This is why your self-published book looks unprofessional (and how to fix it)

This is why your self-published book looks unprofessional (and how to fix it)

bookcover2 bookcover4

Indie authors have gotten much better at understanding the importance of a professionally designed book, and many of them are hiring quality designers to help make their book look just as good as any other in the bookstore.

To differentiate their books from the self-published horde, however, traditional publishers have increasingly been using specialty printing options unavailable to indie authors working with IngramSpark or Createspace.

Effects like spot varnish, embossing, gold or silver foil have become the new standard for “professionally produced” books. For most indie authors – who focus on ebooks, where the highest profit margins reside – considering these extra steps may not make sense.


You definitely want speed and convenience so that you can use fluid marketing hacks that self-publishing enables. And attending events isn’t really a good use of your time. And mailing out review copies is expensive and time-consuming (you’d be better off doing a free promotion and getting a few thousand downloads).

Createspace and IngramSpark offer Matte vs. Gloss options now (gloss is best for most fiction and has much richer colors; matte is good for non-fiction with simple covers and can look professional, if loss of color isn’t an issue).

bookcover3And for self-publishing authors, you want to focus on POD (print on demand), and not order a thousand dollars worth of books that are going to rot in your garage.

But I was surprised to find out at the London Book Fair, from the charming Clay’s representative Rebecca Souster, that indie authors have a new option. Clay’s has jumped on the self-publishing wagon and now offers customized services for indie authors (Rebecca’s job is to work with authors directly and sort out their printing needs).

You no longer need to order a thousand copies – if I understood correctly, you can order as few as 20 books and still get all the fancy, special print effects that look amazing.

Why would you do that?

You should still rely on IngramSpark or Createspace to fulfill most of your orders; most readers will be fine with a “regular” book. (Plus – readers who buy online have already bought the book before they see it; you don’t need the “amazing” version to catch their attention).

But there are plenty of circumstances where you do need an extra edge. For example:

1. If you’re walking into bookstores and trying to get shelf space.

2. If you’re doing fancy signings or events.

3. If you’re giving out prize copies.

4. If you’re sending review copies to celebrities or Big Names.

In my case, for example, I have some books coming out that I plan to do well. Much better than a few hundred copies. I want to get in libraries, bookstores, and snag some celebrity endorsements. My book cover is going to have to work much harder than usual. It’s got to look significantly better than the averaged published book, it’s got to look incredible.

For a little more per unit than Createspace, I can order 25 books with gold foil stamping and embossing, and send them out as ambassadors to the world. They will be the display models that are used at book fairs or are sent to international rights agents. I’ll send them to my list of ideal reviewers to try and get a blurb. It won’t affect my main revenue stream (POD/ebook) but may help a lot with marketing and getting my foot in the door.

Beautiful packaging really can do amazing things for your book, if it’s so remarkable that people stop to caress the cover and marvel at it. There’s only so much you can do with Photoshop, and I’m excited to work with Clay’s to see what we can design together.

PS) While there is no minimum order, it will be significantly cheaper per book to order 50 ~ 100 books. But if you don’t need that many, you should be able to order less, though it may be expensive.

In most cases, your designer will need to make a regular cover file and an extra file in black and white with JUST the part you want to have special effects applied filled in.

So for example, if I wanted to spot varnish my text, I’d make a duplicate PDF with just the text in black, and remove everything else.



  • Mallory Miles Posted

    Thank you so much for sharing this Derek! Clay sounds like exactly the service I’ve been looking for.

    Have you gotten the books you ordered from Clay yet? Satisfactory?

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      I haven’t yet, since I’ve still only written half novels. But when I start finishing big, full books, I’ll probably do a special print run of each to send out to bookbloggers and reviewers, and make them droolworthy. 🙂

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