Category Archives: Write regardless!

Writer, show your proof!

“Be hard on yourself and make your book the best it can be.”

BY now your book and your plan to market it should be well advanced. You’re nearly at the finish line with the formatted, beta-read manuscript that you’ve read multiple times from start to finish; your effective title and cover; all your publishing matter (such as an ISBN and barcode), and your established working relationships with the mainstream and social media into which to spread the good news about your book’s publication. It’s now time for one of the very hardest parts of the marathon: to proofread your book and ensure is passes the eagle eye of hungry readers.

Good housekeeping

What no independent publisher should try to do without is a cast-iron back up of their work somewhere external to their computer, such as a USB memory stick or a separate hard drive. Within that, ensure you always know which is the most up-to-date version of your work as you proofread it. If you’re proofreading eBook and paperback versions of the same content, you’ll need to ensure every change is made across each version. Work out what kind of system works for you, and stick to it religiously.

Copy editing

In independent publishing, beta-reading has come to replace what was once the first stage of copy-editing. After having your work read by one or more beta-readers, take the opportunity to use the feedback to rework it. Once you’ve formatted your work, and before you do your final proofreading, there is another chance to tweak your book’s plotting and content. Be hard on yourself and make your book the best it can be.

Watch the formatting

Ensure that any copy-editing does not throw out your book’s formatting. If you make cuts or a lot of additions, your paperback will end up thinner or thicker than it was and you may need to adjust the spine width of your cover design. Very often, a traditionally published book has a few blank pages at the very end. These are to allow for expansion and contraction of the content prior to publication without impacting the cover design, but check with your print on demand (POD) platform as it may have restrictions about leaving too many pages blank.

House style

Whether you complete your own copy editing or you engage someone, you’ll need to decide on a house style or style guide. There are differences in publishing style between major international publishing territories that reflect not only the spelling of those regions, but also publishing conventions. Choose one and stick to it.


There is no rule on earth that demands independent publishers follow an existing house style, but what readers will always notice is a lack of consistency in a book. Consistency suggests to readers that your choices are intentional, not mistakes. If your house style is all over the place, they’ll be unforgiving. Staying consistent between books is also important. Think about visual links between book covers and interior styles across all the books you publish in a one-year period. Let readers grow familiar with your publishing style.


It’s crunch time. If you want an excellent publication that doesn’t let you (and your readers) down, this is your chance to prove yourself a quality book publisher with a future in the industry. There really is no way to avoid this stage of the process… put friends on notice, make the kids walk the dog, lock the office door, take the phone off the hook and put every sentence through its paces.

Contracting-out the job

You may wish to engage a copy-editor and/or a proofreader to complete this stage of the work for you. Agree on the terms of the job and the cost before they embark on the task, and which house style you require them to follow. Don’t expect the work to be done swiftly if you want accuracy. As with every part of the publishing process, if you want speed, anticipate errors and an invoice that reflects your impatience.

Start at the end

After several reads of a manuscript, you’re bound to have been alert to copy errors in the first half, and blind to them in the second. On one of your error-hunting missions, work backwards through your book, starting at the last section and working your way to the first, giving fresh eyes to text that’s probably not had much focussed attention.

Mistakes on mistakes

One of the easiest stages to make proofreading mistakes is when you’re correcting errors. Get into the habit of altering the text, then reading the whole sentence again to ensure you have corrected it properly.

Avoiding litigation

As an independent publisher, it’s crucial to ensure that what you are publishing does not defame anyone. If you’re quoting a person or a source, check that you’ve been accurate. Be accurate with the portrayal of people’s identity (job titles, spelling of their names, backgrounds). If you are writing about real events, think about changing names and locations to protect the privacy of individuals, places and businesses, and include a disclaimer in your book’s front matter. Be scrupulous about this process and don’t rush it. Check every source, quote, attribution and reference. If in doubt about anything, leave it out.

Copyright clearances

If your work quotes from or includes the work of others, you’ll need to get clearance from whoever owns or manages the copyright of the material. Usually, your first port of call is the publisher of the work, who may seek clearance for your use of the material from the author. Sometimes, work is out of copyright and in the public domain, and there may not be a need to get clearance, although out-of-copyright material is often held in a collection that requires clearance for its use (for example, an art gallery that owns a copyright-free painting). Always check if clearance is required, or if there are limitations imposed on use of word and images; and always attribute a source where it is known.

Readers are your friends

“Let go of perfection and aim for consistency – imperfections will be picked up by your early readers.”

Independent publishers need to come to terms with a reality: publishing without the support of others will mean making at least a few errors in your first print run. Even whole teams of highly skilled users of the English language have been known to miss obvious inaccuracies before titles hit the printing press. Prepare for this inevitability by engaging ‘first readers’ of your work when it’s just been published – perhaps your beta readers – and ask them to give you feedback about spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, inconsistencies, etc. Your online publishing platform will allow you to make as many changes as required to the publicly available versions of your books. There’ll be a few rogue copies out there with errors… but that happens to every book publisher in the world.



For many writers, there is a willingness to hit the publish button in a rush at the last minute, but quality publishers will slow down at this penultimate moment and proofread the work properly first. Let go of perfection and aim for consistency – imperfections will be picked up by your early readers, so invite them into the process. You can see the finish line from here, just don’t trip!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, polish your publication!

“This is your chance to make your hard literary work shine!”

AT the pointy end of independently publishing a book, creative decisions come rushing at us from all directions. The pressure is on to have everything ‘perfect’ and ready, but don’t be fooled into thinking that’s the way it is in the book trade! Traditionally published books go through plenty of trial and error on their way to bookshelves. Here’s some tips about getting the look and feel of your book right, including the most controversial… your book cover.

Sense of entitlement

Writers love to dream up brilliant book titles that inspire our writing process, but we’ll often fight like cornered animals at the very suggestion of letting those ideas go. After all, our books are unique brainchildren, so the names we give them are incredibly personal; but as a book is approaching publication, and a final title needs to be settled on, remain open to alternatives.

Revive the Thesaurus

Beta readers are often the key to great title ideas. They are invariably our books’ first readers and can usually identify our themes more clearly. One of the best ways to spark title ideas is to ask beta readers to name a few keywords that came to mind as they read our manuscripts. Look these up in a thesaurus and you’ll soon see there are many ways to say the same thing, using several incredibly unique words to do so.

tumblr_o801mkmK6m1vv9h5to1_1280Book trade wisdom

The international marketplace is the best place to identify book title parameters. Long titles (more than six words) can struggle to maintain visual presence in online book sites, although there are plenty of successful examples, like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003). Many successful series rely on a short ‘master’ title, like the Twilight series, allowing varied and often longer sub-titles. Non-fiction books traditionally require straplines, a form of sub-heading. 

Title theft!

We all want to be original, but chances are there are other books out there with the same or similar titles as ours (there will be at least one other writer with your name, also!). There is no copyright on titles. Somewhere between accepting everything is unique but few things are original, your book will find its place. Don’t call your American Civil War novel Gone With The Wind, of course, but don’t stress about similarities with other books and authors.

Judging a great book

The overwhelming majority of readers will judge your book instantly on its cover. Googling ‘book covers’ will lead you into internet nightmare country: everyone has an opinion in this highly contentious space. My advice is to keep things very, very simple. Engage a cover design artist or work up your own cover on software like Photoshop or Canva. The basic version of Canva is free to use, with templates and very low-cost elements for sale within it (such as images) to make perfectly good eBook and paperback covers.

Screen shot 2016-06-16 at 3.00.26 PMKeep it simple

One strong image, one point of focus. Less is more on an effective book cover.

Size matters

Books are invariably sold with only the front cover at thumbnail size on desktop or mobile screens. The cover image and typography need to work effectively at that tiny scale. If buyers cannot read your cover, or get something from its imagery, they’ll keep looking.

Where’s the edge?

Most online booksellers and printed book catalogues display book covers against a white background. If you want your cover to stand out, make sure it’s got solid edges. White or light covers will tend to disappear.

A designer relationship

If you’ve got strong ideas about your book cover and can operate basic computer software, it’s probably best that you design your own cover. Expecting to pay a designer to merely push buttons for you while you muck around with ideas will drive you both insane and cost you a lot of money. If you have no visual skills at all but you’re excited by the prospect of what an experienced creative will come up with, engage a designer by agreeing on price, time scale and outcomes beforehand.

“Your designer may come up with the winning idea at the very last stage of design.”

What to expect from a cover designer

It’s acceptable to expect that a designer will come up with an initial range of ideas for you both to choose a general design direction from; it’s also acceptable for a designer to argue their case with you – always stay open to ideas that come out of the blue. Designing is a creative process, just like writing, so accept that your designer may come up with the winning idea at the very last stage of design, just like your manuscript takes best shape close to the end of the rewriting process.

Picky clients pay more

If you keep making changes, expect to be charged. Good designers accept there will always be some amendments – three free alteration sessions is the standard (and appears in traditionally published book contracts) – but if you take the piss, it’ll appear on your bill.

What a designer will expect of an author

Time. Nothing great ever came from a rush job. Furnish your designer with complete, accurate cover copy (title, author name and blurb) that will not require any changes to be made; and a cover template (with your book’s unique barcode). Basic respect for their process should be a given, but it’s unfortunately quite rare. You might have spent years on your book, so an effective ‘face’ on it will take weeks or months to get right.

Ebook covers

Your online publishing platform will supply you with the correct dimensions for creating your eBook cover, which will be the equivalent of just the front cover of a printed book (no spine, no back cover, no barcode). Check this great video on how to use Canva to create an effective eBook cover.

Paperback covers

Your print on demand (POD) publishing platform will supply you with a template (usually with a barcode, if you give them your ISBN) based on the number of pages in your paperback document. Remember, the page count will always be greater than the number of pages allocated a page number in your book (it’s got front and end matter, right?). Remind yourself about the elements of book building). If you change the number of pages in your book’s interior file, the width of the book spine will change and you’ll need to re-size your cover design accordingly. Here’s a great video on how to use Canva to create an effective printed book cover.

Brilliant blurbs

Everywhere your book is sold and marketed – online, bookshop shelves, bibliographic services, libraries – there’s a chance to attract readers with a great sales pitch, and there is no reason to use anything different to your back cover blurbWhen creating a great blurb, the best place to start is the plotting work you did on your book. Keep it short – it’s not supposed to be a synopsis – and keep the reader guessing about your story’s turning points.

Where’s your proof?

The trial and error of independent book publishing will become apparent once you receive an uncorrected proof of your book, the culmination of years of hard literary work. Most POD platforms allow you to order one version of your title after you’ve uploaded the interior and exterior files. This small spend is your chance to save yourself hours of angst (and plenty of money) by holding one copy in your hand and checking it for accuracy.



The publishing industry uses many tried and true techniques to create books that look and sound great to buyers. There is no need for independent publishers to reinvent the wheel – emulate the book trade and allow your publication to seamlessly take its place among the titles available to hungry readers. Don’t attempt a book cover design unless you’re very sure you know what’s expected, but if engaging a designer, it’s still a good idea to get across the elements of effective book design to ensure the process runs smoothly. This is your chance to make your hard literary work shine!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, format your ebook!

“The main difference between a paperback an eBook is the functionality afforded by an eBook’s menu.”

COMPARED to the process of formatting a paperback, putting an eBook together is relatively easy. The key to understanding the difference is the ‘fixed vs. fluid’ concept. The content of a paperback is fixed – every page remains locked in place however the file is printed; whereas the content of an eBook is fluid – there are no fixed pages and the content takes the dimensions and layout of whatever eReader (tablet, Kindle, smartphone, etcetera) the reader uses. The best place to start is to follow the guidelines provided by your preferred online publishing platform. Here are the basic elements of creating an eBook.

Adapt your paperback

It’s crucial that your paperback and eBook editions have the same content, and one of the best ways to ensure this is to adapt your paperback word processing document into a second document that you can then export as an Electronic Publishing format (ePub) file, bringing the same version of the content with the conversion. Be careful not to reformat your original file, ‘Save As’ or make a copy first. Remember, when you make an adjustment to the content of your book in one file, you’ll need to make the same adjustment to all other files. This is the first step in being an effective editor and proofreader of your own work: apply all changes to all editions!

What do you adjust?

When you have a copy of your original document, resize it back to the standard word processing dimensions (generally A4) but leave all body text of your chapters justified left and right.

Your new ISBN

International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) are unique to every edition of the same book, so you’ll need a new one for your eBook that is different to that of your paperback. Most independent publishers buy a cluster of ISBNs because it’s cheaper to buy them in bulk. Ensure you insert the eBook’s ISBN in the front matter of your eBook file. There is no need for a barcode on an eBook.

Drop your page numbers and headers

The good news about eBook publishing is that you don’t need to concern yourself with page numbering – if you’ve created a new document out of your paperback, turn off all page-numbering functionality. You also won’t need page headers or running headers. Your readers’ eReading devices will create page numbers and running headers within your eBook. Some online book distribution sites require you to nominate a page length for your eBook – use the page length of your paperback, it’s just a guide for booksellers and buyers.

“A great advantage of an eBook edition of your book is the ability to include hyperlinks for your readers.”

Breaking your pages

As with paperbacks, it’s preferable to break your eBook into sections. Books are divided into three main sections – front matter (introductions, copyright statements, etc.), body matter (often divided into chapters), and end matter (references, acknowledgments etc.). Check this guide to book sections for a broader description. In a paperback file, Section Breaks are used for this purpose, but Page Breaks will suffice in an eBook document.

What’s on your menu?

The main difference between paperback and eBook formatting is the functionality afforded by an eBook’s menu, or Table Of Contents (often abbreviated as TOC in word processing). Most online publishing platforms require all eBooks to have a TOC allowing readers to jump straight to each section or chapter by clicking on that section of the TOC. Many independent publishers find this the trickiest part of eBook formatting. The best way to start is to search your desktop word processor for instructions on creating a TOC for an eBook. They often provide a template for publishers to replicate.

9780645270525Your eBook cover

Covers for eBooks are the book’s front cover only, in ‘portrait’ (upright rectangle) aspect ratio. Your publishing platform will require it to be uploaded by itself, generally as a jpeg or a PDF, following guidelines about what size to make the image. There are many variations on this sizing, but it’s important to follow your platform’s specific requirements – they’ll make your cover work wherever it appears within their distribution network. Very often, publishing platforms require your cover to be inserted on the first page of your ePub file. Word processing documents generally allow images to be ‘floating’ (not centred on the page) or ‘inline’ (centred on the page). Your eBook’s ePub file may be rejected by your publishing platform if the cover image is not ‘inline’.

Embed your hyperlinks

A great advantage of an eBook edition of your book is the ability to include hyperlinks for your readers, allowing them to click through to other content, which could lead them to your other books on your social media platform, or related information, or other resources on your subject matter. The options are endless.

Exporting your eBook

When you’ve created your eBook document in Microsoft Word or Apple Pages, you’ll want to see how it looks on an eReader. The optimal way to do this is to export it in a format that eReaders can open, and ePub is one of the most popular. If you’re working on a desktop computer, you probably won’t be able to open your ePub file – email it to yourself and open it on your tablet or mobile phone. Check it for formatting errors, and adjust it as needed.

If you’re working on a desktop computer, you probably won’t be able to open your ePub file – email it to yourself and open it on your tablet or mobile phone. Check it for formatting errors, and adjust it as needed. When you’re ready to upload your ePub file to your online publishing platform, you’ll probably need to insert the ISBN as the file name (check their guidelines).



Ebooks are generally easier to format than paperbacks, with no need to worry about page numbering or headers. You can check your eBook formatting by exporting it as an ePub and reading it on a tablet or smartphone, seeing it just as a reader will when they buy your book from an online bookseller. Take the time to make sure you’re happy with the way it looks before hitting the publish button.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.