jump to navigation

A great cover design May 26, 2015

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 6. Castle Tips.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

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.

DIY Publishing Power to You April 18, 2013

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 6. Castle Tips.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

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.

The publishing process, Part 3 August 26, 2008

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 1. How Castle Works, 7. The Publishing Process Part 3.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

For most people, books just magically appear, ready to purchase, on the shelves of bookshops. In this third part of my article I continue to uncover the secret processes of the publishing machine. Read on! (Read Part 2 here)

RRP. RRP stands for Recommended Retail Price and is the price (including GST in New Zealand) that your book will sell for. The RRP is set as a happy median between the cost of production and selling (so that all costs are covered in the sale price with a bit of profit – hopefully) and the ‘perceived value’ of your book. The perceived value is often based on what other books of a similar size to yours are selling for.

Marketing. These days, marketing is all about having ‘strings to your bow’ – there are a lot of different ways to tell people about your book – but there is no ‘silver bullet’. So you need utilise as many different ways as possible. In my experience free marketing is often the best marketing. It’s widely recognised that the best way of getting your book known is through word of mouth – people telling people about the book. For this to start happening, there needs to be a ‘buzz’ about the book. For you as an author, don’t underestimate the effectiveness of your friends and associates saying good things about your book to other people – the more people you know the better! If you are someone who regularly speaks to groups of people about topics related to your book then most of the hard work is already done – you have a real advantage. Other ways to generate interest are book reviews, author interviews (on TV, radio and in print media), on blogs, through social networks (such as Facebook) and through paid advertising (if you have the budget for it). Although I have the ‘marketing’ stage listed after the production process, in reality it needs to start early, before you have the product in your hands. Offering pre-orders is one way you can begin generating interest.

Distribution. Primarily ‘distribution’ relates to getting your book into bookstores (both ‘bricks and mortar’ shops and online stores) . It is great to have your book stocked in shops, but it isn’t the complete solution to all your book-selling needs. 1000s of books are released each month and your book will be competing with the others. So you need to find your point of difference and do the marketing things well. Then people will go to the bookshops and buy your book, but few will buy the book just by browsing or as an impulse purchase having never heard of your book before. It is good to have distribution handled by a company that has existing links with the booktrade, and even better if that company believes in your book. Distribution companies and bookshops will buy your book for RRP less a wholesale or retail (trade) discount. The bookshop will then sell the book for the RRP and the discount you gave them will be their profit. For ebook distribution, if you have the time and inclination, you can upskill yourself on the technical details and set up accounts with ebook retailers. But to keep things straightforward it is a good idea to work with people who already have the technical skills and have relationships with retailers in place.

Sales. So now people begin buying your book. If a publishing company is handling your book then they will look after sales, but if you are self-publishing then you will need to set things up so that you can provide invoices etc and look at various ways to handle tax etc – best to talk to an expert about this.

So that’s the publishing process. Because it’s difficult to make money from publishing books in New Zealand, it’s important to maintain a motive other than making money as your primary reason for wanting to publish. Throughout the entire process, keep your readers in mind – they are the most important part of this whole publishing thing – more important than sales figures or recognition. Don’t let anything eclipse that fact. The most rewarding things for me as a publishing manager are seeing authors realising their dreams and seeing readers’ lives being touched.

The publishing process, Part 2 August 20, 2008

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 1. How Castle Works, 6. The Publishing Process Part 2.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

For most people, books just magically appear, ready to purchase, on the shelves of bookshops. In this second part of my article I continue to uncover the secret processes of the publishing machine. Read on! (Read Part 1 here)

Edit. By the time you give your manuscript to a publisher you should already have made it as good as you possibly can. This might involve several rewrites as you take into account the feedback you’ve been given by people around you. It is well worth investing your time and effort on this. No matter how much work you’ve done though, most publishers will want to tweak things a little. This can be a scary prospect for authors, but don’t worry too much. Remember, publishers are experts so you can usually trust them – their main aim is to make the book better. If you feel strongly about something they are trying to change, you can tell them no! Castle always tweaks the titles we publish and always recommend that self-publishers get an edit done as well. It is important to use an experienced editor. The editing service that Castle offers has transformed lots of manuscripts into well-written and easy to read books beyond what the author could have achieved by him or herself.

Design. This is another crucial part of the book production process. A lot of people are keen to have a go at book cover design, or know someone who knows how to use Photoshop. But because the cover design will greatly affect how readers perceive your book, it is always a good idea to engage a book cover specialists for this service – or at least get the input of a specialist. I should mention the book title here too, which is also extremely important. For both the title and the design, you need to have something that is both accurate and impacting. In other words, the design and title need to accurately represent the content of the book and also capture the reader’s attention.

Typesetting and layout. Your book needs to be readable and while most readers don’t notice the finer points of good typesetting and layout they are definitely affected by them. ‘Easy reading’ can have a lot to do with the flow of the writing (taken care of in the editing stage) but it also has a lot to do with what typeface is used for the book, how the words and lines are spaced and how they appear on the page. The quality of the typesetting also impacts the perceived quality of the book (as does the design) and the overall aesthetic of the finished product. The cover design and internal pages need to match and be part of an overall design concept. There’s a far cry from having a go at creating the inside pages in Word and getting an experienced typesetter to do the work. So get a typesetter!

Proofreading. Probably the least glamorous and least exciting part of the publishing process. Once the typesetting and layout are complete, you should be given ‘reader’s spreads’. These are sheets, usually with two pages of your book to a sheet, that show what your pages will look like when printed. These need to be read carefully to make sure there are no errors in the text. It is important at this point not to confuse ‘proofreading’ with ‘editing’ – proofreaders are only looking for actual errors. A lot of authors can’t resist a few optional tweaks to the book at this stage, but these should be avoided because changes can affect the overall layout and create time-consuming problems. Generally we find that the authors we work with have friends and associates who make good proofreaders. This works well, but the person who takes the corrections in (based on the proofreaders’ work) should have the skill to vet these corrections. You can hire the services of an experienced proofreader, and this is sometimes a good idea (especially for technical books or books on specialist subjects). The author should be one of the proofreaders but he or she is likely to miss some errors simply because of over-familiarity with the text.

Print. So now your book is ready to be turned into a physical object. There are two main methods for printing: digital and offset. Offset is the traditional way. Digital is a new technology that is improving every year. Technical details aside, at this point is more feasible to print quantities of under 800 units digitally and more than 800 by offset.

Bind. This is how your book is put together. The most common form of binding (and the one that Castle usually uses) is called ‘perfect binding’. You see it on most soft cover books that you pick up – it is durable and neat. If your book is more of a ‘booklet’ you might want to consider ‘saddle stitch’ (also known as stapling) instead.

eBook. For a long time, people said that ebooks would change the face of publishing and the way we read books. It took a while to happen, but the ebook revolution is now officially here. People’s reservations about reading on an electronic device instead of a paper book are being put aside as they discover how easy it is to use the ebook format. In the world of ebooks, there are two main file formats – EPUB and MOBI. MOBI is used by the Amazon Kindle system and EPUB is used by everything else. Having your book as an ebook won’t guarantee that thousands of people will read it (there are a lot of books out there) but it does open your book up to that possibility. It pays to get some knowledgeable technical assistance when creating and distributing your ebook.

Delivery. This is a bit like Christmas Day for most authors. Boxes of books arrive from the bindery. You carefully slide a knife along the tape on the top box and open it up to reveal your book staring back at you – complete, in all its glory. There’s a huge sense of achievement in thumbing through the pages and seeing what your work has become, it’s the realisation of a dream. Now your book can go out and change the world – getting it into the reader’s hands is the next and trickiest bit…

So that’s the second part of the publishing process. In the next part we’ll look at marketing and sales – getting your book into the readers’ hands.

The publishing process, Part 1 August 19, 2008

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 1. How Castle Works, 5. The Publishing Process Part 1.
Tags: , , , ,

If you’re thinking about writing a book or if you have already written your book and want to get it published, you might be interested in this overview of the complete publishing process. I talked about what Castle can offer in an earlier article. For most people, books just magically appear, ready to purchase, on the shelves of bookshops. In this article I uncover the secret processes of the publishing machine. Read on!

The idea. Somewhere, someone comes up with the idea to write a book about something. No one has ever been able to define exactly what ‘inspiration’ is, but that doesn’t make it any less real. The authors that Castle Publishing has worked with over the years have been a mixture of first-timers and seasoned wordsmiths.

The writing. So having received the idea and passion for the project, the author commences writing their masterpiece. Even at this early stage, it is a good idea to talk to an expert – an established author or publishing professional. As you start writing you should already have a finished product in mind. One of the basic questions you should ask yourself very early is ‘who am I writing this book for?’ It really helps to have an idea who your intended audience is.

Assessment. Here’s the bit where you expose your work for the first time to the harsh realities of the big wide world. By all means, ask your friends for their opinion, but don’t only ask friends. Encouragement is a vital part of the process, but objective opinion is also very important – it will help you refine your work and take it to the next level. If you ask your friends for their opinion make sure you give them permission to be critical as well as nice. For a new author, exposing their deepest thoughts and work to public scrutiny can be a big step. But don’t worry – that’s all part of being an author!

Finding a publisher. Increasingly people are starting out with the plan of self-publishing, and that’s fair enough and can be a really good idea. But most people still see being published by a publishing house as the best possible outcome for their manuscript. Finding a publisher can be hard work though. In USA and other places, most commercial publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. Most of their published work is sourced through literary agents and through commissioning authors directly.  Fortunately, because New Zealand is a smaller market, it is still possible to get your work through to a publisher more easily. But make sure you research what kind of book a publisher publishes before you send your work to them. Here at Castle, for example, we publish mostly books by Christian authors, but within that category we are pretty much open to any genre. Also make sure you adhere to the publisher’s preferred method for receiving manuscripts etc. Castle’s requirements are here.

Self-publishing? What if commercial publishers turn you down? If you’ve run out of avenues to have your book published commercially, it is always a good idea to weigh up the feasibility of publishing the book yourself. And remember, if you self-publish, you cut out the middleman. Self-publishing can be more financially rewarding than being commercially published. In fact, you may decide to flag the rigmarole of trying to get your manuscript accepted by a commercial publisher altogether. The important thing is to go to experts who can help you get the work done to prepare your manuscript for publication. And it just so happens I can recommend some very good experts: Castle Publishing!

The contract. If a commercial publisher wants to publish your book as one of their own titles, they will draft up a contract for you to sign. I don’t really have space here to give much advice on the ins and outs of this. But it is important to read the contract carefully and show it to someone with a bit of a legal head who can interpret what some of the clauses might mean in real life (especially if the contract is written in ‘legalese’ and not ‘plain English’). Feel free to ask the publisher for what you want, but also remember that the publisher needs to be able to make the deal viable for themselves as well – otherwise they just won’t bother with your book. They are taking a risk with your book, so bear that in mind as you deal with them. And if you are self-publishing this is one step you don’t need to worry about.

So that’s the first part of the publishing process. In the next part we’ll look at production – the transformation of your manuscript into a book.