|Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
As I worked on this post, I realized I had more to say than I originally thought, so I'm breaking it up into two parts. This week's post contains tips about working with a cover designer and which publishing platforms to use. Next week's post will address the recommended order of operations.
Please note that these tips are not meant to be an exhaustive how-to, much less a step-by-step guide. My intention is to make your self-publishing experience a little easier by sharing some things I wish I'd known when I first got started.
1. Start working with a cover designer early(ish).
I usually start working with a cover designer about 3-4 months before I expect to release my book. Depending on your cover designer's skill and availability - not to mention your availability, when it comes to providing feedback on mock-ups - it can take anywhere from a week to several months to nail down a cover.
There's little risk* in having your cover done before your book is done - if the book's title changes, it's easy for a cover designer to change the title on your design - but I know from personal experience that it sucks to be all ready to publish and still be waiting on the cover art.
"Can't you publish without a cover?" you ask. Yes. But I don't recommend it. When you first publish your ebook, it's featured in the "new books" category for a day or two, thus getting increased visibility with no added money or effort from you. It's a precious opportunity to get your book in front of more eyes! If there's no cover image, it looks to browsing readers like you don't know what you're doing (and therefore can't be worth reading), and you waste the opportunity given to you.
Having your cover image ready early also gives you the option of making your book available for preorder, something that I'll discuss more in Part 2.
*A cover should convey something about the tone of the book and possibly about setting and/or character as well. So one way for pre-ordering the cover to go horribly wrong is to completely change these elements of your book during revision: You wrote it as noir crime and now it's a comedy; the main character used to be male and now she's female; it used to take place in medieval Europe but now it's set in futuristic Alaska. So yeah, unless you want to have to pay for your book's cover twice, you do need to be confident about these things before you order the cover.
2. Ask your cover designer for a JPEG, not a TIFF or PNG.
Amazon accepts both JPEG and TIFF files, and Smashwords accepts both JPEG and PNG files, so the only file type that works for both is JPEG. (More below on why I'm talking about Amazon and Smashwords.)
When it comes to cover image file size and dimensions, if you follow the Smashwords guidelines, they'll also work for Amazon. In a nutshell: You need a JPEG file 20MB or less, and the image should be roughly 2,500 pixels tall, with the height 1.6 times the width. (E.g. 1600 pixels wide x 2560 pixels tall.) P.S. A seasoned ebook cover designer will already know this information, but I include it in case you want to do it yourself or have a friend or relative help you out.
Both Amazon and Smashwords have tips and other information available to help you think about your cover image. Chapter 1 in Why Does My Book Not Sell?: 20 Simple Fixes by Rayne Hall also has some great tips about cover design that I hadn't seen anywhere else.
3. Publish with both Smashwords and Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).
When I first started publishing ebooks, I was overwhelmed by the learning curve and felt I was only up to the task of learning one system, so I only published on Amazon. If only I'd known how easy it was to distribute through Smashwords as well!
The primary reason I decided to start publishing through Smashwords in addition to Amazon was to reach more readers. If you format your ebook correctly (using the excellent free Smashwords Style Guide - more about that in Part 2), they'll add your book to their Premium Catalog and distribute it through 12 other channels (i.e. ebook retailers), including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple. This is great for...well, anybody who owns an ereader that's not a Kindle. Like my aunt, who has a Nook and was bummed that she couldn't buy my books when they came out.
Another major advantage to publishing your ebook through Smashwords is that you can make higher royalties through its distribution channels than you can on KDP. More detailed information about Smashwords' royalty rates can be found by creating/logging into your Smashwords account and clicking on Dashboard--Channel Manager. More information about Amazon's royalty rates can be found here.
It's true that if you distribute through more than one platform you can't participate in Amazon's KDP Select program, but after a couple of years of having my books in it and not seeing it translate into more money, I decided I could easily do without.
Oh, and did I mention that both platforms are free? Amazon and Smashwords take a percentage of the sales, which is how they make their money, but it doesn't cost you a cent out of pocket to use either publishing platform.
Come back next week for "7 Tips for Self-Publishing an Ebook, Part 2", which addresses the recommended order of operations.