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The Power of a Great Book Cover Design—and What To Do When You Hate Yours

Posted on: February 1st, 2017 | No comments 

Your editor sends you the JPGs in an email.  “Here is the cover design for your book. We all think it’s great!”

You eagerly open the file and . . .

Ugh.  Your stomach thuds, you feel like maybe you are getting the flu.

Here is one of those difficult transition moments I’ve written about before. When you were writing your manuscript, you were the master of your universe.

Now, you are a member of the team and have far less control. The journey of taking a manuscript to become a published book is filled with these experiences.

The cover may not be what you’d envisioned. Take a deep breath and stay calm. Your initial reaction may not be the best.

Most publishers want to hear the author’s ideas for a cover design. After all, you are the expert on your book and you (should) know your market. But unless you are a bestselling author, your contract probably says you have cover “consultation,” rather than rights to “approval.”

Your best recourse is to act as collaborative partner.  Remember that publishing professionals see the book cover as their expertise.  Book cover designers spend their lives honing a visual language for connecting with readers. They also design with issues in mind that you probably have not considered—for example, that a cover should look good as a small thumbnail on a mobile screen.

That said, we’ve seen our share of disappointing covers.  If this happens to you, here’s what I suggest.

  • First ask yourself a tough question:  Do you object to the cover because it doesn’t fit your subjective aesthetic preference?  If so, this argument alone will not leave you in a strong position. Instead, ask yourself  Will this cover speak to the right market?  If not, be prepared to explain, specifically, why.

Letting Go: A Note to Authors When Submitting to Your Editor

Posted on: September 22nd, 2016 | No comments 

A few weeks ago, my oldest son Gabriel left us for his junior college year abroad ​in Athens, Greece.  It was a bigger transition than sending him to college in Wisconsin. Yes, we can fly to Athens if absolutely necessary, but he isn’t looking for that, and the flight is long and expensive.  So this represents the first time he’s really on his own beyond a day’s travel. We are thrilled for him.  But for us, it is more difficult that we expected.  It’s another way parents need to let go, and so far he’s doing well and we aren’t looking over his shoulder but enjoying the occasional Skype or text.

Whether it is birthing pains or kids leaving the nest, transitions can leave many of us feeling fragile and anxious.  This is also true of many authors when it’s time to submit their manuscripts.

Unless you’ve written one, it’s hard to understand the mental energy required to write a book to trade publishing standards against a deadline.  Writing is original, one sentence at a time thinking, and that requires the mind’s most energy-intense work over months and years.

Authors need to navigate handing over the manuscript to the publisher without getting caught up in negative feelings or fears that can make it hard to think clearly.

None of this is to say you shouldn’t advocate for your views and concerns–or even take action if a publisher is damaging the book.  But I’ve seen how important it is for authors to distinguish between their free-floating transition anxiety, and a genuine need to advocate for themselves.

For authors, while your editor and marketing team have loved your proposal, now you are entering a new relationship. Your editor has sole responsibility for turning your pages into a quality finished product, one that lives

Key Elements of Author Websites (post 1 of 4)

Posted on: October 14th, 2013 | 1 comment 

Big Fish Media has added website design to our portfolio of services.  During the last six months, we have developed the official website for the legacy of C.K. Prahalad; and the website for the book Choosing Change, by Susan Goldsworthy and Walter McFarland.  We’ll have more news about our planned offerings soon; along the way, we’ve been doing our homework on top issues for nonfiction authors deciding to develop a website for their book. Over the next week or so, we will publish four posts offering insight, tactics, advice, and best practices to authors, drawn from our experience and analysis of successful nonfiction author websites.

Remember that in almost every case, authors need to be active in social media as well as operating a successful website. And, as Jason Allen Ashlock wrote in his excellent column The Truth About Author Websites, many experts believe a bad website does more harm than good.  Because of the importance of costs and providing updated and new content, we still recommend WordPress as the best development platform and learning to self-admin your site is critical.

Consider a few of these basic must-dos for an author’s website, assuming his or her book is going to be published commercially and in distribution:

1. Keep content fresh: whether via blogging, news updates, interactive Q&A features, or other means; don’t allow your site to become stale (if you’re going to have a blog, be committed to creating new material at least once a week). Link to your social media.

2. Invest in a WordPress-savvy designer for a simple, elegant and functional approach. That may seem like obvious advice.  What’s important is to visualize information in a style that consumers are used to: note the design on Simon & Schuster’s new websites. 

3. In terms of functionality, the

Self-Publishing: What’s Your Motivation?

Posted on: October 3rd, 2013 | 2 comments 

by Sarita Venkat

Big Fish Media is chronicling author Susan Price in a series of posts as she navigates the world of self-publishing. We follow the choices she faces, the decisions she makes, and the challenges she encounters in all areas, including research, production, and marketing. We’ll also offer tips, resources, and insights about self-publishing.

 Even before Susan self-publishes her book she has something many—if not most—self-published authors lack: a solid foundation. In our conversations I learn what sets Susan apart from other writers.

  • Having passion: If you are writing a book to make money, stop right now. The only way you’ll succeed is if you are deeply passionate about your topic. Working with parents to help them instill philanthropic values such as giving and serving in their children (toddlers to teenagers) is Susan’s passion.
  • Being clear and focused: Susan has a purpose for writing her book: she wants to update her 2001 book The Giving Family: Raising Our Children To Help Others. For the new book, she will incorporate fresh ideas and insights that reflect giving in the digital age. Susan is also writing this new book to secure more speaking engagements. (“I am an extrovert and giving speeches is a great way to interact with people.”)
  • Understanding self-publishing: Susan has already traveled the traditional publishing path with her previous six books. But she wanted to try something different this time. Similar to other authors, she wants to retain more control of the publishing process and prefers not to find an agent or publisher this time. But, Susan is aware that it won’t be easy. If you are self-publishing be clear about what parts of the process you will do and those that you will outsource.
  • Being a subject matter expert: Susan has been

How to Meet the Self-Publishing Challenge: A Case Study with Nonfiction Author Susan Price

Posted on: September 18th, 2013 | No comments 

by Sarita Venkat

I just finished reading Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch’s book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book. In excruciating detail, the authors take the reader through a step-by-step process on how to self-publish by (fittingly) self-publishing APE. The book is a guide and resource for authors exploring an alternate publishing route. It’s also a good reminder that in the digital age, it doesn’t hurt writers and publishers to know about the social and technical tools available and accessible to them.

That said, self-publishing isn’t for the fainthearted. The information is overwhelming and the choices numerous. So it got us thinking—why don’t we help demystify the process by shadowing a nonfiction author as they navigate the self-publishing maze?

Meet Susan Crites Price. Susan is a Washington, DC-based freelance writer, book author, and speaker. She an expert on the topic of family philanthropy. Susan has talked about this issue on television (Oprah, NBC’s “Today”) and has written about it in various publications (Working Mother, The Chronicle of Philanthropy).

In 2001 Susan published The Giving Family: Raising Our Children To Help Others, a highly regarded book in the philanthropic world. According to Susan, the book helped her secure some speaking engagements, allowing her to talk about a topic she’s passionate about and in the process, sell more copies. Susan is currently writing an updated version taking into account technology’s role in charitable giving. (“Twelve years ago kids didn’t give online. Today, they do a million things online—including philanthropy.”)

Susan has already traveled the traditional publishing path with her previous six books, so this time she’s decided to self-publish. Why? Similar to many people she wants more control over the publishing process and prefers not to spend time finding an agent or publisher.

So, we’ll

Apple, Steve Jobs, E-Book Prices and the Day New York Publishers Finally Tried to Kill

Posted on: July 23rd, 2013 | No comments 

If you’re going to take a shot at your most formidable enemy, don’t miss. It turns out that is what happened in the Steve Jobs-Publishing Industry-E book-Collusion-Lawsuit story. And if you’re like me, I’ll bet you find the whole set of events very hard to grasp, and somehow just not that compelling to invest hours of research to piece together. We shout “hallelujah” for the wonderful piece (“The Stupidest Thing Apple Ever Did”) in Slate by Farhad Manjoo that does a beautiful job of explaining and contextualizing the saga of how Steve Jobs used the publishers to smash Amazon’s e-book monopoly (thanks to Leah Spiro for sending to me). Well, it didn’t turn out too well except for Jeff Bezos—in the familiar position of playing the winning hand because of his superior understanding of Amazon’s consumers.

Fish Where the Fish Are: BookExpo Take Home Number 1

Posted on: July 9th, 2012 | No comments 

BookExpo America (BEA) is the big annual publishing tradeshow held in early June where publishers lay out their wares for the coming season. As a publisher at McGraw-Hill during the mid-2000s, I talked up our big titles and took more pitches than a catcher working both ends of a doubleheader. Now, as a publishing and communications consultant, I take a different strategy. This year, I decided to concentrate on seminars and panels so that I can bring the latest intel and trends to our clients.

I especially enjoyed “Reader-Centric Publishing.” Skillfully moderated by Carol Fitzgerald of, the panel all-stars were Random House president Gina Centrello, Simon & Schuster publisher Jonathan Karp, Bronwen Hruska, publisher at Soho Press, and Megan Tingly, publisher of Little-Brown Books for Younger Readers.

The upshot: publishers are transforming their companies to focus on the reader. This may sound obvious, but publishers historically have talked to booksellers about their books, and booksellers marketed to readers. Now publishers need to bypass accounts to discover where readers are, discover what they’re talking about, and engage them in conversations. Discoverability is the key word.

I loved Gina Centrello’s mantra, “fish where the fish are.” She said Random House does this by developing partnerships on platforms where large numbers of reader communities can be found. For example, they have a partnership with, where they publish original content and have an online bookstore. Jonathan Karp said Simon & Schuster has devoted lots of content marketing and attention to C-Span’s Book TV where truly passionate nonfiction readers can be found.

How can authors fish where the fish are? First, focus on data and research:

  • Explore online brands in your subject area by searching primary concepts in your book to see if they’ve published similar content;
  • Take a bestselling comparison book and