A Post for Insecure Writers Support Group Day

During a recent writing workshop, a well-known author was overheard talking about the cover of my debut novel, Can’t Live Without. She said, ‘I could tell it was self-published just by looking at the cover.’ She didn’t say this in a nice way.

For IWSG Day, I’d like to talk about traditionally published authors casting aspersions on self-published books, particularly when based on nothing but the ‘look’ of the book itself. I’m going to ask the following questions: What qualifies them to do this? and, Is looking self-published actually a bad thing anyway?

Why a IWSG post? Because this remark did upset me, albeit temporarily. I’ve decided not to name the author in question because I have far more respect for her feelings than she clearly has for mine. Did she really think I wouldn’t hear about what she said?

Should Traditionally Published Authors Be Praised (or otherwise) For Their Book Covers?

It goes like this – you get a publishing deal, and from the moment the contract is signed you hand over control of many aspects of the production and publication of your book. If not all aspects. Editorial control, control of the publication timetable, and in most if not all cases, control of the cover, size, and quality of the book.

I know many traditionally published authors who are unhappy with their book covers. Kate Long has talked about arguments with designers; Linda Gillard disagreed strongly with the cover design for Star Gazing (and the title, but was overruled). At the Festival of Romance I talked to an author with a publishing deal, herself a professional cover designer, who was unhappy with the cover her publishers had landed her with. Her own design was ignored. What this proves is that authors have no say whatsoever in the design of their covers. And having no say or input, can they really take any credit if their book ends up with a good cover? I think not.

Large publishing houses have design departments with years of experience and hefty budgets – they have tried-and-tested styles and designs, access to top-notch photography and illustrators, all the best software; they can employ such clever tricks as spot lamination and embedded glitter; they can choose the trim size and paper quality to match the industry standard. Most (not all, despite the above) trad-authors get fantastic covers. But there’s no need for them to be smug about it.

Compare and contrast with the self-publishing author. We have limited budgets for cover design, and often have to rely on our own ideas and sourcing of images because to pay for a designer’s time on this would be prohibitive. We are limited by trim size, paper type and cover board with a POD printer; bookwove paper for bulk is often out of our price-per-unit range, as is spot lamination or glitter-style effects. If we want to make a profit, that is. And any self-respecting self-publishing author is aiming to make a profit. Which might be what p****s trad-published authors off. 70% royalties anyone?

I digress. With the odds stacked against us, I think most self-publishing authors produce stunning covers. Interesting, striking, clever, evocative covers. Here is a sample of indie covers which I think are pretty cool:

Talli BuildTerry Other SideDangerous WatersHouse of SilenceYours TrulyThe Family Trap coverthat time of the month

Yes, I put one of mine in there too. I love it. Some people won’t. That’s fine, obviously. But why be mean-spirited to a room full of writing delegates about a self-published book? Why slag off the cover? Which brings me to my second question …

Is Looking Self-Published Such A Bad Thing Anyway?

I’ve many read reports of indie authors being chuffed to bits when a bookseller tells them: ‘This is amazing – your book doesn’t look self-published at all.’ We know where they’re coming from – for a long while self-published books weren’t that great, production-wise, let’s face it. But times are changing, and now there’s no need to produce anything other than a stand-out ebook or paperback edition. When a bookseller says that, what they mean is: ‘It looks like a book.’ Well, yes. That’s the point.

But take another look at the covers above. If they look self-published it’s only because they look different. They look special. They’ve got that balance right between telling the reader something about the genre, but not being a carbon copy of every other book in that genre.

CLW cover small snipped

If Can’t Live Without had been taken up by a traditional publisher during my (admittedly short) search for one, would it have this cover? I think not. It would have probably been beautifully illustrated though, maybe with a woman holding some shopping bags (a burning house in the background?), some leaves, trees or flowers around the edges, a swirly font in pink, with a cream background. I’m sure it would have looked lovely. It would also have looked like every other book in its genre.

If self-published books stand out it’s because we are taking chances and dancing to the beat of our own drum. A LOT of hard work goes into our cover design, and I defy any traditionally published author to do a better job themselves. The next time you hear someone say your book looks self-published, be proud that you stand out from the crowd.

One final thought: I had a look at this author’s covers. They are very nice. But I can tell just by looking at them that they are traditionally published.

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