Book Design: Getting it Right the First Time

Formatting a print book is a complicated process, particularly if you are doing a textbook or activity book with lots of different kinds of text. A textbook will probably have a number of different kinds of text, each of which need separate formatting. These may include: headers, directions, readings, explanations, example sentences, tip boxes, numbered activity questions, and so on. While I really enjoy the process of creating a new book from scratch, it can be intimidating at first. So I’d like to break down my process for setting up a book with complicated formatting.

So let’s imagine we have the manuscript all finished (And I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have your manuscript finalized before starting to format). Here’s a sample unit I had ChatGPT write up for me to save time.

Step 1: Go through the manuscript and make a list of all the different texts that will need their own separate formatting. Continue reading “Book Design: Getting it Right the First Time”

How to Get a Cover for Your Self-Published Book

Cover design is an area that many self-publishers struggle with, particularly educators who want to self-publish for the first time. Book design is not always in our skill set and designing a cover for a book generally requires graphic design software such as Photoshop. These programs can be intimidating to the novice. Now, does a cover really matter to the success of your book?

You probably know the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” While this is a good principle for many things in life from other human beings to new experiences, it doesn’t actually apply to books. There’s plenty of reason to believe that we DO judge books by their covers!

I don’t know if a good cover can necessarily make a book sell, but a bad cover can definitely ruin a good book. And a cover is the first thing anyone will see of your book. If it’s off-putting, it may be the only thing they see!

So what constitutes a good or bad book cover? Continue reading “How to Get a Cover for Your Self-Published Book”

What You Need to Know about Vanity, Hybrid and Trad Publishers & Scammers!

There are lots of ways to get your books published and into readers’ hands. Besides traditional publishing, there are vanity presses and hybrid publishers. Then there are companies that provide editorial or publishing services. If you are a small publisher, you can also hire printers, distributors, and warehousing services. Finally there are a number of companies like Ingram or Amazon, which distribute your book. Amazon also sells your book on its website. And in the ebook world, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, are also distributors/sellers. New self-publishers often aren’t sure which services to use, which route to take on the way to being published.

The problem is that someone new to the field might call all of these situations “publishing” or “self-publishing”. That can lead to confusion. It’s important to know what you are getting and what you are paying. Furthermore, some companies take advantage of the confusion, by not being fully transparent about what they do. This deception can run the gamut from questionable sales tactics to actual scams that cost people money!

I hate seeing people post questions on forums and social media such as “My publisher is charging me $2000. Is that what publishers usually charge?” These kinds of questions means someone is trying to take advantage of those new to self-publishing. So in this post, I’ll lay out the different kinds of publishers and publishing services and what to expect from them. That way you can recognize what you are getting into. Continue reading “What You Need to Know about Vanity, Hybrid and Trad Publishers & Scammers!”

Get Your Books on Amazon Through KDP

The process of uploading books to the KDP website so they can be distributed through Amazon is not difficult. However, it can be confusing to a new author. KDP has done a lot to make the process user-friendly but there are still some publishing and design terms the layperson is not familiar with.  You may also not be sure what best practices are for some of the fields: What make good keywords? Where does the book description show up? What’s the difference between royalty plans? Should I use a free Amazon ISBN or my own?

So I’ve created two videos. One walks you step-by-step through the process of uploading a book to KDP. Once you have your manuscript and cover, you can follow along and get you book up in about 10-15 minutes!

The second video shows you how to upload an ebook to KDP. That process is simpler because there aren’t as many formatting issues involved! So the video is much quicker, less explaining and more following along watching me upload an actual ebook!

If you find this article is helpful, check out all my posts on self-publishing, covering everything from editing to formatting to finding a distributor and more!

Let me know what you think! Most importantly, leave me questions or comments here or on YouTube so I can fill in any gaps!


What to Do When You Have Cover Image Copyright Issues

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts lately about in self-publishing forums and groups about copyright issues. There’s a lot of talk about Amazon / KDP cancelling accounts or removing books allegedly for no reason. Of course, we very often have one side of the story. Amazon are notoriously opaque about why they remove a title or an entire account, even when they may be quite right to do so.

Today, I read about a woman whose book cover was flagged by Amazon for potential copyright violation over the cover image. You can read the full story here including how she resolved the problem, but basically her cover designer had used a free image from So even though she had a written contract from the designer saying she could use the cover, she needed permission from the photographer, the creator of the image.  One of the dangers of using free images is that it can sometimes be hard to prove they are not copyrighted by someone.

The issue is that Amazon (like any company) has no obligation to work with you. Copyright law, in the US at any rate, is decided on a case-by-case basis. What constitutes a copyright violation may depend on context, intent, length, reach, and potential impact. That is a good thing in general, but it does mean whether or not a book gets flagged for copyright violation can feel arbitrary or even personal. And so companies have to do risk-assessment and set ground rules to protect themselves.

Not every company will make the same decision.  I have a set of Minecraft ebooks out and even though Mojang has pretty clear guidelines about use of Minecraft, several book distributors refused to distribute those books. They said they’ve had problems before and it’s just not worth it to them (Funnily enough, Amazon did publish my Minecraft ebooks). Interestingly, the other companies were quick to give me their feedback and tell me the exact problem. The print distributor also agreed that they would keep the print book up for me to order and sell personally, which was a nice compromise.

The Takeaway

So what’s the upshot?

  1. Don’t be mad if a distributor or publisher flags you for an issue. Yes, Amazon could be more transparent. They could give warnings before removing a book. Maybe that will change. However, Amazon isn’t wrong to flag books that could violate copyright. I can tell you in the education business that people selling pirated textbooks is a huge problem, so I’m happy to see a major company take intellectual property issues seriously. Assume good intentions and stay calm.
  2. Answer the emails with as much information as you can and keep at it. Think about every person down the line who might have to give permission. Don’t give up. Stay calm and persistent.
  3. If you discover that you really did make a mistake or violated an Amazon policy, try to resolve it. Can you remove the flagged material without too much effort, cost, or impact on your book? Maybe that’s all it takes.
  4. When creating a work, make sure you have permission from every person whose words, images, or likenesses are involved including your students, fellow teachers, and other published authors. That doesn’t mean you can’t use their work. Just try to get their permission. This is perfectly normal for publishing, even academic publishing where a book might cite 20-50 other works!

I hope this post has provided some useful information. Common sense can get you through a lot of issues, but I always recommend contacting a lawyer if you’re unsure about a particular issue. There are a lot of great copyright / IP lawyers out there that are happy to help you out!

So what copyright issues have you had and how did you resolve them?

Should I Give Bad Reviews to My Competition?

We’re all trying to market our books as best we can and attract buyers to our books. And we all know that getting good reviews on Amazon is an important way to convince readers to buy our books. But what about leaving bad reviews for our competitors? Or even a book making some reasonable critiques and then adding something like, “MY BOOK TITLE is another excellent guide to this subject.”? This was a question I saw on a self-publishing forum recently. I thought I would address it because it raises a few issues regarding some key topics: marketing self-published books and Amazon reviews.

Word of Mouth

So first of all, let’s talk about why this strategy seems like a good idea. Reviews that recommend other products can be quite helpful to the consumer.  I want to know if someone thinks one product is better or worse than another is. We’ve all heard nothing sells better than word of mouth, right? Continue reading “Should I Give Bad Reviews to My Competition?”

Formatting a Self-Published Book

Formatting a self-published book is a broad subject with a lot of intricacies. In this post, I’ll be talking generally about what your formatting options are and what formats work best for what kinds of books. I’ll talk about where to find resources and expertise, the best programs for formatting a self-published book, and some general concerns and things to think about. However, I won’t be digging into the nitty-gritty of how to format a book for self-publishing. However, I do plan to do future posts on font size, margins, color schemes, and things like that. So if you have detailed formatting questions, please leave a comment! It really helps me figure out what people want to read about. And of course, feel free to share your own expertise in the comment section!

Paperbacks, ebooks, and PDFS! Oh My!

A book opened to the middle. The left side page is an ordinary printed page but the right side is an ebook reader!
The book of the future? Paperback, ebook hybrids?

The first question people usually ask about formatting is: what are the formatting options for a book? In general, the three most popular formats are:

  1. print books
  2. reflowable ebook
  3. PDF file

Print books

Print books, or “books” as we used to call them, are the most versatile formatting option. You’ve probably worked with print books in the classroom most of your life and have seen the variety. In particular, print books is the only format that the user can access without technology and of course the only format they can write in, so it’s particularly helpful for student books. Print books are also the format that preserves author intent, including color and layout and fonts the best (with PDF a close second). And yes, I said color. Printing color books does raise your costs, but not necessarily unsustainably, particularly when compared to books produced by major publishers. Continue reading “Formatting a Self-Published Book”

Free Sample Copyright Page for Educational Books

This post is basically my way of helping small publishers and self-publishers by sharing a free sample copyright page. After 6 years of publishing, I’ve developed a template for a book copyright page that covers the legal bases, helps deter intellectual property theft, gives readers the information they need if they want to reuse or adapt some part of your work, and also acknowledges other creators involved in your work.

You can copy my free sample copyright page and use it in its entirety, or take bits and pieces. You can also use it as a template to create a copyright page in your own words. Adapt it as you see fit. I would love it if you referred people to this post by linking or word-of-mouth. When people ask where you got the ideas for your brilliant copyright page for your textbook, feel free to send them to me! Just please do respect my intellectual property rights and copyright, and do not share or distribute the sample page on your site or pass it off as your own, please!

You can scroll down to the free sample copyright page text any time, but I do think it’s important to clear up some misconceptions. Continue reading “Free Sample Copyright Page for Educational Books”

Do Self-Publishers Really Need Editors

One of the biggest debates in the self-publishing world these days is: do self-publishers really need editors? The answer is yes, yes, and yes. You need an editor, or rather you need editing services. There are (basically) 3  kinds of editing and you need to go through all three steps. However, you may or may not need a professional editor for all three! So why do so many self-publishers think they don’t need an editor?

One of the main motivations for self-publishing is keeping creative control, as I mentioned in the first article in this series on how to self-publish teaching materials. So sometimes self-publishers avoid editors because they view the editing process as a loss of control. In this view, editors are imposing their will on the writer and may symbolize the conventional or mainstream thinking that the writer is self-publishing specifically to avoid.

I think it helps to remember that editors are there to make the work better. Editors do have a different point of view, but it never hurts to consider other ideas and perspectives. It is true that editors may well have a more conventional point of view, but then your readers and customers may also be more conventional. It’s not giving up creative control to get advice from professionals who have worked with a lot of teaching materials. Finally, one of the joys of being a self-publisher is that the editor works for you. So if you really don’t agree with their suggestions, you don’t have to take them.

Three young people looking at a book held by the middle student. All three have surprised or shocked looks on their faces, mouths open, eyes wide.
These are your readers when they see that typo that you missed because you didn’t edit!

Continue reading “Do Self-Publishers Really Need Editors”