When it comes to self and indie publishing — especially if you’re doing all of the design work on your own — it’s important to find sources of unbiased feedback wherever you can. And it’s never too early to start searching! This goes for content, interior design, and cover design.
First, let’s talk about the meaning of unbiased . . .
An unbiased source is a person who has no skin in the game. It’s someone who can give you constructive feedback without risking the dynamics of your personal relationship. Your Mom and your best friend aren’t unbiased. Sorry.
As much as I hate to admit it, my Beta readers are all friends and family. So, I do feel a little hypocritical writing this right now. But here’s the deal: my husband has two English degrees, and my best friend is an editor. They are professionally trained to provide feedback, so they’re not afraid to do it. Also, as someone who majored in Creative Writing and grew up taking music lessons, I’m professionally trained to receive it.
That sounds so silly when it’s written out, but it’s important to make it clear that feedback doesn’t hurt my feelings in the slightest. If my best friend tells me a whole chapter sucks and needs to be rewritten, or that a character just doesn’t sound consistent in a scene, I don’t take offense. In fact, I feel relieved because I know they’re being honest with me and doing their best to make sure I don’t embarrass the shit out of myself. (Much obliged, guys.)
So, if you’re open to criticism and have trained professionals as outlets for feedback, you can probably get away with it. If not, you’re just going to have to bite the bullet and hire someone.
The content of your book is everything that’s not there for aesthetic purposes. It’s the information, the stuff that will be there even if you redesign the cover or turn it into an audiobook. Content includes:
- The text of the novel (not the layout, but the actual writing itself)
- The acknowledgements section
- The dedication
- The author bio
- The blurb/hook on the back of the book
When it comes to content, if you don’t know people who are capable of providing unbiased feedback, you’re going to want to hire an editor, or even multiple editors. There are many different types of editors, but the two you’ll want to consider are:
- Developmental Editors: Those who help with structure, plot, etc. (They get deep into the nitty-gritty of the story.)
- Line Editors: Those who check for typos, grammatical errors, and other surface-level issues.
Now, when it comes to novels with no images or art, the interior design is actually pretty universal. Really, you just need to look up appropriate font pairings and play around until you find something that looks pleasing to the eye. For this, you can ask just about anyone who enjoys reading. Basically, the goal is to make sure that it looks standard and professional.
However, if your book includes lots of photography, images, or art, you’ll definitely want to hire a professional to do the interior design and layout. Often, cover artists offer interior design options, so it’s certainly something to look into as you continue on your publishing journey.
I’m not going to lie, I did my cover by myself, and there are aspects that I love and aspects that I hate. I researched current covers and worked on my design for months (see Week 4: Productive Procrastination with Cover Art for details) and considering I had never used Photoshop in my life before this adventure, I’m pretty pleased with the results.
But unfortunately, I don’t know any graphic designers, so I was never convinced by the feedback I was getting from betas and other individuals involved in the project. So, I decided to go out in search of unbiased feedback. Shortly after my novel was published, I found a website (The Book Designer) that hosts an e-book cover design award for self-published and indie books.
The competition is held once a month, it’s free to apply, and all submissions are given feedback, even if it’s something quick, like “This cover needs to be redesigned by a professional,” or alternatively, “Looks good.” And honestly, just scrolling through past posts was helpful when it came to checking for appropriate design elements.
Yesterday, I received my feedback in the March 2020 lineup, and to my relief, the judge called it “A solid cover design with all elements in the right place.” And honestly? That’s all I wanted to know.
I didn’t submit with the hopes of winning the award (there are some beauties in the running). Really, I just wanted confirmation from an unbiased professional that my cover design was effective. And now, I can sleep at night knowing that everything is as it should be.
But even if you’re not ready to hand over your work for feedback yet, it’s never too early to start making a list of potential sources. So, if you need a little break from writing, start digging around on the internet. See what’s out there, and good luck to you!
How do you approach feedback for your work? Feel free to share and leave a link to your author website in the comments section below!