The Standards Blog

Guest Post: This Is Why Self-Publishing Authors Should Work With Designers

Adventures in Self Publishing

This article is by Ellie Martin. You can find Ellie's web site here.

169th page of the Peer-Codex. Public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and hu:User:Data destroyerWhen one thinks of a good book, it’s quite rare that the first thing that comes to mind is the book’s design. Why would it? It’s generally agreed that a good book is all about the words on the page and the power of the story between the two covers. It makes sense, then, that an author’s main focus is on the content of the book. The story is and rightly should be any serious author’s number one priority, but it should not be the only priority.

Here’s the thing: while literature is still very much a refined art form, if you want anyone other than yourself to read your book, then it’s also very much a business. To put it more bluntly, when you finish your book and are ready to sell it to the world, then you are offering a product, a commodity created to fill a certain commercial market niche. This does not devalue the book as an art form, necessarily. It’s just the reality of the situation, and the reality calls for marketing. 

Recently, book marketing has become an even more popular field of interest since the

rise of self-publishing. Now, more than ever, it’s extremely easy to print, produce, market, and sell your book all on your own, without having to go through the traditional venues of publishing houses. Services like Smashwords, Blurb, Lulu, and especially Amazon’s Kindle Direct Print-on-Demand means that it’s easier than ever to put your book in the hands of potential readers, and of course the burgeoning ebook market means self-publishing is as wide open a field as it’s ever been.  

This phenomenon is great for indie authors who don’t have access to traditional publishing outlets, but it also means that the field is becoming more and more crowded, now that anyone can publish their own book, whether that’s via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service or through another independent sales platform. And in a crowded market, the unfortunate truth is that the best book doesn’t always rise to the top of the bestseller charts. Why not? Because once they’re out there in the world, books become products and commodities, and they reach customers through strong marketing or, sadly, not at all, just like any other product out there. Sometimes, the best marketing campaign wins, regardless of the book’s quality.

What this means for self-publishing authors is that your work is not done once you’ve finalized the last revisions on your book. Far from it. In some ways, your work is just beginning, because a self-published author must promote and market her book in order to help it gain the exposure it deserves. 

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of book marketing is the design of the book. Of course that means the book’s cover, but that’s not all it means. Most self-published authors are offering their books exclusively through online distribution channels, like Amazon, leading to  a need for a strong online presence. So working out the branding identity of the author’s site and other promotional materials is another design-heavy aspect of the self-publishing process.  

This all might sound like it could induce headaches for those who have no interest in design and only got into this field for the writing, and that’s okay. First of all, you don’t have to do the design. You can present and market your book to the world however you want. But, since many majorpublishers have their own design teams, why wouldn’t you want to level the playing field as much as you can? Secondly, if you do decide to enter the design and marketing fray, you’re not alone. 

In the same way you as a writer are working independently of any major conglomerate, there are all sorts of freelance designers out there who can deliver quality design to help separate your independent identity from the rest of the crowded field. Need a refreshed author site to establish your brand as a writer? Hire a freelance designer who understands the basic principles of design hierarchy and can design your site in order to maximize the exposure of links back to Amazon or wherever you’re selling your book. Good web designers understand the importance of making a brand-centric site accessible, simple to use, and nice to look at, and while this may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to book publishing, having a recognizable and welcoming online presence can give your books a subtle but important publicity bump. 

Most important of all, be sure that your book has a cover that is sure to tempt a reader to dive in, and which is effective when displayed at scale on sites like Amazon. There’s no one correct way to do the design and branding for your self-published book. In fact, the best book cover designs show a wide range of aesthetics and branding. So, while you don’t necessarily need to fill a perfect mold with your book design, you do need to be intentional about your thought process if you want your self-published book to make a splash. And just in the same way that you should hire (or ask) someone other than yourself to do the editing of the text of our book, all the best tips for self-publishing authors will tell you that hiring a great designer to help with your branding and marketing will go a long way in helping your book gain the exposure it deserves. 

Put that all together, and the way is clear: start off on the right foot by finding a great designer for your book. You’ll be glad you did.

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