can find a good editor, she pays for a professional edit.
  • The author either designs their own cover, finds a pre-made one, finds a good book cover designer, or relies on a by-the-numbers generic design if they don't really care much.
  • The author applies for and gets an ISBN and possibly an LCCN
  • The writer slaves over a good blurb and synopsis, and polishes them till they gleam.
  • The writer works out a marketing campaign for their book.
  • The writer registers with Amazon, or Apple's iBooks, or Barnes and Noble's Kobo, or with Smashwords (which lets them deal with all of the above), or with Lulu, or other electronic publishers, for an eBook version. Or even creates their own web page and ordering site.
  • The royalty figure is anywhere between 30% to 70% for eBooks (or higher, if you choose to keep complete control of everything: but you'll sell far fewer).
  • The writer can (and should, I think), prepare a version of the MS for printing, and offer a printed edition too, like Amazon's CreateSpace. The royalty for Print On Demand books is also higher than the traditional 10-15%, because you don't have to manage the risk of non-sales.
  • The writer publishes her book: electronic, printed, and maybe even an audio-book version. For extra points, they prepare a dyslexic-reader-friendly eBook.
  • The writer promotes their book, engages with their readers, and balances that with their primary work: working on their next book.
  • The books never go out of print. The more books you write, the more likely your older work is to sell.

With most of those steps, the writer can choose to dip into his or her pocket to get outside help, for a wide range of prices. (Yes, including free, or quid-pro-quo.) Generally, though, the costs are much lower than what traditional publishers require, because rather than the profits going to support the whole company, the money is only going to the individual or very-small-company providing the service. I've mentioned a few of these in other posts, so I won't rehash that here. But as a self-published author, know that don't need to go it alone. There's help if you want it.

Unfortunately, yet another numbers problem has been caused by this basically-positive boom in “production”: there are now so many books published each year (I have heard the figure of 1.3 million books published in 2014), how does the reader find the best books? Many people have noticed this, (See "Discovery Challenges Mount in a Reader-Driven World" and also the lovely follow-on piece: "Accounting for Authors, Publishing’s Forgotten Customers"),

Yet I feel the solution to this problem may be very straightforward, natural, empowering, and fair: word of mouth and the Network Effect. But let me quote something from that last article which I think goes to the heart of the problem with most traditional publishers:

'But there’s yet another customer few publishers usually identify when prompted.

'When I ask our publishing clients here at Biztegra to list their customers, they will usually include all the parties I’ve mentioned [readers, libraries, small online bookstores, distributors, large online retailers] and maybe one or two more depending on how they categorize their revenue. And when I then ask to them quantify each one, I can usually get a monetary value quoted directly from a revenue spreadsheet.

'By mapping all this out and developing marketing programs (and costs) associated with each customer category, we can get a pretty good idea of where the revenue is coming from and how much is being spent to acquire that revenue, the profitability of each and the potential to improve either the top or bottom line for each customer type. Ultimately, this lets us come up with programs to maximize both the associated spend and the revenue.

'It’s only then that I ask the question, “What about your authors?”

'And I usually get a blank stare.

'I will then ask something along the lines of, “How much is an author worth to your business?”

'The stare usually gets blanker.

'The truth is that authors are one of publishers’ most important customers, but I’ve only once heard a publisher actually list them as one .'    [Italics, and bold, are mine]

My predictions for the future. If I were working in a traditional publishing company, would I be worried? Well, yes and no. If I were working in such a company, I'd be doing my best to show them how they could use the new technologies work for them. :-) But answering the spirit of the question: if the company management doesn't “get” that things have changed, then yes, I'd be looking for somewhere else to work; but if the company does see the potential, then no, I wouldn't worry.

  1. One small but key part of this is the eBook readers themselves. I think these devices and programs have achieved somewhere between 10% to 30% of what they will achieve in the longer term (in ten to twenty years). I think the current eReaders are functional, but embarrassingly limited in usability and capability for their main function: reading books and managing a personal digital library.
  2. I think we're about halfway through the change – probably less. I think that traditional publishers will start including POD in their business model. (Ideally, they'd scrap the whole “remainders” concept, especially since it's so harmful to authors.) They'll even start including eBooks.
  3. I think the key problem will continue to be how good books are discovered by the readers who want to read them: the marketing or publicity side of things, if you like. I think that either reader's practices will change slightly (providing more word-of-mouth recommendations), or book promotion will change (via review sites and/or search engines).
  4. I predict that a lot of the middle-men in the supply chain will vanish.
  5. I think readers and authors will be much more directly connected.
  6. I think Amazon will continue to dominate the market, unless it starts abusing its power. If it does that, then I predict that innate human fairness will see people leaving Amazon's virtual stores in droves, and Amazon's competitors will emerge from the shade to handle the influx of new customers.
  7. I predict that someone is going to see the business possibility of print-locally and ship-locally, vastly reducing the cost and the wasteful use of energy in printing books overseas and shipping them locally, and providing this as a service to publishers large and small. I predict that someone will see the sense in doing this with a mix of traditional large print run offset printing and tiny-volume print on demand.
  8. I predict that author's royalties will rise, to a level that will allow their incomes to rise well above the poverty line and provide them with a good income.
  9. I predict that piracy will decline as the purchasing of books legitimately and fair pricing of books improves.
  10. I predict that authors will earn the success they deserve: that poorly-written or poorly-produced books will not be very successful, but that books that match the quality of good traditionally-published books will routinely earn the success they deserve.
  11. I predict that traditional publishers will stay, but that their business models will change. After all, the key benefits provided by publishers remain unchanged, and few authors really want to be involved in and micro-managing every aspect of their book's production and promotion. I think the Indie publishers are likely to lead the way. (I see Simon and Schuster are touting this new platform for authors,, but I personally don't see the platform as interesting or valuable, but more as an attempt to divert authors away from better existing such services).
  12. I predict that a very healthy, vibrant, and supportive service industry will continue to grow and flourish to support the large numbers of writers who simply have to write.
  13. I predict that the rate the human race produces good books and great books will increase to a level something like two or three times higher than what it currently is.
  14. I predict that the cost of books will drop a little further, while the income paid to the creators will increase.
  15. Who knows, more good writers may even start to be employed by Hollywood, so we'll get more movies with sparkling dialogue and plots that make great sense, with characters human and warm and engaging, as well as horrifying and scary.

I predict a bright future, provided we don't let fear of change start making us collectively act irrationally.

Update - helpful sites It occurred to me I should add some useful external links, though a Google search will turn these up:

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Book Cover Design

Now, I have little to no artistic ability, and less skill and experience in graphic design. So, given that the first hurdle a little-known author faces in a potential reader's mind is the book cover, that's clearly a problem.

My approach, once I realised that I needed a cover at all, was to look for suitable images that I could license to use. I found Dollar Photo Club, and began trawling through the images, using various search terms to ease the search. I was lucky to find something (a model, in a situation) which I felt would work quite well. Then I put a little thought into the font to use for the title, and put something together in the free GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), which many people argue matches and in some areas exceeds the power of Adobe Photoshop. I personally find the user interface diabolical – thank heavens for kindly people on Youtube! So the end result was this, which I thought quite good, considering.

Basically, I just cropped the full image to fit the page, and added the title, author, and image copyright texts.

However, my first rude awakening came at the one day course by the Australian Society for Authors Book Marketing and Publicity, where I was given some frank feedback:

  • It looked amateurish
  • It was too flat, too two-dimensional
  • It didn't really indicate what the story was: it could be about wild party-girls.
  • It was probably good enough for an ebook.

So, I added the tagline for the book onto the cover, and spoke to people with some artistic and design skills, to learn what “too flat” meant. The general consensus was to bring in the sides of the original image (just sacrificing some fog) to give some depth. This would also have the main character look a bit hemmed-in and oppressed, which fitted nicely with the book. Opinions differed about where to place the tagline – centred or off-centre – and I realised I'd need to prepare multiple variants and then show them to people to see if a general preference emerged.

So, after a day of learning more about the GIMP, here is my 2nd version:

I messed up her right boot, and need to fix that, but before I did that I had the opportunity to get some more feedback, this time from the Marrickville Writers Group. Again, I got lots of good feedback, and a definite consensus emerged as to what more needed to be done.

The writers group suggested modifying the model to suggest futuristic stuff, and magic, but that idea, though good in general, didn't fit the story.

Other ideas were to use the title as the focus and move the image into the background, perhaps even use the model just as a silhouette, with the rest of the image used more as a texture. (Note that the images shown here are quick rough sketches and doodles from Lyn and Joe in the Marrickville Writers Group, who kindly let me share their sketches on my blog.)

Wilder ideas were to use a blocky futuristic font with some decoration of the letters to suggest growth or wildness attacking or over-riding the solidity of the font.

The upshot of this was that I realised that my poor skills were quite inadequate to execute these ideas. And the idea of learning how to use the GIMP well enough to do them was almost as daunting.

A couple of people also suggested something which I had been considering myself: getting a professional to work on it. In the meantime, having something concrete and which I was moderately happy with would be a big help in providing a brief to real book cover designers. Options include crowdsourcing (like fiverr) or Goodreads cover specialists (there's a discussion here or Kindle Groups designers.

Aesthetics aside. But let me leave the huge topic of aesthetics aside and consider what goes into a cover. Perhaps a little list is the best way to do this:

  • Cover image
  • Title
  • Font: for the title, and the font for the rest of the text
  • Author name
  • “Tag-line”
  • Series name and number, if appropriate
  • Spine design
  • Back cover design
  • Back cover blurb – a short blurb, or a longer synopsis?
  • Space for the barcode and ISBN
  • Bio for yourself, and author photo
  • Text and design for “ears” (the inside flaps if there will be a separate wrap-around cover)

I'll try to cover each of those topics briefly, below.

Cover image. This is crucial, as is the title. The cover is what you hope will catch the reader's eye, and interest. It needs to suggest what the book is about, and all the elements need to be harmonious. It's the first big hurdle you need to overcome in your quest to guide people to buying your book.

Title. What can I say about this? If the “elevator pitch” is a 25 word encapsulation of what your book is about, and the tag-line is an eight word hint, then the title is your novel distilled down to its essence, its heart. The approach you take for a title for fiction books is quite different to non-fiction: for the former, you want to rely on connotations and echoes, and for non-fiction you want to highlight what's unique about your book.

Font. The choice of font for the title is extremely important, too: although more so for fiction than non-fiction, I feel. I hadn't thought very much about this for my first attempt: I chose a cursive font because to me it suggested natural-ness (an echo of the “wild”), with a drop shadow so it could be read against the background. But one of the members of the Marrickville Writers Group with some cover design experience (hi, Lyn!) mentioned that drop shadow fonts for a title suggest the Mystery genre to readers (so, I should avoid that). There was general agreement that my choice of font for the title was wrong because it came across as too girly nor did it convey the futuristic angle.

The title font may benefit from being very eye-catching and highly decorative. The font for the rest needs to be more legible. Nor do you want a fruit salad of different fonts. That said, here is a site where you can get fonts for your cover: An extra good thing about that site is that they also tag fonts, so you can search for things like “futuristic”:

Author name. Obviously you need to put the author's name there. But what name? Consider a pseudonym; consider variants of your name. My family actually suggested to me that “Luke Kendall” doesn't really roll off the tongue, whereas “Luke J. Kendall” is easier to say. And does the middle initial get put down with or without a period? A quick scan confirmed that, yes, the period is in.

“Tag-line”. I'm no expert on this: I bet Google would help you find good articles on how to do this. I'm pretty happy with what I came up with. The function of the tag-line is to help cue the potential reader in to the subject of the book. Since people had pointed out that “Wild Thing” could just as well refer to a wild party girl, adding the tag-line solved that particular problem.

Series name and number. One of my pet hates is not being able to easily find the order of books in a continuing series (Hi, Kim Harrison). Having to resort to Wikipedia and then using a permanent marker to add the number is not something I feel I should have to do. So, since I'm planning a whole series of books, I needed to add that somewhere. Oh, and then what to call the collection: Series, chronicles, report, archives, … in the end, I felt “dossier” best fit the subject matter.

Spine. If you're going to have a printed edition, then you need a design for the spine, and it needs to wrap around and fit with the front and back cover designs. As well, you will need to know how wide the spine will be, so that means you need to know how many pages, and the paper thickness. Fortunately, since I plan to use CreateSpace (, they make it easy by providing a calculator, once you've chosen the paper type: be aware, that cream and white paper have slightly different thicknesses!

Back cover design. If you have a printed edition, naturally. Have a look at some published books to see what goes here. Also, what goes here will be different if the cover will be loose and separate (this, with wrap-around “ears” where readers will expect to find the blurb, and perhaps the author bio), or if the cover will be more like a paper-back (integral to the book, no inside flaps). Also note that CreateSpace can't print on the inside of the cover, at present. So if you want your bio, it'll need to go on the back cover.

Back cover blurb. This is hurdle #3: if the potential reader likes the cover image and title, there's a good chance that the next thing checked out will be the blurb. So it pays to wordsmith this until it's as near perfect as you can make it. I think a similar effort to what's needed for writing poetry goes into this, since every word counts. Don't go overboard with this: the text will need to be very legible, regardless of the back cover beneath it, so it will need to be reasonably large, and thus reasonably short. Also, don't think that a synopsis is the same as the blurb: write a separate synopsis, don't just add to the blurb. Nor should you give away too much: you'll spoil the pleasure for the reader if you do more than provide them hints as to some of the twists. You certainly should notbe summarising your story. Yes, it's a fine art!

Barcode. Yep, you need to get an ISBN and a barcode for the ISBN, so leave space for them. If a book seller can't catalogue your book, there's no chance they'll add it to their inventory. Book retailers have enough problems: don't make more for them.

Bio. Readers are often interested in knowing a little about the author. Write something that gets across who you are: your personality. You may also want to include a nice photo of yourself.

Ears or flaps. You'll need some text if you plan on a printed book with a dust jacket, since the inside flaps is where readers will expect a blurb, or a longer synopsis if you wish. Have a look and see what other authors do.

Cover design. You have a wide range of options here. What I started with was a source of licensable images. I did some google searching and found Dollar Photoclub which suited my needs nicely. I was careful to read the license terms, to be sure I could use the images for a book cover design and for general promotion of my book, if I paid for licenses for the images (which were very reasonable, I thought). (I'm told you can also find free images, but the difficulty in being sure that they really are free is not worth the trouble, in my opinion.) Dollar Photo club also tags images, so you can search the large set of images by keywords, and then browse through the resulting images that match: that's a real help!

Other options are pre-made book covers: you browse through and buy the one you want, and they remove it so no one else will end up with the same cover design as yours (which is a danger when you rely on stock images). I'm sure there are several of these sites: I had a bit of a look at and These options are very cheap, and although you could get lucky and find something exactly right for your book, they generally won't look as good as a special design made just for your book.

Kindle Direct Publishing also have their own cover design “tool” where you can add the title etc. as well as an image. If your design skills are good enough, you might be able to get a reasonable design that way.

Another option is crowdsourcing (like fiverr), where you provide a brief for the work you want done and then people will vie for the work. I gather with fiverr, you specify the amount you want to spend, and the “bidders” will work to that. Obviously, if you set your price low, you will get fewer people vying for the work.

If you yourself have good design skills, you can do it yourself: but be aware that there are nuances to book cover design that you will need to learn: different genres have different expected styles, and if you design a cover that doesn't fit that, your book may well be overlooked or disregarded. Even the style of font and font effects matter. It's a specialist art. Here are a couple of articles you may find useful: 14 Tips for Good Kindle Cover Design/ and What Does Your Cover Say About Your Book/ if you want to take that route. Note that the first of those two links is someone who will also design a cover for you.

My own experience. So the upshot of making my own best attempt at a cover and learning a little about the topic was that I realised I should find someone better than myself to create the cover for my book.

Soon after coming to realise this, and primed by my heightened awareness of the subject of cover design, I noticed in passing on Twitter the covers for the series Norma Jean's School of Witchery by @RoseMontague, and thought “Wow, they're good”. I contacted her to ask who designed them and Rose very kindly put me in touch with Mirella Santana of Brazil, on Facebook as and at, and I was hooked.

I contacted Mirella and outlined what I wanted, and since she was interested, proceeded to prepare a brief.

Writing a design-brief. I should point out that I don't know the right way to do this; what I provided Mirella was an early blurb for my book, a slightly longer synopsis, my bio, a short background section for the world of the story, my attempts at my own cover (along with a summary of their flaws), the cover details:
  Title:    Wild Thing
  Tag line:    She's not what they planned
  Subtitle:    The Leeth Dossier: vol 1
  Author:    Luke J Kendall
as well as a list of ideas related to incidents in the story that might form a suitable starting point for the cover design, including a list of the key characters and the roles they play. I was able to point Mirella at the model whose photos I'd found, since she was a surprisingly good match to my own mental image of my main character, and there was a good number of possibly suitable images of her available.

After a while, Mirella provided me with some samples; and we went back and forth a little bit via Facebook, discussing them, as well as providing the extra information needed (like the physical dimensions of the printed book, including the number of pages). I made a few suggestions (in the initial image, the position of the dog and the monster suggested the main character might be a werewolf; and might even change into the monster too, rather than being threatened by it. Mirella's solution to that problem was much better than my suggestions, incidentally.

Later, I provided updated text for the back cover. Mirella added the period in “Luke J. Kendall” since I hadn't been aware of that convention; she also highlighted some of the text for the back cover for those readers who just want to skim the synopsis for interesting tidbits, rather than read it all.

Mirella also pointed me at a site where we could transfer large files to one another (, and I simply used Paypal to pay her for all her excellent work.

The whole process was enjoyable and pleasant; I did try hard to be responsive, and tried to answer all her questions promptly. I can certainly recommend Mirella: I think I was very lucky to find her. My situation was complicated by the fact that I was in the middle of working on splitting the book into two, and dreaming up the right “something” that might make the first half a compelling book in itself. At least the title still worked: but pretty much all the rest of the text on the cover had to change.

So what does the cover look like? Well, I had Mirella design two variants: one with and one without the dog. Here they are, side by side, just the front cover parts: (Incidentally, adding the image with the dog took almost two hours: looks like a bug in Blogger. The only way to make the with-dog image to appear at all was to first add it to a Picasa/Google Photos album, and then add it to the blog from there. Go figure!)













So, I think it's appropriate to show you Mirella's design and finish with a poll (thanks to Matt Koble's post about How to Embed a Poll on a Blogger Post), since there is still one question open about the cover: do more people prefer the with-dog version, or the without-dog version? Please vote (unless I've already asked you in person)!

Do you prefer the design with the dog, or without?

And one last thing: Mirella said that if people had questions about the book cover design, she would be willing to answer them. Perhaps we could do them right here on this blog; but if you'd rather contact me to ask Mirella, that's fine, too.