The most important publishing guideline is to put out a professional product. That entails several factors, starting with the book itself. This should go without saying, but I’ll mention it anyway: the writing must be solid. The story has to be engaging, the characters believable. I highly caution against publishing one’s first novel. Write it, set it aside and move onto the next. This point should be a separate post, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
Another part of having a good book is making sure your manuscript has been proofed. Inexpensive proofreaders have sprung up in the last year or so, a new cottage industry aimed at helping writers. I’ve used two proofers in the past, Diana Cox at Novel Proofreading and Neal Hock at Hock’s Editing Services. Both are affordable, a pleasure to work with and each has a sharp eye toward detail.
It’s also essential to have interior formatting that’s pleasing to the eye. Too many publishers, especially in the small press — I’m looking at you, Deadite — cut costs by slashing page counts. Because of this, each page has too many lines and font that’s so small it’s headache inducing. Aesthetics are key, whether in print or the digital realm. Formatting an e-book is vastly different than page layout for a print book. Download the free Smashwords Style Guide to get an idea of the unique pitfalls associated with e-books. Don’t be intimidated; it’s easier than it sounds.
The third main component of putting out a professional product is fantastic cover art. You need an eye-catching cover because readers will judge your book by it. Ornate, detailed covers are great when you’re holding a physical copy in your hands, but simplicity is better otherwise. Most people will first see your book cover as a thumbnail. At that size, complexity in cover art is not an asset. It’s best to have a single striking image that entices readers to click on your link, plus standard information like title and author name.
The cover doesn’t necessarily need to transmit the exact details of the plot so long as it conveys the overall feel of the novel. The Shadow Wolves is a prime example. The book takes place in the Sonoran Desert, yet the cover shows a line of pine trees in the background. The minor details don’t matter as much as the snarling, bloodthirsty werewolf in the foreground, which does accurately express what’s in the story. It’s easier to find a perfect match if you commission a piece of artwork for the cover, just keep in mind that will cost more. I’m happy with all my covers, and readers often remark that my books look like they belong together. That’s very purposeful on my end, part of the Jared Sandman “brand” I want them to share. Ruth Taylor drew the cover for Leviathan, Noah Bradley illustrated The Wild Hunt and Paul Mudie did The Shadow Wolves. Consummate artists, all.
To summarize, your final product should be a well-written novel, thoroughly edited, with a dazzling cover and aesthetic interior design. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll have a professional book with which you’re proud to be associated. Tune in next week for Part II.