Choosing the cover for a self-help book

One of the pleasures of ‘indie’ publishing is having freedom to choose the cover image. I recently spent an hour or so browsing in search of the best one for my new book Persons not diseases: a guide to mind-body-spirit medicine and holistic healing. With such a huge selection of titles now available online, it is often just a split-second glance at the cover which decides potential readers whether or not to ‘look inside’ a book, so it is important to choose a theme and colours which attract attention and convey the desired message.

But different people can interpret the same picture very differently depending on their emotional state, as I learned from a chastising experience some years ago when I worked in psycho-oncology at a hospital in England. I was giving a talk about coping with cancer and included a few art slides to represent different moods and attitudes of mind. My favourite was a colourful image of a trapeze artist high up in a circus tent. This was intended to symbolise positive qualities such as courage and joy, but one patient in the group thought it showed a woman hanging herself. When considering images for my new book I was careful to avoid anything which could lend itself to such a shocking interpretation, but on the other hand I did not want it to look too bland or sentimental.

I considered sunrises, seascapes, flowers and abstracts before deciding on a picture of a path winding up a green hillside, with blue sky above. I chose this picture mainly because I liked it, and I think it could also suggest taking ‘the illness journey’ through natural surroundings in a spirit of peace and hope. Talented designer Jeremy Taylor has now converted this photo into the cover image for Persons not diseases, which will be published as an e-book next month with a print version to follow later.

ebooks on Amazon Kindle

I’ve just published Amazon Kindle editions of two of my books: Life’s Labyrinth: the path and the purpose and Focus on Healing: holistic self-help for medical illness. Both are also still available as ebooks on the Smashwords site.

I’ve enjoyed exploring the world of electronic self-publishing with its rapidly-evolving technology. Despite having only basic computer skills I found it quite easy to upload manuscripts – though did need help with text formatting and cover design. I love having the freedom to write whatever I like in my own time – seeing it online within a few hours after it’s ready – being able to edit and update later if need be – and to check on the sales figures as often as I wish – all without wasting any paper (having chosen not to make printed versions, although this too would be quite easy to do).

My past experience with traditional publishing has also been satisfying overall, despite the various trials and tribulations along the way – often waiting months for responses to submissions, getting the inevitable rejection letters not always kindly phrased (I was devastated by the early ones but eventually grew immune), more months of waiting after having manuscripts accepted, finding errors introduced into the proofs, and royalty payments representing scant return for the years of work involved. Self-publishing may seem painless in comparison, but perhaps the process has become too easy. Marketing is up to the authors themselves, and most of us are not very good at that. And now that so many people self-publish there may be more writers than readers. Most self-published books sell only than a handful of copies, and some sell none at all.

But, probably like most other people who were born with a compulsion to write, I feel it’s about passion rather than profit. Whatever publishing method is used, it’s rewarding to see the finished products out in the world, and hopefully get some good reviews. And, in the case of my medical books, the reward of having readers say they’ve found them helpful makes it all seem worthwhile.

I’m now working on another two books which I hope to finish later this year. Meanwhile, here again are the links to the new editions of Life’s Labyrinth and Focus on Healing.

Life’s Labyrinth

I’ve just published my first e-book!

Life’s Labyrinth: the path and the purpose

Were you born with a spiritual purpose? Do you have free will to choose your path through life? How can you best find happiness and fulfillment? This book does not claim to answer these questions, but gives a practical framework for exploring them. The text is illustrated by many true life stories, drawn from interviews and correspondence with about 40 people from New Zealand and the UK.

It’s published on and you can find the details, read a free sample or buy the whole book through this link.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this project which has taken several years to complete.

Book Marketing Basics – Part 2

My last post gave some reasons why it is advisable for authors, especially self-published ones, to play an active part in marketing their own books. For this post I have drawn on my own recent experience to suggest a selection of methods which may work for you, even if you have a limited budget or you feel uncomfortable with self-promotion.

Internet marketing is potentially a powerful tool, but personal contact and old-fashioned ‘word of mouth’ are still important and it is advisable to make use of both methods.

You will obviously want to tell your family and friends about your book, and this can often be done by email. However, beware  of ‘spamming’ people whom you do not really know even though their address has found its way into your contact list. You can also write to relevant societies and organisations, preferably on an individual basis.

The message is best kept fairly short and factual, and should not come across as ‘pushy’. Include links to further information such as a web page describing the book’s content, a free sample chapter, even a YouTube video or an audio clip. Remember to say where to buy it. Finish with a request to forward the message on to others who might be interested. If you belong to networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, post the information there too.

Arrange a launch event soon after publication. This could be held in a local library or bookshop; at a venue appropriate to the subject of the book, for example at a sports club or in a healthcare setting; even in your own home. Send personal invitations to selected people, distribute some printed or electronic flyers, and ask for RSVPs so that you have some idea of numbers for catering purposes. Copies of the book, and perhaps any previous ones you have published, should obviously be on sale at the event and most buyers will want you to sign them with a brief personal message. A suitable timetable might include half an hour of light refreshments while the guests are assembling, half an hour for you to give a talk about the book and read some extracts from it, then half an hour for questions, discussion, more refreshments and of course selling and signing books.

There may be ongoing opportunities for talks and presentations, at meetings of local societies or at larger conferences. For example I have spoken about my own recent book Focus on Healing at various events attended by natural therapists, and at gatherings for members of a breast cancer charity.

Printed cards, fliers or bookmarks can be distributed through libraries and other suitable settings, or given to people you meet. You can be creative with the design but it is best to relate it to the appearance of the book, probably using the same image as that on the cover so that people will recognise it.

Write to relevant journals, magazines, newspapers and websites to ask if they would like to review the book or publish a feature about it. You may decide to send out unsolicited review copies anyway, but this takes time and money, and does not guarantee a response. If you do get a review it may well take a long time to appear, and will not necessarily be positive – though it is said there is no such thing as bad publicity, and a really damning review sometimes stimulates people to read the book out of curiosity.

‘Special offers’ may be worthwhile, for example you could suggest combining your book with another product for a limited period, or posting out gift-wrapped copies for Christmas.

Writing articles or giving interviews for websites, blogs or paper publications will help to get your name known, without necessarily promoting the book directly.

This is not a complete list of marketing techniques but I hope it provides some ideas for those starting to explore the world of self-publishing.

Book Marketing Basics – Part 1

Like most authors I would rather focus on writing books than on selling them. I tend to write for my own interest and enjoyment, not for a particular market niche. This is one reason that the fiction books I wrote in my younger days were rejected – unless manuscripts have outstanding merit, publishers require them to fit into a recognized genre and mine did not. I was luckier with my medical books, written while I was working in hospital and university settings. These had a ready-made readership and the very first one was adopted as a course text without any effort on my part. Other aspects of marketing were handled by my publishers with minimal input from me.

All this changed after I moved from the UK to New Zealand in 2000 and became self-employed. I no longer had a reputation in professional circles. I wanted to write about new fields in which I had no special expertise. At the same time, sales of printed books were starting to decline. Although I did succeed in having a few other books published in the traditional way over this period, self-publishing now seems to me the most promising route for the future.

Self-publishing has become a viable and respectable option. The technology is advancing rapidly and already offers many different methods for producing an e-book (electronic) and / or a p-book (printed) at reasonable price. So anybody can now publish their work without having to compete with other writers and suffer a long stream of rejection slips. But the element of competition has shifted to a later stage in the process – with so many books available, how do you persuade readers to buy your own? If you want to spread your book’s message, and to make any profit at all, you will have to play an active part in marketing.

One option is to employ a professional agency to do it for you, but this can be quite costly and there is no guarantee of success. Similarly, advertisements are expensive and often have disappointing results. Though I am by no means a natural sales-person nor an expert in marketing, I have learned a few low-cost techniques and will write about these in my next post.

My virtual book tour and other writing ventures

This is a busy time in my writing career. Doing a ‘virtual book tour’, using the power of the internet to promote Focus on Healing: Holistic Self-help for Medical Illness to readers outside New Zealand, has been a new and exciting experience.

Virtual book tours have not replaced live talks and book signing events as a way for authors to market their work, but they do enable outreach to a worldwide audience through websites, blogs and media outlets, all from a home computer at reasonable cost. To sample what is involved, please click on the links for my online interview and printed chapter excerpt, recorded chapter excerpt and ezine articles; and to buy the book through my website click here.

I recently edited the wartime memoir of my late uncle, a Spitfire pilot. This book is now at proof-checking stage and will soon be published in the UK. Also this month my next self-help book, about life path and life purpose, is being considered for a local manuscript award and I will probably self-publish this one, so am studying the options. More news on both books will follow in future posts.

These editing and marketing activities have left little time for new writing, but I am keen to try my hand at fiction in the future, and have already made a start on a romantic suspense novel set here in Devonport.

All this activity is very positive, but involves rather too much ‘multitasking’ – even with the best time management skills it’s sometimes impossible to avoid everything happening at once!  So I sometimes feel over-stimulated, stressed by the number of things to deal with, or impatient to get them finished. There are Bach flower remedies to balance all these states of mind: Vervain for over-enthusiasm, Elm for ‘overwhelm’, Impatiens  for impatience.