by Cathi Stevenson There are "creative" ways to get your book on the best sellers' lists without the bother of having to wait for sales, reviews or even writing a book that's popular. This is a repetitive scandal that breaks again ever few years or so with different players. I've seen it so many times since I started working in the self-publishing industry 15 years ago, that I hardly bat an eye any more. The writers of this article did their due diligence though, and it shows how using these questionable method can backfire. The Huffington Post covered the buying of reviews last year. You can actually get a review on almost anything for $5. Another article about buying reviews ran on The New York Times site back in 2012. Many retailers have made attempts to thwart both practices, but even after exhaustively weeding out the cheaters, it's only a matter of time until someone reinvents the wheel, or comes up with a new spin for it.
by Cathi Stevenson Resources Worth Checking Out Here are some resources from other countries, or older resources that still have a lot of valuable insight and information to share. The Guardian (UK news source) has expanded greatly since launching on the Interwebs and they have an entire section dedicated to self-publishing. Many well-researched and interesting articles Dan Poynter is referred to as "the guru of self-publishing." He was doing it back in the '70s, before it was cool. He has a newsletter that allows authors to introduce new books, ask for subjects to interview and lots of useful, short articles. Check out ParaPublishing.com If you're looking for an editor (or any book production professional) who has proven herself, then check out the awesome freelancers at Mediabistro.com. The downsizing of publishing houses can work to your benefit. The brightest and the best are going freelance.
by Cathi Stevenson When Authors Go Bad Article here about an author behaving badly. Describes how author Kathleen Hale targeted and stalked a reader for giving her a one star review. Yikes!! And double yikes!! to this "humorous" piece Hale herself wrote about killing animals. In case you're into this sort of thing, here's another interesting story about an author chasing down a reviewer, with far more serious results. The reviewer claims the author actually attacked her and hit her on the head with a wine bottle. You don't have to do much to attract this kind of attention it seems. In June, I judged the e-Book Cover Design Awards over at The Book Designer and received a series of very weird e-mails in response to a casual comment I made about a cover. I've also been the subject of two blog posts — one about a project I had nothing to do with (a fact the writer never bother to confirm) and another from a competitor who read a very, very general article I'd written about images on book covers and took it personally. I'd never heard of him before, nor had I seen his book covers. I bet he thinks those TV commercials are really about him, too. Who Is This Mysterious Author? And because we seem to forget there is an entire world of books out there, some even written in languages other than English, here's an interesting guessing game surrounding the real identity of best-selling Italian author Elena Ferrante. (Relax, the books have been translated into English).
by Cathi Stevenson Author Websites Heard some great things about a new WordPress theme that's designed specifically for self-publishing authors. Easy-to-use interface, and book covers above the fold. It's $35 at Creative Market. It was offered for free for a while, but none of those links appear to be working any more. Publisher Woes Lots of buzz about money troubles at Ellora's Cave. Writer Beware has the scoop. Hugh C. Howey Taking a Few Hits Howey's unbending defense of Amazon is irking a few people. Salon writer Rob Spillman is the latest to take a shot at Howey.
by Cathi Stevenson It really is the little things that count. Things that many people might not consciously notice when they're there, but miss when they're not there. This is true even when laying out a book. Spacing between lines, words, the type of numbers you choose, the font, drop caps...these are all essential elements that need to be considered if you want a book that is both pleasing to look at and easy to read. Book layout really is an art. That might be hard to believe in this world of technology, where it's possible to do such work by merely choosing a few options in some software program. But, if you take just two minutes — literally, to watch this video, you will learn a few things that can take your book layout from boring and amateurish, to sleek and professional. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOruWL2FOCs
by Cathi Stevenson A book that has been professionally designed will appear more polished and appealing to potential buyers. These formatting tips are not limited to the front cover of a book. There are many ways to enhance the look and readability of back cover text and interior layout. 1. Don’t make your line width too long. Many people assume the solution to too much text is to either drop the point size or extend the trim size or margins. This is not the case. No matter how much space you have, no line should exceed about 70 characters. After 70 characters, the reader has to blink and readjust his or her focus, then determine where the next line is and travel back visually to the beginning of the new line. Long lines make this a tiresome, frustrating task. No one will struggle to read your text. 2. Make sure you’re using the proper glyphs. A common mistake is to use the symbol for feet or inches when single or double quotation marks are required, and vice versa. Quotation marks curl or slant, while measurement symbols are straight up and down. All good quality fonts will offer both. 3. Know the difference between an em dash, en dash and hyphen and when to use them. There’s never any reason to have a double hyphen (–) when you really need an em dash (—). On a PC, the em dash can be obtained by holding down the ALT key and pushing 0151 on the numbers pad, to the right. The en dash is ALT 0150. Wikipedia has a good explanation of the types of dashes and when to use them here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dash 4. Drop caps can add style. Some people like the stylish look of a drop cap at the beginning of the back cover text, or at the start of a new chapter. It’s important these be neat and laid out properly, though. The bottom of the drop cap should sit on the baseline of the line it sits on. If you prefer a stickup cap, then it should align perfectly with the first line of text. The stickup cap is usually easier to create. 5. Small caps are another element that are often used and abused in book design. Some people like the look of small caps, and they can be a nice decorative element when used at the beginning of a section or for some headings and titles. It’s important you actually have the real small caps font, though. Most design and word processing programs will offer this option, but that doesn’t mean the font is there; They’re just “faking it” by making any upper case letters slightly larger. This can cause problems when creating a PDF for the printer, and it rarely looks good. If you enlarge a letter to fake small caps, the larger letter will be thicker, wider and look heavier. 6. Make your margins nice and deep. Remember, there has to be room for peoples’ fingers to hold the book. No one wants to be constantly moving his or her hands to read text. Also, if your interior margins are too tight, readers will be forced to open the book wider than the binding might allow, causing pages to fall out. These things all reflect on you as a publisher. 7. Don’t skip a title page. A title page can take on a life of its own and add value to a book. It doesn’t have to be just the title, either and it doesn’t have to be only one page. It can be several pages and include illustrations or decorative elements, title, sub-title, author name, publisher’s imprint, quotations, copyright information and credits for editors and fonts and the forward or preface. Chapter 27 in Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking: Editing/Design/Production (3rd ed., 2003) covers this subject very nicely. 8. Using a business name. If your company has a name, have your book designer create a little logo for it, if you haven’t had one created professionally. This can be done just setting the company name in a nice font and doesn’t have to be anything fancy. If possible, avoid using your own name as part of the business title, because this will tip off reviewers and bookstore owners that the book is self-published. Many people have preconceived notions about self-published books that are not very positive. 9. Make sure your black text is 100% black for a black and white interior. Some word processing programs and free PDF creators do not produce 100% black text, and books end up printed in 90% black or lighter. This can easily be checked within any layout or design program such as Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator, as you work. If you’re not using the proper software there might be no way to check this. You can also preflight your file in Adobe Acrobat Professional to uncover this and other issues. 10. Working with the right colors. If you’re using Print on Demand technology (also called POD and digital printing), then it’s almost always a good idea to send the printer files formatted in the CMYK color gamut, even if the printer says it’s okay to send RGB. Switching colors “on the fly” from RGB to CMYK, even when a professional printer does it, often creates unexpected results, and not just with color; In some cases images can look pixilated or blurry after being switched from RGB to CMYK.
by Cathi Stevenson Amy Weiss-Meyer posted an interesting blog over at New Republic. In it she discusses the return to the chunky fonts of 1970's-style book covers and quotes Chip Kidd, who isn't really thrilled over the new trend. (If you're new to the biz or have been in a coma for the last few decades, Chip Kidd is the reigning guru of book cover design, creative genius at Alfred A. Knopf, star of information-rich YouTube videos and Ted speaker. If you haven't seen it, you should check out his Ted talk, it's pretty funny). I'm not a fan of some of the fonts or layouts, but I have always loved a text-only cover, which many of these are. Regardless of anyone's likes or dislikes, the trend seems to be gathering momentum. Weiss-Meyer cites several examples, including Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl, but chunky fonts are popping up everywhere, not just on book covers. She also also touched on a good point. Some books are targeting a demographic that became adults in the 1970s, so book covers that bring up nostalgic feelings from that period might be a wise marketing move. Marketing doesn't have to be good art, or even good writing — although both would be nice, it just has to move a product or service. I think Michael Murphy's Goodby Emily (Koehler Books) is a great example to this trend. The salute to the tie-dyed t-shirts worn in the '70s is pretty awesome. I'm also a fan of the text-only cover for Jojo Moyes' Me Before You (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking). The cursive lettering is just the right font, in my opinion. Not all versions of the book are using this cover. If you really just can't embrace the new old look, relax. Like the Papyrus font, grunge covers, feet and legs, lone trees and countless other book cover design trends, this too shall pass.
by Cathi Stevenson Color is tricky at the best of times. If you want exact color management for your book cover design (such as a particular shade of blue for a university logo), you really should use something called spot color. Spot colors are specially mixed ink colors. Like the paint you purchase for your walls, spot colors, or Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors, are mixed according to pre-determined recipes. Each color in the PMS spectrum has an assigned number. When a client picks a number, the ink is mixed according to that recipe. It’s usually more expensive than process color (4-color) digital printing, which I will explain in a moment. If you are using an offset press though, the fewer colors you have, the lower the cost, so going with spot colors could be beneficial. The most common ink choice would be black and one or two other colors (although you can have more than that if you choose, but as you add colors, the price increases). Black is necessary in most cases, since both your interior text and your bar code will need to be black. Process color is the most common choice for book cover design and all book cover designers are familiar with process colors. Process colors are commonly known as CMYK colors. C (Cyan) M (Magenta) Y (Yellow) and K (Black) are the four colors of ink that are mixed together to come up with the colors you see on your book cover. With digital printing (also called print-on-demand or POD), it’s usually necessary to use this color system. It’s important not to confuse what you see visually as only one color, or four colors, or 10 colors, with what the printer will consider to be one, two, three or four colors (some presses can handle more than four). Your cover may have a solid pink background with black text, but still be a four color cover. That is because all four colors, CMY and K, were used to create your particular shade of pink or black. See the image below, which demonstrates what I mean using cyan. Now it gets more confusing. Aside from PMS colors and CMYK colors, computer screens can only read and show you something called RGB colors. The RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue. While CMYK colors absorb light, RGB colors reflect light. What this means is that in the CMYK gamut, absence of all color (C at 0%, M at 0%, Y at 0% and K at 0%) will produce white (also called reverse). That is why CMYK colors are called Subtractive – the more color you subtract, the whiter the color. However, with RGB it’s the opposite. The more color you add, the more white you have. RGB colors are called Additive. The white on your computer screen is actually 255 Red, 255 Green and 255 Blue. If you add into the factor that computers are also being lit up from behind, monitors vary, screen settings and operating systems and software varies between programs and between user settings, which anyone can change, you can understand why trying to judge what a color will look like in print while viewing it on a screen can be tricky. The only way to ever know for sure is to either go into the print shop and choose a color from their color swatches, or wait until the printer sends a print proof. Even the above color sample I pasted in is actually only an RGB rendition of the CMYK colors. And yes, even the CMYK in PhotoShop is only a close, RGB representation of the CMYK colors. To be honest, it’s rarely an issue. The colors are pretty close and most experienced book cover designers and printers will be able to help. It’s only in areas where you need to have an exact match, such as a university logo color, as I mentioned earlier, that you may want to get more hands-on with color management. Your printer will probably be able to supply you with the CMYK code or PMS number that you need and you can give that to your book cover designer. There are things to watch out for though, especially if you’re switching from the RGB color gamut to CMYK “on the fly.” Meaning, you’re letting the program just handle it and come-what-may. Industry-standard programs such as those produced by Adobe and Quark are fine, but I’ve seen some people actually create covers in programs developed by Microsoft. Since most Microsoft programs only work in RGB, color management is an issue. Some shades of blue, green and pink are particularly difficult. Below you will see an RGB repesentation of what can happen when proper color management is not employed. Although this is dramatic, it is pretty much what happens with this particular shade of pink. CMYK colors are often more subdued than their RGB counterparts. The CMYK color range is smaller, plus the absorption of light can really impact things.
by Cathi Stevenson It has to be discussed…again. Visual vibration. So many independent publishers don’t seem to think it’s an issue and I’d bet my last chocolate-covered almond it’s resulting in lost sales. What is it? Visual vibration is caused when two bright colors are mixed together on a book cover or website or ad and they create an “afterimage” effect. It’s almost as if a dancing halo has been placed around the word or shape, making it nearly impossible to look at the image for any amount of time. It’s painful. It’s the last thing you want happening on your website or your book cover. You can avoid visual vibration by introducing a less vibrant, neutral color to the mix.
I ask, because surely that place below us has really frozen over! Well-known book cover designer Henry Sene Yee, creative director at Picador, winner of AIGA’s 50 Books / 50 Covers; recipient of The Art Directors Club GOLD Cube and proud recipient of awards from The Type Directors Club, The New York Book Show, The Society of Illustrators, Print Magazine’s Regional Design Annual, Communication Arts…and so on, created a book cover using Comic Sans!
The book is called The Subject Steve, by Sam Lipsyte and is featured on Yee’s blog, right above a link to Timothy McSweeny’s site, which features a hilarious monologue from Comic Sans, by Mike Lacher.Lipsyte’s book is available on Amazon, or better yet, get if from your local bricks-and-mortar bookstore.