Design & Formatting
In this article we are going to share a little tough love.  Are you ready?  Just remember, this is going to hurt us more than it will hurt you.  Well, maybe not, but just know we're doing this for your own good. 

We've all seen it before; the self published book which is so poorly done it's downright shameful.  But when it comes to creating your book you insist this time it will be different - better.  But is it really possible to ensure a self published book doesn't end up looking like all the other DIY train wrecks already out there?  All too often authors learn, after the fact, how difficult it can be to look objectively at their own literary projects. When embroiled in the process of publishing a book, it's understandable that an author will focus on the manuscript.  And while that's obviously one of the most important aspects, it is not the only area of publishing deserving of our attention.  

When books are being passed over for review, two of the most common reasons are poor design and formatting (editing is also a major offender - but we will address that in another article).  Design and formatting are your first impression, so you really need to get it right.  So what is the self published author to do?

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We are so glad you asked.  Here's something book reviewers would love for you to know.  When we come across a poorly designed self published book, yet still try our best to give it the same consideration we would a traditionally published book, (and believe us when we say that's not always easy to do) we are happy for the author when we discover a gem hidden beneath that atrocious cover.  But then, we're sad for them all at the same time.  Truth be told, we're a bit sad for ourselves too. Because when we go out on a limb and give an excellent review for a book with a cover that looks like your twelve year old nephew drew it on the back of a napkin, well, let's just say, that might reflect on our credibility as a reviewer.  

Sometimes we really want to say Hey, I'll give you an excellent review after you fix that hideous cover.  But our mothers raised us well enough that we would never say that.  Instead sometimes we just won't be as willing to overlook the flaws in your book. Flaws? What flaws? you say.  Let's just say when your book looks thrown together, we can pretty safely assume your editing will be just as shoddy.  - Think that's an over-generalization?  Perhaps, but given time, even the most kind and forgiving reviewers come to learn there is often a correlation.  Reviewers are going to knock off points for poor design and formatting (most reviewers won't even give your book a second glance before tossing it into the do not read pile).  How do you like that? You take the time and money to send your book to reviewers across the country and they're not even going to give it a chance. Your book is in the slush pile all because you didn't spend the time and money to get your cover right. 

Keep this in mind: self publishing costs money.  When you decide to take on the role of publisher, you've also taken on a financial investment.  You've invested your time in writing your masterpiece and soon you'll be taking on the expense to print, distribute and market this gem.  Why, oh why, would you not take that investment one step further and make sure it's done right? Whyyyyy . . . (insert groan here)?  If you've committed to taking on the responsibility of publishing your own book, you owe it to yourself and your investment to get it right.  Self published looking books are not an easy sell.  We've all heard the phrase don't judge a book by its cover.  Why do you think we've heard it so many times?  It's because everyone does; it's human nature, we can't help ourselves.  Admit it, it's impossible to fix your first impression of a book.  A shoddy cover implies a poorly crafted book inside.  If you care enough about your book, then take the time to get it right.   

Look at us getting off track.  Sorry, bringing it back to the how.  - We could write a book on the how.  But in reality it boils down to just two options.  
A) Pay someone you know will get it right.
B) Take the time to research it yourself and then be diligent in getting it right.

Paying someone to do it right is almost always your best bet (sorry, but most people simply can't look at their own work objectively). But how can you be assured you've found the right person for the job? That's where it can help to get involved with writers' groups and conferences. Ask around. Get referrals and when you think you've found the right person look at samples of their work. Find out up front what their fees are (including any cost for revisions).  Do not, under any circumstances, have a friend or family member design your cover unless they are a professional.  This is no time to try and help out little Jimmy who just loves to draw.  You might think it's cute now, but when you've gone to print and it's too late, you'll wish you had heeded our advice.

To begin with, make sure you've polished your manuscript to perfection.  If you make countless revisions after you've handed your work over, it's going to cost you.  Check out our publishing timeline to make sure you're doing things in the proper order. Getting out of order can often mean you'll have to back-track which will cost you in time and money.

Remember you're in charge when you self publish, so don't sign off on anything until you're totally and completely happy with the results.  When it comes to formatting (an area in which so many self publishers are oblivious) check out the Chicago Manual of Style - this is your publishing bible.  You don't need to read this book from front to back, so don't be intimidated by its girth.  Just know it has all the answers to everything you ever needed to know about formatting.  Don't ignore the rules in this book, if you do, it will show. 

We've seen far too many books come across our desk which are truly spectacular, with the exception of design and formatting. Come on people.  Let's get real now and just say what needs to be said.  The elephant in the room is far too large to ignore anymore.  Let's vow to put an end to the needless assumption that self published books are crap (well, OK, some really are crap) - but yours doesn't need to be.

Happy Publishing!
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