My Experiences in Self-Publishing, Part 3: Editing and Cover Design

Before I get into formats, general production, and distribution issues, I want to talk about editing and cover design. No matter what book formats you choose, you need a good cover design and your text needs to be immaculate.



As you’re planning your budget and looking for ways to save money, do not scratch out the line item for an editor. Bad copyediting (or copy editing, depending on which dictionary your frequent) is part of the trifecta that can flag your book as an amateur self-pub (the other two being bad cover design and poor font selection). Good editing ensures that the reader is really reading what you thought you wrote, and it makes you look like you know what you’re doing.

Do NOT entrust your editing to your mother or your retired high school English teacher unless either is currently editing professionally. Professional copy editors are trained to comb through your text for wayward commas and dangling modifiers. They also keep up with changes in the English language.

Having trained as a copy editor, I can tell you…when you’re a writer, copy editing is hard. Us writers are naturally inclined to want to rewrite sentences instead of focusing on making them grammatically correct. A good copy editor will see things you’re blind to after too many rereads, and he or she will do so in a speedy manner.

“But I’m only releasing my book in audiobook format,” you might be thinking. “Who cares about the copyediting?” Well, your performer might. If the words are spelled wrong and the punctuation is wrong, the person reading your book will likely mispronounce words and put the inflections in the wrong places. It could get pretty ugly.

Copy editors might charge by the page, by the hour, or by the project. Be prepared: a good copy editor might have a waiting list of clients.

Cover Design

Raise your right hand and repeat after me: I SOLEMNLY SWEAR TO HAVE MY COVER PROFESSIONALLY DESIGNED.

Years of weeding library collections has taught me this: if you ever want to lower the check-out rate on a book to roughly zero times per year, dump the dust jacket or obscure the cover so that a reader browsing the shelves can’t figure out what the book is about.

Here it is: we all judge books by their covers. A good cover should give us a feel for the book. Most readers can look at a series of covers and immediately identify the ones that are romances, urban fantasies, mysteries, literary fiction, etc. Really good covers also set the tone for the book. Remember, readers have easy access to millions of books. If a reader looks at your book and can’t figure out if it might be something he or she wants to read, they’ll move on to another book.

At my most recent library position, I worked the reference desk, which was right next to the new books area. Without fail, books with awesome covers always checked out right away. Books without awesome covers–especially if those books were by unknown authors–sat and sat and sat. It didn’t matter if the cover hid the most brilliant prose ever. Bad covers repel potential readers. Indie Author News recently posted an article called Bad Cover = Bad Sales that really drives home the point.

Cover designers can charge by the project or by the hour. Some cover designers work with stock images (less expensive), and other designers do a lot of illustration (more expensive). It is helpful to work with a graphic designer with experience in book covers, but either way, you’ll need to know the specs required by the publishers of your paperback, eBook, or audiobook for your designer to produce a final product. Be prepared: a good cover designer might have a waiting list of clients.

Once you’ve picked a cover designer, try not to drive the designer crazy. India Drummond wrote a great post at the Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing blog called How to Make a Cover Designer Cry. The examples of designer-writer interactions gone wrong are funny until you realize they actually happened.

My Book

Luckily for me, I happen to know a great copy editor. Despite my own training as an editor, she humbled me with all of the errors she found in a manuscript that had been through six drafts. Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Murder was a challenge to edit because there were so many people and places involved in the recounting of the Knoblock murder investigation and subsequent trials. I knew I had found the right editor when she made comments like, “You call him Johnnie Knoblock here, and John Knoblock elsewhere. Are these referring to the same person? Do we need to change one or the other?” She made it a much tighter, cleaner manuscript for readers to read.

I looked at several prospective cover designers, but fortunately for me, my cousin is a professional graphic designer and offered to do the cover. Honestly, I had a serious case of butterflies when I agreed to work with her on the project because, well, WHAT IF I HATED THE COVER? What if she didn’t *get* what I was hoping my cover would say? It could have been a disaster.

To give her a sense of how I wanted the cover to feel, I sent her several other covers that I absolutely loved because they captured the rural isolation I was going for: Nancy Pickard’s Scent of Rain and Lightning, Laura Griffin’s Thread of Fear, and Linda Castillo’s Pray for Silence. I also sent her Stephan Anderson-Story‘s photos of the abandoned house where the murder took place.

Fortunately for me, my cousin and I were totally in tune with each other, and she created my awesome cover.

Shadow on the Hill book cover

Shadow on the Hill book cover

Next Decisions: Formats, Production, and Distribution

Now your text is in the hands of your copy editor and you’re in line for a great cover designer. In the next few posts we’ll go over the decisions you’ll need to make in order to turn your manuscript into a book and get it into the hands of the public.

4 thoughts on “My Experiences in Self-Publishing, Part 3: Editing and Cover Design

  1. L Knight

    Re: my question today at Lebo about juror names listed on website
    and possibility of two being relatives.
    Name of juror listed as E. E. Baker in book but on website listed as
    E. G. Baker mentioned in Daily Republican on Jan 13, 1926 . Could be typo?

    1. Diana Staresinic-Deane Post author

      I pulled the newspaper articles in question to double-check for you. The January 12 article lists the juror as E. E. Baker. The article says, ” E. E. Baker of Rock Creek township was passed.” The January 13 article lists him as E. B. Baker. Obviously, one of them is a typo. I’m inclined to go with E. E. Baker, since that article actually lists him that way several times, but I don’t have the materials at home to verify it.

  2. Pingback: My Experiences in Self-Publishing, Part 4: Format and Production (Choices, Choices, Choices!) | Diana Staresinic-Deane

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