There's much more to books than writing


From a designer’s perspective, writing is simply a process whereby marks reproduced on a two dimensional surface miraculously trigger images and emotions in the mind of the viewer. It necessarily follows that the way these marks present to the eye is of crucial importance. The very least you should demand of a cover design is that it’s readable, eye catching, and genre specific.


Regardless of the virtue of your book's content, potential readers are unlikely to be attracted unless its visuals meet these basic criteria.

















Cover design: Way to stand out from the crowd? A stunning book cover. If you’ve spent years pouring your soul into a manuscript, you’ll surely want the cover to be unique, appropriate, and inspirational, not cobbled together from an obvious template. The specific design conventions vary from genre to genre. But for me, Zen-like simplicity wins out against complication and clutter. Check your bookshelves, this is not a unique insight. One stunning image knocks it out the park every time. Most conventionally published authors are given absolutely no say in the design of their book covers. The opposite is the case with self-publishing the author is responsible for the total package. My service represents a decent compromise; a professional designer working collaboratively with the author.


Typography: If you submit to an agent or a publisher, they’ll stipulate an A4 Word doc, 12pt double spaced, unjustified text set to the full width of the page. You probably type pretty much to this spec anyway. As a typographer, I really don’t get that. Simple reason, that’s not what your book will look like in print. Why type a book in a format that will bear no relation to the finished thing? It’s crazy, we have computers now, and we’re behaving like we’re back in the age of the typewriter. AMAZON KDP provides pre-formatted Word docs. Drop in your text, presto a book. Now I only ever produce rough drafts on A4, thereafter I work to a book format. Get into the habit of doing this, and you’ll soon find there are other important considerations besides perfect syntax.

Electronic books: None of the above applies, of course, to ebooks. That’s why they can look pretty clunky, and are much more tiring on the eye. With all the flexibility of a Kindle you’re entrusting the reader with the important work of the typographer, and it really shows.


Copyright issues: Goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway. It’s vital you control all aspects of your intellectual property, this includes the ISBN number, the cover design and images, as well as the manuscript. If your chosen cover requires photography or illustration, good news, nowadays they are relatively cheap or even free to acquire. There’s public domain, creative commons, Wikipedia, clip art, it’s amazing how unique something can become when you drop it into Photoshop and whack it through a filter or two! Failing that there are dozens of photo libraries; trouble is, the terms vary, some licence images for a period, some sell for a specific purpose, and there are a multitude of other variables like resolution, territory, production run, type of media etc. Whichever route you choose, it’s essential to ensure the rights reside with you.


So are you ready? Writers are always insecure about some aspect of their work. The few I’ve met who have total confidence in their output simply don’t know enough to realise their deficiencies. If you are worried about your technique that’s a good thing, shows you’ve got standards. Rather than dump a couple of thou into an editor’s pocket my advice would be to put your manuscript aside for a month. Choose an author you admire and analyse how they structure their writing, really pull it apart. Get hold of the Economist Style Guide and Eats, Shoots & Leaves, then swallow them pretty much whole. After that, hammer your way through Edith Wharton’s The Writing of Fiction. After that you should pretty much be able to teach the subject.