Self-publishing Cover Shenanigans

If you say “shenanigans” three times in the mirror, Brian Cox will appear and ask you why he hasn’t won an Oscar.

This is a post about self-publishing, and why Maker Space has been available since March in ebook form but took until Thursday to finally become available as an actual book.

I’m aware that some of you reading this are traditionally published authors (hi Jean!), and I am assuming that some of you are self-published (are author-published, practice artisinal publishing, engage in the craft of putting out your own writing…Ugh. Some days you just want to hit the terminology with a baseball bat and use what’s left of the pulpy mess when you’re done.). If you keep up with the publishing community in any way, you’re aware there is some controversy over which method of publishing best benefits the author. This argument can be boiled down to money and control.

Money is a big one. Royalties, obviously, but there’s also who foots the final cost of the product. Self-publishing is not cheap. Rephrase: self-publishing where the end result is a quality product is not cheap. (If you have not yet searched for “dinosaur erotica” on Amazon, please do so.*) If you pursue traditional publishing, the publisher is responsible for taking your manuscript and creating a finished product. They are also responsible for advertising, shipping, and the other elements of successful books.

At first blush, the issue of control sounds fairly simple. It asks: who maintains control over your work? If you are traditionally published, you turn over control of your work when you submit the finished manuscript. Elements of control, such as who holds the copyright and when it reverts to you, are (should be) established in your contract. The publisher is also responsible for advertising, shipping, and… Yes. That. Money and control are entwined.

I come from webcomics, and I’ve been putting out content for the better part of a decade. This has worked out pretty well for me, because I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys the process of taking my product from raw, unfinished ideas and shepherding them through the final stages. If you just did that thing where you said, “control freak” and pretended to hide it behind a cough? Thank you! When you’re responsible for putting out your own content, you are your own quality control expert, and nobody’s going to buy your shit if it looks like shit.

There are so many challenges/problems with this I can’t even, by the way. The learning curve is steep and expensive and frustrating… There are products you’re so excited to make that you forget to assess costs (case in point: the saga of the Speedy plush). There are designs you send to press and then, years later, your husband takes That One Shirt out of the closet and now you’re embarrassed that he’d still consider wearing it. To do yardwork! So, yeah, it can be horrible, and if you’re not careful, you stand a very good chance of losing a lot of money on products that won’t sell.

MAKER SPACE was the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson was a maker, so this seemed appropriate.
MAKER SPACE was the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson was a maker, so this seemed appropriate.

But it also can be wonderful, as you get more flexibility to work within the scope of your own ideas. The Rachel Peng novels were intended as a series. Seven books, with one overarching plot driving events. With that in mind, I wanted a single thematic cover design to carry over from book to book, so they’d look like a set when sitting on a shelf. Rose Loughran, who does the webcomic Red Moon Rising, is the cover artist: each book features a different landmark from Washington, D.C. The jacket design reflects the colors in Rose’s landscape painting. DIGITAL DIVIDE was all reds and golds, with MAKER SPACE in blues, purples, and grays.

Rose does the painting for the cover art, but I do content, text layout, and everything else. The cover layout for DIGITAL DIVIDE was delicious cake, and I had no serious problems getting this first book through printing. Since MAKER SPACE was the same size and on the same thematic template, I didn’t think it would be different.

/casts summon problems

I use CreateSpace as my printer. It’s owned and operated by Amazon, so do with that what you will: hopefully, all self-publishers–heck, let’s go with absolutely everybody–is aware that using Amazon and its affiliates comes with baggage. Most of this baggage is tiny and maneuverable and needs very little management within the day-to-day of your busy schedule… but then there’s that steamer trunk that’s about to crush your grandma and her local bookstore. I’ve got my reasons for using it, and one of those is that CreateSpace generates high-quality books at a reasonable price. Copies fresh off of the CreateSpace press are as sturdy as anything you’d receive from a traditional printing press, and the cover resolution is high. My husband has a loupe left over from when he used to work in printing which we use to check for DPI resolution on my products, and CreateSpace does right by Rose’s paintings.

So, right before MAKER SPACE was supposed to hit, I submit the cover to CreateSpace and order a proof copy. Cue shenanigans.


I think I ordered eight proofs in total over four months. Each time I got the copy back, there was something wrong with the cover. The color printed dark: the first two versions were purple-blue blobs. After tinkering to lighten it up, some of the colors didn’t match each other. And when I finally got the colors right, the whole cover had somehow jumped a quarter-inch to the left and the spine was misaligned.

These proofs weren’t free, by the way. CreateSpace charges me per item, same as you. I get a discount because it’s my content, but the endless proof-chain did set me back close to $70**. Now, if I were published by a traditional printer, I would have had a nice box of ARCs shipped to me prior to publication, free of charge and to distribute as I want. But I wouldn’t have had any say whatsoever in choosing the cover art, or its design, or the text on the back, or the pull quotes for the cover… Easier, less expensive (for me)? Definitely!

And I would have felt as though I had been excluded from part of the process.

Such exclusion is arguably a good thing. I might enjoy controlling the development of a product, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got specialized skills in cover design, font selection, or so on. I think the final layout of the book cover is solid; it could probably be better. In ten years, I might look back on the Rachel Peng covers like those ratty old embarrassing tee shirts in the back of the closet.

Today? I enjoy what I do and how I do it, and I’m better at it than when I started. Life’s a process, too.


*I am not suggesting that all dinosaur erotica is of terrible quality. I am merely saying that I have judged these books by their hastily Photoshopped covers, and by titles such as Turned Gay by Dinosaurs.

**Always figure in shipping and handling. Always.

Published by KBSpangler

A freelance editor who writes novels, comics, and repairs a disaster of a house in her spare time:

11 thoughts on “Self-publishing Cover Shenanigans

  1. You know what? I think one of your Patreon bonuses should be eye bleach. Because you told me to search a thing, and I totally did. I am made of regret and the longing for blindness.

      1. I don’t even what the who ……………………..

        You need to borrow a cue from James Nicoll and have a memetic prophylactic recommended tag.

  2. Ick. Your cover art saga reminds me of when my wife and I used to do wedding photography. We rather quickly discovered how badly most places handle color when making prints from digital files. After having to browbeat one online vendor into giving our client a refund for screwed-up cards made from some of our photos, we tested several places so we could give recommendations. (In case you’re curious, Adorama (photo specialist place) and Costco were the most reliable back when we did that).

  3. Quote from above: “There are so many challenges/problems with this I can’t even, by the way” (yes, self publishing and *cough* quality control *cough* – that sentence needs a band aid πŸ™‚ ). However, wind ups aside, yes, mucho agreement as always, stop being so sensible :).

    I won’t be visiting the dinosaur erotica because I’m fresh out of mind bleach, but I believe you (I tend to visit review of the “veet for men” product if I want to have a laugh – recommended, but don’t drink anything while you read them). I am myself slowly heading towards bringing out a book, so I’m interested in your experiences. Fortunately, I also have a few contacts who have worked their way through this process already so I may just about manage to avoid the key issues and focus on (lack of) style and zpelshecking the resulting oevre, or 20 page short guide if I bore of it prematurely. I already know what will be on the cover, not because I want to but because of what the book is about: it will have to have some picture of me. There’s some irony in the reasons for this which I won’t bother you with, I’ll send you a copy of it when I finally complete it, which may actually happen this century.

    I hope I can move that picture to the back cover. In black and white. As a shadowy outline only. Which means I still need a front cover.

    Aaaaaaargh.. πŸ™‚

  4. Seven books? Oh, wow! I do hope you saying “WERE intended as a series” doesn’t mean this is scrapped in any way, because, five more Rachel Peng books? Sign me up! πŸ˜€

  5. Had had the opportunity to know an author through the entire cycle: when I was a kid he was my stepfather’s friend who had a couple of novels he was hoping to get published, and then he sold one, got famous, and … He passed away a year or two ago after being a professional author for 3 decades.
    When they told him the artist they wanted for the cover of the first novel he sold (the “commercial” one he wrote when they kept telling him his first and second novels weren’t “commercial enough”), he looked at the guy’s previous work and noted that they were all very dark and not eye-catching on bookstore shelves. “Big fan of purple.” So he asked the publisher to tell the artist that he had to “have something on the cover that is orange”.

    THE TITLE was orange.

  6. As always, thanks for the self-publishing information. I’m a long-time silent reader who’s tired of the traditional publishing black hole (agents who don’t respond to queries, publishers who don’t respond to queries), and am now looking at self-publishing. . . and your comments over the past few years have been a nice trail-blaze to follow. Thank you. πŸ™‚

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