By Al Kalar
All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterward it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer. -Ernest Hemingway
If your publisher handles all packaging decisions, you can skip this section. However, if you will be called on to be part of the final publication process, you might get some ideas here.
Books have many sections, which vary depending upon the type of book and often by books within a type. A book consists of one or more of the following:
- Front cover
- Inside teaser
- Title page
- Copyright page
- Possible promotional material about the publisher or *organization that created the work.
- *Credits (People and organizations involved in creating the work)
- Table of Contents
- *Body of the work
- *References (bibliography)
- *About the author
- Promotional material for other books by the author or the publisher, or for related products
- Back cover
The items marked by an asterisk (*) will require your input if the item will be part of the final publication. You may be involved in some of the other items. Items in blue are the only “must have” items for a book and even the cover can be omitted for pamphlets and replaced by a Title Page.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume you will be involved in everything.
The only difference between a paper book and an eBook is the lack of a back cover on the eBook. The material normally printed on the back cover will be presented elsewhere.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. We’ll skip the pages that are obvious. For instance, everyone has seen a copyright and dedication page. Pick up any book similar to your work to see what you might want to include on the “obvious” pages.
Your cover is possibly one of the most important sales tools you have. When a buyer is scanning books at a store, the cover is what will grab his attention or lose it. A poorly done cover will cost you sales.
A cover should be appropriate to the subject matter of the book. A gaudy and colorful cover is fine for a science fiction publication, but not for a college math text.
The cover should give the title, author(s), and a very short (often a one-liner) description or “teaser” of the contents at the minimum. More promotional material can appear on the cover, but don’t crowd it. If your cover requires the services of an artist, make sure you and the artist both understand what the final product will look like. Artists will generally charge you for their work even if it doesn’t meet your requirements; after all, if you’re not clear, you’ll get what the artist thinks you want, colored by the artist’s tastes.
If you work with a really good artist, you might want to give them some leeway. They can often produce a better cover than you can imagine if allowed to.
The second most important thing is the title. It should be appropriate to the contents, short, and Enticing.
Basically a one-page sales pitch for the book or a collection of rave one-line reviews by people the reader will recognize.
For fiction, it’s often an excerpt from the story itself. Hopefully something that reflects the best part of the book and leaves the reader wanting more. Think “cliff-hanger”. A short scene that leaves the main character falling over a cliff will get the reader’s attention.
For non-fiction, it will probably be a summary of the benefits the reader will acquire from reading the book or at least a quick overview of the contents. Benefits sell better than content, but don’t be afraid to mix them together.
This is for non-fiction only. I can’t think of a work of fiction that would require an index.
Someone somewhere put a curse on the author who indexes his own book. This is a difficult thing to do. Which words are important to index and which aren’t? Obviously you can’t index them all. The hard part is to try to figure out which words or terms the reader may want a “shortcut” to when looking back over a reference work for that little tidbit she needs for her current project or problem. Get help if you can. Another pair of eyes will catch things you’ll overlook because you’re too familiar with the subject.
Get ‘em all. If you quote someone without a reference, you could end up in trouble. You can do this as footnotes within the work or create a section at the end of the book listing all your research material. You can reference the individual items by number within the body of the work.
About the Author
This is where you get to “blow your own horn”. Write it in the third person. Not “I attended BYU…” but rather “Joe Author attended BYU where he was honored as class valedictorian.” Reveal as much or as little as your personae requires. A flattering picture is nice if you’re not hiding out from your adoring public and writing under a pseudonym. Al Philipson (a pen name) uses a picture of himself, but you can’t see his face, nor any other identifying parts.
This is valuable space. You can promote your “back list” (books you’ve published previously) to create more sales of those works as well as promoting your next book. Depending upon the cost of printing, you can include excerpts from the works being promoted (eBooks are really nice here because extra pages don’t really cost much more to publish).
The artwork (if any) on the back cover is often an extension of the front cover. If you lay the book out flat, the artwork is a complete piece that starts on the front cover, wraps around the spine, and encompasses the back cover. You don’t have to do this, but if you do, the front cover portion should hold the most important elements of the artwork and the back cover shouldn’t have much of importance because you’re going to print over it.
Here’s the second section of your sales pitch. You can enter a paragraph or two of promotional material to entice the reader to buy the book. In the case of an eBook, the back cover information will have to reside on the sales page for that book.
Here’s how the average reader looks for a book (assuming she’s not pre-sold on a specific work and is “browsing”). First she notices the cover art, the title, possibly the author if she’s a fan of that writer, and the short pitch on that cover (often a one-liner). Second, she turns to the back cover for more information. If she’s still interested, she may look for the excerpt inside the front cover. If she’s really fussy, she’ll read the first page or so to see if the writing is good and the story gets off to a fast start (or the material is what she needs for her goals in the case of non-fiction). She’s also apt to look at the table of contents and do a quick leaf through the body of the work to see if the answers to her quest are within.
You and your publisher have the job of packaging all of these elements in a manner to convince the shopper to plunk down her hard-earned money on your book and to produce a product that will be worth the money spent by the reader.
Naturally, the finished product should be clean and professional in appearance.