The rapid-read version
- Doing it yourself may seem like the cheapest option, but unless you know what you’re doing, it’s a false economy. A good graphic designer provides excellent value for money.
- Building a healthy, long-term relationship with an experienced designer is invaluable and an investment in your future success.
- Graphic designers don’t just make things look pretty: they have experience across a wide range of fields, such as illustration, photography, print, general publishing, website design, social media, advertising, marketing and sales, as well as a great deal of technical knowledge.
- The moment you publish your first book, you have not only become a published author, but you have also become a business – experienced designers have often run their own business for years and understand what it’s like.
- Successful indie authors know the benefits of collaboration with fellow professionals, all of whom want to help you create a top quality product.
- Learn how to brief designers properly to get the best results and try not to micro-manage – give them the creative space to surprise you!
The in-depth version
Why go to the expense of hiring a professional graphic designer? Here’s why.
You’ve spent months, perhaps even years, writing your novel or non-fiction book. You’ve made the bold decision to go the indie route, bypassing the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. You’ve hired an editor, a proofreader and tested your story or non-fiction content on a healthy number of beta readers. You’ve made ‘your baby’ as good as it can possibly be and you’re almost ready to go to market and let it loose on the world.
Now, you just need to make it look tidy and easy to read and dress it with an attractive cover. If you’re taking the print route, it will need a front and back cover and spine designed; for an ebook, just the front cover is sufficient. These are critical ingredients that will entice your potential readers to make that first, critical click online, or pick your book up from the shelf in a bookshop. First, you need a brilliant cover design; and then, what will entice them to read once they open that cover is stylish, elegant and easy-to-read layout.
The go-it-alone option
It is, of course, perfectly possible to design your own book cover and format the interior yourself. There are any number of websites nowadays offering cut-price solutions, where you can buy an ‘off-the-shelf’ cover design and simply drop in the title of your book and your author name. Some of these sites offer perfectly respectable, quality designs; but some of them do not. Likewise, you can go ahead and format the content of your book in Microsoft Word or Mac Pages yourself and upload that to sites that will convert the file to the appropriate ebook format. On the face of things, it’s certainly the cheapest option.
So, with these options readily available and many of them with bargain-basement price tags attached, why on earth would you go to the trouble and expense of hiring a professional designer?
Take advantage of your designer’s experience
Well, I can’t speak for everyone in my profession, but the key word that springs to mind immediately is “relationship”. When you contact me, it is the beginning of a partnership which should prove fruitful for both of us. You bring your enthusiasm and passion for your project, but also a willingness to learn; I contribute my years of hard-won expertise, not just in graphic design, but also in illustration, photography, print, publishing in general, website design, advertising, social media, marketing and sales.
This is especially important for indie authors, because the moment you publish your first book, you have not only become a published author – you have also become a business. And running businesses is something I’ve been doing for a very long time indeed, close to 30 years, in fact. For five years, I self-published a bi-monthly print and digital magazine on my own, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide. I learned a lot in that time – and you can learn from my experience.
Comprehensive breadth as well as depth
For example, in recent weeks, I have helped a client to launch their own small publishing company (see the image at the top of this post). I created a logo for them, advised them how their corporate identity should be applied to the books they publish and designed the cover for their first title. I am now advising them about creating their website, how they should go about using social media to promote their books and even warning them about the complications of the EU VAT regulations!
For many clients, I give advice about the various routes to print, ranging from one-off print-on-demand options to traditional litho, still the best option when thousands of copies are needed. I can design – and even write copy for – advertisements to go into newspapers and magazines or to be used online. With media like Facebook and Twitter ads very much hot topics these days, I can advise about those subjects too.
How about other promotional routes such as online courses or YouTube videos? What about issues of copyright, sourcing images online and elsewhere, and perhaps even exploiting your work via audiobooks? I’ll happily chat about any of these things as part of the relationship I have with all my clients – and if I don’t know the answer myself, I can certainly point you in the right direction to find the information.
I’d call that a pretty comprehensive service, wouldn’t you?
Your success is your designer’s goal
Now, of course, not all designers have the same skill set as me – some are more specialised, whilst others have an astonishing range of abilities. Moreover, different designers excel in different fields or have particular expertise in certain techniques or styles.
This is to be expected – just like writers, every designer is an individual who has arrived at this point in their career via a different route.
But, in my experience, every professional designer has one thing in common: their desire to do the best possible job for you, at a fair price for the effort involved. And part of the price you pay is an investment not just in their design expertise, but also in the relationship you are building with that designer.
Both these things – the quality of the design and the quality of the relationship – will be critically important to the success of your book. This is why I make sure that I have at least one real conversation, either on the phone or via Skype, with every single one of my clients, before any design work is carried out. We all know how imprecise email correspondence can be, and how easy it is to misinterpret the intentions of the sender. So, call me old-fashioned, but I prefer good old face-to-face conversations – and if that isn’t possible, at least ear-to-ear!
Learning to let go
Finally, I know how protective we authors feel about ‘our babies’! We labour for weeks, months, even years, striving to get our thoughts onto paper and write the book that we want to put out into the world. But just as we need to learn to accept input from editors and proofreaders, the same is true about graphic designers. Give them the freedom to use their expertise for your benefit. Resist the temptation to micro-manage – there’s no need, for example, to stipulate 14pt Arial as your body text font, because your designer will have access to many thousands of typefaces you have probably never heard about and will naturally suggest ones that suit the genre of your book and the audience you are aiming for. (And, in case you didn’t know, Kindle users can completely change the font and its size anyway…)
Being a successful indie author nowadays means recognising the benefits of collaboration with fellow professionals, all of whom want to help you make your book – your product – as good as it can possibly be. Writing your book is inevitably going to be a lonely process most of the time, but you don’t have to feel as though you’re carrying the entire burden on your shoulders from the first spark of inspiration through to getting your book onto the shelves of your local bookshop, or onto the electronic devices of millions of people around the world.
Quite rightly, you invest in the expertise of a good editor and an accurate proofreader. You use the power of global distribution offered by Amazon or Kobo or Ingramspark. If you really want to succeed, I thoroughly recommend that you make a professional designer a key member of your team too.
I’ll be writing further posts about specific aspects of book and other publication design in the near future. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer your queries.
Top image by the author. Second and third images courtesy of freeimages.com
My thanks to fellow designers Jane Dixon-Smith, Jessica Bell, Rachel Lawston, Joel Friedlander and, in the sphere of web design, Raymond Pirouz and David Siegel, for the inspiration they have provided.