Tag Archives: Book covers

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, build your book!

“Get out your favourite books and see how they are formatted.”

ONCE the decision to independently publish has been made, it’s time to enter the more technical phase of publishing. You’re about to transform a manuscript into a book that will endure, a process traditional publishers employ teams of experts to execute. These are the roles you need to manage as you put your book together, and the choices you have.

Will you print or not?

A few years ago, many were predicting the end of the printed book because the stats for eBook sales were rising exponentially; but between 2013 and 2015 they levelled off. Many readers still want to hold a printed book in their hands, but some writers don’t want the extra hassle of formatting and distributing a paperback, and are happy to publish eBooks only. Do your research and know why you’re deciding on one course or the other. I went into profit on the basis of one paperback order from one bibliographic company servicing one major city’s libraries. That cheque paid for all the set up, publishing and launch fees of four titles. Publishing a printed title paid off for me.

Your print is my command!

Not too long ago, independent publishers were faced with a tough choice when having their books printed affordably: Should I print 500, or 1000? Either meant having plenty of spare books around in the garage and giving them away as presents for years, when sales didn’t deplete the printed stock. The good news is those days are over, with print on demand (POD) services. Basically, when a customer orders your book, the system prints one for them. No waste, no storage, no need to give them away. Large tracts of books, both traditionally and independently-published, are now sold POD, especially when ordered online.

Your favourite book

One of the best ways I found to get my head around putting a book together was to analyse my favourite titles, then emulate them. Printed books have a traditional style, with pagination, running headers, and chapter divisions of all kinds based on a standard format with odd numbers on the right-hand page and even numbers on the left. Readers will expect to see your printed book in this format, which applies to fiction and non-fiction, so it’s wise to have very good reasons for deviating from it. Here’s a handy guide to the sections of a book.

How strong is your platform?

Independent publishers need to select an online publishing platform. Some recommend publishing on all of them. I stick with one, which gives me print on demand and international distribution for eBooks and printed books across the full spectrum of sites. I also get access to the largest domestic booksellers in my country. Do your research and find a publishing platform that suits you.

Feeling your fringe benefits

As independent publishing became more accessible, writers’ and publishers’ associations began to form strategic business relationships with online publishing platforms to offer incentives to authors publishing our own work. There are an increasing number of options out there for writers to benefit from significant discounts in exchange for annual membership. The option I chose gives me free uploads on all my eBook and paperback corrections, of which there are always plenty. This has saved me hundreds of dollars, far in excess of the membership fee. The best of these associations also distribute great material about the changing face of independent publishing.

Decoding your ISBN

Used throughout the global book trade, from bibliographic services to high-street bookshops and online book sellers, the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique identifier for every published book. Generally, they appear in the ‘front matter’ of a book, near the copyright statement, and in the barcode on the back cover. They can be purchased from ISBN services in all major publishing territories; but shop around a little – they are generally more expensive to purchase individually, so think about buying a batch. Remember, no publisher in the world produces just one title, and your eBook and printed editions of the same title will require different ISBNs.

Asserting your copyright 

Many writers worry a lot about copyright, fearing their ideas will be ripped off and plagiarised. Yes, it’s essential to use the copyright symbol in your book’s front matter, but ensure you also assert your moral rights over your work in a separate, one-line statement, then move on. There are several sites that claim to be providing free downloads of eBooks, and yours might make an appearance, but these sites come and go, and they rarely lead people to free downloads, often spreading viruses and malware to the cheapskates who fall for them.

Scanning your barcodes

Barcodes are nifty shortcut allowing sales people to scan your book and instantly calculate its price, with all information linked to the title’s ISBN. Many publishing platforms supply barcodes for free with your cover template, but they can also be sourced from online suppliers within your country. They’ll ask for your ISBN in order to create a barcode, and like ISBNs they can be purchased more affordably in batches. Some retail sellers, such as supermarkets, require unique in-store barcodes in order to stock your books, which you’ll need to arrange if you want to sell through that channel. You’ll generally pay quite a premium for this service.

Your entitled book


I have a basic message when it comes to book titles: keep it simple. Titles follow standard patterns, particularly non-fiction, which uses main titles and straplines. For example, Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love has a main title that is lyrical, while the strapline (sometimes called the subheading) is descriptive. Be aware that overly long titles can be prohibitive in catalogues and listings, four to six words maximum is a good standard. There is no copyright on titles. You could, for example, call your book Star Wars, but that name has been Trade Marked for the purposes of creating generations of memorabilia, preventing its use without permission.

Your cover story

The most contentious part of independent publishing is getting the cover right. It’s an incredibly subjective field and unless you’re visually gifted and can operate design software, like Photoshop, it’s best to engage a cover designer. If you’re confident doing it yourself, sites like Canva are very user-friendly and allow you to create a simple eBook cover for free or low cost, following a template. A good rule of thumb is to use one strong image as opposed to multiple, competing images. Check with your publishing platform on what dimensions and resolution they need the cover uploaded at, and work within their thresholds. Very often they’ll ask you to use your title’s ISBN as the file name. When sold online, your book’s cover will appear at thumbnail size, so ensure the title is legible, and the image works in that tiny scale.

Their cover story


Covers for printed books are best created using a template that your publishing platform will send you, which will be generated for you based on the number of pages in your book (to gauge the thickness of the spine). Printed covers are achieved using a back-to-front format with the front cover on the right-hand side of the file, ‘wrapping around’ the book right-to-left and printed on one sheet of cardboard stock. Publishing platforms usually require you to provide an ISBN to generate a template, although some platforms will provide you with an ISBN. The same goes for barcodes – don’t buy one until you know if your publishing platform provides them with templates.

Getting your head around word processing

One of the most important considerations when preparing to create a book is to check your word processing software can manage to format and export printed book and eBook files. Generally, two files are needed for every book: (1) An exterior, full-colour cover file; and (2) An interior, black and white file of the pages. For printed books, exterior and interior files are generally both PDFs (‘Portable Document Format’) in which all information is locked into place on each page throughout the document. For eBooks, exterior files are generally PDFs and the interior files are generally ePub files (‘Electronic Publication’) in which all information is fluid depending on what device it’s read on. Printed book files are fixed. EBook files are fluid. Get your head around that difference and you’ll be way ahead.

You’ve been warned about disclaimers!

For decades, published books have borne legal disclaimers protecting the author and publisher from litigation. Generally, fiction and non-fiction need to be identified as such, and this is where writers are wise to ensure privacy is afforded anyone whose story they have written about by changing names, locations etc. For educational books, a disclaimer might be appropriate to protect you from reader expectation about learning outcomes from your work. Disclaimers should not replace a thorough analysis of the legal ramifications of what you publish.

Does your book size matter?

There are several traditional sizes for books offered by publishing platforms – there is no standard and no rules, but making a larger book generally means it will be thin unless your word length can fill it. Some publishers deal with this by using a larger font size to pad the book out. Refer back to your favourite books and use your publishing platform’s printed cover template generator as it will indicate what width the book will be with the font size you have chosen. There’s a bit of guesswork involved initially, but experiment with dimensions and font sizes long before you decide on the final book size. That way, you won’t have to reformat everything from scratch if you change your mind.

Your local bookshop

“You’re the boss, launch when you are ready!”

Is your best friend. Go in and introduce yourself and ask if they stock independently-published titles. They may ask you to manage the ordering and delivery of your titles, or they may be happy to arrange that for themselves, using your book’s ISBN. Work with and support your local bookshop. Think about hosting your book launch there, it can be a win-win for author and bookseller.

Don’t let deadlines kill you

Books take weeks and months to format, proofread, print and distribute. Give yourself plenty of time to achieve this monumental process. Don’t, for example, set your book launch date in stone until you’re 100 per cent sure you can deliver, and so can all the players you’re relying on in the publishing chain. You’re the boss, launch when you are ready!

Back up your files

Start getting into the habit of religiously backing up all your publishing files. Once you’ve done the work on your books, you don’t want to lose it all if your computer fails. I still use a USB memory stick and it works very well.



Putting a book together is a major challenge. These basics are just the start of each process, and they’re designed to get you across the major elements to publishing before Write, Regardless! starts on the specifics. Take time to ensure you have the right computer software for creating printed books and eBooks. Research publishing platforms available in your country and if they access the distribution sites you want to sell your books into. Set gentle deadlines for yourself, as this will be a steep learning curve. Get out your favourite books and see how they are formatted. Chances are, you can emulate them.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.