Welcome to episode 20 of Publish Your Purpose: An Author’s Journey.

In this episode we cover –

  • The ins and outs of cover designs and what to consider.
  • Pros and Cons of 99 Designs
  • The Amazingly talented Lisa Knight has joined Team PYP
  • The unique relationship between an Author and Designer
  • Accountability + Collaboration = Brilliant Beauty
  • Working with a designer and the importance of flexibility
  • It’s not just the Cover, it’s the spine and back as equally important
  • Bottom line:  This is the Fun Stuff, relish in the moment.

The Publish Your Purpose Podcast: An Author’s Journey features the unique relationship between an author and their publisher. This podcast follows author, Mark David Gibson, through the publishing process of his memoir “Served in Silence.” Alongside him you’ll hear from Publish Your Purpose Press Founder and CEO, Jenn T. Grace, as she navigates Mark through this journey. This authentic, empathetic, and at times comedic duo will take you on the journey from having an idea in your head to holding a book in your hands. You’ll go through all of the emotional ups and downs with Mark as this podcast covers his experience in real time. You’ll learn how to be better prepared when you set out to write your story. Whether you are writing a memoir or any non-fiction where a piece of your story is shared, you’ll be better equipped for success after having listened to this show.

Jenn and Mark have volunteered and donated their time. If you’d like to support the show on Patreon you can do so for just a couple of dollars a month, which is less than a cup of coffee! Your contribution will help with the hosting and transcription of the show. Support us on Patreon at Patreon.com/PublishYourPurpose.

Music provided in this episode was provided by www.bensound.com.

Read the transcript below or download the PDF by clicking here.

Publish Your Purpose

Episode 20

Jenn: We are done with the Served in Silence manuscript. We’ve done with the editing. We’ve now moved into the fun stuff; the cover design. So we have your cover. It’s already been designed for quite some time. We also already have a proof copy of the book in hands. It’s taking all I have not to share it with everyone. You specifically don’t want to share your cover just yet. This is a little bit the reverse of what we advise people to do, but you’re waiting until your launch. What is your rhyme and reason behind that?

Mark: I was really focused on the manuscript during the Author’s Academy. It was fun to learn in the Academy, but still put my head down and finish my manuscript. This was one of those times. In the Author’s Academy you got to learn about developing a cover and what that looks like. The homework experience of shopping at a bookstore or on-line – what is attractive to you? What colors are really good to you? I enjoyed this part of the process.

What we thought about doing and customizing it for Served in Silence… I wanted to do a test to help me get to the finish line for the cover. You may remember we did a Facebook Live event for my cover party where I was able to take the finalist (from the national survey we did on the platform and Facebook) and I hosted an event at my home in Atlanta where we brought people in to see all of the wonderful designs that we received. The thought behind it was, considering the great response we got from the cover party, we wanted to make the launch extra special. That’s why we wanted to unveil the cover at the time of the launch. Now we’re laser focused on March 31st and the big launch of the book.

Jenn: We are all systems go. We are a solid six weeks ahead of deadline on your book. It’s unheard of in the publishing industry! We are so close to going live and it’s exciting! We have about a month and that’s a HUGE amount of time and we’re pretty much done.

I want to share a little bit about what we advise in the Author Academy as the process for getting a cover design and then get your feedback of your experience.

About halfway through the Academy at about week six or seven, we start talking about the cover. For me, I really appreciate the 99 Designs platform. However, I have a moral conflict with it sometimes because you have hundreds of designers (sometimes) doing the design or mock-up for free that are competing with each other for you to pick the winner. The great part about it is that you get the diversity of options. It’s not just having one designer giving you a lot of variations on exactly the same design. Some designers have a very specific style that they just add different elements to and other designers are brilliant and are able to hand you a bunch of designs that look nothing alike. I really like 99 Designs because you get  good diversity and range of options.  A lot of times you don’t really know what you’re looking for going into it; especially with covers. I hear so often “I’ll know it when I see it.” It’s not helpful when I’m trying to convey criteria to a designer! We have to provide parameters. In the Academy we provide very clear parameters around “these are the things you want to be thinking about for designing your cover… Your preferences for fonts, colors, imagery, examples of other covers you like, etc. are things you want to be thinking about.

While you were in the Academy, after you signed an agreement to have us publish your book, we opted to go the 99 Designs route to get your cover done.

[Side note: One of the 99 Designs designers actually became part of the Publish Your Purpose staff as internal designer!]

99 Designs is an affordable way to get a cover designed. There are a lot of options and a few drawbacks (which we wont get into). What was your experience – highs, lows, pros/cons.

Mark: If you’re working on your manuscript, this is one thing that can really derail your manuscript process because it’s so much fun! This is the face of your baby. This is what presents your book to the world. I loved it! Like most things in life. . . I just go all in. We had discussed the different options about what would be best for Served in Silence. The decision was to go with 99 Designs for all the things you just talked about…the diversity and meeting different designers. I really liked the process for the fact that I didn’t know in advance what I wanted.

Even if you say “I don’t really care about the font, or other details.” I think you would when you go shopping [look at other books] and then you see something and you’ll say, “Oh, I don’t like that!” And then you can start by saying “Okay, I like this story and how it’s blocked out, etc.” What you’re doing is submitting to someone with a blindfold on and all they hear is what your description of what your book is, and what you want that image to portray of your written words. That’s the part that is magical.

You told me I would get a dozen or so solid designs to pick from. I’m like, “Okay. Fine.” And I’m talking to the consultant, and she said, “The description of your book is great.” You want to give a lot of detail as succinctly as possible, to help the designers get in your mind as to what to present back. The consultant said I would probably get a couple of dozen renditions. Well after we launched the contest, I did not sleep very much. My computer is in the office next to my bedroom. The volume was up. And every time you get a new design, they send a little email. Bing, bing, bing bing bing bing. It was like Christmas. I was just rushing in because I was continually getting the updates of what people were submitting. It’s all over the world, which does make it very interesting and very diverse [also why the designs were coming in all night!]

I got an email from 99 Designs saying ‘we have a problem with the platform.” I don’t like problems. She said, “there’s not enough space because we’re up to nearly 100 designs!!!” That might have been one standard design and then variations on that design; it wasn’t 100 different designers. They had to increase the space for the graphics so I could pick. She was nice about it but said I have to really start narrowing it down! And that’s the piece that I think is most critical because the designers that I started working with, it was difficult to pare it down to just ten. And then five and then 3, 2, 1.

I think that the reason that I chose the designer I chose is not only because of the stellar cover (which represented everything that we wanted), plus we did the survey, then we did the Facebook live event (with you coming in, Fern down in Florida), what I really liked most about the designer was the accessibility. And talking to the designer. She asked “what do you think about this?” It wasn’t just… do whatever you want. She listened to “Here’s what I think; this is why we don’t want to use this color; this is why we don’t want to do this font; I think that it tells the story because…” I felt an instant connection and, based on our public opinion poll, so did the public. They picked the cover that we went with, hands down. So we were very excited about that.

I think that in discussing the 99 Designs, it was the accessibility to the artist is really where you get to pour your heart and soul and energy out. To have someone that is receptive to that and is able to draw that and render it in a cover is brilliant. You know you’re just feeling the love when you get to work with someone like Lisa.

Jenn: I agree. I’ve used 99 Designs for a really long time and referred countless people. Not just for book covers, but for logos and any other type of design projects. We have a bench of designers that we invite personally to any contest that we set up and that’s what we did with yours.

The big take-away from this conversation is that when you are working with a designer (on 99 Designs or with an individual) always ask for what the back cover will look like. You can be very creative with a front cover. And you can be brilliant in design, but the back cover is where it takes a different type of brain to figure out how everything that needs to fit is going to fit on the back cover. That is something that we have first hand experienced, not having asked that question early on with helping authors and realized we were up a creek because the back cover looked like a disaster. Your back cover came out really sharp.

Mark: For somebody that’s a new author, I wouldn’t have had a clue about that. It’s so true that your designer really could do the perfect front cover and then it’s a train wreck in the back. Or to your point, the spine. They are kind of three different elements all combined into one and you need someone that is an expert in all three.

Jenn: Correct. Fortunately, many moons ago I had a graphic design business, so I was able to fix the problems that designers had created, but now we just know. As part of that process we ask to be shown what the back cover will look like too.

The amount of designs that you ended up coming up with, all fantastic. At the end you want to have some idea what the market likes and what they want to get, but at the end of the day it’s still your work, it’s your book. So even if you were opposite in opinions of the people that gave you feedback, you could say “I don’t really care what people have to say; I’m going to do what I want to do anyway.” I know with one of my own books, everyone, overwhelmingly wanted the other way, and I went with what the market wanted. I wasn’t married to either way, I just had a preference. Those are things you want to be mindful of.

Mark: Totally agree. If you put yourself in a box of this is what I have my mind set on, it’s going to be really difficult for a designer to actually be able to render that. I went in wide open – ready to receive what these words that I’m writing translates to artists and designers. Glad I did it that way. I knew it when I saw it. Put it to the test. Overwhelming response was the cover we choose and I don’t regret if for a second.

Lisa has been there with me through the entire process; even when we wanted to tweak or change or lighten, do the back cover, the spine, all of that… I think that’s really key. I’m so exited that you’re going to be able to guide authors through the whole process.

Jenn: The beautiful part, the outcome of you and Lisa working together and being so close, is that Lisa and I were working together as well and now she has been working on things behind the scenes for us. She’s our go to person for other authors who need to work on this.

There are really talented, amazing designers on the platform. Most of them do prefer to actually go through it.

Mark: The other advantage to the author of working with Lisa, is that she has the entire playing field of how does the cover go hand in hand with logos and author branding.

Jenn: And then there’s how does your headshot fit into the cover? One author of ours, her cover is mostly black, gray and bit of yellow and her personal brand logo is greenish with black and gray so we had to make sure that that logo strategically looked well on the back cover. We were able to get it to look seamless. People aren’t always thinking about that.

Another example, Dr. Maysa Akbar’s book, Urban Trauma, has a gorgeous back picture of her, black and white, fits so perfectly with this cover. [holding up cover] In the original head shot, she’s wearing a canary yellow dress with make-up on and bright red lipstick. We can’t put that on the back of this book because the tone of the cover has a very specific tone to it. Putting something with a pop of color distracts from the intention of the cover tone. We strategically had her do a photo shoot in dresses that all match the cover and then we were able to take the one in the black dress, turn it black and white, and it fits the tone of the cover so well. You want to be really mindful of things like that. If you have a really bright, vibrant book where your message is about ass kicking and authority, and it’s magenta, then having a black and white photo where you’re somber looking is probably not the energy that you’re trying to bring to the table. Same thing in reverse. So it’s stuff like that that a good designer (and the way that we think we operate) will think through everything we do, that has some bit of strategy to it that the average person would have no idea that that’s even something to be considered into the equation.

Mark: Case in point, my original photo was me looking straight on, and it was Lisa’s guidance to take it and black wash out in the back, and then have me turn a bit. Now my bio information is tilted and flows across the page.

Jenn: The justification looks really good.

Mark: You want to look at your cover with a sense of pride and love. I really was able to get that through [working with] Lisa. My ability to access Lisa is how I knew I could get to the finish line with Lisa. Within 24 hours she would respond to an email with “Hey I’m going to get back to you”, or she would get back to me with an answer. That’s really important when you’re going through that portion of the process.

Because she is an expert at all three aspects [front cover, back cover, spine], when you’re getting close to the finish line, you’re the one that facilitates “here are the actual measurements”, “here’s the size of the book”, she already knows. You don’t have to tell her because she already knows how to make adjust the picture on the spine, etc.  There’s a lot of detail to make sure that you’re presented in a professional way.

Even down to the flag. It seems pretty easy. But she asked me “Do you want a rolling flag? Do you want a flat flag? What does the flag look like?” It’s all of those detailed things that I’m not paying attention to. It was a lot of fun. Make it fun, people. Don’t stress yourself out about something like this. You want the cover to reflect the hard, hard work you’ve done on your manuscript, but like with your writing, have fun with it.

Jenn: Adding a little touch of creativity on the spine, you can never go wrong with that. I think that’s something that people don’t even consider – what their spine will look like. I bought a self-published book a couple of weeks ago and there’s no spine. I stuck it on my bookshelf and it’s just black. Well that’s not helpful.

When you self-publish, you might not even be aware of that. Making sure that the front cover and the spine are lined up correctly is not an easy task for someone that doesn’t know what they’re doing.

I think yours came out fantastic and I can’t wait for people to see the finished result. I’ll post my selfie of me getting the book at the mailbox on launch day [keeping it secret for now!]

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