Make your book look and feel like a best seller

Every year I go to the London Book Fair where I meet with lots of first time self publishers, many who have just had their book printed. Sometimes their excitement is tinged with disappointment about how their book has turned out. I hear them tell me about what they should have done and their frustration that their chosen printer failed to warn them.

I decided to write this article to try and explain some of the common errors that first-time self publishers make.

The Cover

You might spend years writing a book. But how long should you spend on the title and the cover?

Picking a title, is often best done by someone who can look at the book from a fresh perspective, taking into account what the book is really about and adding a headline grabbing angle or twist which captures the readers imagination leaving them intrigued.

If you have a look around at the last minute for a picture you might well find that you simply can’t see anything you like. Which means you will probably end up just with the title and a graphic – which is generally not the most inspiring thing in the world.

Of course when you are selling on-line, through Amazon or through your own website, you will be focussed on the content of the book. But Amazon will reproduce the cover of the book if you give them the chance – and if the cover is dull, then that will be a selling position lost.

What you can do is ask your printer for some help. Not all printers will do that – and not all printers who do offer to do that, will do it well. So a certain amount of caution is needed here.

And let me put in one other word about covers, while I am on the subject. Try and make the front and back cover merge – at least by using the same colours, and possibly an extension of the picture on the front.

You will also need some text on the back. If you are going to write about the author, don’t go overboard, unless you really are very famous and recognised as an expert in this field. Write about the book, and then perhaps add some notes about other books you have written, or had published. But make it all relevant to this book. If you are writing about 15th century history there isn’t much point noting that you have written a book about nuclear physics. You might be proud of the physics book and you might feel it shows the breadth of your knowledge, but the reader of the history book really isn’t going to be that interested.

The less niche your subject, the more the sales of your book will rely on the design and draw of the cover. Have a look at this video if you want to look into the world of mass market cover designs for novels:

Finally, don’t forget to give your printer your ISBN so that they can print that and turn it into a bar code.

The Size

Many general commercial printers will go no further than recommending finished sizes of A6, A5 or A4, because their paper stocks, machine sizes and therefore pricing levels are geared up to these sizes. However, many book publishers consider these sizes to be too wide compared to their height for a comfortable novel. The ratio of height to width of A5 is about 1.42, whereas the vast majority of successful published fiction has adopted a narrower format ratio of around 1.5-1.6.

The Type and Weight of Paper

Many general commercial printers, will only recommend standard stock papers for printing a book. Printing a novel on a standard woodfree uncoated paper (also known as offset or bond paper) is, in my opinion, once of the most common and worst first-time self publisher mistakes. This gives rise to the following issues:
1. Offset paper is too white and is uncomfortable to read.
2. Offset paper is more see though (less opaque) than the equivalent book paper.
3. Offset paper is thinner and therefore feels more flimsy than the equivalent book paper.
4. Offset paper is thinner and therefore the whole book is thinner than the equivalent book paper – a missed opportunity to add perceived value.
5. Because of points 2,3 and 4 above, book printers are able to use a lower grammage specialist book paper and this can reduce the weight of the book by up to 30% and still achieve the same spine width. This can save a significant amount on postage, an often overlooked factor.

A more subtle issue which is none the less very important to the feel of a book is the grain direction of the paper. Paper is stiffer when bent in one direction compared to the other and if the grain direction of the paper is wrong the pages will be more difficult to turn and bend back on themselves as many readers like to do.

You can read my other article: Which is the Best Paper for Printing my Book?

The Cover Stiffness

I have picked up many books only to be disappointed by the floppiness of the cover. Many general commercial printers would not question using a 250gsm standard coated paper for a cover. This is anything but satisfactory for a softback book cover. Specialist one sided boards should be used which are not only stiffer, but are thicker and will adhere to the binding glue better as well.

Special Cover Finishes

Foil blocking, embossing, debossing, special laminates, varnishes, textured cloths, real and simulated leather, head and tail bands, jackets, flaps, waterproof coverings are all ways of making your book stand out from the crowed marketplace.

The Page Design

Choice of font, margin size, style of layout and page numbering choices all help to carefully create the appropriate mood for your text. Read my other article Book Typesetting and Page Design

My advice to you would be to make sure you are using a printer that is able to discuss all these options with you so

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any of the above or suggest improvements to my blog.
David Exley

Written by David Exley
David has an Honours Degree in Printing and Packaging Technology and has worked in both technical and sales roles in both the Paper and Printing industries for over 20 years.