Guide to Self-Publishing

Step 3. Book Design / Cover Design

Possible Timeframe: 1 – 3 weeks (layout/design) or 3 – 6 weeks (if there is custom illustration work)

Some authors may try to tackle this part of the process themselves, feeling confident that they can successfully format their work for print; however, a professional layout may contain design elements or formatting standards that are unfamiliar or difficult to produce—especially if you’re using Microsoft Word or (worse) Microsoft Publisher!

Tip: Files created with Microsoft Publisher have the highest rejection rate when submitting to printers. It’s best to avoid this program altogether when creating your book.

Common printer and design errors include unembedded fonts; poor image quality; incorrect trim size; margin inconsistencies; missing or improperly set gutters; inconsistent styles, page setup, or line spacing; missing or manually set page numbers and running heads; text or images outside of the print margin; awkward gaps in text; widow/orphans; an unequal amount of text on facing pages; or an overall composition that does not match the quality of traditional publications.

Your layout really does matter! Readers may not always notice when a layout is well done, but they WILL notice when it’s not. The biggest mistake self-publishing authors make is to tackle this part of the process alone. The reason is simple: there are too many small items you might never think about that go into a professional layout—and they have a cumulative effect. These are the items noted above; however, a professional designer can also add embellishments and work with your text and images using professional design software to create a professional result. Ultimately, what you want is for your book to stand on its own against the “big guys”—the books produced by the traditional publishing industry. Not only will this give you a better shot at getting placement in book stores when it comes time to do book signings, but it can also greatly increase your chances of getting sales.

FAQ: How do I pick a designer?

Much like with copyediting, you should request a sample design. Many designers will simply show you their portfolio of work, and this is good—but it’s even better when they can offer you a custom sample so that you can see what they have in mind for your book. (This is what we do!) A design can be highly customized to suit your work, so don’t be afraid to share your ideas with your designer. Once you see the sample, there may be items you’d like to change, or some element of the design you’d like to see in a different way. This is really the best way to see what you’ll be getting.

You will also want to make certain, up front, that the final file they give you is compatible with what your printer will need. In most cases, this will be a printer-ready PDF sized to your trim size.

FAQ: What do I need to send to a designer?

Since we’re beginning to throw around design terms, let’s review the things you will need to have ready to submit to your designer:

a.) Your completed manuscript.
This may seem obvious, but you might be surprised by how many authors are still submitting pages of material to the designer after the layout begins. This is not recommended. It could increase your cost and design time, as the layout process needs to take into account all of the pages that will be included—preferably before the job starts!

It’s usually best to submit your manuscript in a single file. This will save time over the designer needing to merge files, unless the book is so lengthy they need to split it up. (They will tell you if this is the case.) Designers may have different requirements, so simply ask them their submission preference. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something they tell you.

b.) Any images to be included.
If your work contains images, they may request them as separate image files. These could be JPGs, PNGs, or PSDs. Most likely though, they will need them in at least 300DPI. DPI stands for Dots Per Inch, and it relates to the resolution of your image. Small resolutions mean the results in print might be grainy or poor quality. At least 300DPI is best. If you’re not sure, submit the image and ask them to check the resolution for you. They may also want them to be labeled in a specific way so that they can insert them in the proper place. Again, don’t be afraid to ask the best way to submit your work.

Tip: In addition, make certain you have the right to use the image in your book. If it is an image you got off the Internet (with the exception of fee-based stock photography or free open source sites), chances are good that it’s copyright protected and should not be used without permission.

c.) Your ISBN, Copyright notice, and/or LCCN
Your designer will definitely need your ISBN. If you’ve registered a LCCN, you will want to send that to them as well. For the copyright notice, it is only necessary to let them know the copyright year and the name or publishing house under which it is registered. They will not need your certificate (and you probably won’t have it by then anyway!).

d.) Cover design ideas
If you are having your cover done professionally (and why wouldn’t you, since this is literally the gateway to your book and the item that first catches the eye), then you will want to submit your design ideas or any images you have to your cover designer. They will also need your ISBN and barcode (unless they are supplying it for you), in addition to your Book Cover Text, including book title, subtitle, author name, back cover text, and spine and/or flap text.

Your cover designer will also ask you for your final page count. This number is critical because it is used to determine your spine width. They may also ask for paper type. The choices are typically white or crème. What’s the difference? Weight and color. Readers can sometimes prefer crème paper for novels, as it is supposedly easier on the eyes. However, non-fiction and books with images are better off choosing white paper. Images tend to print considerably better on white paper. (Crème paper tends to increase the thickness of your book, so if the book is very large, you might want white paper just to cut printing costs.)

Once you’ve gotten through this phase of the process, you are very nearly finished. Next are the final two stages.


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