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).


Ian Murphy

As a regular book reviewer for many publications it is refreshing to hear I am not the only one who feels that self-publishing requires more than a computer.

I now direct many of the authors of self-published books to a number of freelance copy editors to help them fix grammar issues. It does have a significant impact.

One thing I would add. Earlier this year I reviewed a book from a UK author that had been sent to me by a supposed publishing company. Said company charges several thousand of Pounds Sterling for authors to have their books published through them. However, there was little to no editing, little to no publicity and the whole thing was embarrassing for the author. The money would have been more usefully spent on a real editor.

Self published authors also need advice on publicity and how to get their titles noticed. Hopefully, you’ll be looking at that in a later blog.

Ian Murphy

    Eliabeth Hawthorne

    The Novel Publicity blog has many posts on publicity advice and how to use social media to your advantage as an author. Ermisenda and I have used their tips to build our Facebook page, blog, Twitter, and working on learning Google+ and GoodReads. I have about twenty pages of marketing tips copy-pasted into Word from here too because I can’t possibly remember all of it.

Laura Reese

Nice Post!


    Eliabeth Hawthorne

    Thank you very much. 🙂

TL Jeffcoat

Excellent post, congratulations on your soon to be published novel. I’m one of those who are doing it for the right reasons and with a goal of making a living someday. I’m glad more readers are out there speaking out for Indie writers to up their game and take the novelist career more seriously. I love reading and this summer I started reading self published books for the first time and several were amazing, but after stumbling through some poorly edited books, it has only made up my mind even more that multiple editors focusing on various aspects and beta readers is a must for a book to compete realistically with the big companies.

    Eliabeth Hawthorne

    Oh good luck on your book, we are learning it is quite the undertaking. Our book is with it’s second editor; the first focused on the broad picture and major changes like cutting each volume down from 100k words to 63k and separating the sub plots more. This editor is checking for spelling and grammar.

    There is certainly a wide range of quality in the self published pool. I can see how some readers would skip indie books all together if they had too many poor quality books in a row. Part of it is that not all self published authors intend on making a living off their work, they just want to be published. The rest of us really need to step up our game to make up for it.

    Thanks for commenting.

Krazy Book Lady

I completely agree with you. Especially the part about editing. I have had a few books that I received for review recently that desperately needed an editor. It seemed like they didn’t even bother to read over it after they finished writing. Sometimes it is so bad that I can’t even finish the book. You may have an excellent story, but most people are not going to know if you can’t get it out there effectively.

    Eliabeth Hawthorne

    Isn’t it sad when you’re really into the story but just can’t get past the grammar? It’s heart breaking! It’s like the author is abusing the book, neglecting it. If it’s a bad cover, at least it’s not constant.

Neil Fein

Thanks for pointing out what we editors do. Anyone looking for a good editor for their novel can find a good, qualified editor at the Editorial Freelancers Association who will treat you and your project seriously. (Or you could just skip that step and hire me, of course. <>)

In the event that you can’t afford an editor (we’re not that expensive), please at least have a literate friend or three read through your manuscript. That won’t get you the same quality of advice that you’d get from a pro, but it’s much better than self-editing.

When you do hire an editor, you’ll get the most for your money and time if you’re clear about what you need done and why. Tell them what your goals are, whether they’re artistic or practical or both.

And also, to anyone confused about what editors do, this handy chart will explain the process for you, from writing to editing to proofreading.

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