Why I Design My Own Book Covers

TDS New 3I design a lot of book covers, for someone who doesn’t do it full-time.  Being responsible for the design of your books, inside and out, is part and parcel of being a self-published author.  That responsibility usually amounts to a choice between designing the books yourself, or contracting the work out to a freelance designer.

Deciding whether to do something yourself or outsource it is a decision that will be familiar to anyone who has run a small business.  When I worked as a private attorney, I faced this question everyday.  Do I pay for someone to design my website, or do it myself, since I have that skillset?  Do I do all the bookkeeping, or hire someone to man Quickbooks for me?  The only way to make these choices is to apply a cost-benefit analysis.  First and foremost, do you have the ability to do this task yourself?  If  yes, what’s more valuable to you, your time or your money?  If no, is it something you can learn?  And if you spend time learning how to do accomplish an ancillary task, are you spending your time wisely?

When you sit down to take care of the myriad tasks that make up the logistical and business side of being a full-time writer, you always have to ask yourself whether you’d be better off skipping this part and just doing some writing.  Usually, the answer is yes.  You should probably be writing.  Sometimes, the answer is an uncomfortable no: getting this shit accomplished is vital to the success of your career.  Other times, and these are the times I’m getting at here, the answer is a confident no: this is important, and it’s okay that I’m focusing on this for the moment instead of doing what I actually do, which is write fiction.

Exile AMZN-EPUBWhen my wife and I started Evil Toad Press, the imprint under which we publish our books, one thing we decided very quickly was that we would outsource all of our interior formatting/typesetting.  Neither of us had any significant experience doing this kind of work, and a day or two spent reading distributors’ formatting requirements and fooling around with Calibre and Adobe InDesign was enough to make up my mind.  I was confident that I could format the text of my book by myself if I had to, but it would require a significant investment of time and effort that I felt would be better put toward writing the actual books.  Most importantly, I figured out relatively quickly that I had no desire to do that work: it didn’t speak to me.  It felt dry and repetitive and boring.  I wanted to pay someone to do it for me, so I did.  We’ve never looked back.

On the other hand, I did have some experience with graphic design.  I’ve got some background in art and web design, and I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit teaching myself Adobe Photoshop.  I felt confident that I could at least take a crack at designing a few book covers, and to my surprise I found that not only did I have something of a knack for it, I really enjoyed doing it.

BOS CoverTo date, I’ve designed the cover for every book released by Evil Toad Press.  Even if you factor in the (small) cost of the tools required–subscriptions to Adobe Creative Cloud and Shutterstock, the odd font license–as well as a reasonable rate for the man-hours I put in designing them, we’ve certainly saved money doing it this way.  Even “pre-made” book covers, which are predesigned templates with your name and book title added, usually run anywhere from seventy-five to several hundred dollars.  If you want a completely custom design by a professional designer or illustrator, the cost may run into the thousands.

But more important, for me, was the unexpected thrill I got designing covers for books I cared about personally.  The challenge of capturing a book’s essence, genre, and tone and expressing them visually was exciting.  It was, and still is, a learning process, to be sure.  It requires a fusion of skillsets, including graphic design, typography, illustration, painting, geometry, and more.  But seeing a book cover come to life and being happy with the end result is incredibly satisfying.

TDODR Cover AMZN-EPUBI’m no professional designer.  I didn’t go to school for this.  I know I’ve got a lot to learn–sometimes it feels like I learn something new with every cover I design.  And not every cover is an immediate hit: some need several mock-ups before I get the concept right, others need to be redesigned entirely.  Sometimes I have to design several alternate covers simultaneously, to see which works the best.  Sometimes it turns out that a book needs a new cover somewhere down the line, because the first version isn’t selling as well as it could.

Some of my covers, to be brutally honest, are better than others.  As I said, it’s a learning process, and sometimes the magic just comes together better than others.

But the point I’m trying, and perhaps failing, to make is that designing book covers adds to my enjoyment of being a writer.  It doesn’t detract from it.  The moment it stops being fun, the moment it starts being a drag that I just want to put behind me, I’ll start paying someone else.  There’s no shortage of ways to buy a book cover.

So what’s the lesson, here?  I know.  You’re waiting for the sappy moral.  Well here’s a go at it.

TPS Omnibus CoverAn accountant once cautioned me not to let logistics get in the way my actual business.  At the time, his advice was specific: don’t try to do payroll by yourself, even if you’ve only got one employee.  Pay someone else to do that for you.  “You do what you do,” he said.  At the time, that meant that I should worry less about payroll and more about actually practicing law, so as to make the money that would support said payroll.  But it’s good advice for any business.  And writing, my friends, is a business like any other.

So do what you do: write.  Pay somebody else to worry about the rest.

The “Self-Publishing Is For Losers” Kickstarter Is Live!

Self-Publishing Is For Losers by P.J. FoxNow’s your chance to get behind a great book designed to help indie / self-published authors not only publish their work but achieve the writing career of their dreams.  Written by P.J. Fox, author of the bestselling The Price of Desire and The Demon of Darkling ReachSelf-Publishing Is For Losers: The Evil Toad Press Guide to Self-Publishing cuts through all the BS that’s out there about self-publishing and tells you what you need to hear to make it as an indie author.

The unfortunate truth is that as many strides as self-publishing has made, there are still many out there who deride it as a license for mediocrity–hence the ironic title, Self-Publishing Is For Losers.  That’s what traditional publishing wants you to think, whether they admit it or not.  This book teaches you how to put that thinking aside and focus on building a business and career of being a professional writer.

This isn’t a technical guide on how to design your ebook in a particular file format or a primer on the step-by-step details (i.e., which button to click) of publishing a book with Kindle Direct Publishing, but rather a big picture look at the work ethic and business skills you’ll need to get your work out there and selling.  Self-Publishing Is For Losers operates under the presumption that your book is polished and good, and gives you the skill set to take it from Word document to finished product.

It offers a wealth of nuts and bolts advice on business and marketing, but more importantly it also helps you identify when it’s time to step back and hire a professional.  If you chose the self-publishing route affirmatively, because you believe in keeping control over your own work and taking control of your own career, this is the book for you.  If you want your book to look, feel, and read like a traditionally published volume you might pick up in any Barnes & Noble, this is the book for you.  If you want brutal honesty and no-nonsense advice, then you need to help us publish Self-Publishing Is For Losers–and in return, you stand to get some awesome rewards.

“Self-Publishing Is For Losers”

When I’m not doing my own writing, I’m also a co-founder of Evil Toad Press, an indie publishing company that offers a variety of editing, design, and marketing services related to self-publishing.  We’ve written a self-publishing guide called Self-Publishing Is For Losers: The Evil Toad Press Guide to Self-Publishing, and are in the process of prepping a Kickstarter to fund its production.  For now, however, you can watch our kickass book trailer:

Upcoming Projects

Here’s a list of what I’m working on, in case you were wondering:

  1. Exile: The Book of Ever, the first in a trilogy of postapocalyptic young adult science fiction novels, forthcoming from Evil Toad Press.  The book’s done and out to my beta readers.  The release date’s looking like late summer or early fall, at this point.  I’ll be posting a cover reveal and a blurb here soon, so stay tuned for more on this one.
  2. The Akkian Mass (working title), an in-progress swordpunk novel.  You can read the first two chapters for free right here.  I’m not sure when this one will be done yet, but I’m hoping to release it in fourth quarter 2014 or first quarter 2015.
  3. Children of the Taking, my in-progress epic fantasy.  This is book one of a series of as-yet undetermined length.  I’m a solid one-third of the way through the story and have about 70,000 words written.  This promises to be a long one (I’d be very surprised if it clocks in at under 200K words) so it’s possible “Book One” will end up becoming Books One and Two.  Story usually happens in a very traditional three act structure for me, on both macro and micro levels, but it’s not always possible to predict how long each of those acts for me.  I conceived of this series as a trilogy, but it might turn out to need more space than that.
  4. A variety of short stories, some for submission to online magazines, and a couple for a book I’m working jointly on with P.J. Fox.  If you liked her novel The Demon of Darkling Reach, you’re probably going to like this project too, so stay tuned.
  5. Book Two of The Book of Ever.  I need a break from Ever and Co. before I jump into writing the sequel, so I’ll be working on one or all of the above projects for the rest of the summer (unless Ever demands attention).

There’s always a long list of other ideas on the back burner, of course, but these are the projects that are primarily taking up my attention at the moment.

‘The Price of Desire’ by P.J. Fox

I’m hijacking my own blog to share a book and an author that are very close to my heart with all of you. The Price of Desire by P.J. Fox came out this month from Evil Toad Press. It’s available at Amazon and other major retailers.  You can learn more about it below, at http://www.pjfoxwrites.com, or by following P.J. Fox on Twitter.  Here’s what I said about it for Evil Toad Press:

Evil Toad Press

The Price of Desire by P.J. Fox Available now at Amazon.com!

The Price of Desire, Book One of The House of Light and Shadow, by P.J. Fox, is available now at Amazon.com and other major online retailers!  Click the image to the left to buy it now.

The Price of Desire is military science fiction at its finest.  It’s a story of two people–a psychologically damaged Imperial naval commander and the woman he rescues from slavers while en route to an assignment meant to end his career–finding a common fate against a backdrop of galactic imperialism, war, and revolt.

The planet Tarsonis, to which Kisten Mara Sant was dispatched following an ill-advised assault on his uncle, the Imperial Chancellor, on the Senate floor, is a mining world chafing at the bit of imperial rule.  As a Prince of the Blood and the scion of a powerful family, Kisten’s sentence was commuted to exile: exile on a distant, troubled…

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