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Mistake #7: Going the DIY Route

Note: This post is part of my seven-week series about the mistakes people make when writing a book. To read from the beginning, start here.

Remember when you were a kid and your mom cautioned you about making snap judgments?

"Don't judge a book by its cover."

And your mom was right! When it comes to people who look, act, speak, or function a little differently than you, judging a person's worth from outward expressions isn't wise. That person could be the kindest, wisest, most loving or lovable or brilliant person you'll ever meet.

Those of us who grew up with only paper books as a viable reading option understood immediately the origins of the saying--that dog-eared, torn, marked-up copy of Little Women or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was all the more treasured because of how much it was loved in the past. Nothing recommends a book more than its well-loved exterior.

But in this era of e-books and self-publishing, does the same hold true?

Let's face it--unless you already know a book is great, there needs to be something about it to make you give up an e-mail address, spend money, or sacrifice bookshelf space or memory in exchange for the privilege of reading it. Most of us don't have hours and hours of extra time every day to peruse books that don't meet some need.

And unless you have a strong recommendation from a trusted source, the first thing you look at will likely be the cover of the book.

My Mistake: Going Semi-DIY

I am honest enough to admit that I am no designer or artist. My youngest daughter is an artist, and if I ever had any illusions about my artistic abilities, living with someone who has a genuine talent has disabused me of all notions that I might be able to produce more than stick figures.

But I am... "frugal," I suppose.

(That's probably the nice way to say it.)

I hate spending money I don't have to spend. If I have any faith in my own capabilities in any particular task, I would rather do it myself. If I can figure something out on my own, I will.

So when it came to publishing my first novella, I simply started looking around for a good picture I could buy and put my name and title on.

And I found one--a great photo from a friend who charged a pittance for the use of it.

And it was...

Well, okay.

It certainly wasn't eye-catching or provocative. There was little to recommend the book in a sea of Amazon titles. I published the little e-book during the first rush of e-books on Amazon, and with thousands and thousands of e-book covers--most of them produced via the DIY route--there was nothing to make my book stand out.

The point?

Unless you are a designer, please hire someone to do this part for you. A terrific book can fail miserably if it has a terrible cover or design or if it’s poorly formatted.

Hiring a good designer will:

  • Help your book stand out--in a good way: There are literally millions of self-published titles on the various publishing platforms. While there's no substitute for good writing, an eye-catching cover and good formatting will make a huge difference in attracting downloads and encouraging recommendations.

  • Save time: If you don't know how to design or format book covers or interiors, you will have to spend time learning software, searching for templates, understanding how e-publishing works, and a host of other minutiae that, honestly, you probably don't have time for. Designers already know most of those things--and if they don't, they can likely find the answers faster than you can. You'll get your book to market faster if you let the pros do what they do best.

  • Let you focus on your priorities: Again, unless you're a designer, you have priorities other than book covers and formatting. Focus on your thought leadership and let someone else handle the work that doesn't directly advance your own business.

Cover design, book design, and book formatting isn’t prohibitively expensive, and it’s worth every penny. Spend the money on design.

Because if people are going to judge your book by its cover, you might as well help them come to the right conclusion.

Success Strategy: Ask around. Many writers have favorite designers and formatters, and they are usually happy to make recommendations. For book covers, I use Robin Ludwig Design.

For formatting, layout, and graphic design, Robyn Hodgdon, Creative Professional, is terrific. And for full-service book design, the pros at Weller Smith Design are excellent.

Want to read all the mistakes in one place? Download the e-book today!

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