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A great cover design May 26, 2015

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 6. Castle Tips.
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It turns out that despite years of concerted advice and insistence by the cliché, people mostly do judge a book by its cover. Cover design matters!

Castle cover designs

Over the next few months, I want to post a few articles on some of the different elements of book production and publishing. In the overall timeline of book production, cover design usually comes after such things as writing and editing the book, but I want to start with design because it is probably the most glamourous of all the steps in creating a great book. So let’s start with the icing!

If it really is true that people judge a book by its cover and that first impressions make a difference, then having a great cover is crucial to your book project. You spend months, maybe years, working on the content of the book, only to have people scroll on by because the presentation caused them to dismiss your book. How do you want your book to be perceived?

I think there are two main ways the right cover will help your book:

– It will represent your book accurately, convey an idea of the content effectively, spark a positive emotion in the reader, and package the product appropriate to the target market and genre.
– It will speak volumes (excuse the pun) about the quality of your book.

Even if you are self-publishing, there is absolutely no reason why the finished product shouldn’t look just as good as something that comes out of a commercial publishing house.

Getting it right

Not everyone has an instinctively good eye when it comes to design, but everyone can up-skill and do research. That’s why I recommend that the first step in getting a good cover design is to go to a bookshop or library (assuming that such things still exist in your neighbourhood!) and look at book covers. Look at the cover designs of recent and new releases. Get a feel for what is happening in the world of book design. Having looked at the designs of all kinds of books, narrow your research down to the particular genre and target market that you are working with. Collect designs that you like. I’m not recommending that you copy these designs, but you need to know what products in your market look like – even if it means that you go on to create something more effective!

Now go hire a designer. Unless you have an established talent for design yourself, and the technical know-how to execute the design, you are best to have a professional on the job. Maybe this will be your niece or nephew – but be careful. Putting aside the feel-good factor of having a relative or friend work on your project, professionalism and expertise are the main considerations. In choosing a designer, look at their previous work and see if their skills match what you are trying to achieve. Some designers are very versatile, but having said that, most designers have a particular visual style, so be conscious of their style and how it might impact your cover design.

A good relationship

Cost will be a factor in hiring a designer, but it’s worth spending some money. It may not be as expensive as you think. Negotiate a price, but don’t insult the designer by being a cheapo – they work hard and have the talents that you need – so pay them their dues. You can reach a happy outcome for both parties in terms of budget.

In briefing the designer, show them your research and tell them what you are hoping to achieve. Also be open to other fresh ideas that the designer might bring to the table. The unexpected, so long as it is still fit to purpose, might be exactly the right thing. The ideal working relationship will be one where you trust the designer to be the expert and be prepared to entertain their ideas, but also retain focus on where you are heading. If you don’t like something they’ve done, say so, but be open. See the process as a collaboration. The relationship will be difficult if there isn’t an element of trust and mutual respect – and that’s something to think about when choosing the designer initially.

Bonus insider info

Here’s a bit of bonus ‘inside’ info. I haven’t gone into the nuts and bolts of cover design in this article (perhaps another time), but I want to pass on a few important technical considerations. In today’s online book market, your book cover is often seen at ‘thumbnail’ size, ie the miniaturised product image that book and ebook retailers show on their websites. So your design needs to look good at that small size.

No matter what size the cover displays at, make sure the title stands out. Don’t overwhelm the typography with imagery. Your eye needs to land on the title first, before it tracks around the rest of the cover. When you look at the design, if it feels like your eye doesn’t know where to look or it is jumping around the cover too much without a clear focus, your cover is probably too cluttered or not well laid out. The various elements (type and image) shouldn’t be fighting each other.

Enjoy the process of designing your book cover and get excited about it – your book is getting dressed up for its big debut!

Feel free to post any questions (or requests for future articles) in the comments section below. And don’t forget, you can come to Castle for any or all of the services you need to make your book the best it can be – including beautiful cover design! Contact us.

Come on an adventure… March 27, 2015

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 1. How Castle Works, 6. Castle Tips.
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Come on an adventure

Castle facilitates adventures, and you can come along on that journey. Here’s how…

We’re in the business of books, and books are always designed to take people on a journey – whether that’s through the excitement and intrigue of a fictional or true life story, or through thinking more deeply about God, life, the universe and everything. We count it our privilege to provide books that take people somewhere.

Then there are the people who love reading but aren’t content to only tag along on another author’s journey – they have a desire to create a book of their own – and Castle provides adventures for those kinds of people too.

We’re still in the first quarter of 2015 (just!), and maybe this year you want to create the book that you’ve dreamed of or that other people have encouraged you to write and publish. Exciting times!

But it’s not always easy to start or to know what the next step is without a bit of help and guidance.

Sometimes you might feel a little bit out of your depth – but what’s an adventure without a little bit of trepidation? All the best adventures start out with that first step.

Stepping out with Castle makes the whole journey that much easier – we can be your expert guide, and help steer you through the adventure of publishing your book.

Come on an adventure… Contact us.

Getting it right November 21, 2014

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 6. Castle Tips.
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Self-publishing is taking off, it’s accessible to everyone. But what’s the trick to it?

Today I came across an excellent NZ Herald article from September. It investigates the rise of self-publishing and highlights some remarkable New Zealand success stories.

The thing that is implicit in the article is that there is absolutely no substitute for a proactive author. But it also makes another important point – your product has to be right. Enter Castle.

The article quotes Doris Mousdale, stalwart of the NZ book industry, owner of Arcadia Bookstore in Newmarket, and former national book manager for Whitcoulls and retail manager for Dymocks)…

I make a point of looking at all self-published books that come my way, but it’s really only around one in every 10 books that I’ll end up stocking. Something lets many of them down – it’s either the cover, or the production values – so it doesn’t look like a professionally published book. It’s important to spend a little extra on those things. A printer will print anything you want, so it’s up to you to get it right. It’s got to look right in your hand, and it’s got to feel right when you open the first page.

Since its establishment 15 years ago (coincidentally, the last 15 years is also the timeframe of the rise of self-publishing and the digital revolution), Castle has held to a key idea: your book can and should match the best on offer from established commercial publishers.

Sometimes, a mediocre-looking book costs the same to produce as a professional-looking book. In those cases where professionalism costs a little more, you find yourself with a more impressive and attractive product. And when it’s all said and done, why not do justice to the book you have toiled over? The finishing touches count.

Contact us to see what we can do to help.

How to take advice July 11, 2013

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 6. Castle Tips.
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We’ve all seen it on TV programs like American Idol – the would-be star turns up for their audition utterly convinced that he or she is the next big thing… only to have their dream crushed within a few moments of their performance… whatever they had been told about the merits of their performance prior to the audition turned out not to be entirely true. Their performance shrinks under objective critique. But if they are wise, they will take that critique and get better. And that’s what it should be like for authors.

Writers' tipsThe process of writing tends to be deeply personal. It’s not uncommon to hear authors referring to their manuscript as their ‘baby’. You tend to pour yourself into your writing – you try to make it true – true of yourself and your experience of the world. When that goes public, you are not only putting a piece of yourself on display, you are putting your abilities as a writer up for critique. It’s a big call! A lot of the books that Castle works on are autobiographical and by first-time authors… so the feelings of risk can be even higher for the author.

Unconditional support

All going well, as an author (whether you are a first-timer or more experienced) you will have people in your life who really believe in what you are doing and are a source of encouragement. These are your supporters – the people that want to see you do well. They boost your confidence with praise and other types of support. This is a good and wonderful thing. But you also need people to critique your work – not to pull it down for the sake of pulling it down – but to help you make your work the best it can be.

The American Idol illustration is probably an extreme example and it’s not directly applicable to writing. But you can’t help wondering whether, if the performers had sought genuine critique prior to standing before the judges, they could have been much better prepared.

I’m not a believer in ‘either you got it or you ain’t’. I believe that some people have a natural gift for writing but I also believe that with some hard work and help, anyone can tell their story in a meaningful way. And it needs to be said that even those with a ‘natural gift’ need to work hard and have their work critiqued to achieve the best from their gift.

Genuine critique

So here’s the thing: benefit from the unconditional support of the people close to you, but also seek out genuine critique. Sometimes your unconditional supporters might be the people who are able to give you the critique – that would be an amazing relationship to have. Other times you might find it easier to seek the critique of someone separate from your circle of friends. The important thing in either case is to be wise about who you seek for critique – make sure they know what they’re talking about! Make sure you seek the critique of people with wisdom.

When you approach someone for feedback, take a deep breath, be brave, and then give them permission to be objective. Tell them that you want their honest opinion – that frees them up to give you their best advice without worrying that you might take offence. Sometimes what they say will be hard to hear but, again, be brave. Discuss their critique with them. Remember, it is your work under examination, not you personally.

You’re the artist

Then it’s back to you as the author – the artist. Sometimes as a creative person seeking the opinion of others, you find yourself pulled in different directions. But, having taken advice and critique, the ultimate decision and direction is yours alone to make. Shelve some advice, and take some on board. Do it with humility, but you are the author. Sometimes the big decision is in fact to make a compromise (you may encounter this when dealing with a commercial publisher who has strong ideas about ‘what the market wants’), but nonetheless, take ownership of the decision.

The ability to seek critique and then to know what to do with it is an important skill to have.

DIY Publishing Power to You April 18, 2013

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 6. Castle Tips.
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With technology and the right services, all the tools are there for you to publish your own book – DIY is the way of the future and it’s here now. I know it sounds a bit dramatic and ‘salesy’ but it really is the truth – if you have the time and inclination you can get your book out there yourself, now. But DIY can be daunting and new technology can be a steep learning curve – and sometimes quality goes missing. In this article I want to talk a bit about the opportunities that exist for you to publish your own book, and also provide some advice for undertaking that journey…

blog-article-pic-180413Without wanting to give a full history lesson, it all started with the development of the personal computer and desktop publishing software. Digital publishing technology grew from there – the other important developments were digital printing and the ebook.

Digital Printing
Digital printing (a form of glorified photocopying, with extremely high quality results that are as good and often better than older print technology) meant that smaller numbers of books could be feasibly printed. When I first started in the publishing industry 13 years ago, the only real option was offset printing on a traditional printing press. To make that feasible (ie, to make the cost per book realistic), you needed to print a minimum of 1000 books and preferably 2000. That’s a lot of books in the context of the New Zealand market, so the risk was significant. For a self-publisher or a small publishing company, that meant potentially ending up with a garage or basement full of books if they didn’t sell. With the advent of digital printing, the cost per book of printing a small number of books dropped significantly. So now it is feasible to print 250 copies (or even less in some cases). The initial risk is greatly reduced, and reprints can be done with a minimum of fuss if more copies are needed at any given time.

Meanwhile, along came ebook technology. This is a paperless technology and so the cost of printing is taken out of the equation completely. Amazon and others developed ebook readers that are wonderfully easy to use and so good that even die-hard book-lovers can be swayed by the availability and usability of ebooks. The ‘eBook Revolution’ it was called, and the buzz swept through the publishing world. Would this be the death of printed books? What would happen? eBooks provide another great opportunity for self-publishers. Having your book as an ebook is cost effective and makes it available to a potentially huge audience.

As the hype around ebooks begins to settle, here is my assessment of the situation: eBooks are here to stay, are the way of the future, and the forerunners to some amazing future technology. But printed books have a lot more life in them yet – and aren’t disappearing any time soon. For example, data shows that ebooks are massively popular for fictional books (ebook sales now exceed paper book sales) but in non-fiction, printed books still beat ebooks in terms of sales.

A Self-Publishing Strategy
The self-publishing strategy that we recommend is ‘ebook plus a short printed run’. So this means that you should have your book produced as an ebook (for future-proofing and availability) and also do 250 to 1000 digitally printed copies. The number you should print depends on how sure you are about how many you might be able sell. If, for example, you are out speaking to groups a lot and selling books along the way, then printing more copies might be a sensible idea.

So the time and technology is right for you to publish your book. And the tools are there for you to do it all yourself, but should you go it alone?

Quality DIY
Recently I read an article about the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, which mentioned in passing that Chief Judge, Bernard Beckett, said, “the judges … noticed many books had ‘great potential’ but were let down by formatting, design, illustrations, and editing.”

And here’s the rub of the DIY, quick and ready, scene that we’re now in. Quality is slipping. I was at a publishing workshop recently where the expert (who was otherwise very good) told the participants not to worry too much about the quality of the formatting of their ebooks because… well, because no one really cares about the quality of formatting in ebooks.

Quality always matters – most of us would agree that when it comes to reading a book or ebook, if the formatting and editing is all over the place, it will detract from the reading experience and stand in the way of the message the author is trying to convey.

Enter Castle Publishing. At Castle we take advantage of all the wonderful tools and technology that now make publishing so readily available, but we provide the expertise and experience to make your book a high quality product. Our belief has always been that self-published books can match commerically-published books in terms of quality – that on the shelf, you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. And ‘quality’ doesn’t have to mean ‘expensive’ – mainly it is about attention to detail and making use of the experience and expertise we have. Not only that, but we can guide you through what can potentially be a daunting process – you don’t have to go it alone.

Let’s face it, you’re pouring yourself into your book – you’re investing yourself in it – so it’s worth doing well. So step out, take advantage of the opportunities that now exist for you to publish your book, but get someone with publishing know-how on your team.

Writing: A lonely occupation? March 20, 2013

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 6. Castle Tips.
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Writing is essentially a solo occupation. Most authors seek out solitude when they’re working, but sometimes that solitude feels like isolation. The great news is that there are ways to find support and connect with other authors – you just need to know where to look.

Get with a groupBeing part of a community of writers provides an opportunity to bounce ideas around, get trusted constructive criticism and, importantly, to interact with people who understand what you’re up to! Many towns have writers’ groups – so perhaps search online or ask at your local library to find a group near you. But if you are a Christian author living in New Zealand, I’d like to point you in the direction of the New Zealand Christian Writers Guild.

This Saturday, the NZCWG is celebrating its 30th anniversary, with an event that features published author Dr John Sturt and Castle’s Managing Director John Massam as guest speakers. For 30 years the guild has been doing a fantastic job of supporting and up-skilling its authors. For more information about becoming a member, receiving copies of their publication or about their workshops and meetings, head over to the NZCWG website.

Another place to search for like-minded people and groups is on Facebook. Facebook is excellent for helping to build communities of people – no matter how geographically scattered those people might be. Recently I came across the Facebook group, Christian Writers Downunder – a friendly bunch of Australasian Christian writers getting together online. You’ll need a Facebook account, but you can visit their page and request to join in here.

So get alongside other authors, and avoid the pitfalls of always working alone.