Posts Tagged ‘Self Publishing’

Producing a Novel – Part 12

Cover Design and Self Publishing

By Donna Schlachter

Cover Design

Research tells us we have less than five seconds to capture our reader’s attention, and that usually happens when they pick up our book based upon the cover. Which means that designing a great cover that fits readers’ expectations of your genre is key.

If you already have a contract with a traditional publisher, they will design the cover based on a Cover Questionnaire which you will complete, containing details on audience, genre, and story line. The designer will not read the book, so you must make certain to include any physical characteristics of your hero and heroine to be sure the designer gets the build, and the eye and hair color correct.

If you don’t have a contract yet, don’t waste your time designing a cover. A traditional publisher is unlikely to use it. However, continue reading, since this section will give you insight into how a designer will come up with the cover.

If you plan to self-publish, read on. Whether you plan to design your cover yourself or hire someone to do it for you, knowing the process will help.

First, here are some basics:
  • Our eye tends to scan in a Z pattern, beginning with the top left of the cover, to the top right, down the center to the lower left, then across to the lower right. Put important information in those key areas.
  • Choose fonts that are easy to read. It’s fine to mix and match fonts so that the keywords of the title are in one larger font, with the filler words in the same but a smaller font; the subtitle or title series in a smaller font; and the author name in a different font. Try not to use more than two fonts.
  • Imagine your perfect reader and design the cover to please them. You should already know this reader intimately, since you wrote the book for them and them alone.
Now, on to cover design specifics:
  1. Pick the best picture you can find. Don’t worry right now that it isn’t perfect. You can fix that later. Keep the genre in mind. I’ll talk more below about genre expectations.
  2. If you’re designing your own cover, buy the best software you can afford, or use a free online service, such as BookBrush or Canva. If you’re using a designer, or are publishing with a traditional publisher, they will handle most of the design process.
  3. Research books in your genre to see what the covers are like, the layout, the number of actors (usually no more than two unless the book is about a larger group such as a family). Study the fonts, the placement of title and author name, and the colors.
Genre expectations:
  • Romance: choose a script font, reminiscent of a love letter; choose colors that evoke romance, including blue, purple, red if passion is involved, turquoise and pink. Red and black are preferably used in erotica; for the image, typically the two lead love interests in either a close-contact pose (if the story is about a happily-ever) or in an oppositional pose; include elements from the story, for example, a wedding gown, cowboy boots, big city background or country setting background.
  • Cozy mystery: choose a font that emulates hand-penned font; choose coordinating colors that emulate paintings, or illustrations are popular right now; no dead bodies, blood, or half-clad characters for this genre; a scene from the book, the setting (town, rural areas); if there is a theme, such as cooking club, knitting or other craft, occupational, include an image related to that; blurred or frosted images; actor walking away from the camera or posed in the distance.
  • Thriller, Suspense, Mainstream Mystery: use a font that is bold and clean; choose colors that emulate the tone of the book such as black, red, green; often the images are dark, blurred; often the actor is in the top half and a background scene in the bottom; a cataclysmic scene from the book.
  • Fantasy: Choose an antique or gothic font; choose a vivid color palette; illustrations can focus on the main character’s special power, supernatural ability, or personal quirk; if magic is included, visualize it on the cover.
  • Mixed genre: incorporate colors and elements of both genres, with more from the primary genre. For example, if the genre is fantasy romance, choose an antique or gothic font for the title with script font for author name; include the lead characters but they could be separated by a fantasy element, such as a cauldron, if that’s in the story.

Should I Self-Publish?

Your book is written, polished, and edited, and you want to see your book on store bookshelves, but you don’t have a publisher. Do you spend time looking for one now? Or do you want to get this book out to the masses so you can move on with the next project?

Here are some questions you can ask—and answer:
  • Do you want to see your book in brick-and-mortar bookstores across the county? Most self-published books sell online as print or eBook, although it is possible to work through a book distributor.
  • Do you want to be on bestseller lists? You will need a traditional publisher’s media clout behind you, most likely. Not impossible with self-published, but it will take more work.
  • Is your reader niche large and general (but not too general) or is it specific and smaller? Traditional publishers are less likely to publish niche books that reach smaller audiences, so self-publishing is often the best route, particularly if you plan to reach your audience through in-person events, such as speaking.
  • How much work do you want to do? If you think writing the book and getting it ready for publication is difficult, marketing and promotion is about ten times worse for most authors. While the marketing budgets of many traditional publishers is relegated to their top-selling authors, they usually set aside a few dollars to promote your book. In self-publishing, you are your book’s best marketer.
  • How soon do you want to release your book? Traditional publishing generally takes 12 to 24 months from signing the contract to publication. If you have written a time-sensitive book, such as a political, medical, or social event, or perhaps one about the anniversary of a particular historical event, self-publishing is your best route. If you’ve written a book in a hot current genre, you might want to self-publish now to catch the wave of sales in that genre.
  • How much control do you want over your book? Cover design and distribution in a traditionally-published book rests almost entirely with the publisher. You retain more control when you self-publish, but you will do all the work.

The good news is that self-publishing doesn’t mean that’s the end of your traditional publishing opportunities. In fact, several decently selling self-published books tells a traditional publisher that you can complete a project and that you understand book marketing and promotion. Being a hybrid author—one who self-publishes and traditionally publishes—doesn’t mean you’re compromising. As you can see from the above questions, WHY we write a book is as important as WHAT we write.

Whichever path you choose, determine to follow it to its end. Keep working on the next project—always! And don’t try to cram your book into a publishing process because you need the validation of a traditional publisher or you don’t want to write the best book you can—readers need what you write. The myth that self-published books weren’t good enough for a traditional publisher simply isn’t true any longer—in most cases. So make your book the best it can be, then honestly consider your audience, your motivation, and your ability and resources.


Fiction Book Cover Design: The Definitive Guide
3 Foolproof strategies for designing fiction book covers that work for any genre
Should You Self-Publish Your Book? 5 Essential Questions to Help You Decide
Should You Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish?

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of Donna’s fantastic series, Producing a Novel. If you would like to read previous installments click on one of the links below:
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at

My Journey to Publication

By: Jason Henry Evans

For the last couple of months, I can’t really say I’ve been in my writing hole. It’s probably closer to the truth to say I’ve been in my Project Management hole. But I’m out now, and I want to talk about my experience. See, I am self-publishing my debut novel. I came to this conclusion after a minor incident with a small publisher. Sitting there last fall, trying to figure out how everything had fallen through, I realized a couple of things that I wanted to share with you.

Don't be afraid of what you don't know.
  1. No one was going to care more about my story than me. Nobody. So if I didn’t advocate for my story, who would?
  2. Just because my story didn’t fit into a genre slot didn’t mean there wasn’t an audience out there for me. I just had to find them.
  3. Whether I was traditionally or independently published, I was going to have to do the marketing myself.
  4. Learning the skills an independent publisher has to know would always make me a better consumer further down the road.

So why did it take me so long?


Now don’t get me wrong. Fear can be a positive motivator. Most of us have had that experience at work where project X needs to be done by a certain time or we’re all fired. So everyone bucks up and gets it done. I have personally had that hard conversation with a boss because I was slacking and didn’t realize it. So I redoubled my efforts and learned I was capable of more. So in that sense, fear can be good.

Not my fear.

I was afraid of what I didn’t know. I was afraid of the work that might be involved. I was afraid I was going to fail.

Let’s take formatting as an example.

I write in MS Word. I have since I was in middle school. (When I was in 8th grade it was called Jr. High. But I digress.) So, when I decided to self-publish I knew formatting was going to be an issue. Reason number one was because I couldn’t afford what some people wanted to charge (up to $500 and more). Reason number two was all the horror stories people told me about trying to format in word. (I call them the Scrivener-Vellum Syndicate. But I tease!)

I procrastinated until the end of the school year (I’m a substitute teacher). When I finally did get to formatting my novel for print and e-book, it took a day and a half. Around 15 hours. That was it. Did I make some mistakes? Yes. But after installing Kindle Add-in for Microsoft Word and watching a couple of hours of Youtube videos on formatting in Word, I figured it out.

A New Skill Set

I figured it out. It was challenging, frustrating and deflating at times. But not only do both versions of my debut novel, The Gallowglass, look good, but I now have a skill set. I understand how to format in MS Word. I know how to use Styles and how to take out tab indents (go to replace and type in ^t, then replace it with nothing). I know how to format a table of contents and create Styles of my own. I will use these skills when I publish my second novel and the process will get a little easier.

If you’ve been hesitant about finishing your book. If you’ve felt bad because you don’t have the skills to self-publish and don’t have the money to pay professionals along the way. Don’t be discouraged. There are some things you can learn to do yourself. Just be patient with yourself and realize it’s not going to be perfect. (Even traditionally published books have typos!) Remember, suffering leads to endurance, which leads to character, which leads to hope. Your book will be awesome and your second one will be even better.

Jason Henry Evans

You can like Jason’s Facebook Author Page.
Or, you can follow him on Twitter @evans_writer
If you’d like to read his personal blog or sign up on his mailing list, go to

Jason’s debut novel, The Gallowglass, releases July 10th. Find out more information here.

Sitting Alone in the Darkness

By: Jason Henry Evans

Three weeks ago I fulfilled a lifetime dream of publishing my first novel. I decided to self-publish my first novel for a variety of reasons. However, if I’m honest with myself, it simply was the right time. See, I have been very fortunate in the writing game. I have met men and women who have published 5, 10, even 40 novels. They’ve had short stories in a dozen anthologies. Many of these people have given me sage pieces of advice. They have held my hand, gently told me when my story was bad, and inspired me to go forward. But there comes a time when you have to do it on your own. Whether your self-publishing a novel or you have a contract with a big four publisher there comes a time when you have to be alone. You have to put the words on the paper and be honest with yourself about the story you’re trying to tell.

That can be a dark place. But it was in that dark place, all alone, that I realized I couldn’t depend on anybody but myself. That was when I decided to self-publish a manuscript I put aside a year earlier. At that point, it wasn’t about fame, or financial success. It was about reaching the next level in my writing.

A Giving Community

One of the short comings of the writing community here in Colorado is that everyone is so giving. You reach out and people will genuinely help you as much as they can. The writers here—regardless of their levels of success—are so warm. But for me, it became a crutch. I could always ask for and get a pep talk or a piece of good advice. But I wasn’t doing the work. That all changed ten months ago.


I went back into my writing cave. I edited, did re-writes, and commissioned a cover artist. When that cover ended up being awful and the artist stopped returning my emails, I went out and bought another cover—a better one. My wife and some close friends already read my manuscript and they thought it was good.

Become an Author

So, I paid a copy editor, I sent it out to more beta-readers, and I learned how to format both a physical book and an ebook. Did I have help? Absolutely. But I was the one who had figure out the minutia of book formatting. I was the one who had to go over every line for typos and homonyms. You know what? The entire process was frightening. But I had to do it. I had to get to the next level. I had to become an author.

I write this not to praise myself. But to tell you, gentle reader, that you can do it too. But a large part of that process, I have discovered, is sitting and doing the work by yourself. It will be lonely. For me? It was scary, too. But isn’t that the point?

Finding the Magic

In that dark place where it’s just you and your story and you don’t know how to solve that plot problem, or format your table of contents, that’s where the magic is. That’s where your mettle is tested. That’s where you stop treading water and start swimming. But no one is going to write your story for you. Jeff Goins once said that “Art needs an audience.” Don’t deny your audience your art, no matter how scary or full of drudgery the process may be. Finish your art and accept the consequences.

If you do, I promise you, holding your book in your hands will make all your struggles worth it.

Jason Henry Evans

Jason Henry Evans says that life is funny. In 2004 I moved from Los Angeles to Denver, newly married with a desire to be a great teacher and husband. I dedicated myself to public education and realized my heart was not in it. So I moved on. At the same time I stumbled into a creative world of art and literature I now call home. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worthwhile.
You can catch up with Jason on his Facebook Author Page or on Twitter. You will also find up to date posts on his blog.