Lamb dressed as mutton

Can self publishing gain some respect? Not so long as would-be authors push their works out improperly dressed.

This post is something of a rant, I’ll admit. But coming from a professional design and illustration background, I cannot keep quiet on what I see happening within the self publishing space.

Authors have a very special window of opportunity right now, one that will almost certainly start to close once the publishing industry stops running around screaming that the sky is falling in and works out how to survive in a growing digital space – and they will.

[aside]…authors clearly demonstrate that they do not respect their own work[/aside]

Right now, however, readers have never been so accessible, and reaching them never so immediate. Whether you think the traditional publishing model is dead (I personally do not), or ebooks are just a fad (seriously, they’re here to stay), there’s a consistent message still being presented by the vast majority of self published fiction authors: “we’re not professionals”.

I am mainly talking about cover design in this post. If someone can give me a valid reason why an author can justify investing possibly years writing their novel, only to send it out into the world dressed like a hobo – which might be fine if it’s a book about hobos, I guess – then I’ll eat my trousers.

You can’t judge a book by its cover

Ah, that old one. What rubbish. Consumers choose brand and packaging. Think you are choosing what you want from the supermarket shelves? Think again.

Maybe you shouldn’t judge by the cover, since books are all about the words – but you do. We all do. Everyone does. Consciously or not, we are all wired the same. We are a fundamentally superficial species who – particularly when presented with a confusing array of choice – will make initial (and far too often lasting) judgements by how something looks.

Authors have no excuse. There are talented design students and illustrators out there desperate for a real project to add to their portfolios. Some might even work for free. There are established designers wanting to get into this broadening space who will work for reduced rates. And there are solid professionals who will charge a big chunk of cash, but deliver you the perfect design.

I simply will not select a book that has a poorly designed cover. Not because of my ingrained human superficiality, but because a poor cover tells me the author neither takes their work seriously or respects their readers enough to be professional. When authors clearly demonstrate that they do not respect their own work enough to invest a little money, they also demonstrate a lack of respect for the reader. In which case, why should I invest my cash and a fair chunk of time into reading such a product?

A little demonstration…

Now you might think the one on the left is some exaggeratedly dumbed-down design no author would publish. Take a look through any of the major ebook stores and you’ll see a distressing number of books designed at this level. Sure there are many that are good, more that are borderline. But when authors are asking us to hand over our hard earned cash and invest our valuable time reading their work – after all, isn’t that what it’s all about? – they have no reason to send out an inappropriately attired book.

The opportunity exists right now for modern self publishing to shake off the amateur and demonstrate it can be taken as seriously as the traditional model.


    • May 20, 2011

      Hi Tony, thanks for dropping by.

      Interesting advice on that link. In particular: “put as much effort into the design and title as you put toward writing the piece”

      Unless the author has specific creative design background, the technique suggested there will still product a low quality (though relevant, at least) cover.  

      Authors just have to suck it up and use professionals or trained/experienced for design if they are to be taken seriously.

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