Smart Self Publishing Series, Part 4: Why Book Design & Editing Matter

by | Mar 9, 2011 | Book Marketing Basics, Social Media for Authors

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We had a great show with host Penny Sansevieri highlighting tips and tricks and savvy publishing advice for book design, front and back covers and editing!

About our special guest: Sue Collier is President of Self-Publishing Resources and co-author of “The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing.” As president and CEO of SPR, Sue oversees all book project work, coordinating a team of experts and holding true to the result-getting principles she learned from founder Marilyn Ross.

SPR provides turnkey service to individuals and organizations seeking to publish and promote their own books, handling all aspects of book editing, design, production, and marketing and promotions. Sue also offers personalized coaching services for authors and small presses, providing them with the benefits of her extensive publishing background. Over the past two decades, she has worked with hundreds of clients, guiding them through the self-publishing process, and helping them produce professional, attractive books. Learn more at

We were also joined by Jeniffer Thompson, the author of “Website WOW: Turn Your Website Into Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool.” She brings more than 12 years of marketing and publishing experience to her current position as President of Monkey C Media,

And finally, AME’s Director of Marketing and publishing consultant Sherrie Wilkolaski rounded out our panel. Sherrie is responsible for client relations, product development, campaign team management and business development at AME. She successfully stumbled into the self-published market quite by accident with the success of her own best-selling book, which reached a #1 sales rank back in 2003. Sherrie then started her own self-published marketing company and has helped thousands of authors publish and market their titles.

Mom should not edit your book. Really

book cover of German Reader's Digest collectio...

Image via Wikipedia

It may sound funny, but we’ve heard from authors who say their mom has edited their book… or helped with their design or cover.

Common mistakes authors make include not wanting to edit their books, to their books not having a front or back cover. Or, they might have a nice front cover, but the back cover is blank. It’s so important to turn your book over to a professional who can help you edit the book – not just for typos and grammar, but for structure. Additionally, you want professionals who can help you design a strong, compelling front and back cover for your book.

Sue says about 60-70 percent of books she sees do not have a professional cover design. Of the books with front covers, about half don’t have back covers. Yet any publisher will say that the cover is a critical marketing piece of a book, if not the most important marketing tool. Your cover serves as a teaser, a billboard that shows the reader why he or she should read your book.

Positive growth in book editing

The Field of Dreams, Dyersville, IA-May 2006.

Image via Wikipedia

Editing makes or breaks a project. And no one can edit their own work. They’re too close to it. A professional, unbiased editor is the way to go.

We’ve seen many authors who think their book is the field of dreams… write it and they will buy. These authors just want to get their book out the door so they skimp on editing. However, Sue says she is starting to get more prospects that are coming in to discuss editing. Authors are getting the message that editing is important. Their book is their resume. If they would never send out a resume full of typos, why send out an error-filled book?

Spell-check seemed to convince many writers that editing was no longer necessary. But as any good writer or editor knows, spell-check has its drawbacks.

Create compelling book covers

An early twentieth-century paperback

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One of the first considerations is how will your book cover look thumbnail size – can you read the title?

Photos and fonts can create a mood for a book; there are certain fonts associated with the 80s, for instance, while other fonts are simply classic, adds Jeniffer.

Placement matters, too, for your title, graphics, etc. It’s important to use a designer who has experience. Sherrie notes that rejects a lot of book covers because they don’t meet the retailer’s requirements. The final sizing is due to the final page count so that’s another challenge.

The cover should convey to a reader instantly what the book is about, it shouldn’t be confusing. A prospective reader shouldn’t have to open the book to see what it’s about.

To find designers, ask around in writers’ groups, and also, with book covers you like, check the credits. The designer is often mentioned in the book.

Why does back cover copy matter?

No Book cover

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Back cover copy is terribly misunderstood. Some authors put nothing on the back; others want to pack every inch of space on the back cover with copy – which no one will read.

Sue suggests the following elements for a good back cover, which should be short and sweet:

* a headline

* a benefit statement about the book (what’s in it for readers: such as what will they learn, feel, etc. – make it fun and interesting

* testimonials – if you have them, they are very important. You want to show readers the book’s benefits.

Bookstores like short, succinct, and easy to read book covers (front and back).

Jeniffer says 250 words is a good place to start for the back cover copy. Include a couple of bullet points, plus one or two endorsements – you need these ‘sound bites’ to grab readers’ attention and highlight the benefits of the book to them.

Sherrie also advises authors to have their book title repeated on the back cover. Also, do not try to cram as much as possible onto the back cover. If it’s too cluttered, no one will read it.

If authors are struggling with space constraints on the back cover, they can put their author bio inside. It’s far more important to make sure you tell readers about the book on the back cover.

What kind of image should go on the front cover?

We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story book cover

Image via Wikipedia

Can an unknown author’s photo appear on the front cover? In general, this is not a good idea. You need to have a face that can sell books, which is typically someone who’s well-known and has an established brand.

However, Jeniffer recalls a Pilates book about weight loss, in which the instructor clearly practiced what she preached. Her cover photo validated her book’s message so it was effective.

If an author can’t afford a cover designer, what should he or she do?

Jeniffer recommends studying book covers and looking for what you like as well as seeking out covers in your genre. If you don’t have design experience, see if you can get an art student who can help.

Sue observes that authors who show these potential cover ideas to their husband, children, etc. don’t always get the most honest opinions. Go outside your comfort zone, such as to a local bookstore and ask what they think of the cover, if it would attract them. Get an opinion from people who sell books, that’s the best opinion you can get. These are front line people who know what sells. Turn your bookstore into a laboratory – get to know your genre, how the books are shelved, etc.

Authors can also post their cover options on their social media accounts such as Facebook or Twitter to get feedback (and then it serves as a marketing opportunity for the book, says Sherrie).

How to title a book

Next (novel)

Image via Wikipedia

Authors must step away from their personal feelings and take the advice of  professionals. Titling a book is one of the most important things about the book. There have been cases where books were re-titled and re-released and became bestsellers. For instance, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” was originally titled “You Can Feel Good Again.”

The title should be catchy, preferably descriptive (especially if it’s fiction), and it needs to grab people’s attention – which is very tough to do, Sue acknowledges.

But the right title can make a huge difference, she adds, mentioning “The Art of Courtship.” Retitled “The Art of Kissing,” it outsold Courtship by 6,000 to 2,000 copies.

A ‘Squash’ titled cookbook sold 1,500 copies, but when it was renamed the ‘Zucchini’ cookbook, sales zoomed to 300,000 copies. Just changing one word can lead to great sales.

Several classic books that we know and love started out with decidedly different – and not so compelling – titles:

  • “The Dead Un-Dead” became “Dracula”
  • “The Last Man in Europe” became “1984”
  • “Catch 18” and “Catch 11” became “Catch 22”
  • “Atticus” became “To Kill a Mockingbird”
  • “First Impressions” became “Pride and Prejudice”
  • “Fiesta” became “The Sun Also Rises”
  • “Strike” became “Atlas Shrugged”
  • “Mistress Mary” became “The Secret Garden”

Sue advises brainstorming titles and typing out ideas, reading your first chapter and table of contents, getting opinions AND making sure no one else is using the title you want to use for your book.

Jeniffer recommends making the title easy to remember, short and to the point, big enough to read on a thumbnail cover online or from 10 feet away in a bookstore. Have a good website url that ties into that brand.

Adds Sherrie: brainstorm, whittle down your list, and give it time, think about it, talk about it.

You can download the full show at–publishing-series-part-4-why-book-design-editing-matter.


Upcoming Episode:

Please join us March 22, 2011 for Secrets to Landing An Agent

Jeff Rivera

Image by adrian.coto via Flickr

So – how do authors manage to get an agent? Special guest Jeff Rivera will offer tips to finding your writing voice, developing a platform, writing winning query letters, choosing between agents and much more! Whether you are still writing your book, have been self published, or have unsuccessfully queried agents in the past, this show will offer invaluable insights on what it takes to get an agent. Jeff Rivera is the founder of With over 100 clients to date, he has a 100% track record of getting at least 10 literary agents to request to read his client’s manuscripts and proposals.

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  1. independent book publishers

    Book design and editing is one of the essential things that should be considered in making or publishing a book. It is necessary that you let a professional and unbiased person edit your book.

    • Paula

      We completely agree! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Adam iwritereadrate

    Fantastic article. Totally agree with the points around covers and editing – two absolutely crucial aspects for any aspiring author.

    Will tweet to our followers.



    • Paula


      Glad you enjoyed the article, and we appreciate you sharing it with your followers!

  3. Michele DeFilippo

    We agree wholeheartedly. Like many experienced book people, we are dismayed that so many authors don’t heed this advice. I wish we could find a way to convince them that they are only hurting their own opportunities for success. Thanks for spreading the word!

    Michele DeFilippo
    1106 Design
    Your book. Designed. With Hand-holding.

    • Paula


      Thanks for stopping by! We always emphasize the importance of professional design (and editing) – it really does pay off in the end.


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