Tip Tuesday: Print Covers

Tip Tuesday has gone a bit high and right, since I wrote just one and then promptly started releasing new titles instead of writing helpful content. But I’d like to make this humble offering as the second installment in the nascent Tip Tuesday series: print book covers.

I’m certainly no expert in the business of print mechanics, but I thought I’d leave you with some hints from my own experience, a little bit of feedback I’ve received, and point you to a couple of guys who are experts.

Tip #1 – Solid Colors for the Bleed
One thing that can be difficult to nail on your print cover art is the “bleed,” or where the printer will trim your book’s cover. A poorly-planned bleed can look amateurish, or even catastrophic if it’s so bad that a critical graphic is cut, folded, or incomplete.

Good planning will save your graphics, but thoughtful choice of the base color can sometimes make things easier for you in the long run as well. What I mean by that: your cover has three “sides” to it: the front cover, the spine, and the back. If you have a red front, a white spine, and a blue back, you have to be absolutely exact in your graphic to make sure these sides are pristine and show only those colors you want. More to the point, so does your printer, and there’s a good chance that not every copy of your book will be printed to exacting specifications.

Front, spine, and back: an all-red background that’s nearly impossible to mess up.

The simple fix to this is to stick with one color–or gradient, perhaps–as your base across the entire cover graphic. You’ll notice most of my covers are black with a single photo that fades out. I do this primarily because I like the impact of black, but I can tell you it also makes those trims look professional and are easy to accomplish. The same effect could be created by doing a gradient from top to bottom…as long as that gradient is across the front, spine, and back of the cover in one continuous graphic.

If you don’t believe me on this one, go look at your bookshelf and look at how many books use the same background color for the entire cover. I’m going to guess…80% of them?

Tip #2 – Mugshot
This is a short one, but…I’ve been asked by about five people why my picture isn’t on the back cover of my book. Call it an aversion–I don’t think I’m at all photogenic–but I’ve never wanted to have my mug on, well, pretty much anything.

But readers want to make a connection with the author, especially if they enjoyed the book or it touched them in a meaningful way. If you want to create those connections–and you’re camera-shy like me–you may have to get over it and send a new back cover to CreateSpace…

Tip #3 – To Price or Not to Price?
This is something I’ll admit I never even thought of, but there’s a possibility that it could have a significant impact on your sales: putting your price on the back of your book. I believe it never occured to me because, like much of the new world of indie publishing, prices are fluid things that I pick and change according to my needs and the data I see regarding sales and other trends. Why would I lock in a price on a book when I might need to change it in the next few weeks?

Dean Wesley Smith and Joe Konrath have differing views on this issue. To summarize real quick: Dean has a boat-load of experience as a publisher and an author. He maintains that independent book sellers–an important resource for indie authors–absolutely hate not having a price on a book because then they can’t publicize discounts or sales to customers. If a potential reader doesn’t know how much a book “costs” (even if it’s a made-up number), then “20% off” is meaningless.

Joe believes that that very fluidity, while irritating to book sellers, is a critical element in the flexibility in indie publishing. As he puts it:

Not having a printed price on their published books, and not having prices in product descriptions, means Amazon can change prices when needed. They can put things on sale, price-match, and allow retailers to find their own price point depending on supply and demand, location, and market fluctuations. The customer doesn’t ever feel like they’re paying too much. It wouldn’t be immediately obvious if a book is discounted or not, just like it is with all goods.

This is something you’ll have to discover for yourself by buildling up a rapport with local booksellers and quizzing buyers. I haven’t made up my mind about it and am waiting to see more data. But it’s something to consider the next time you upload that cover to CreateSpace.


Writer of crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor.

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Posted in Tip Tuesday
6 comments on “Tip Tuesday: Print Covers
  1. Re: To Price or Not to Price?

    I’m in around 10 indie bookstores now, and have no price on my back cover (or anywhere else on the book). While some store owners were surprised I didn’t have a price on the cover, it wasn’t an issue for any of them. These were all in the UK and Ireland – I have no idea if it’s more of an issue in the US.

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Hey Dave – Great to see you. Hope you’re adjusting to life in London just as millions of visitors arrive to gum up the works. 🙂

      Yours is an interesting perspective, and it’s good to hear that some booksellers are flexible on the pricing thing. DWS’s experience makes it sound as if some bookstore proprietors were ready to toss the books on the street when they didn’t have prices on the back.

      I imagine it boils down to how receptive they are to the new face of indie publishing. I think I remember you saying that one store owner you approached simply wouldn’t work with you because he didn’t “believe” in indie publishing. Perhaps this is something similar…forward-thinking booksellers will work with authors more closely, overlooking old methods and systems in favor of greater flexibility for both parties.

      • Hey Matthew,

        Still settling in. We had to move house three times before getting somewhere permanent to hang out hats. Accommodation in London is tricky (and the Olympics doesn’t help).

        As for the booksellers, I haven’t had a “no” yet from any I’ve approached. Even the one that was particularly hostile to the idea of self-publishing – and refused to stock Let’s Get Digital as they didn’t want to encourage it – still took a few copies of my historical.

        Biting your lip can be its own reward…

  2. Hi Matt! I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger award :-D. More details on my post

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