This is part of a series of posts entitled Behind The Book, where fellow author Carrie Morgan and I share the ups and downs of the writing and publishing process — traditional and self-published.
We all judge books by their cover.
No matter how much we want people to judge our stories by their actual content, it’s a foolish notion. Cover art matters. Marketing and packaging matter. In 2012, I knew this to be true, but as a self-publishing author in between careers, I simply did not have the funds to hire a graphic designer, nor did I have any awareness (if it existed at the time!) of services like SelfPubBookCovers. I winged it, solicited reviews from bloggers and existing readers from the fandom world, and hoped for the best.
Word of mouth for Change of Season fared well, but I lost the casual browsers. I knew it to be a risk, and accept that consequence. That said, as my personal circumstances changed and a sequel formed in mind, I decided that my first novel deserved a new outfit. I didn’t stop there, however; I decided that, based on feedback over the years, that alternate versions of scenes and new ones I’d omitted previously could be worked in as well.
Go big or go home, right?
So, if you’re going to re-release a previously self-published work, what do you need to know or consider?
Will you require a new ISBN/ISBN-13?
This one caught me completely off-guard. I’ve always assumed that the million iterations of textbooks with brief changes, designed to force students to keep buying new books, carried forward their initial ISBNs. Not so, per the rules of mighty ISBN itself. “Significant changes” demand a new ISBN.
Now, what exactly is considered “significant”? It’s left as discretionary. I hate vague rules. As I currently employ Createspace for my paperback needs, I opted to contact their customer service. Their response:
You are not required to obtain a new ISBN for these changes as long as the page count doesn’t change by more than 10%.
Ah, concrete numbers! I have personally interpreted this as 10% aside from font-related changes. This leaves the new edition of Change of Season with a change of 20 pages or so. Phew! No new ISBN.
If you find you have exceeded this 10% guideline, no big deal with Createspace: create a fresh new project for your new edition and once launched, remove all sales channels from the original and contact their support to arrange retiring the original as out of print/merging them so reviews will show for the new edition. Their link to Amazon is handy like that.
If you’re not able to hire a designer to custom-create your cover, you no longer have to attempt to wing it yourself with a stock photo or use Createspace’s cover creator (not a bad tool at all, but still pretty limited). One great option I recommend is SelfPubBookCovers. Here’s how it works: you browse thousands of text-free covers, choose one that suits the mood and content of your novel, and purchase it for a completely reasonable fee. You can then use their online tool or any photo editing software to add your title, author name and so on.
Remember: cover art doesn’t have to be perfect or specific to the fine details of your story. It just has to represent it. For Change of Season, I found an incredible art piece by Shardel for $79 USD. From there, I used Createspace’s templates to generate the full front and back cover version for the paperback.
I did some research on fonts that work not only on covers, but also for my genre. I really feel it made the difference and in the end, I went with a combo of Ostrich and Arial. The results: a vast improvement to the book’s original look.
Some helpful resources in designing a cover:
- Great tips on the importance of a back cover design as solid as the front cover
- A huge list of best fonts by genre
Proofing, proofing, proofing
I really cannot stress this enough. There is no substitute for physical copy proofing. You will miss things in digital proofing tools, like odd Microsoft Word nonsense courtesy of its lacklustre Widow/Orphan control features. You will discover, as I did, that if you do not make damn sure to flatten all layers and export your cover just so, that your back cover text will only be readable to the miniature Rick Moranis in Honey, I Shrunk The Kids.
Even with a re-release, the fact I chose to change scenes meant I wanted to see the physical proof. I’ve found three spacing oddities internally already. Word is a fickle, cranky pain in my ass. It also made me realize that my interior text was very readable, but also did not need to be quite so big. To save pages (and money for readers), I’ve shrunk the interior font by 0.5.
What does this mean? Yes, I ordered another physical proof. You should always order proofs until you’ve nailed it. Trust me. It allows you to hand it off to someone for another set of eyes, should you wish. Plus, you get to hold your creation, and there is no better feeling in the entire world.
Goodreads Library Considerations
So, here’s the deal with Goodreads: they keep every single cover EVER in their library. This means that even if you are only changing the cover art, you cannot change the original listing for your novel. What you must do, if your ISBN has not changed, is manually enter an alternate cover edition. Once entered, you can then set the prettier version as the default.
Full instructions are here. If you get stuck, just ask the Goodreads Librarians Group to help out; they’re super fast to respond and very kind.
If you have dramatically changed your book and have a new ISBN, you can add it from your Author Dashboard with the new ISBN and merge the books as editions of each other.
Do you now have a series, as I do? Take heed: not even Author accounts can create a series for their own titles. The Goodreads Librarians will sort you out in no time (seriously – took ten minutes from posting a request).
And there you have it: a quick round-up of considerations in creating/revising an existing work, marketing and sales channels aside. Have other tips and tricks? Share them below and keep the discussion going.