A reader tells it like it is: Authors can’t skimp on cover design or editing

This is a post by Novel Publicity Apprentice, Eliabeth Hawthorne

The stigma is that if you’re self-published, your work wasn’t good enough for publishers, but this summer I was in a live chat with literary agents and learned this tidbit: There are two reasons people self-publish. A right reason and a wrong one. Giving the finger to all of the agents and publishers who told you “no” to prove them wrong is the WRONG reason. On the other hand, your book may not be what traditional publishers are looking for; it’s too out of the box, it does not follow genre rules, or you want to maintain full creative control. These are the right reasons. The problem is, there is no way for readers to know which reason you self-published. Or is there?

What your cover says

It’s not fair to judge a book by its cover, but it happens. There is no way to flip through the pages of every book on the store shelves or read every blurb on Amazon, so we flip until something catches our eye. Pavarti K Tyler, indie author of Two Moons of Sera, describes how the book cover creates certain expectations. A topless man embracing a scantly clothed female signals romance or erotica just as mystery novel covers have a very different vibe than fantasy covers.

Her advice to authors is to know what is going on in your genre. You may not want to copy it, but you do need to be aware of the perception your cover will have in the minds of readers. For me, a quality cover shows time and investment has been put into the project regardless of the publisher. In my mind, if an author is not willing to spend the money on a professional cover design, they are not willing to spend the money on the content either. I have run across indie published novels with wonderful covers but terrible grammar, but it does keep me from dismissing the book without even opening it.

How important is an editor?

I don’t open a book looking for grammar or formatting errors; I open them because I’m intrigued by the packaging and want to read the story, but when I come across them, it is like a slap in the face. It disrupts the flow to read the same sentence twice trying to figure out what the author was trying to say. When the wrong spelling of the correct word is used or the wrong form of a word, it slows me down.

In a novel I recently reviewed, I knocked it down from a 5 star review to a 3 because I could not get past the grammar. I cannot spell. That’s why I have beta readers. These were not complicated or obscure language rules that only an English major would catch, so forever I will think that author was lazy and in such a rush to get their book out, they couldn’t have someone take one sweep through and catch typos. As much as I enjoyed the story, I will never buy anything from that author again.

CreateSpace, Lightning Source, and Lulu make it easy for authors to get their work published, but what they do not do is screen for quality. If you’re a self-published author, it becomes your responsibility to make sure you have the best work you can put out there. You do not have an agent and publisher looking over your shoulder catching your mistakes, so it is up to you to work with and pay for an editor, or you might not get return customers.


Imagine you are watching an infomercial. You want proof that the product does what it claims to do. You want to see someone use the product and tell you how easy it is to use or how well it works. You want someone to endorse it before you’re willing to shell out the cash. In some respects, books are no different. A publisher’s stamp of approval still carries weight. If given the choice between two unknown authors, one traditionally published and one indie published for the same price, I would be more likely to pay for the traditionally published book. However, once an indie author wins me over, I am willing to pay just as much for their second novel as a traditionally published author. So while I would suggest discounted copies of debut works, I see no reason that indie authors should discount the rest of their books, assuming they have spent the time and money perfecting them to the quality of traditionally published books.

I think the problem with indie publishing is that authors assume they need to do it alone and as a result, some part of the package isn’t as great as it could be.

My coauthor Ermisenda Alvarez and I sent our novel to Karin Cox (www.editorandauthor.com) before querying agents, and it might have been the best decision we have made so far. She was able to help us correct problem spots and improve already strong aspects of the book. While Ermi is a very skilled graphic designer, some authors may struggle to create a well-designed cover, others may not understand how to use social media to draw attention to their work.

It is up to the author to work with people whose skill sets compensate for what the author lacks. A publishing house does not expect the author to come up with their own cover, so an indie author should not expect to either unless that is a side strength you happen to have.

It is very possible to be a successful indie author, but you have to value your writing enough to give it the investment and packaging it deserves.

About this post’s author: Eliabeth Hawthorne is an avid reader and reviewer who is in the process of publishing her first novel with coauthor Ermisenda Alvarez. She also serves as a Novel Publicity Apprentice (and does a great job ~Emlyn).


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