Category Archives: Publishing

Creating covers for print books

The cover of a print book has three parts: the front cover, the spine and the back cover. These three components are printed together as a large rectangle that wraps around the pages to create the finished book. When it’s laid out flat, a print cover looks like this:


The front cover
This is what most people think of when we talk about book covers. It’s the part of the print book that shows when it’s placed face out in a book shop, and it’s the part that shows when the book is listed in an online bookshop. You can find out more about designing the front cover in our article on the basics of cover design.

The front cover of the print book is usually the same as the ebook cover. However, if you’ve already created an ebook cover with a photo or other picture running right up to the left hand edge you will need to change it a little for the print edition. This is because, with Print on Demand, there is a slight variation in the position of the folds either side of the spine so there is a risk that the picture may wrap around onto the spine or end slightly short. Continue reading

The Basics of Cover Design

A good cover is vital to your book’s success because it’s the first thing your potential readers see.  If you have a good eye for design, the right software and the experience to use it, there’s no reason why you can’t try to create your own cover.

If you haven’t got the right skills or you find the task too hard, it’s best to pay an experienced designer to help you. Don’t penny pinch and use an amateurish cover because that will suggest that the contents of your book are amateurish too. But even if you are using a designer, it’s still worth learning the basics of cover design so you understand what they are doing. Continue reading

Working with Pictures


Black cat in a coal hole taken at midnight

The picture on the left should open in a twinkling while the one on the right might take a some time to appear. (Actually, this will probably only be the case the first time you look.  Thereafter both pictures are likely to be cached in your PC and will appear immediately.)

My fairly ordinary camera takes pictures that are 4000 dots (pixels) wide and 3000 high. That’s 12 million dots altogether making it a 12 Megapixel camera. These dots get saved in a computer file where the colour of every dot is defined by 3 bytes. So, for the full unblemished definition, my pictures needs 36 Megabytes.

That’s the file that gives the right hand picture (it’s in png format). It’s an awfully big file to send to your screen just to provide a small black rectangle! The one on the left comes from a more sensible 1 kilobyte file (in jpg format) but I defy you to see the difference even though the left hand file size is 3600 times smaller.

You’d probably guess that my camera takes bigger pictures than this tiny image, but how big was the original?  The important answer is that it doesn’t a have physical size (or resolution)! It depends on the screen or printer you use to look at it.  If the dots on the device are big, so is the picture, if they’re small, so is the picture.    Older screens have resolutions of around 70-100 pixels per inch so my black cat picture would need a screen about 4 feet wide to show every pixel in the original.

However, I’ve set the width of both the pictures on this page to 3cm.  On an old style screen this would be about 100 dots wide and 75 high – 7500 in total.  Even the best iPad with its amazing 326dpi retina display would only use about 111 thousand  pixels.  So, what happens to rest the of the 36 million that were supplied for the right hand picture?   Some sort of averaging of pixel colours has to be done by your computer and detail will be lost – even though you can’t see it.  If you do this averaging before sending the file there are big gains to be made in speed.

Reducing the number of pixels to match the expected display device is sensible, but there are even more gains to be made by lumping together adjacent pixels of the same colour.  Both Jpeg and png formats do this, but jpgs use a technique that also allows close colours to be merged depending on a quality factor. At 100% the data is compressed as much as possible but nothing is lost.  At values lower than about 80% you can begin to see some deterioration of fine detail.

Neither of my pictures is absolutely black – otherwise both the left hand jpg and the right hand png would have been compressed to give very small files.  Instead there’s a random selection of almost black pixels.  The left hand jpg has been set to 200x150px with a quality of 70% making it a uniform very, very dark grey.  The png (4000X3000px with every pixel defined)  also shows up as a very very dark grey but the work to reduce it and average the colours was done by your computer after it received the file.

Be careful when you are changing the size of pictures. Increasing size will automatically drop the quality because your computer can’t add detail that isn’t there. Reducing the size is less likely to cause problems, but some software may drop the resolution at the same time without you realising. It may also drop the resolution when you export the file unless you have set it correctly.

So what resolution should you use?
Download speed is vital for websites and screen resolution is fairly poor so there is no point in using high definition pictures. 96dpi is usually fine and you should compress jpgs by the maximum amount possible without losing detail on the picture.

Print requires higher resolution so pictures that look fine on screen may appear fuzzy or blocky on paper and the curves may have jagged edges. 300dpi works well for print books, ebooks and covers but double-check your printing company’s requirements before you create your book. Higher resolutions are usually fine, although they may increase the file size of the ebook enough to push up the delivery cost on Amazon for books with a large number of pictures.

However much effort you put into getting the resolution right for your print book, you can still run into problems if your pdf creation software compresses the pictures. It’s sensible to check the settings before you create the file to make sure nothing is compressed lower than 300dpi. 

There’s another little hassle with files intended for print rather than screen – colour definition. In the camera and on screen, colours are defined in terms of the proportion of red, blue and green light (RGB).  Having all three together at 100% gives white.  But if you print all three colours together you get a muddy grey.  To get white you just need white paper – you don’t have to print anything!

Printing companies use Cyan, Magenta. Yellow and Black ink (CMYK) and yours may insist that pictures are defined in that system.  Don’t panic if your picture is in RGB.  There’s an equivalent CMYK setting for every RGB one so, if you set it correctly,  good pdf software can change the RGB colours to CMYK when it creates your file.

As the technology of inks is not quite the same as the science of colours, there may be some difference between what you see on screen and the printed result.  That’s why the printers ask for the definition in their own terms – it takes away any uncertainty.

E-book creation – The Absolute Basics

Should you publish your e-book yourself or is it so difficult that it would be better to pay someone with the necessary skills to do it for you?  

We think it’s very easy and, of course, when you discover the inevitable typo that you, your editor and your proof reader all missed, being able to put it right yourself is a super bonus.

The best way to decide which route to take is to have a dummy run. You’re not going to put this e-book up for sale so it doesn’t matter if your book isn’t completely ready yet.  In fact, any Word file will do but it’s best to use one with chapters so you can see how the chapter breaks work. If it has tables and pictures too, you’ll be able to see some of the problems they can cause but don’t worry about this if there aren’t any in your book.

Several companies allow you to upload your file and turn it into an e-book free of charge, but for this test, we suggest you use Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. The system is very user-friendly and creates a .mobi file which is the right format to sell on Amazon.

Whether you decide to create the ebook yourself or pay someone else to do it, you’ll need an Amazon KDP account to actually publish the book in Kindle format. (Some people will offer to do that for you for a fee or commission but it’s much better to do it yourself.)  So, if you haven’t go an account yet, go to and sign up.  

Now start your test by clicking ‘Add a new title’.  There are  several sections to fill in that you can  ignore for now.   Sections 1, 2 and 3 provide the basic information about the book (title, author etc.).  Section 4 lets you upload a cover or create one with the KDP software. You may want to experiment with that as well in the future, but leave it for now and go straight to section 5. 

Section 5 starts by asking if you want to apply DRM and our advice (see our DRM article) is to leave it set on  ‘no’.  You can then click the browse button which opens a box where you can select the file you’ve decided to put up. The upload starts as soon as you cilck the file. Don’t panic if you click the wrong one: just wait for the upload to finish and try again. 

Uploading and converting takes a little while but when it’s done you can click “Preview book” to see how your book will look on a basic Kindle.  Wow! You’ve made an ebook. It really is that easy.

Amazon suggests, and we agree, that it’s worth downloading their previewer so that you can see how it looks on different devices because they don’t all interpret the file in the same way.  If you have a Kindle e-reader or app, it’s also worth downloading the preview file and side-loading it there.  That way you’ll get a feel for how it looks for real on at least one device.

As you look through your ebook, you’ll probably find various things that aren’t quite the way you wanted. These are probably caused by you having made made things look right in Word in ways that the conversion process doesn’t understand.  For example, indents tend to go wrong if you’ve used the tab key to create them. It’s much better to use the “indent first line” facitily built into Word. Other common problems are connected with page breaks, chapter headings and extra line spaces inserted in the text to show the passage of time.

All these issues can be fixed relatively easily. The help section of KDP offers good suggestions on sorting out the formatting of your Word file, and a quick Google search will show up plenty of other advice online. 

Hopefully, you’ve now got enough confidence to have a go at creating your own ebook when you’re finally ready to publish. There’s nothing to be lost by having a go. You can always turn to an expert for help later  if you run into problems you can’t fix.

Steve and Diana Kimpton

Taking the mystery out of metadata

Metadata is one of the buzz words in book marketing, but what does it mean? The answer’s simple – metadata is the information (or data) about your book that you provide when you register its ISBN or publish through Createspace, KDP, Draft2Digital or other similar systems. The amount of information varies a little from one place to another but, amongst other things, it usually includes title, author, publisher, cover picture, description and categories.

Why does metadata matter?
No one in the book trade has the time to read every book published, so bookshops and libraries have always used metadata to help them decide which books to stock. Nowadays metadata is extra important because it’s such a powerful aid to shopping on online bookshops. The description and cover provide potential readers with the information they need about the book, while the categories help your book show up on bookshop searches and specialised bestseller lists. .

Is it worth the effort to get the metadata right?
Definitely. In 2012, research by Nielsen (who handle UK ISBNs) showed that titles with complete metadata had average sales 98% higher than those without, and those with a cover image had average sales 268% higher than those without one. Of course, it’s possible that the improved sales weren’t entirely due to the improved metadata – maybe the books were also better written and had better covers. But, if  you want to give your book the best possible chance, make sure you get your metadata right.

What are categories?
They are a way of telling bookshops what the book is about. There are two main category systems – BIC (the UK system) and BISAC (the US system). Amazon categories are similar to BISAC but not exactly the same. Regardless of which system you are asked to use, try to choose the lowest level category you can. So it’s better to use fiction/romance/historical/Victorian than just fiction or fiction/romance. That way you’ll show up on more searches.

It’s often possible to change your category choices later and, with Amazon in particular, switching from a category with lots of competition to a less popular one can improve your chances of showing up on specialised bestseller and popularity lists.

What sort of description should I write?
The description is going to show up on internet bookshops so target it at potential readers. Aim to give them enough information to tempt them to buy the book or download a sample without telling them so much that you give away all the plot twists. If you’re not sure what to say, have a look at the descriptions for popular books in the same genre.

 What’s enhanced metadata?
When you register an ISBN in the UK, you can include the basic information about the book and the cover picture for free. However, you have to pay an annual fee to add what Nielsen calls enhanced metadata – a short description, a long description, reviews and  information about the author.  If you’re mainly selling through Amazon, this probably isn’t cost effective as you can put your own information on there anyway.

Diana Kimpton

Understanding publishing jargon

Whether you are self publishing or taking the traditional route, you are likely to come across many words that you haven’t heard before. Here are the meanings of the ones you are most likely to meet.

A payment made by a publisher to an author before the book is published.  It’s an advance on future earnings (royalties) from the book but, provided you keep to the terms of the contract, it’s usually non-returnable, even if the book turn out to flop.  Once the book is on sale, any royalties will be offset against the advance until the full amount has been recouped by the publisher. When this has happened, the book has ‘earned out’

Advance Review Copy (ARC)
A copy of a book sent to reviewers, reporters and other relevant people before the official publication date. This helps build interest and enables reviews to be available when the book launches. Continue reading

Funding your book

Self-publishing need not cost a fortune but, if you want to produce something worthwhile, you will have to spend something. But it’s important to remember the golden rule:

Never spend money self-publishing than you can’t afford to lose.

You can never be sure in advance how many copies you will sell so publishing is always a gamble. Even the big traditional publishers get it wrong sometime so you might too.

Funding the book from your savings
That’s by far the safest route. Decide how much you can afford to spend, set that as your budget and stick to it. If you can’t afford to do exactly what you had in mind, you may need to save a bit longer. Alternatively, you can adapt your plans to suit your budget.- perhaps by starting with an ebook as that’s the cheapest option and adding a print edition later when you can afford to.

This involves getting a lot of people to invest a small amount of money in your project, usually through one of the crowdfunding websites available online. I haven’t tried any of them  but I have heard of authors who have used the system successfully. You usually offer something in return for the investment and scale the gift to fit the size of the donation. So you might give a free epub to people who give a little, a free print book to people who give a bit more and a signed, free book to people who give even more.  Although crowdfunding seems like an exciting new development, it’s a new form of what used to be called subscription publishing where publishers funded a print run by selling copies in advance.

Borrowing the money
This is a a bad idea, especially if you use a bank, credit card or payday loan company that charges high interest rates. It’s an even worse idea if you put up your house or some other asset as security. You can’t tell in advance how many copies you will sell and, even if your book is successful in the long-term, you can’t guarantee that the money will come in fast enough to cover the repayments and the interest.

Which neatly brings us back to that Golden Rule which is worth repeating.

Never spend money self-publishing that you can’t afford to lose.

Diana Kimpton


FAQ for new self-publishers

Do I have to use a self-publishing company?
No. In fact, you will have more control and will probably spend less money if you don’t. But that doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. (more info)

A publisher has said they will publish my book if I pay them. Is this self-publishing?
No, it’s subsidy publishing and it’s usually not a good idea. The publisher has all the control and keeps most of the profits, while you pay the costs and run the risks. With real self-publishing, you still run the risk but you have all the control and all the profits. You also have control of the costs and may well spend less money. (more info)

How much does self-publishing cost?
That’s like asking someone how long is a piece of string. The cost depends on lots of factors but it can be anything from zero to several thousand pounds.  Decide how much you can afford to spend before you start, and make sure you stick to your budget. (more info)

How many copies will I sell?
No one knows. Even traditional publishers take a gamble every time they publish a book, and they sometimes get their estimates completely wrong.  It’s safest to do your costings on the basis of fairly low sales (hundreds rather than thousands). That way, if you’re wrong, you’ll get a pleasant surprise rather than a nasty shock.

Will my self-published book make me rich?
That’s unlikely and it would still be unlikely if it was traditionally published. Most authors don’t earn a living from their books, and very few earn as much as JK Rowling. But you will earn more per book if you self-publish, and your book will stay on sale for as long as you wish so that income can go on for a long time.

What’s the single most important thing I need to do to be a successful self-publisher?
Write a good book. If you don’t, it won’t get the word-of-mouth recommendations that are vital to driving sales.

What’s the second most important thing?
Produce a high quality book. Make sure it’s laid out well without any typos or punctuation errors and give it a good cover. Contrary to the popular saying, everyone judges a book by its cover. So an amateurish cover suggests it’s an amateurish book.

Do I need an editor?
Yes. You are too close to your own writing to judge it successfully. An editor will come to your book with a fresh eye and spot issues and mistakes you have overlooked. But you need to have the right editor – one who is in tune with what you are writing – and one of the many advantages of self-publishing is being able to choose your own editor.

What’s an ISBN and do I need one?
An ISBN is a unique number given to a specific edition a book which helps bookshops and wholesalers identify it on computer systems. You don’t have to have one, but you’ll need one to sell print books through bookshops and some ebook stores want you to have one too. (more info)

How can I protect my ebook from being pirated?
The standard advice is to put DRM (digital rights management) on the book, but DRM doesn’t work because it’s so easy to remove. So I think it’s sensible not to worry too much about piracy. Most readers will prefer to buy an inexpensive, virus-free version of your book from a reputable site rather than go to a dodgy piracy site and download a marginally cheaper or free version that might contain viruses. Anyway, those that do choose the pirated version probably wouldn’t have bought the legitimate version anyway so you haven’t lost any sales and may even gain word-of-mouth recommendation. (more info on DRM)

Diana Kimpton


How not to waste your money

Self-publishing is a growth industry. Authors new to the system are an easy target for people who are more interested in making a profit than in offering good value. So how can you make sure you don’t waste your money?

Be cautious when companies offer to do everything for you.
Some of them charge a great deal for a mediocre service and push you into buying expensive extras.  And don’t be fooled by the ones that are linked to big publishing houses. Using them won’t give you the credibility of being published by the big name publisher.

Check out other people’s experiences
Before you sign up with any service provider, try to find out how other people have got on with them. A search for the company name on Google will show up lots of references and a search for the company name plus words like complaint or problem may be even more illuminating. You can also look at the books listed on the company’s site and get in touch with their authors to ask how they got on.

Check if you own what you pay for
If you pay to have your book laid out for print or turned into an ebook, you should own the result and be able to use any company you choose to print the book or sell the ebook. Similarly, if you pay for a cover design, you need to be able to use it in all your publicity material or you’ll have real problems marketing your book. Avoid companies who restrict what you are allowed to do with the design or cover.

Similarly, if you decide to invest in a print run, all the books should belong to you. Run away if a self-publishing company asks you to pay for 500 to be printed and only offers you a few free copies in return. That’s a really bad deal.

Read contracts carefully
Never sign a contract you don’t understand and never believe a company that says it doesn’t enforce terms you don’t like. (see Beware of the small print)

Don’t pay for reviews
If your book is good enough, you should be able to get reviews for free so there’s no need to pay for them. Your money is best spent elsewhere as paid-for reviews often carry less weight with readers. However, giving a free copy to a potential reviewer is perfectly acceptable and a good investment, provided you have chosen the reviewer carefully. (see Getting reviews)

Be very cautious about paying for advertising
Paid-for advertising only works if it reaches enough of your potential readers so check out any opportunities carefully before you risk any money.  For an email newsletter, ask the owners for the number of subscribers (which is likely to be significantly higher than the number who actually read it). For a website, ask for the number of unique visitors per month or the number of page views on the page where your ad would appear. If the people concerned won’t give you that information, don’t use them.

If they do give you the numbers, you still need to compare the cost with the potential benefit. You could contact previous advertisers to ask how successful their ad was, and you could try negotiating the price down – that’s standard practice in advertising. It’s always better to buy any advertising direct. If you go through  a middle man, you’ll be paying a mark up on the actual cost.

Avoid marketing experts
The person who knows your book best is you so you are the best person to organise the marketing. You may want a bit of help with copy writing,web design or other specific aspects but don’t pay someone to do the whole job.

Don’t pay for Search Engine Optimisation
Once you have a website, you’ll get lots of people offering you SEO services. Don’t use them. They will cost you money and may use SEO tricks that search engines dislike so much that they count against you. Search engines are in the business of finding good, relevant sites. If your site is good, it will get listed.

Investigate competitions before you enter them
Check out the entry fee. Does it seem excessively high or is it a reasonable amount to cover expenses? Check out the prizes? Are there any and, if so, are they worth the entry fee? (Badges and stickers don’t count – they are just publicising the competition.) Check out the rules. Does entering grant the organisers any rights to use your book? Check out previous winners to see the standard that’s expected, and avoid brand-new competitions unless they are run by a reputable organisation.

Look at free alternatives before you pay to join something
Writing books is a lonely profession so it makes sense to band together and swap ideas about self-publishing and other topics. But you don’t have to pay money to do that. If you look around the internet, you’ll find plenty of relevant groups on Facebook, Linked in and Google+ – all available for you to join for free.

Diana Kimpton


Beware of the small print

Whichever route you take to publish your book, one thing is certain. You’ll have to deal with contracts. They are long, boring and often hard to understand, but never make the mistake of signing on the dotted line or ticking the appropriate box on the website without being 100% sure what you are agreeing to.  .

I’m not a lawyer, but over the years I’ve learned a little about contracts. The most important thing to remember is that everything in them is there for a reason. Don’t believe anyone, not even an agent,  who says you don’t have to worry about a clause you don’t like because no one will actually put it into effect. If that was true, the worrisome words wouldn’t need to be there in the first place.

What rights are you giving up?
Your future income from your book depends on your copyright so it’s vital that you don’t part with it, either deliberately or by accident. However, as no one can produce a copy of your book without your permission, you will need to grant a license to any publishing companies that you work with.

Many publishers (especially the traditional ones) will want that license to grant them every right in your work that exists, with a proviso about ones later invented. But, before you agree to that, ask if they are in a position to use all those rights effectively. This is particularly true of film and translation rights. Before you license those, make sure the publisher has a good track record in selling them. Otherwise you can end up with the rights languishing unsold or the frustrating situation of having to pay the publisher a percentage when you’ve actually found the buyer for the rights yourself.

If you’re self-publishing, most of the companies you use will only need non-exclusive rights which leaves you free to work with more than one company at the same time. (eg Kobo and Kindle Direct Publishing). But traditional publishers usually ask for exclusive rights to protect the investment they are making. Before you agree to that, think carefully about the next point.

How long will the contract last?
Nothing lasts forever. Publishing companies go bust, and even your copyright expires 70 years after your death. As a result, a publishing contract needs to have some sort of termination clause. In the old days, this would state that your rights reverted to you if the book went out of print. However, that doesn’t work well these days because ebooks and POD books remain available for ever. So it’s better to have the reversion clause come into effect when sales drop below a certain level or, better still, to have a fixed term contract that automatically comes to an end after a set number of years. For self-publishing, you need flexibility as the markets change so it’s good to have the ability to cancel the contract after a set notice period.

It’s also important to have the rights automatically revert to you if the business ceases to trade or goes into liquidation. Otherwise you can end up in a legal limbo, with no one to ask for your rights back. I learned this the hard way as the first POD company I used years ago went belly up with no warning and disappeared completely. Luckily the contract was non-exclusive so I wasn’t totally stuck – just out-of-pocket and a little wiser.

Danger words
There are some words that should always sound alarm bells when you see them in contracts, agency agreements or website terms and conditions. Two that particularly worry me are permanent and irrevocable. If you spot those, read everything else very carefully and be prepared to walk away rather than commit to something you can never get out of. The word exclusive is sometimes necessary but the sight of it should always make you extra cautious. Be sure to check out how long the exclusivity will last and what benefits you’re getting in return.

Non-competing works clauses
These have become a feature of traditional publishing contracts and are a major reason why I prefer self-publishing. Originally they were fairly reasonable: the author only promised not to sell another publisher an abridgement or extension of the same book. But over the years, they have become more and more restrictive as publishers seek to control their authors future careers. I was once asked to sign a contract that stopped me publishing any book that competed with the one I was selling. When I commented that this seemed to mean I could never write another book for the same age group without their permission, the publisher said I was right and that was exactly what they wanted. That was totally unacceptable to me as it would have grossly restricted what I could do in the future so I turned down their offer and sold the book elsewhere.

You need to watch carefully for non-competing works clauses because they are sometimes hidden in other parts of the contract, especially the warranty. If you spot one in a traditional publishing contract, try to get it taken out or watered down as much as possible and time limited (so it expires after a year or two rather than lasting for the full term of the contract). And only agree to it if you are happy to live with the consequences. Don’t just cross your fingers and hope no one will apply it. You might live to regret it.

Any sort of non-competing works clause in a contract for self-publishing services should sound alarm bells so loud that they deafen you as you run away. If you’re paying all the costs, you should always keep full control and freedom.

Finding out more
Contracts are a huge topic so this post has only touched on some of the issues they raise. You’ll find plenty of other useful information on the subject at and

Getting advice
If you have an agent, they will help you with the contract. But be careful – anyone can become an agent so there is no guarantee that yours knows what they are doing.  If you haven’t got an agent or you don’t want to rely on the one you have, you can get contract advice from The Society of Authors and/or from a lawyer with relevant experience. 

Diana Kimpton