Book Designers or Book Design Templates?
Freelance journalist Simon Owens wrote a brilliant investigative piece on how the rise of self-publishing has led to a boom of freelance editing services. This is also true in all the other areas of a book’s production, like cover design, layout, and formatting – and is even a growing trend in marketing and publicity.
Most independent authors publish with a “digital first” approach; they tend to invest less in book interior design, layout and typography because most e-readers have standard formatting whereby the reader chooses the font, size and colour. That leaves the cover design. But even with book covers, the thumbnail size of books on Amazon has prompted many authors to think twice before heavily investing in a professional cover design (where quotes can range from $200 to $2000).
This tendency to cut corners on design has given birth to another possibility in the past few years: pre-made book layout and cover design templates. It has also given birth to some fantastic websites like Lousy Book Covers and Kindle Cover Disasters, but that’s another story…
Book design templates: Opportunities and risks
Here’s how Joanna Penn put it in a blog post on DIY book cover design: “Although I personally believe in paying professionals, I’m also aware that some people want to have a go themselves, or need to because of budget restraints.”
That’s the great thing about today’s publishing landscape: there are enough options out there to suit all kinds of authors, including the budget-conscious or DIY-lovers. Joel Friedlander from The Book Designer offers pre-made book design templates. Graphic design startup Canva has a free online book cover maker. And a number of other websites offer templates and DIY tools for authors to make their own covers based on existing templates.
Of course, the risk when using a template is a copyright one. If the site you purchase the template (or pre-made cover) from doesn't grant you the rights — or an exclusive perpetual license — as a result of the purchase, then they might be re-selling that pre-made cover to other authors. That's how so many authors end up with covers that look almost identical to another one out there.
So, to the question: is it worth investing in a book designer with all the free tools, templates, imagery and DIY advice out there? To answer, I decided to start a little Facebook survey on two indie author groups.
A Facebook survey
Most of the members of these groups are professional indie authors who take their writing careers just as seriously as a traditionally published author would. They are educated enough to know about all “options” out there.
In a sample of 116 respondents:
- 70% indicated they worked with a professional designer or design company
- 27% indicated they did their own covers
- 3% indicated they purchased pre-made cover design templates
Note 1: Over 50% of the DIY-enthusiasts in this survey are actually either professional designers (as well as indie authors) or well-versed enough in editorial design to produce covers of a same quality standard as traditional publishing.
Note 2: Several authors (around 20) indicated in the comments that they worked with a professional designer for some of their “main” books and did the covers themselves for short stories.
If over 80% of authors in this sample place a high enough value on book design to consult and hire a professional, it seems reasonable to say that debuting authors should do the same. In an extremely competitive market, first-time authors who want to realistically compete with seasoned professionals would do well to note the value a professional designer can add.
DIY tools offer great value to those who already possess design skills, but cannot replace or teach those skills to the uninitiated. Book design templates can be a starting point for a cover, but are rarely “just right” for the book, which means they will need to be tweaked… and then we’re back to requiring design skills.
The results of this mini-survey should come to readers as a relief. For a while, the rise of templates and cheap designs seemed to be leading the book industry towards more visual standardization. Indie authors continuously contribute to publishing’s diversity by blending genres, inventing new ones, and revealing new niche markets. It’s important that this pioneering diversity is equally represented in a new range of book designs.
More awesome posts on book design:
- 6 Tips for Briefing your Book Designer
- Book Design in Self-Publishing: Breaking New Ground
- The Perfect Book Cover