How to be productive during a typhoon and on other days you don’t feel like doing anything.

995184_10153175169850790_491888439_nDear Authors – given my decade of living overseas and moving around pretty regularly, I didn’t think relocating to Tainan (Taiwan), a city I’ve already lived in for many years, would eat up too much of my productivity time. It only took a day to find an apartment, another day to pick out and order furniture.

What I didn’t count on was the raging typhoon outside, which is making it hard to hear myself think. We also don’t have a fridge (or shelves) yet so there’s nowhere to hoard the snacks I like to have available. My office is a folding chair in an empty room. Luckily I’m not feeling overwhelmed with orders yet (I’ve got about ten right now, most of them I’ve already started), although I don’t like to put things off when I could keep working.

Anyway, things should be pretty settled in a few days when the damn rain stops and I finish making my apartment comfortable and conducive to creativity and productivity; until then I’m reachable by email (thank goodness I already had a phone contract and my iphone can be used as a portable wireless hub).

The next 12 months are going to be life-changing for me, and for you too I hope. Good luck to us all in finishing our projects, creating something brilliant, and reaping success!

How to design your own book covers in MS Word

I’m finally getting started on my 100 DIY book covers in MS Word project. The idea is to design book cover templates that indie authors can easily edit and change to make their own.

I was pretty sure I could make great covers in Word, but I’m only really beginning to figure things out.

Here’s one I made this afternoon. I took a picture of the whole workspace.



Here’s another one I made tonight, in about 30 minutes.


Is it just me, or are these pretty freaking amazing for book covers made in MS word? And they aren’t even finished yet. It’s crazy that these covers are taking me much less time than ones made in photoshop, because with Word I can really easily strip out the background, change colors and contrast, make cool wavy text like the one above.

It’s both incredible and humbling, exciting and depressing. Maybe I’ll just stick with Word for book cover design. 🙂

My new plan is to come out with 100 templates a year, and sell those as a big package alongside client work.


UPDATE – you can now get a bunch of free book design templates at and make your own awesome book covers in Microsoft Word!


Cover design secrets that sell books

If you need help, make sure to download my free guide!

I’ve helped design over 1000 book covers, including hundreds of bestsellers – download my free book to learn all the insider secrets I use to sell more books. Click here to get it now. I’ll also share some of the advanced book marketing tactics I’ve used to make a full-time income with my writing.

New thriller book cover design for Joanna Penn

Man I love designing book covers. Here are some samples for an upcoming thriller by Joanna Penn. Like all my projects, designing a book cover is a process of experimentation and elimination. The final result can’t be predicted.















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Can you use Indesign to format books? Want more clients and extra income? Job opportunity for book formatters!

Hi there. Are you an interior book formatter, who helps self-publishing authors layout their books in InDesign?

Want to find more clients and increase your income?

I’m developing a package of InDesign templates and requesting submissions from talented book layout experts.

First of all, I’m not asking you to work for free or spend a lot of time.

All I need you to do is take some of your previous, finished client work, strip out the original story, and change the fonts/unique decorations.

I don’t need a full book, just the basic elements and 2 chapters.

“Why would I do that? What do I get out of it?”

First, I’ll choose the best submissions and put them together in a package of 50 InDesign templates, with bonuses, hundreds of graphic elements, and extra perks. I’ll make a high conversion website, get lots of rave reviews, and sell it online for $50. I’ll set it up as an affiliate product that you can sell from your own site and get 51%.

You probably know only a fraction of your website visitors order your book formatting or layout services, and that many indie and self-publishing authors aren’t ready to invest $300~$500 to get their book ready for print and publication.

Tons of indie authors are searching for ways to make their own books; they’re downloading free InDesign book templates. Even the use of Word book templates have become popular, simply because it cuts costs.

Having a lower priced product on your site for $50 will let you earn something from those visitors who land on your site but aren’t ready to order your services.

Save time on book layout and design

This package will be most useful to other book formatters (like yourselves). You can do light customization of the 50 templates (change some of the fonts and graphics) and show them to your clients, which will greatly speed up the design process. As a graphic designer, I’m also going to add in hundreds of ready to use dividers and decoration images; you can just ask your client to pick one and match the chapter fonts with the cover, and create a quick and unique layout that your client likes.

And it will also turn into more client work because…

Authors who buy the package will probably not have InDesign themselves, or it will be frustrating for them to use.

They will need to hire a book designer or layout expert to customize the template for them. One of the package’s selling points will be a list of talented interior book formatters that can help authors customize the templates.

If any of your submitted InDesign templates is chosen for the 50 book layouts, I’ll add you to the list.

I’m not asking you to work for free

I’m asking you to partner with me, earn the majority share (51% of sales sold from your website), and get your website listed in an exclusive list of interior book layout specialists.

All I need you to do is take some of your older work, spend 20 minutes tweaking it, and send it to me. I won’t use it myself. I won’t put it in the package unless I’m also promoting your website.

My own time and investment will be more significant; I’ll design the website, create all the product graphics, prepare bonuses, find partners, advertise heavily, and offer it on my book cover site (which is getting a ton of traffic already).

I do book cover design, so I’m not a competitor, but I can be your ally.

One more thing

I would like to set up the package with a coupon for customization; so that they could buy the package knowing that they will also save some money if they need to have an interior book formatter finish it for them.

I’m hoping you’ll agree that, if they already have the package (which includes graphics), on the condition that they’ve already chosen which template, fonts and graphics to use, that your work will be greatly reduced.

I think giving a $100 discount to authors who’ve already bought the package and know what they want, is reasonable.

I’d like to offer this discount along with the list of interior book formatters, saying that the designers on the list have agreed to finish books from the templates for $100 off.

I believe the discounted rate is fair for the time saved… and if you want to sell the package on your site you should be making extra income anyway, but please tell me when you submit if you are OK with this.

If your submitted designs are not chosen for the 50 layouts included, or you don’t think this is worth your time, you’re still welcome to sell the product as an affiliate to make some extra cash (you’ll be seeing it everywhere once it’s done; I’ll make a bunch of stylish adboxes, it won’t take any effort to sell). I’m putting a lot of time and resources into developing this, it’s going to look amazing and get a ton of traffic, but I understand if you’re not interested.

If you want to participate, I’m putting a very simple layout below of what I’d like to see (front matter, dedication, TOC, 4 Chapters, About the Author, etc.) It’s very short (about 25pages). You can use the same dummy text (Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet). Here’s the template: creativindie-indesigntemplate.

I’m doing them all at 6″x9″ but please change the margins, location of the chapter headers and page numbers however you want (they’re in the top in the sample, but the bottom is fine too). Would like to see lots of variety in layout: font size, line spacing, indents vs. no indents, some with drop caps, some without. Simple changes, nothing fancy. I’m sure you already have several designs from past projects that you can use, just copy/paste the dummy text and you’re done.

Don’t worry about decoration or dividers, you can just use the  * * * I’ve already added under the chapter titles and the section breaks. I will go through later and replace them with decoration choices from the large collection I’m including with the package.

The only problem is the fonts: I can’t include fonts directly in the package.

You’ll need to use free fonts, or Google fonts, and then provide download links to those fonts (you could add those to the end of each InDesign template?) I’d like to see a variety of nice, fun chapter fonts (even though authors will probably change them later). I’d like you to send 10 variations if you can, with different genres in mind (horror, romance, fantasy, etc.) That way I can select unique ones from all the submissions and make a strong and diverse collection.

You can tweak the template, save as “number1”, tweak for 10 minutes, change the fonts, save as “number2” etc. You could finish 10 variations in a couple hours.

I could pay for someone on Elance to do it for me (and I will if I have to) but that’s such a wasted opportunity, when you could be getting a ton of free publicity and marketing for your business. I wanted to make it a community project that we will all benefit from.

PS) You may think using a template is cheating, and you prefer to do everything from scratch. That’s understandable… but authors almost always prefer to look at several samples, and with no basis, you’re just guessing and trying things until you get lucky. Starting from a template, just to get the basic layout right, and having hundreds of dividers and graphic elements for them to choose, saves a lot of time. And when you change the fonts and decoration, it will be 100% unique (depending on the project, you may find something more specific to use for the dividers anyway).

No hard feelings if you pass on this, like I said, I’ll get it done anyway. I’m just trying to spread the wealth and encourage collaboration between artists.

If you’re ready to put some of your old designs to good use, spend an hour or two, and get more clients and a ready to go product you can sell and increase your income, just send your tweaked designs to me: [email protected].

PPS) I’m only going to accept designs until August 15th, so that I can try to finish the product and have it selling by the end of August. So please send them in the next 2 weeks.

PPPS) If you still don’t feel comfortable contributing, and would like to email me a bid for paid work (just in case I don’t get enough samples) that’s fine too.

On Elance I would put this project up, probably for about $100 for 10 variations (since they’re small and very simple; 10 variations should take maximum 5 hours). The email link to your business in the package would be worth much more than that. If you need the cash, let me know, and I’ll contact you if I still need more designs after the other designers have sent in their work.

Regardless of whether you to decide to join, I wish you well in your business, and I’ll keep your link/contacts on my resources page.

UPDATE: I changed the template file, so it has 4 chapters and an automatic TOC:

Here’s the template again, excited to see what you come up with!



Why self-publishing authors are their own worst enemy

I just redid my website design. Pretty slick huh? I also rewrote a lot of my “sales copy.” I’m realizing that my tone often sounds harsh, judgmental, critical, rather than loving and supportive.

But after working with self-publishing authors for several years, this is why:

Traditionally published authors don’t have control over the final product. This means that the publishing company can hire book editors, book doctors and book designers to polish everything up and make it into something that will sell. The publisher spends a lot of money. They want a return. So obviously, they don’t ask the author, who has no experience in design, marketing and sales, for his/her feelings or opinions.

Self-publishing authors, on the other hand, have total control. They can hire the best designers, formatters, and then tell them exactly what they want. If they’re lucky, the person they hire will give them something different, but much better, than what they asked for.

If they’re unlucky, they’ll get someone who listens to them and does whatever they want.

I’m somewhere in the middle: after all, clients are my customers. They tell me what to do, I recommend something else. I tell them what I would do, or the cover design I would choose. Some listen, some don’t. But as a whole, self-publishing authors are by far their own worst enemy. Their book is a vanity project: they trust their own judgment and wishes and feelings more than the cold hard facts of market research, testing and professional experience.

I don’t hate authors. I love authors. I want to help them succeed. That’s my job, my duty, my passion: to make your publishing journey successful. I do the best I can… but sometimes you oppose me. There’s a conflict of interests. Not always. Some authors are brilliant marketing strategists who know everything about publishing and make smart, purely pragmatic, decisions.

Just be careful you know which kind of author you are.

See? There I go sounding harsh and judgmental again! Apologies. 🙂