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Self-Publishing 101: Part III

Got a cup of coffee? You’re going to need it. Let’s finish this.

Step 8: Get a cover designed.

Again...if you’re not a graphic designer, you probably shouldn’t be designing your own covers. The only exception is if you are not publishing from a salesman standpoint. If you are just publishing because hey, you’ve written a book and you want to be able to hold it in your hand and maybe give it to a few friends, and you have no interest in “success” measured in sales or popularity (which is totally fine), then it doesn’t matter what your cover looks like. You can use your five-year-old niece’s scribbles. There are no rules.

But, if you are publishing a book that you intend to really sell, that you hope to be successful with, and that you want to genuinely be a part of the book market, then you need a quality cover. And that should certainly not be your niece’s scribbles.

Behold the cover designer.

Where do you find this being?

Same place you found the editor--Reedsy! They do have cover designers and illustrators. But, the options are a little sparse. I had the cover for Daughter of Lightning designed by a professional on Reedsy, and I am happy with the end result, but the designer himself was a disaster to work with.

So definitely check Reedsy, but you may not find a good fit, and need to go elsewhere. Never fear--Joanna Penn has a list of cover designers, too! And just a ten-minute Google search will yield plenty of results. How do you know which designer to choose? Another author gave me this advice, and I think it’s wise:

“Cheap, fast, or good. Pick two.”

As in, you can have it designed quickly and cheaply, or you can have it take awhile but be high quality, or you can have it be super expensive but fast and high quality. But you probably can’t get all three. So pick which two are your priorities, and look for that.

Also pay attention to the designer’s portfolio. If you don’t like the other covers they’ve done, there’s not a great chance you’ll like the one they do for you. Or, if you do like the covers, but none of them are at all similar to what you need, that might not be a good sign.

And what about price? What exactly is “cheap”, for a cover?

If you want only an ebook cover, it should be $200-$400. If you want the ebook and the paperback, it should be $350-$500. If this is the first book of a series, you may be able to get a discount by having them design all the covers in that series. Also, those prices are for covers designed with stock images. If you want or need something custom and/or with illustrations, it will be more.

Make sure to communicate with the designer you’re considering. Clarify the price, ask about their process, get a time estimate, etc. Look for testimonials and credibility--if you’re not using a site like Reedsy that verifies their professionals and protects you, then you need to be sure the person you’re hiring is legit. Testimonials and reviews are a great start. But also Google them, and see if you can find them somewhere other than their website. (Maybe you can find them credited on one of the books they designed, maybe they have a guest post on some blog, etc.) They should also have some sort of contract that both of you will sign at the beginning of the collaboration, which includes things like end date and prices.

Other than Reedsy, I have one more recommendation: Jessica Bell. I have not yet worked with her, but I did hire her to do my next three covers. Her portfolio is amazing, her prices are very reasonable, and she’s reputable--you can look up the books she’s designed, you can find her on various self-publishing websites, and she’s on (or used to be on, I’m not sure) Reedsy.

How about once you’ve hired a designer? How does it work?

You need to be involved in this process. If you have ideas of what you want your cover to look like, communicate those to your designer. Try to find some other, existing covers that are similar (or have elements that are similar) to what you want, and show those to your designer. Or if you’re not sure what you want, but know what you don’t want, that’s helpful too. You may need to express to your designer just how involved you want to be--do you have a clear vision for the cover and just need them to execute your vision, or are you not really sure, and want them to use their greater experience and skills to create a vision for you?

Your designer is going to need information about the book. They won’t read the whole thing, so you’ll need to give them a sense of the story as best you can with a summary, descriptions of themes and settings, etc. If you want a character on the cover, give some descriptions and/or example pictures of the character. If the book is sci-fi or fantasy and takes place in a setting other than earth, describe it to them. Pinterest is your new best friend. You can find artwork and pictures to “model” your characters and setting.

Aside from all that, your designer will need everything that’s going on the cover. Title, author name, subtitle, back cover blurb, taglines, reviews--whatever text you want on there. They will also need your publishing imprint’s logo (refer back to Part I) if you have one. And, as discussed in Part II, they will need a print-ready PDF or book template. I had no idea what this was when my designer asked for it. So, here’s what a blank one looks like:

And again, you can get this from KDP, once you’ve uploaded your manuscript and picked your book dimensions.

If possible, have all these things ready before you begin your collaboration. You can certainly get quotes and such from designers before that, but it would be a waste of both your time and theirs to start the collaboration before you have everything they’re going to need.

Also, keep in mind that some designers have a lot of clients and will not be able to begin your project immediately. Jessica Bell, for example, is consistently booked two months in advance.

Step 9: Upload your cover.

Finally, an easy, quick step! This works the same as uploading your manuscript on KDP, so ‘nuff said.

Step 10: Finish the rest of the book set-up, and choose prices.

Now you get to do everything you haven’t already done for setting up your book. You’ve got all your content--manuscript, cover--and the details, so now what’s left is basically: PRICE.

How do you pick the price for your book? How do you measure the value of this literary child in mere dollars and cents? Well, you don’t. If the price of your book reflected the value it has for you, it would probably be thousands of dollars. Or, if the price of your book reflected how much you spent on it, again, it would be thousands of dollars.

The price of your book, as cold as it is, reflects how much people are willing to pay.

If it’s an ebook, the decision is easy--most ebooks are $3.99. Unless you have a good reason not to, just stick with that.

Paperbacks are a little trickier. They can be anywhere from $8.59 (I believe that’s the minimum price Amazon allows under these circumstances) to $200. Yes, Amazon will let you price a book at $200. But hopefully I need not say that you should not do so. Instead, type your genre into the Amazon search bar. So, for Daughter of Lightning, I typed in "YA fantasy”. Ignoring the ebook and hardcover prices, I looked through about three pages worth and took the average of all the paperback prices. It averaged at around $10-$11. Since I am a first-time, self-published author with no credibility, there isn’t a lot of reason I should be in the higher price spectrum. (Whether or not it’s fair, you should probably only be there if you’ve “earned it”.) So I stayed at the average, at $9.95.

And everyone probably knows this, but you always want to end on an odd number, like 99 or 95 or even 97 if you’re feeling adventurous.

But, it’s not as simple as that. The printing cost will be deducted from your royalty, so the price has to be high enough to allow for that. (That’s why Amazon has a lowest price limit.) Printing costs are dependent on a few variables like the length of the book, but for a frame of reference, my book costs $5.13 to print.

It gets even more complicated if you want to allow for expanded distribution--which means that bookstores can order your book in bulk to stock their shelves. I don’t have a very good explanation for why--I think it’s because the bookstore gets a cheaper rate--but in any case, if you choose to allow for expanded distribution, you may need to raise your price.

For example, I set my price at $9.95, only to discover that that was not high enough to do expanded distribution. I would need to bump it up. I wasn’t willing to do so, and I don’t need expanded distribution at this point, but I may need to raise my price later if/when I do want to use it.

Eyes starting to cross, yet? Bear with me a little longer. Because you might be wondering just how much you’re actually going to make per book sale, if the thing is selling for ten bucks and half of that is going to make the other half, right?

‘Fraid not, dear. You get 60% royalty of a paperback, Amazon gets the other 40%.

So here’s what it means. I’m going to use my book’s numbers to make this easier to follow.

Daughter of Lightning costs $9.95. 40% of that is $3.98, so that’s how much Amazon makes per sale. I make 60%, which is $5.97. But, the printing costs are cut from my profit. $5.97 - $5.13 is 84¢. That’s right. I make a whopping 84 cents per book sold.

This, my friends, is why being an author is not a career likely to be lucrative. Hence my day job in retail.

The moral of the story is that if you’re here looking for monetary gain, writing isn’t it. If you’re here, like me, to share stories, and are prepared to spend--rather than earn--money doing it, let us continue. Next time. After a couple nights’ sleep and more coffee. I promise, we’re almost there. If you’ve completed all the steps thus far, you are very, very close to a published book. Next post, we’ll explore that delicious release date, and that tantalizing “Publish Now” button, as well as what comes next!

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