San Francisco Writer's Conference Self-Publishing Boot Camp

by | Feb 21, 2011

I’m down at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference today, giving a talk on book design for self-publishers. It’s part of Carla King’s Self-Publishing Boot Camp, which is being offered in the post-conference section.

Carla has lined up some other experts to speak also, and I’m hoping to have time to speak to some of them. A full report will be coming.

Here are two questions I’ve been thinking about as I get ready to publish my new book:

  1. Seth Godin‘s new publishing venture, The Domino Project, has announced their first book, called Poke the Box. The cover of the book has no type on it. No title, no author, no nothing. Godin says that when you see the book online, there’s always text next to it, so who needs it?
    Would you publish a book without a title on the cover?
  2. Aaron Shepard uses a square image instead of the usual book-shaped tall rectangle to show his books on Amazon. He rightly points out that it gives you a much larger area to advertise and is therefore more noticeable. But, of course it doesn’t look like a book.
    Would you advertise your book with a “cover graphic” that doesn’t look like a book cover?

Amazon links are affiliate links, thank you. Photo by Rodefeld

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Elise Connors

    Using the square images on Amazon really adds an extra “pop” to the book cover that makes it stand out amongst a sea of traditional book covers. If that square cover does nothing else, it certainly catches your eye.

    Is it a sale booster? Or worse yet, a sale killer? That remains to be seen, but as I tell all of my authors — if no one knows your book is there, they can’t buy it. If you stand out from the crowd, you’re more likely to be seen. If you’re more likely to be seen, you’re more likely to sell books (provided that your book is something the reader wants to read).

    • Joel Friedlander

      Well, it does stand out, I would have to agree with you there, Elise. But you’ve now giving me another idea of how to approach this. Thanks for your contribution.

  2. Chris O'Byrne

    I would never publish a book without a title. My approach is that of a copywriter first and designer second. I think of a book’s cover as advertising space. The title is a headline and the subtitle is also important. I would publish a book without a design on the cover, but never without words.

    I also would have no problem publishing a book without a cover graphic and would use a square design if that gave more advertising space for the cover.

    • Michael N. Marcus

      But not all books are “portrait”-oriented rectangles. I have square and “landscape” books, and did have one shaped like an uppercase “D.”

      • Joel Friedlander

        Doesn’t matter. “Book” as far as I’m concerned, in people’s minds, is a tall rectangle. BTW, did you ever see the Frisbee book Dan Poynter did that was round?

  3. Joel Friedlander

    I think it’s interesting that Michael and Mark are both willing to display a book cover that doesn’t look like a book. I guess it’s really an advertisement, but this question is part of the complex subject of the transition of books to digital forms. Today’s book buyers are still people who grew up with printed books and the forms and formats of those books are deeply rooted in our perception. The next generation will be much less attached to the physical forms and their iconic reproduction. Today, I would not use the square, triangular or other “ad” because I want buyers to see it and recognize it as a “book.” But this may not last very long. Thanks for the input.

  4. Leslie

    The square image on Amazon is a good proportion but it isn’t clear what the actual book size is. I agree that displaying a book by it’s cover on the e-reader is helpful to readers scrolling through a list of books.

  5. Christopher Wills

    I have a Kindle and my wife has a Sony Ereader. In her Ereader the books can be displayed by book covers like album covers can be displayed in iTunes. I much prefer this way than the boring list that the Kindle uses. I love my Kindle but I wish they showed covers in the lists. Maybe when colour versions cme out this will become more of a benefit and Amazon will use it.
    So to answer your question I think a cover and the information on it is important and will become more so when colour comes in, and even more so if Kindle introduce a book cover display style for their Kindle library features (are you listening Amazon?).

  6. Mark

    1. Yes. I’ve been thinking about it myself when the time comes. Crisp, clean and simple.

    2. The message is more important than the dimensions. If I liked the design and it accomplished what I wanted it to accomplish, then I’d put up a triangle-shaped image.

    Good design is a tough thing to judge. I imagine every rule in the business has been broken successfully at one time or another.

  7. Michael N. Marcus

    >>Would you publish a book without a title on the cover? <>Would you advertise your book with a “cover graphic” that doesn’t look like a book cover?<<

    Sure. Aaron seems to have started this, and Outskirts Press's Brent Sampson copied him. I've recommended the concept, but have not yet done it. The Amazon display space can be as little as 115 pixels square. A typical vertical book shows up as only 75 pixels wide and wastes about one third of the available real estate.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults),"



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