The Top Ten Albums to Write To (2017)

As a new year approaches, resolutions are drafted and Selectrics and word processors are pulled off the shelf and made ready. Here are Girl Friday’s annual picks for the best music to accompany you on your journey toward a completed manuscript.

10. Mondkopf – They Fall But You Don’t
Let’s be clear from the start—this isn’t a cheerful record. Parisian Paul Régimbeau combines elements of industrial, metal, and electronica to create a swirling, ominous journey for the listener. What’s most remarkable about They Fall, though, is how varied its palette is and yet how cohesive an aesthetic statement it makes. Yes, it can be harrowing, but following the breathtaking centerpiece, “Vivere, Parte IV,” the record begins to wax triumphant, and I promise you it’s worth the ride. Anyway, sometimes it’s necessary to drag yourself through hell in order to write your characters out of—or into—their deepest lows.
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

9. Kangding Ray – Hyper Opal Mantis
I don’t typically go for beat-driven electronic music; I’d rather be lulled to sleep than exhorted to dance. But there’s something deeply meditative about David Lettelier’s pulsing rhythms. For anyone who struggles to get a sentence out without a good strong cuppa, Hyper provides an instant caffeine-like kick, and keeps it coming for over an hour. It’s a cold record, pervaded by the sounds of machines and no human involvement, but this is Lettelier’s goal. Tracks like “Dune” and “Suadade” lend some welcome melody, and “Laniakea” stretches out and breathes a bit, providing a relatively tender denouement.
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

8. Eerie Gaits – Bridge Music
Unlike most everything else on this list, Bridge Music is above all an uplifting record. With as much slide guitar, accordion, and banjo present as ambient wash, there’s a heavy sense of nostalgia, but the nostalgia feels earned rather than emulous—there’s nothing “retro” or dishonest here. “Lore” goes stringless and whooshes lazily along; standout “Eau Gallie” will have you reaching for the phone to call Mom. It’s a record that almost shouldn’t exist in today’s world, in that it’s got nothing to sell you. Instead, its only aim seems to be to warm your heart.
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

7. Nadia Sirota – Tessellatum
The fun stops here, though. Performed by a viola and a viola da gamba, Tessellatum evokes wagon trains plodding through frost-seared plains toward an uncertain future. Though split into thirteen tracks, the transitions act more like quick rests than space between new ideas. Leitmotifs are circled around and alluded to throughout; this is a single composition meant to be experienced as a whole. And yes, the experience is haunting. Strings swirl endlessly and at times frantically with no reprieve and, really, no resolution. It’s an immersive and visceral experience, and one that’s sure to silence the outside world for a cool forty minutes.
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

6. x.y.r. – Labyrinth
The project of Saint Petersburgian Vladimir Karpov, x.y.r. achieves an effortless balance of chill and upbeat. Washy synths are supplemented with just enough bounce to keep you awake, making for the perfect writer’s companion. Fans of Stranger Things will find much to like here, but Karpov has enough tricks up his sleeve to keep Labyrinth from ever feeling samey. Found sound, field recordings, and subdued human chanting all plot a course for the spectacular closer, “Febribus,” an eleven-minute distillation of the record as a whole.
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

5. William Basinski – A Shadow in Time
Through terror and grief, global strife and political unrest, there is always William Basinski. Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops, released in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, is a defining moment in early twenty-first-century ambient music, and as such it’s difficult not to compare everything else he does against his masterpiece. While Shadow does explore familiar territory, it’s his most intriguing work since Loops. Its title track is striking for its nod to more traditional composition, though it slowly submits to Basinski’s classic themes of loss and decay, finally leaving the listener alone in a cavernous, empty room. Hurrah!
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

4. Bing & Ruth – No Home of the Mind
Named after two characters in a 463-word Amy Hempel story, Bing & Ruth is the project of pianist David Moore and a rotating ensemble of musicians. Moore is inspired by minimalist writers like Hempel, and though he is keenly aware of the power of negative space, his arrangements are warm, lush, and immersive. These songs are clearly in no hurry, but an ever-present piano provides a welcome sense of purpose. No Home is more distilled than Moore’s fantastic 2014 breakthrough, Tomorrow Was the Golden Age, making it an inviting introduction not only to Moore’s work but also to ambient music in general.
Listen on Apple Music

3. Benoît Pioulard – Lignin Poise
Listening to the music of self-proclaimed “proud Cascadian” Thomas Meluch, a.k.a. Benoît Pioulard, is like waking up on a cold Saturday morning, eyes still heavy with sleep, colors becoming forms becoming objects. With Lignin Poise, however, those forms never quite congeal. A marked departure from 2015’s Sonnet, a diverse and overall quite moving record, Poise remains steadfastly in the realm of the dream, offering few dynamics and little concrete material to grasp on to. Which is frustrating only until you stop grasping and allow the sound to wash over you like a reverie.
Listen on Bandcamp

2. Brian Eno – Reflection
Ah, Brian Eno. The godfather of ambient music and the man responsible, if indirectly, for just about everything else on this list. Which is especially remarkable considering his original aim was to create music “as ignorable as it is interesting.” Eno defined a genre in 1978 with Ambient 1: Music for Airports, an album literally designed to be played in airports. Reflection is classic Eno—a single fifty-four-minute track confined to a limited (though interesting!) sonic palette—and its title suggests it aims to be as utilitarian as Ambient 1. Call it Music for Writers if you like. 
Listen on Apple Music

1. GAS – Narkopop
All of Wolfgang Voigt’s work as GAS is instantly identifiable as such, and it feels tailor made for writers in want of musical accompaniment. While seventeen years separate Narkopop from its predecessor, Pop, little has changed in the interim. Beats surface occasionally but are always subverted by washy drone; danger lurks in the shadows but never really materializes. In other words, Voigt has no need for melodrama. Impeccably crafted, patient, confident, meditative, and timeless, Narkopop is ultimately a record that reflects back to the listener whatever they bring to it. Some may see it as unsettling, others as calming. But like anything in the ambient realm, it’s a wonderful way to lose yourself, even if only for a minute.
Listen on: Apple Music | Bandcamp

Amazon SEO: How Optimization Can Help You Sell More Books


Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts and adjunct professor at NYU, is a bestselling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns.

Amazon is a search engine. And with more than 4,500 books published each day, it’s increasingly important to make your book stand out from the rest of the pack.

Learning how to do this is key, especially if your topic gets less attention because its potential audience is smaller. But it’s doable. Here’s how it works.

Amazon Keywords

If you’re like most authors, you can improve the way Amazon keywords work for you. By taking a little time to follow the strategies in this article, you can draw in more potential readers. And I don’t have to tell you that this is how you sell more books.

The trick for you is going to be learning how to use them to get the most bang for your book. And that entails getting to know your customer’s needs.

Consider the steam mop. Ever heard of it? Well if not, you may want to get one. Unless you like cleaning your floors with a regular mop that doesn’t kill germs. Who wants that? And did you know that you can also clean carpets and rugs with a steam mop?

See what I did there? I got you to go from “What the heck is a steam mop?” to “Well, yeah, I want to keep my floors germ-free!”


The concept above is called alignment—or connecting two otherwise unrelated ideas to sell your book.

However, before you can bring it into practice, you need to figure out your customer’s problem. The one that you’re about to solve.

Earlier this year I was doing an optimization for a book about managing chronic Lyme disease. This is a tough market, because it’s not a big one. The potential audience is much smaller than, for example, the potential audience for people wanting to learn about financial planning. Everyone wants to make and save more money, but not everyone has chronic Lyme disease and an interest in learning how to manage it.

As a result, “Lyme disease” wasn’t an effective Amazon keyword to use.

But upon learning that Lyme disease often presents as other health problems—including thyroid issues, arthritis, and other more commonly searched ailments—I knew I had found our alignment. I was able to present the author with a set of keywords that tied her book to those issues and got it in front of readers looking for alternative disease management options.

The critical takeaway here is that you need to be sure your book description matches this train of thought so that your potential reader sees it and thinks, Oh, this is a new idea. Maybe there’s something to it!

As you do this, your book should become the reader’s end need. It should solve their “problem,” be it entertainment, education, or enlightenment. But your keywords should appear long before readers would naturally get there on their own, meeting them at the start of their search.

Understanding Amazon

I said initially that Amazon is a search engine. But to successfully employ Amazon keywords, you’ll also need to learn how Amazon works.

Amazon spiders book and product pages—this is pretty similar to how Google and other search engines spider your website. Consumer search patterns are important to consider when you’re trying to decide what keywords you’ll use. For example, you wouldn’t just Google “books.” Instead, you’d Google “romance books” or “second-chance romance books.”

Keyword Search

So how do you find Amazon keywords that will work for your book?

First, do a keyword search on Amazon. But use the Kindle side rather than the book side. For one, the Kindle side allows you to dig deeper into your genre. And for two, so many books are ebook only that you’ll get more complete results here.

So to do this, you’ll select “Kindle Store” from the drop-down menu, leave the search bar blank, and click the orange search button.

Screenshot 2017-11-29 14.33.11.png

Then click “Kindle eBooks” under “Kindle Store”


And then select whatever genre you’re in. So for this test, let’s use “Mystery, Thriller & Suspense.”


Once you’re there, you’ll see this screen:


Beneath your genre, you’ll see more options to keep drilling down. Choose one that’s appropriate, and one that’s not overly packed with books (in this case, perhaps “Crime Fiction” or “Suspense”).

Then start typing these keywords into the search bar and see what Amazon’s search pulls up in the drop-down menu.

Not all will be a good fit, but they’ll offer you a good start on your keyword search.


So as you develop your list of keywords, keep the following in mind:

  1. Use keyword strings only, not single keywords. Think about how you’d search Google.
  2. Don’t blindly follow Amazon’s recommendations (like those above).
  3. As you get Amazon’s suggestions, check out each page in a new tab to see what books are there and their sales rank. The lower the number the better (a book with a rank of 10,000 is performing better than one ranked at 100,000).
  4. Ignore books running free promotions, because they don’t offer an accurate picture of how the string is performing.
  5. Kindle Unlimited books won’t skew your results, so definitely look at these books as you go.

Going through this process can be a lot of fun. It’s not an exact science, but you’ll be able to get some really strong keywords to help your book perform better.

Use the first few weeks as a litmus test. If you’re not seeing changes, then take some time to revisit your keywords. It’s a good idea to review them quarterly too. Amazon adds new categories from time to time, so you’ll want to stay on top of that. And what’s trending does change, so you may find something in the news that you can align with.

Easy SEO Tips and Tools for Authors


Mindy Weinstein is the founder and CEO of Market MindShift, a boutique digital marketing agency, as well as a national speaker, trainer, and digital marketing strategist. She is a part-time marketing professor at Grand Canyon University and University of Denver and has been in the search industry since 2007. Mindy’s SEO prowess informs the digital marketing strategies she designs for many of GFP’s indie authors.

If you’re like most authors, the idea of search engine optimization (SEO) is daunting. But you know how important it is to build your platform online. Making sure your author website appears in search is an important first step to removing readers’ barriers to discovering you. Fortunately, there are some tools and techniques that can help you streamline the process of SEO-optimizing your author website on your own, if you so choose.

Here are my top tips to follow to get a solid start on your SEO.

1. Define Your Personas

Search engines, especially Google, go to great lengths to understand the user, and so should you. That means you should define specific personas who would be interested in what you have to say. Identifying and defining your audience is one of the first tasks that should be done in any digital marketing campaign.

Personas are fictional individuals that share common characteristics with your audience. A defined persona includes demographics, psychographics, and pain points.

There are some great paid tools that can help you gather information about your audience, including Demographics Pro. You can also do the research yourself by interviewing your targeted readers, sending out surveys and questionnaires. You can ask such questions as, What social media platforms do you use? What websites do you visit to find out about new books? What other websites do you frequent in addition to social media? Once you have gathered this information, use MakeMyPersona by HubSpot to put it all together in a way that helps you visualize your reader clearly.

Screenshot 2017-11-22 11.31.39.png

2. Research Your Keywords

Once you have a feel for your personas, you can start researching the types of words and phrases they might use to search for a book in your topic area. These are referred to as keywords; your first job is to make a list of them. Ultimately, they should be woven naturally throughout your website’s copy. For example, if you are focusing on personal finance books, you would research words people might query to find answers. Searches might include queries about “budgeting tips,” “getting out of debt,” etc. You’re optimizing your website by incorporating these keyword phrases.

There are countless free and paid tools to help you determine how people are searching. SEMrush is a great place to start when identifying your keywords—it will even provide data, such as monthly search volume and the top-ranked pages, to help you determine which relevant keywords from your brainstormed list are most used.


Other tools include and the Keywords Everywhere browser plugin.

3. Identify Your Topics

Once you have keywords, you need to generate topic ideas that leverage those keywords—and there are tools to help you put keywords into action by creating useful content that incorporates them. The topics they generate can serve as articles, blog posts, videos, and social media posts. One of the best tools available is Answer the Public. This tool pulls from autosuggest technology used by both Google and Bing to provide you with a list of common searches. The data includes real-time query volume, meaning people are searching these questions and phrases. To use this tool, you simply type in your keyword and it generates a report for you, as shown below.

Screenshot 2017-11-22 11.37.35.png

The following chart is generated from all the questions people are asking based on the word or phrase you searched.


The Answer the Public report also outlines a list of queries that includes the word or phrase you searched, as shown below.


4. Optimize Your Website Content

When it comes time to start adding keyword-rich content to your website, you’re performing what’s known as on-page optimization. As you’re writing and editing your website’s copy, make sure to incorporate your keywords into your pages, including in the page title, description, and body copy. Don’t overdo it, though. The content should always be geared toward the readers and include keywords in a natural way.

In the above example that reflects “get out of debt,” you would need to conduct further research to see how the top-ranked pages are structured—readability, the length of the title and description, word count of the body copy, and how the keywords were used—which will give you a useful blueprint as you create your site. The SEMrush Content Template tool can help you review how the top-ranked pages are structured, and it generates a blueprint for your page.  The following example from the SEMrush Content Template tool uses our phrase “get out of debt.” Note the areas marked in red. Not only do you get an idea of the ideal word count, but you also learn the readability score to target and the other words that should be included on your page to put you in that “natural” behavior that Google is rewarding.


There are similar tools available that will help you determine how to optimize your pages, including the SEOToolSet Single Page Analyzer.

5. Regularly Refresh Your SEO

SEO is not something you do once and you’re done. Your website should be updated regularly with relevant content for your personas that also attracts search engines. When you initiate SEO activities for your website, it will take some time. However, the more familiar you get with the tools and techniques, the faster you’ll become at researching and optimizing.

How to Set Up Your Self-Published Book for Preorder


For the independently published author, preorders can be an important component of a successful marketing strategy. A significant majority of high-earning self-publishers employ this tactic as part of their launch campaign.* Whether an author is looking for a way to sell their book at an event prior to their publication date, wants to take advantage of potential sales during a prerelease publicity campaign, or simply wants to provide the more traditional offerings of a publishing house to their readers, setting up preorders is a smart choice.

Whether your preorder is for a print or digital edition, you should plan to post only publication-ready files. Attempting to get your book available for preorder by posting earlier versions of your files comes with the real risk of releasing incomplete iterations of your cover or manuscript. Instead of trying to figure out “workarounds” to get your book available for preorder before the files are ready, it’s worth setting your schedule for publication with a nice big preorder cushion time frame between when your final files are uploaded and when the book is on sale.

Here’s how to do it.

For Physical Books

  1. Post distribution-ready FINAL interior and cover files to IngramSpark.
  2. Set the on-sale date and the publication date as the SAME day in the future.
  3. Approve e-proofs once the files clear IngramSpark’s premedia check.
  4. Enable the title for distribution. Again, this step should be completed only if print proofs have already been ordered and approved.
  5. The preorder should be available within IngramSpark’s distribution network in one to six weeks.

For Ebooks

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP):

  1. Upload your final, distribution-ready mobi and cover files.
  2. Select the option to “Make a Kindle e-book available for pre-order.”
  3. Set a date in the future for the preorder release.
  4. The ebook will release at midnight local time in each marketplace on the on-sale date, and the status will automatically update from “preorder” to “live.”


Option 1 (book is complete):

  1. Upload the cover and EPUB files.
  2. On the “Publish” page, click “Make It a Preorder.”

Option 2 (book is not complete):

  1. Unlike with IngramSpark and KDP, “assetless” preorders are an option through Smashwords. This means you can set up an ebook preorder prior to the final files being ready. However, do NOT upload an unfinished draft of the book. Instead, select the option “I will upload my final formatted manuscript later.”
  2. Next, select the on-sale date.
  3. Upload your final file at least ten days before the on-sale date to be sure it has time to pass Smashwords’ quality checks.

For a coordinated release date, we recommend establishing one publication date for all editions of your book: hardcover, paperback, and ebook. The benefit of this coordinated preorder approach is that any sales made prior to your pub date appear as final sales on your official release, with the potential to boost your ranking on sites like

* According to BookBaby’s recent large survey of self-published authors. High-earning means $5,000 in sales or more.

Thinking About an Audiobook Edition? Start Here.


At Girl Friday, we aim to be a one-stop shop—taking care of all aspects of the publishing process for our clients. That said, we’re aware of the limitations of our expertise, so we pull in strategic partners for certain facets of the process. Audiobook production is one of those areas where we partner with high-quality production agencies to bring our indie authors the best possible experience and product.

We took a moment to sit down with David Markowitz, Head of Strategy and Partnerships at ListenUp Audiobooks, to discuss the audiobook landscape and some tips for independent authors who are making their first foray into the format.

GFP: What does ListenUp do, and how does your approach differ from other audiobook production companies, such as ACX?

David: There are a lot of options in the audio space for indies, so choosing the right one is the first task. I’d say there are three tiers of service available to indies. The first is DIY: you find a narrator, perhaps through a listing on Craigslist or Fiverr, and hire them directly. They’ll record your book and you need to figure out how to get it up on distribution platforms, make the cover art, and promote it effectively to get it in your readers’ hands.

The second tier is Amazon’s ACX platform, which is the largest audio “content exchange platform”—it’s like a dating service site for people seeking and offering audio services. It allows authors to fill out the type of narrator they’re looking for, then people self-select and audition for your listing, you choose one, and ACX handles distribution of the finished book. While this is a better model than DIY, there’s a lot of luck involved in finding the right narrator match—and the terms highly favor exclusive distribution to Audible.

There are a small handful of companies in the full-service tier; this is where ListenUp is positioned. Unlike many of our competitors, who are music studios that do audiobooks on the side, ListenUp is entirely dedicated to audiobooks. We work with all the major publishers to produce high-quality audiobooks and bring the same services to Indie authors. (It’s not unlike Girl Friday’s business model.) When you work with ListenUp, we’re hand-selecting the narrator for you from a talented pool, managing their work, navigating the rules and regulations, and facilitating broader distribution—including the library market, other retailers outside of Audible, and the international market.

GFP: What's the biggest challenge in creating a high-quality audiobook? 

David: The audiobook market is growing rapidly with our ever-more-efficient society. Driving to work now feels like a waste of time if you’re not listening to a podcast. More and more people squeeze in their pleasure reading on their commute, or while exercising, via audio formats. As the market for audiobooks gets more flooded with content, quality matters—the microphone in the closet model is no longer okay with listeners, who have come to expect a more polished listening experience. As an independent author trying to make an audiobook for the first time, vetting the pool of potential narrators may be the biggest hurdle—they just don’t know what to look for in the hiring process and what pitfalls to avoid. And that’s an expensive mistake to make.    

GFP: What categories sell best in audiobook format? Are there genres that perform less well? 

David: In general, self-help and business books are strong-selling areas for audio. Also, genre fiction series do quite well, particularly sci-fi, thriller, true crime, or romance. Less popular and effective in audio are the more esoteric literary fiction titles.

GFP: What's a single piece of advice you have for authors when it comes to audiobooks? 

David: You should ALWAYS be reading your book aloud while writing it.

Ten Things Not to Do to Your Book Cover


After years of pouring your soul into your book, the last thing you want to do is flub the landing. Of course, we all judge books by their covers (otherwise they wouldn’t exist!), so it’s crucial that you achieve a cover that’s as elegant and effective as the book it advertises. Here are ten things to keep in mind when working toward that cover.


1. Don’t use too many typefaces.

A good approach to any design is to limit yourself to two typefaces. Some covers may require a third; others can shine with just one. Very rarely will four typefaces produce anything but confusion. This cover’s composition is strong—the eye is drawn to the center of the hero image—but my god, those fonts. Look at them all, competing for attention, obliterating any hope for visual cohesion. The title’s mix of gothic and transitional serif makes it difficult to read and robs it of any identity, like a minivan with spinner rims.


2. Don’t overload your cover with ideas.

A book cover is an elevator pitch—you’ve got about three seconds to convince a potential reader. And if you can’t boil your book down to one central concept, you’re in trouble. What, in god’s name, is this book about? Ninjas? Fire? Robots? Multicolored rings in space? Gang signs? All these things get virtually equal billing here, and, worse, no effort is made to integrate them in one central image. Figure out what your book is about, and find one—one—image that represents that theme.


3. Don’t skimp on an illustrator.

If your book requires a custom image—a robotic ninja flying through flaming multicolored space rings, for example—seek out a talented professional and be prepared to pay them for their services. Custom illustration isn’t cheap, but nothing kills a cover like a bad illustration. This cover started out strong—the typography is on its way to being effective—but whatever gave this guy that bad case of the blurries is not the sort of thing you want potential readers wondering about.


4. Don’t rely on Photoshop for imagery.

A common workaround for people who don’t want to pay for custom illustration is to rely on Photoshop to create a custom collage. This almost never ends well (see also: #3). Some work has been done to integrate these images, but our eyes are extremely savvy when it comes to inconsistencies in lighting and scale. These legs were clearly photographed indoors (the lighting is flat), and they’re also about five times too big for that path. A similar image (be flexible!) is probably available at a stock agency. If not, hire a photographer or an illustrator. Nobody’s fooled here.


5. Don’t depict a character.

You no doubt have a crystal-clear idea of what your protagonist looks like. And what better subject to grace the cover of your book than its most important character, right? Well, no. More than any other art form, reading inspires and requires imagination. Readers like to picture themselves as the heroine, their boorish boss as the villain. Depicting a specific person on your cover curtails this possibility for any reader who isn’t that person. (It’s also unlikely you’re going to find a perfect image of your protagonist—let alone a second one for when the sequel rolls around!)


6. Don’t rely on trends.

Nothing is more popular in contemporary design than handwritten text. When done right, the approach can yield a cover that’s elegant, unique, and refreshingly analog. That said, it’s difficult to pull off, and almost certainly requires a professional calligrapher. I doubt this cover used one; its lettering is stuck somewhere between elegant and childish, between “shabby chic” and, well, messy. This trend may work for your book, but don’t be afraid to buck the trend and blaze your own trail.


7. Don’t be afraid to break a few rules.

Sometimes, when blazing a trail, a rule or two needs to be ignored. These covers all push the limits of the most important tenet of cover design—legibility—and are bolder and more intriguing for it. There’s a delicate balance, though, and the deciding factor must be that the typographic play draws a reader in rather than keeping them out. A cover is an invitation, not a code to be deciphered. (Incidentally, to harken back to #1, note that these covers each use only one typeface.)


8. That said, don’t get clever.

The covers shown in #7 all obscure, distort, or even omit words in order to create an interesting visual effect (often analog or tactile). Here, the designer resorts to “clever” typographic play, wherein an “A” is shared between two words. The result is simple confusion. Is that a lower-case “t”? Or, no, wait, I think it’s a cross. Or, no—ah, okay, it’s an “A”! Alright, I see. Vampire Academy. Remember the elevator pitch rule: you’ve got three seconds. If it takes a reader seventeen just to decipher your title, forget it.


9. Don’t overdo it with the copy.

You’re asking a lot of a reader when inviting them to spend an entire book with you, so don’t exhaust them before they even crack the spine. There are so many words on this cover I don’t know start (see also: #2). Yes, a foreword by Tony Robbins bears mentioning. But do we need another twelve words explaining who Robbins is? Tony gets another mention below (along with five other names), the fifteen-word subtitle is all banal commercialese, and . . . well, et cetera. Decide what’s most important—i.e., what’s going to draw readers in—and put the rest inside.


10. Don’t use a template.

In a world of DIY and automated app-driven services, a cover template may seem like a reasonable solution to the difficult task of creating an effective book cover. But book covers aren’t created—they’re designed—and doesn’t your book, which itself doesn’t fit into any predetermined mold, deserve its own custom design? And what happens when someone else publishes their book using that same cover template? If the success of your book is important to you, there’s only one thing to do: hire a designer.


Tips from Successful Writers About Publishing Independently


“Success” in book publishing is an ill-defined metric. We often talk to authors at the beginning of the process about what success would look like to them, for that particular book. It’s a worthy question to ask in order to understand what you’re setting out to achieve and to help set both realistic expectations and a strategy to get there.

To celebrate Indie Author Day this year, we’ve asked a few of our authors for their view on what it was that made their books successful. Here’s what they had to say.

What do you think was the most important piece of the puzzle in terms of your book’s success?

NIEA Award–winning novelist ANDREA THOME: No one will take you seriously as an author if your work isn’t clean as a whistle. I’m grateful to have worked with the same team of editors for all three of my books, and it’s made all the difference. Having my second book ready as an advance reader copy more than three months before my release date was critical to effectively marketing it. And having a publicist that specialized in literary publicity has been key. It’s also very important to have a consistent presence on social media and be willing to spend the time growing your base. Girl Friday’s “digital audit” was a huge eye-opener for me in terms of showing me where I needed development.

IPPY Award–winning author SALLY GAGLINI: The cover, superbly designed by GFP, and the book’s Amazon ranking were key in spurring sales: it was both a bestseller and #1 new release in its category. After the book was out a little less than a year, it won a silver IPPY—which boosted sales again. Educate yourself by learning as much as you can before you turn the ignition key.

Kirkus-starred, Amazon #1 bestselling author BRIAN RUTENBERG: Choosing a great editor was the single most important aspect of my book’s success. I should clarify that I am not a writer but a painter who wrote a book. Since I wrote Clear Seeing Place over a four-year period, I found it beneficial to pass my manuscript through two editing stages, which guided me in cutting out repetitive clutter and honing my points down into clear language.

Internationally published, Amazon #1 bestselling author BOB LEE: It’s a little like asking which piece of the jigsaw puzzle is most important. The last piece completes the picture but is useless unless every other piece is in place. To start, the book must fully “look the part.” It’s hard enough to compete with established publishers, so why put yourself at a disadvantage before you even start? Pay as much attention to getting cover, layout, structure, etc. right as the best-resourced publisher would.

In my case, Amazon ranking has been key. I got the book to #1 on in the “International Business” category with some investment of time and money (profit sacrificed, to be precise, by buying the books from my own company, set up as a vendor on Amazon, rather than simply fulfilling orders “invisibly” from my own stock). I found it easier to get attention from potential distributors when my book ranked, and it provided a degree of reassurance to potential purchasers. But I also believe that you only need to hit a high spot once, because whatever potential advantages there might be in staying in the top 20 are unlikely to be worth the time and money involved.

Is the reality of being a self-publisher different than what you expected? How?

ANDREA: I had no idea how much work it was going to be. It’s expensive and very time-consuming, but if you really want to retain creative control of your work and your brand, there is no better way.

BRIAN: My first book was published by a traditional publisher (Radius Books). It was a wonderful experience, but I wanted to have more creative freedom with my second book. GFP provided the same level of service, expertise, and polish that a top traditional publishing house offers. Plus, I got the financial boost of low production costs and higher royalties. The book is doing better than I ever dreamt it could.

BOB: Reality—it’s a far bigger thrill, and there is a certain cache, to being a published author. It would all be wonderful if it wasn’t so bloody difficult to actually sell books. Quite easy to get exposure, publicity, and interest, but converting that to sales is so hard!

Based on your experience, what’s one piece of advice you could give to an author ready to start this process?

ANDREA: Be prepared to invest time and a lot of effort. It might take you a few books to get some traction, unless you’re a leprechaun or in the right place at the right time. Keep doing it because you love to write. Writing is the reward.

SALLY: Hire Girl Friday Productions. Professional, passionate, and extraordinarily talented, they are worth every penny you will spend. And . . . as an added bonus, you will sleep at night.

BRIAN: Write about stuff you really know, and avoid the passive voice.

BOB: Accept that your first drafts will not be published in that format, so they don’t need to be perfect, or even very good. They just need to be. Share your work early and often. I made the mistake in the beginning of allowing myself to be self-conscious of my efforts, maybe terrified of having my work judged and found wanting, so I protected myself by not showing it to others.

Start with a clear vision of how you want to feel when you hand a published copy of your book to another person. You don’t want to have to apologize, or explain, or justify, or share how it could be so much better if only you had had more X or less Y. Your book will be around—potentially—forever. It might be the only book you will ever write. Make it the best book that you possibly can. And when you hand the book to somebody, and they notice the beautiful cover, the beautiful layout, the beautiful writing, and compliment you on an outstanding achievement, accept the compliment and resist the very human temptation to bat it away.

Eight Questions to Ask When Hiring a Book Publicist


Special thanks to Sandy Poirier Smith, president of Smith Publicity, for this guest post! 


Finding the right book publicist can be tricky. You need a to find a match with the right skill set for your genre, personality, and budget. Because promoting a book is a highly specialized skill, ideally, you want a publicist/agency that specializes in books and authors, rather than a general publicity or public relations professional. 

It’s essential to find a team that has cultivated contacts for your genre, has experience in pitching print (magazine and newspaper), broadcast (television, radio and podcast) and/or online and blog outlets to make an author and book newsworthy. Plus, it’s also important to find a team with the personality, passion, and communication style that fits your needs. It’s not an easy task! While book publicists cannot guarantee book sales or getting you on the cover of national magazine, they should be able to guarantee a consistent effort, clear strategy, and regular communication plan with you.

The time to start researching, if possible, is even before your publication date is set. You ideally want to have your marketing plan in place months before implementation. Below are eight questions to ask when hiring a book publicist.

Research Experience  

You can Google “Book Publicity” or “Book Marketing,” to start your search, but asking authors, publishers, and publishing industry experts for recommendations is a good place to start. Once you have a list, begin your research by researching:

1. How long has the company/individual been in business? There are many companies and individuals claiming expertise and offering often outrageous promises to authors. Be wary of websites without staff members, years of experience noted, and client testimonials, or those with offers too good to be true. Hint: if no individuals are listed on the website, move along! The book publicity process is a personal one—you want to see real people!

2. Do they publicize books in your genre? Look beyond fiction vs. non-fiction to see experience specifically with your topic. Christian fiction, business leadership, children’s middle grade chapter books, poetry, health/wellness, sci-fi novel, self-help, high end coffee table art books, etc. … each require very different strategies. Hint: if they don’t have experience in your genre, you don’t want to be the experiment test case. It is essential you find a match with contacts and experience in your genre.

Understand Service Options, Staff, and Personality

Once you determine a publicist/firm are reputable, and have the experience you need, then find out: 

3. What are their book publicity service options, and timelines? Some book publicists work on six-month only campaigns starting months ahead of publication date, others are more flexible ranging from six weeks to four months, or after publication. Ask what they recommend for your book and why. If your project has galleys/advance reader copies, ask how they will incorporate this important element into the strategy and timeline. Ask about fees. If the fees do not match your budget, share your budget and see what they recommend. Hint: they should be asking you detailed questions about what makes your book different, your background, your short term and long-term goals, and target audience. 

4. Who will my publicist be and who else is involved? Whether they offer a team of publicists with many levels of support or a dedicated lead publicist, careful consideration should be given to match an author to a publicist who has both the right experience and personality fit. Some authors want crisp, short email communication, while others are looking for weekly brainstorming style telephone conversations. Hint: if it is a one-person shop, while they could be a perfect fit, also know these people wear many hats and have to spend time away from publicity activities for other tasks including attracting new clients. If they are sick or have a family emergency, we’ve seen book launches come to a grinding halt. 

5. Tell me your ideas to promote my book? They should be able to tell you what excites them about your project, and share examples of specific angles and ideas they think will interest the media, along with the challenges they’ve faced promoting this topic/genre. They should also share advice on what you should do in advance to prepare for media attention, including update website/blog/social media platforms, etc. Ask for a tailored proposal detailing their plan, price points, and timeline. Hint: if it is available, they should ask to read through your book or book proposal as part of this process.

Evaluate Work Ethic, Communication, and Wrapping Up

If their price point, background/experience, and ideas for your book look good, then ask:

6. Describe a typical week’s activity? Ask how the publicist breaks up the work week. Most importantly, you don’t want to feel the publicist is going through the motions and checking off a “to do” list. Each book is unique and deserves a tailored and exciting strategy. There are thousands of book published each day, and you need to know they are putting in the effort to separate you from the crowd. Going through the motions simply won’t do it. Ask about management support and how they evaluate results. You also want to understand what they are going to do, the timeline, and the strategy. For example, are they pitching long lead media (magazines), for national television opportunities, or are they setting up a book blog tour? If so, what is the strategy, what angles will they lead with? Is submitting your book for a potential review part of the strategy? If so, what are the outlets? Hint: If a book is already available for sale, they should tell you book trade opportunities (like Publishers Weekly) are slim as these outlets require books for consideration months before the publication date.

7. How will you communicate with me? Find out how, and how often, they will communicate with you, and how accessible your publicist will be for calls and questions. You should have consistent and genuinely informative updates detailing activities, results, and future plans. Hint: get a concrete answer on communication. We’ve heard from many authors who have told us, “I hired a publicist and never heard back from them—I had to keep asking what was going on.” 

8. What happens at the end? At the end of working together, whether it is weeks or months after starting, there should be pending or outstanding media interest in you and your book. Ask what they do with these opportunities, including what happens when they hear from media after your campaign is over. Hint: there should be a wrap up conversation or formal report so you can continue the work they started.

In the end, selecting a publicist comes down to personality and fit, and to some degree, your “gut” feeling or instincts. Your book is your baby and you need to feel you’ve found a partner who is excited and will be vested in the success of your launch. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Read testimonials or talk with past clients and ask about results, but also ask about the effort, support, and communication they received along the way. While book publicists are not in control of book sales and can't guarantee specific media results, they are in control of a proactive, strategic and tailored book launch. And that is exactly what you and your book deserve. 


Sandra (Sandy) Poirier Smith is president of Smith Publicity, Inc., an international book promotion company dedicated to helping authors and publishers create awareness about their books and expertise through media coverage. Smith Publicity has promoted thousands of books since 1997—from household brand New York Times best sellers to first time, independently published titles. Smith Publicity authors have appeared on media outlets worldwide including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Atlantic, AARP, O, The Oprah Magazine, Forbes, INC, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Parents, People, TIME, Publishers Weekly, The Today Show, Good Morning America, 60 Minutes, NPR, BBC, The Guardian, Toronto Star, Huffington Post. Sandy works with clients to create and execute creative and tailored book promotion strategies. She regularly writes about and speaks at book industry events on the topic of book marketing and author/expert promotion. She earned a BS in Art and an MBA from Northeastern University. 

Connect with Sandy via email:, Phone: 856-489-8654 x301, Web:, Twitter: @SmithPublicity@SandyDiaz

In the Trenches of Indie Publishing: One Author's Story

 Production editor Nicole with author Mark Lipton at the NYC launch of  Mean Men , September 5, 2017

Production editor Nicole with author Mark Lipton at the NYC launch of Mean Men, September 5, 2017

Mark Lipton is an independently published author whose book Mean Men released on September 5, 2017, to rave reviews. Mark is graduate professor of management at the New School in New York City and for over forty years has been a trusted adviser to Fortune 500 corporations, think tanks, nonprofits, international NGOs, and start-ups. His work has inspired his writing for the Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, and Journal of Management Consulting, as well as his first book, Guiding Growth: How Vision Keeps Companies on Course, which was traditionally published.

After the flurry of launch events for Mean Men, we took a moment to catch up with Mark about key takeaways from his first journey into self-publishing.

Meghan Harvey: You've published a book before through a traditional publisher. What made you choose to publish Mean Men independently?

Mark Lipton: A clear vision for Mean Men came into view after my research was complete. As I shopped the rough manuscript to large publishing houses, all I heard was how they wanted to refocus it in a direction they wanted. If I would only change some key elements of the narrative, they would give me a contract. I didn’t want to publish their book; I wanted to publish my book. I experienced more than a touch of arrogance from some of the big publishers, whose attitude was “We know how to create and sell books, you don’t.” And I realized from my prior experience with a large, prestigious publisher that they do not possess magical insight to the market or necessarily try to fully understand the author’s intent. I didn’t have all the answers, but I could see there was a viable alternative to the traditional route.

MH: The landscape of services to help authors self-publish is quite diverse. Why did you choose to work with Girl Friday on this book?

ML: One word: Relationship. I started working with Girl Friday in “book doctor” mode for structural editing. Partnering with Leslie Miller at GFP was a luxurious experience because she understands the importance of a trusting relationship in this work, and in the most natural ways, we bonded and had fun tightening the manuscript. We also continued to shop the manuscript to large, established publishers, and it was then that I realized, “I can go in a different direction for this book; I could do it myself with the team at GFP.” My trust in her led me to assume, by virtue of her role at GFP, that I would be able to develop the same type of trusting relationships with others there. That proved to be the case. The second reason was their seamless set of offerings. They’re a one-stop shop.

MH: How did your expectations at the outset of the project differ from the outcome of your experience?

ML: Due to the content of the book, and the events unfolding after the presidential elections, I realized I needed to launch the book very quickly. GFP easily accommodated this need. While it felt like we were moving at warp speed with many of the specialized pros at GFP working on their respective elements to bring the book to life, I never for a moment questioned that I was in the best, most-qualified hands possible. My expectations were high and they were met.

MH: Was there anything that surprised (or delighted) you about the bookmaking process with GFP?

ML: Well, I was certainly delighted that every single person I worked with at GFP was at the top of their professional game, incredibly pleasant to work with, and delivered on each and every promise. I could not ask for more than that. They set a bar pretty high on these factors and I wonder now if I could actually go back to an established large publishing house.

MH: Can you explain to other authors reading this why having a production editor was so important?

ML: I was in awe of my production editor’s ability to keep a dozen plates spinning in the air simultaneously, and to give me confidence none would slip. It’s high-pressure work, with the production editor essential to bringing all the pieces together. Designing the cover and interior, copyediting, fact-checking, indexing, and creating schedules to assure that those plates not only keep spinning but also that every detail comes together in time for launch day. Whew! A production editor puts so many decisions in front of the author that it can feel overwhelming at times. But a great production editor can do that and give the author the confidence that everything will be fine. A feeling of true partnership between the author and production editor is essential . . . and I don’t think many of them have that human touch required to make it a fine experience for the author while simultaneously being a hard-core project manager.

MH: What advice would you give to authors at the beginning of this journey?

ML: Ask yourself, are the people I choose to work with truly engaged with my vision, the book I want to produce? Search your gut for first impressions. Do your initial interactions suggest the professionals you choose to work with want not only to help create a great book but also to realize that it takes a strong, trusting relationship to bring it all to reality while minimizing any misunderstanding and conflict? Trust your gut.

Find out more about Mark at

Narrative Continuity: Know the Rules and Play by Them


When I was a kid my friends and I would occasionally play some Dungeons & Dragons. The rules could get very complex. And after a while, I realized we often weren’t following them because we hadn’t considered they existed. Like the rule of encumbrance. The rule of encumbrance is supposed to ensure some realistic standards in a fantasy game. It means that the character’s strength determines how many things they can carry, and the amount of things on their person relative to their strength determines what actions they can and cannot do or how quickly they can do them.

So after several successful campaigns of having my character pick up every broadsword and magic orb and bag of gold and leg of lamb and set of armor dropped by fallen orcs and other enemies, I realized that that whole time my four-foot-three dwarf would’ve had to have been lugging around a sack of loot thrice the size of Santa’s—all while slaying kobolds and riding donkeys and swinging from chandeliers. Realizing that our characters couldn’t do whatever we wanted them to do at all times was a bit depressing at first. But in the end it made the game more fun, because it made the fantasy more real.

When writing fiction, you have to play by the rules too, and we editors have a keen eye toward ensuring that the author isn’t inadvertently breaking them—which includes rules of encumbrance and other issues of plot continuity.

I once found myself copyediting a WWII suspense novel in which the author was playing loose with the rules of encumbrance. Like my D&D dwarf, our freedom-fighting protagonist had a habit of quietly offing Nazi soldiers and then picking up their belongings—again and again without putting anything down. Soon our hero was carrying seven Lugers, a briefcase packed with secret microfilm, various blunt and sharp melee weapons, and his personal belongings to boot, all while performing impossible tasks like swimming and sprinting and hopping onto running boards of moving cars.

This isn’t an uncommon trend in genre fiction. In my experience, it seems that continuity errors in fiction writing are most likely to occur when the author revises sections in separate chunks, when the author puts aside the novel for a few days and then returns to it again, and when the wires of the author and developmental editor cross while making content changes.

While you revise, keep these tips in mind to ensure you aren’t introducing continuity errors:

1. The main tip is to be alert, especially:

  • In any steamy or romantic scene, read slowly. Make sure what’s being described is physically possible. Pro tip: there are always continuity errors in the sex scene.
  • In an action-packed scene, follow the characters’ movements—track that they’re using the same weapons and that they aren’t suddenly holding an object they dropped on the previous page. Make sure things that blew up don’t appear whole again.
  • When revising, raise your alert signal mentally whenever:
    • a character picks up or drops an object
    • a character stands up or sits down
    • a character is said to live in an apartment rather than a house, or vice versa
    • a date or time of an event is given
    • the number of objects or number of enemies is mentioned—count the numbers when they’re mentioned again, and make sure the numbers add up

2. In a separate document or notebook, take brief notes cataloging the above details as you go. Some details, such as the character’s house/apartment or model of a car, will be added to the style sheet by the copyeditor to keep details organized, but others, like standing up and sitting down or entering and exiting a room, cannot be. Read closely and raise your mental alerts.

3. Create a timeline of narrative events. Add page numbers to the timeline for your quick reference against future events. A timeline can simply consist of details jotted down for your own reference; it doesn’t have to be formally done. Basically, if a chronological detail sounds like it can be contradicted later, keep track of it on the timeline.

Examples of details to include in a timeline:

  • ages of Protagonist and Brother and Grandpa back in 1965 relative to their ages in the present
  • date that Protagonist left for Shangri-La relative to date he’s said to have been in Australia
  • time of day Protagonist sets out for Austin from Houston versus the time he arrives, relative to how long the drive would actually take at eighty miles per hour

4. When it’s time to take a break from your revising, it’s best to break at the end of a chapter or section.

Once your book goes into the developmental and copyediting process, you’ll have additional sets of eyes combing for these sorts of issues—but they’re tough to spot. The best prevention for continuity errors is a good defense by following these tips during your writing and revision process.

5 Grammar Mistakes to Watch Out For


If you’re putting your name on a book, or just writing emails or reports as part of your job, you want to make sure your writing is clear and persuasive and doesn’t contain any embarrassing errors. At GFP, we have our own “favorite” grammar mistakes we encounter with surprising frequency, from random capitalization to obsessive (and incorrect) use of the semicolon. We tapped a few of our copyeditors, grammar experts all, and asked them to share grammar mistakes to be on the lookout for.

  1. Beware the homonym. “One of the most egregious grammar errors is one that’s notoriously hard to spot: using the wrong word. Usually these are homonyms—using discrete instead of discreet, for example, or reign instead of rein. But sometimes it’s just a missing letter in a word—writing nice instead of niece, for example. These aren’t spelling errors, so spell-check won’t catch them, but many readers will!” —Erin
  2. Be positive about appositives. “Over the years I’ve lightened up about many rules that I thought were incontestable. But there is one that bugs me as much as it always did: the comma before a restrictive appositive. For instance: ‘We’re thrilled to welcome astronaut, Buzz Aldrin.’ If what comes after the comma isn’t the only one of its kind (Buzz Aldrin isn’t the only astronaut out there), then don’t put a comma before it.” —Meredith
  3. Mind your modifiers. “One type of error that seems to slip by even the most careful reviewer is the misplaced modifier. Example: ‘Built on a steep hillside, I was surprised that the house was still standing after the earthquake.’ This sentence needs to be rewritten so that it doesn’t read as if I were built on a steep hillside. There are a variety of ways to do this. One possibility: ‘Since it was built on a steep hillside, I was surprised that the house was still standing after the earthquake.’ Or reverse the order: ‘I was surprised that the house was still standing after the earthquake, since it was built on a steep hillside.’” —Rebecca J.
  4. Tune in to timing. “I’m currently a vigilante about incorrect use of the present participle in expressing order of action. For example: “Opening the fridge, Roxie grabbed her water bottle.” First Roxie has to open the fridge, then she can grab her water bottle, but she can’t do both simultaneously.” —Kamila
  5. Don’t be a stick in the mud. “A grammar mistake to avoid is to get so hung up on a ‘rule’ learned way back in school that it creates very awkward writing. The example that always comes to my mind is the good ol’ preposition at the end of a sentence. A grammatically correct sentence can often be awkward: ‘We’re studying this compound to determine of what it’s made.’ Whereas one that breaks the rule reads more smoothly: ‘We’re studying this compound to determine what it’s made of.’” —Irene

We Break Four Homophones


The Force is strong in my household. My four-year-old son is obsessed with Star Wars, and it’s the lens we see the world through these days. One recent afternoon, my youngling and I were talking about Super Battle Droids.

“Mama, how can Super Battle Droids not break when they’re pew-pewed at?”

“They must be made of something sturdy. A strong metal, like steel maybe,” I suggested.

My young Padawan gave a long pause, one of those quiet moments where you can see the wheels working, and you know something good is going to come next.

“Mama, what is steel then? I thought Darth Vader was mad at Princess Leia because she stealed the Death Star plans? How can a Battle Droid be steal?”

And for the umpteenth time in my parenting journey—and in my editing career—I appreciated how tricky the English language can be.

Proper conjugation aside, my kiddo was struggling with something writers, editors, and grown-ups of all kinds—including US presidents—wrestle with no matter how long you’ve practiced English: the dreaded homophone.

Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. These tricky words are everywhere, and they can slip past even the most eagle-eyed editor and the most proficient wordsmith. A billboard proclaims, “We bye used cars!” A menu suggests pairing fish with “roasted leaks in a garlic butter sauce.” A character in a novel I recently read broke his “humorous.”

There are so many innovative and wonderful ways that we confuse words, but there are some standard homophone errors we see often in manuscripts.

1.     it’s/its

  • it’s is a contraction of it isnot an apostrophe s to indicate a possessive ← Pro tip: I still read it’s aloud as it is when I’m editing to make sure I’ve got this one right.
  • its without the apostrophe indicates ownership
The Padawan loved its class. It’s about grammar, taught by Yoda. The Padawan’s skills are almost complete.

2.     there/their/they’re

  • there is a place
  • their indicates they are in possession of something
  • they’re is a contraction for they are
They’re on Hoth. Their base is there.

3.     who’s/whose

  • who’s is a contraction of who is, not an apostrophe s to indicate possession
  • whose indicates possession
He’s the droid who’s going to the master whose ship is being repaired.

4.     pedal/peddle/petal

  • pedal is what you do to a bike, or what you put your foot on in the car
  • peddle means to sell your wares
  • petal is on a flower
(And here’s where I’m out of Star Wars examples.) He pedaled to the market to peddle his blooms with bright-orange petals.

5.     cannon/canon

  • cannon is something you fire during a battle
  • canon has a few meanings, among them dogma, an accepted group of works, or an accepted principle
Coconut Cannon Blast is an obvious addition to the canon of great tropical thrillers.

6.     cavalry/Calvary (OK, maybe not totally technically a homophone, but still.)

  • cavalry is a horseback unit of troops
  • Calvary is a place in the bible (not to be confused with Calgary, which I’ve seen done not once but twice in my editing career)
Call the cavalry! We’ve got to get forces to Calvary.

7.     complement/compliment

  • compliment is something nice someone says about you, or the act of doing so
  • complement is something that completes or goes well with something else, or the act of doing so
I complimented her on the hat, which complemented her shoes so well.

8.     complimentary/complementary

  • complimentary is something that’s praising
  • complementary is how to describe two things that go together
The judges on Project Runway were complimentary of her use of complementary colors.

9.     discrete/discreet

PSA / pro tip: This is on nearly every editing test, and when it appears in books, it’s nearly always wrong. Look. It. Up. Every. Time.
  • discrete means separate and distinct
  • discreet means prudent, unpretentious, or unnoticeable
They would split up and go to discrete locations, but they would go discreetly so the bounty hunters wouldn’t be able to follow them.

10.  defuse/diffuse

  • defuse is something you do to a tense situation
  • diffuse means to scatter
Watching the juice concentrate diffuse in the water seemed to defuse the tensions.

Now that you know some common problematic pairs—and how tricky they are—here are some tips for ridding your writing of them.

  1. Read aloud. Like I mentioned in the first tip above, sometimes you just need to hear the difference. When editing, I will literally say “who is” when I come across who’s in text, or exaggeratedly say “deeeee-fuze” if I come across defuse so I can be sure the right term wasn’t diffuse.
  2. Look it up. Yes, if a word you type or read sounds like another, stop for the few seconds it takes to plug the word into and check the definition. You won’t regret it.
  3. Know thine enemy. All of the words above appear regularly in manuscripts. Use MS Word’s “Find” function to seek out and destroy these foes. You can find lots of great lists of commonly confused homophones and nearly right words online; randomly search for them throughout your manuscript. Something will turn up, I promise.
  4. Try tricks for remembering the tricksters. Fun little mnemonic devices can help you remember correct spelling. For example, something complementary can complete. Size EE is shoe size, and shoes cover your heels, not your heals (h/t to @editormark on Twitter for this one).
  5. Read only for language. Try doing a pass of the manuscript focused solely on each word. When you’re reading holistically, it’s easy to catch the problem in a paragraph and miss the typo in line.
  6. Barter beer for a close read. A second—and third, and fourth, and fifth—set of eyes never, ever hurts.

Homophones are everywhere. But don’t let anger and fear cloud your reading; have fun hunting these wonderful little quirks of the English language. And may the Force be with you!

5 Quick Tips for a Successful Author Facebook Page


Facebook. Whether you love it or hate it, your readership is most certainly using it. The world’s most influential social network has revolutionized the way brands and businesses approach digital marketing, and with invaluable tools like built-in SEO, targeted advertising, and the Author Marketing App, there aren’t many excuses to forego the world’s largest social platform. But like any marketing effort, if you’re going to show up somewhere, you’d better put your best face forward.

1. Create separate personal and professional pages

Generally speaking, we think it's best to have an author page that's separate from your personal page. Not only does keeping your professional and personal lives separate make good sense, but the bonus features and advantages of having a professional Facebook page are worth the extra bit of effort.

When you make a Facebook page, you’re given options for the “type” of page you’d like to create. The type of page you create will determine which unique features will be included to help reach your goals—and Facebook makes a unique type specifically for authors. Tailoring your Facebook page by type helps you engage with your audience and connects you to pages with similar interests. Facebook provides these features for a reason, so why not use them?

If you’re worried about losing your existing following on your personal profile, don’t fret. It’s easy (and common) to cross-promote on your personal and author profiles.

2. Don’t get cute with your username

We see plenty of authors make mistakes with how they display their names on Facebook. Directly below your name at the top of your page, you’ll see a username marked by the “@” symbol. Your username helps users find your page, so it’s critical to make it clear and relevant.

If you write under the name “Jane Doe,” it wouldn’t really make sense for your username to be “@horsefanatic23.” If your name is already taken, try @JaneDoeAuthor or @JaneDoeSeattle. Yes, this may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised to see how many public figures make this error. If you want your followership to grow, the first step is making sure readers can find you.

3. Provide a detailed profile

The “About” section on your Facebook page is important for search optimization, so use it to its fullest potential. In this section, you can add a contact phone number, e-mail address, website link, a call to action, and other social media accounts to encourage readers to discover you through multiple touchpoints.

Keep your description of yourself and your work brief (under twenty-five words) and include as many keywords as possible. For instance, if you’re a YA mystery author who is part of a writing community in Philadelphia, make sure to include the words “YA,” “mystery,” and “Philadelphia” in your description.

4. Think visually

As writers, we’re prone to being overly descriptive. But Facebook is the place to prioritize visuals over text. Posts with images garner over 2x the engagement from followers as text-only posts—so make it a point to choose engaging visuals for your feed.

5. Listen first, then give, give, give.

People who are new to social media marketing are often stymied by thinking of social media as a traditional marketing tool. Internalize this: Social media is NOT a way to project your messages to fans. It is first and foremost a forum for building relationships with readers. Spend lots of time listening to others, engaging with people, and adding relevant content to their conversations. Then, when it comes time to mention your book, you can do so without a bullhorn, because people will already be interested in what you have to say.

5 Indie Pub Thought Leaders to Listen To


If you've started sniffing around about self-publishing your book, you know that publishing independently is not for the faint-of-heart. It requires an entrepreneurial spirit and entails some serious on-the-job learning. There's tons of information online about how to get from draft to published—but how much of it is good advice? Wading through it all and finding resources to trust is tough and time-consuming.

Here's a list of a few of our favorite thought leaders in independent publishing. These folks not only are the smartest out there, but they’re creating excellent content and making it available online. Subscribe to their newsletters and follow their social accounts—if you learn from only these and skip the rest of the noise, you can rest assured that you're getting the best information out there.

Jane Friedman @JaneFriedman

If you start researching self-publishing, it seems that all roads lead to Jane. That's with good reason: with twenty years of experience in the publishing industry, she understands both the traditional business of books as well as the quickly evolving digital landscape that's most relevant to indie authors. She is a champion of the professional independent publisher and shares an incredible volume of relevant content for indies, from writing advice all the way through branding, marketing, and promotion strategies. Jane has published several books on self-publishing and cofounded top-notch industry newsletter The Hot Sheet.

Orna Ross @OrnaRoss

Orna Ross understands the indie author—because she is one. Now an award-winning, bestselling indie author, she founded the Alliance of Independent Authors as a nonprofit resource for self-published authors. Not only is she a great person to follow, but “ALLi” maintains a list of vetted service providers, a valuable resource for self-publishers.

Peter McCarthy @petermccarthy

I’ve attended many indie conferences around the country, and I never miss a chance to see Peter McCarthy speak. With a history in traditional publishing, he knows the book business in and out, but is also an absolute guru when it comes to digital marketing—one of the smartest brains around. His most recent venture,, is an amazing monitoring tool for author marketing and sales (I got to see a sneak preview of how it works), that gives authors real-time feedback on what is and isn’t working well so they can make valuable adjustments to their marketing strategy. Yes, there are so many online “tools” for authors to consider—but this is one that’s definitely worth watching.   

Data Guy @authorearnings

If Peter McCarthy was one of the smartest brains in the business, then Data Guy is the other one. Cofounded with self-pub bestselling author Hugh Howey, Data Guy’s company Author Earnings is a sales-data gathering machine (quite sure that’s not the technical term) that crawls Amazon to compile comprehensive snapshots of sales for all books. Why does that matter? Because traditional sales data (tracked by Nielsen and AAP) does not capture books that are sold through Amazon—Amazon doesn’t release that data. And yet, the vast majority of indie-published books are sold through Amazon. Author Earnings built a web crawler that compiles key stats from each book Amazon page to form a total picture of sales. Author Earnings’ quarterly reports are excellent resources, for example, when setting your retail price: you can rely on real data to know what price points work best for what formats by genre.

Penny Sansevieri @Bookgal

Penny is a crack-shot marketer who founded Author Marketing Experts—but more than that, she’s a great blogger. If you find yourself stuck in a rut with your book marketing, click over to her blog and you’ll find tons of ideas to jump-start your strategy and move the needle on your brand-building endeavors.  

Girl Friday @GirlFridayProd

Overly bold to include ourselves here? I don’t think so! We are experts at high-quality bookmaking—from writing to editorial and design to production, and we’ve been in business doing so for traditional publishers and indies alike for over eleven years. With so many service providers out there preying on self-publishers, our mission is to be the girls you can trust. Not only is our high-quality bookmaking process watertight, but our marketing consulting work is strategic and data-driven. Don’t miss our monthly newsletter, The Book Report.

Did we miss anyone, in your opinion? Leave a comment to let us know who you would add to this list.

All About Photo Usage: Rules for Self-Publishers

In the age of the internet, photos are shared everywhere, often without a lot of thought to where they came from originally. Do you ever think about who took the photograph before reposting it? Whether the person pictured has given their permission? What landmarks are shown? Not likely.

But when it comes to including photos in your self-published book, there are rules. Ignore them at your legal peril!

If you’re thinking about publishing a book with any images in it, read on:

How do I know if an image can work for my book?

There are a few key elements that determine whether the image you’ve found will work:

  1. The file is sized for print and digital quality. Read up on image resolution requirements. It would be a shame to secure rights and pay for an image you love, only to find out it’s too small or grainy to print well!
  2. Permissions for rights and reproduction can be secured.
  3. It’s affordable and/or fits your budget.

I found this image on Google with no credit attached. Can’t I just use it?

Not without significant risk. Search methods like Google, Pinterest, and the plethora of other image-sharing resources are a great tool for inspiration, or as a reference for the kind of thing you want to show. But proceed with caution, and avoid getting too attached to what you find, because images here are often divorced from their original sources. It can be difficult to trace back and determine whether the image is viable for how you want to use it.

What kinds of permissions are needed to use an image?

The answer to this question depends on a few things:

  • Identification of the source of the image, and who owns the rights. Sometimes it’s a single photographer, sometimes it’s multiple rights holders, sometimes it’s a stock agency. You need to get written permission to use the photograph from any and all rights holders.
  • The content of the image. Even if you get the photographer’s permission, you may need additional clearances for people pictured in it, or even famous locations pictured.
  • How and where you intend to use the image. Sometimes, an image will be available for use in the book’s interior, but not the cover. Or available for use on the cover in design only and not as a standalone image (which often happens in the marketing of the book).
  • How the book will be distributed. Do you intend to publish only in English, in the United States? Or do you have plans to print an edition in the UK or China, and/or in other languages? Some types of images are licensed with these parameters, and are priced accordingly. Image stock sites like Getty or Shutterstock are easy to use for non–photo researchers. They are the most foolproof way to cover your bases, but even they cannot always guarantee all rights are covered.

Can I hire someone to handle all this for me?

Yes, you can hire freelance photo researchers. Photo researchers have a thorough understanding of use rights, including copyright and fair use, and will help you pursue a better-safe-than-sorry route. If you’re embarking on a photo-heavy project, you may be thankful if you bring a photo researcher on board so you don’t have to deal with tracking down dozens of sources and rights holders yourself!

What’s more, photo researchers can also be creative collaborators on any book project. They can lend an artful eye for the right cover image, or to find that obscure topic you were hoping to show, or facilitate overall consistency and visual quality of images to your project.

Do You Love What You Do? WE DO.

It was August of 2006 that we first opened GFP’s doors, and there’s nothing like an anniversary to make you reflect on the reasons you’re with someone. In keeping, we spent some time reflecting on our relationships—with you all and with each other—and we’d still rather do what we do than anything else.

Sara: I think the thing that I love the most is how smart and funny my coworkers are. I used to imagine myself as the funny one, but I’ve got nothing on some of these folks.

Bethany: I love the flexibility, community, and overall trust that exists within the entire company.

Paul: I love books probably more than any nonliving thing in the world. Graphic design is increasingly dominated by UX/UI, wireframes, web banners, marketing detritus, blah blah, and I love that I can ignore all of that and work on things that actually get printed and used and enjoyed in the real, physical world.

Jaye: I love e-mail chains that turn into a discussion of what everyone is currently reading (so many good new titles to add to my list!) and when I get to work on books I’d happily buy and read.

Kristin: I love showing a publisher what Girl Friday can do for them, from coming up with trend-setting ideas to executing them flawlessly. GFP blends creativity and task-mindedness in a way that’s extremely rare.

Dave: I love helping create books that readers enjoy, as well as helping writers produce the best, most-polished work possible. I also do a lot of problem-solving, and problem-solving is fun and engrossing.

Anna: I love the variety. We work on all kinds of projects, from cozy mysteries to business training curriculums to self-help memoirs to white papers to German romance to author blogs to. . . . Keeps the gray matter in good shape!

Kim: I love working in a drama-free workplace. Everyone gets along, gets the job done, and loves what they do.

Michael: I love the intimateness, precision, and privacy of copyediting a book. You get to zero in on each line’s language, punctuation, and style, and make little changes that make a huge difference.

LAM: I love how I don’t have to be a different person at work than I am at home or out in the world. I love how much I learn every day from the smarties at Girl Friday and from some kick-ass clients. I love that I’ve had the same “work wife” for more than fifteen years and we still like each other.

Miners Landing Press: Reenvisioning Seattle’s Waterfront, One Book at a Time

Kyle Griffith, vice president of the family company that owns Pier 57 in Seattle, wanted to add value to one of the waterfront’s most popular attractions. The company already sold photos taken of guests riding the Seattle Great Wheel. Visitors could purchase photos with a stylized paper frame or in a plastic souvenir frame with cut-out orcas. But Kyle wanted something different—something truly special. He kept coming back to the idea of a book, though he knew nothing about publishing. But how do you incorporate a keepsake photo into a book?

When Kyle approached Girl Friday with his conundrum, we put our collective heads together. We came up with the idea of creating a custom children’s book around the Great Wheel with a die-cut (or window) in the front cover that would allow the keepsake photo to be incorporated into the story. We also created a second version of the book with a standard cover for those who just wanted to buy the book as a souvenir or gift.

The Great Wheel Adventure turned out to be ideal for families traveling with small children and grandparents craving a tangible memory. All in one, the book provided kids’ entertainment—allowing parents to enjoy their beer and crab at the Griffith waterfront restaurants—a family memory, a quality souvenir, and a delightful way to promote the Great Wheel to all the folks back home. 

One million people ride the Great Wheel every year, and 10 percent of those people buy a photo. If even 1 percent of riders buy a book-and-photo combo, the book has reached ten thousand people. 

Since the publication of The Great Wheel Adventure and the birth of its smiling brother-and-sister protagonists, Betty and Gabe (named for Kyle’s black Labs), Miners Landing has become a bona fide publisher with three titles under its belt. Each title promotes key elements of the Pier 57 experience, which combines a carnival-like atmosphere with education about the Pacific Northwest and historical and cultural Seattle. 

Wings Over Washington is a luxe coffee-table book filled with beautiful images of Washington State. It complements the Wings Over Washington flight experience, which allows riders the chance to soar over the Pacific Northwest in five minutes. 

The Great Gold Rush Adventure features the antics of an adventurous boy named Walter who meets old-time miner Hal and sets off to the Yukon. Both fantastic story and fun marketing tool, the book allowed Miners Landing to parlay a bit of Seattle history into company folklore: the current pier is just adjacent to the 1897 landing site of the SS Portland, fresh from the Yukon and laden with gold that ignited gold rush fever and put the town on the map. 

Thrilled by the results of the first three titles, Kyle is currently working with Girl Friday on another children’s adventure book featuring the photo-friendly die-cut on the front cover for Wings Over Washington fans. The only hitch now is waiting to name Miners Landing’s newest protagonist (who may be christened after the soon-to-be-arriving youngest Griffith!). Miners Landing is also finding new ways to promote their titles, with a new store promoting special offerings, including all three current books, and other on-pier purchasing opportunities. All three books are also available through Amazon. 

Not every company needs or wants to engage in a full-scale publishing program like Miners Landing did, but every company must distinguish itself from its peers (no pun intended). A custom book can help extend or enrich the story of an organization, promote a company beyond its usual market segment, or provide clients a new (and fun!) way to interact with the brand. In the Griffiths’ case, it’s all three.

Peek Inside: Self-Publishing Your Children’s Book Successfully

We all remember the magic of those first childhood picture books. The illustrations, the clever story, all managing to captivate us with so few words and very few pages. Those childhood memories are why so many people want to publish a kids’ book of their own. The economy of words, the interplay with the artist, and the specificity of the genre are what make that so tricky to do successfully, especially without a traditional publisher. Kristin caught up with Canadian self-publishing client and children’s author Heather Gordon (Does the Queen Fart?) to get her take on the keys to success. 

Where did the idea for your book come from and what motivated your characters? 
For many years, I have wanted to write a children’s book. I could never land on the right idea until the day that the title Does the Queen Fart? came to me, and from that moment on I knew it was the book I had to write.

I’ve always found farts amusing, and then having kids thrust farting into my life in a big way. Valentine’s “look” of a sweet boy with a mop of blond curls was loosely based on my son, who is a few years younger than the character. I think we all know mothers who are a little more conservative in the bum department and see farting and burping as extremely rude. Valentine’s mum wasn’t a hard character to bring to life.

What about self-publishing was more appealing to you than going with a traditional publisher? 
My husband is a published author, so I watched that process intently. I saw the obvious benefits and challenges in pursuing the traditional route. Early on, I had a few discussions with industry folks and realized “farts” were a polarizing subject. I decided to self-publish so I could create the exact book I wanted. The book I envisioned promoted farts as a good thing and something to be celebrated. Not all mums agree with that last statement. 

This is really interesting to me! Did you get the sense that a publisher would make you change the book to be more acceptable or less controversial?

I got the sense that the topic of farting was a nonstarter for some publishers. So there was really no way to change the book to make it more acceptable, given the whole book is centered around gas. I knew of examples of successful fart books (such as Walter the Farting Dog), but I think they are rare. Perhaps if I had hunted longer, I would have found a home at a publisher. However, I hadn’t sourced an agent and I was eager to publish my book.

You worked with an illustrator on your book. What was it like to see your characters and story come to life in this way? 
It was amazing! Marko Rop gave my characters the look and soul they deserved and really brought out the fun and playfulness I was after. In my case, Marko was fantastic and very willing to collaborate to create the vision. I do recall being unsure at first about the design of the mother, but she grew on me and now she feels perfect.

Print-on-demand illustrated children’s books are less common than other genres. Did you find print on demand limited any aspects of your book project—or did it provide any particular positives? 
Print on demand limits your ability to sell hardcover books, so that was disappointing. But, in my case, I had several hundred printed myself and sold them through various outlets.

You used IngramSpark to produce hardcover books, a choice many people avoid due to price. Did you make money on those? How did you sell them—through consignment at bookstores? Was it hard to get them on the shelves?

Yes, they were sold for a great profit. Based on the title alone, they sell well in “English” stores that carry London/monarchy-based merchandise, and there are small gift stores in Toronto that agreed to carry it. I honestly didn’t focus much time in this area, which in retrospect perhaps I should have. Good example of the hustle required to get the self-publishing game right.

What worked (and didn’t) in promoting your book? Was your marketing background a help to you when promoting? Was social media important? 
I have used social media widely, mostly Facebook and Instagram. I also set up a launch event at the Soho House in Toronto. It was a fun tea party with English toffee, biscuits, sandwiches, customized Queen cupcakes, and cookies. Every child left with a Queen Loot Bag with a whoopee cushion and candy beans. Oh, and the parents could sip bubbly too.

I do think social media helped! It’s hard to tie sales back to social directly, but if you look at metrics like followers/shares/likes, I can assume it’s had a positive impact. Also, there were some negative comments as well, but honestly, I welcome those too. It is good to create some controversy, as it gets people talking! 

What made successful self-publishing possible for you?

Well, self-publishing books in general requires a lot of hustle and can be very time-consuming. Given that I have a full-time job in television that I love, as well as two small children, there is a lot of work involved even before the book. Fortunately, I am married to a novelist, who provided endless support and reinforcement. My husband told me not to give up, and he would constantly remind me that my book was quality. Publishing can be a discouraging venture and a support system is key. Oh, and he’s English, so it was natural to write about the Queen!

Finding Success with Illustrators

There’s no more important step in the creation of an illustrated book than selecting the perfect illustrator. Success in this genre relies not only on the talent of two separate individuals (author and illustrator) but also on a seamless and natural melding of the two individuals’ talents. Your best friend, your daughter, your dentist, your dog may be an illustrator—and is doubtless quite talented—but if her style isn’t right for your book, you’re in for a world of headaches culminating in a disjointed, perplexing, and ultimately unsatisfying book. Imagine Goodnight Moon illustrated by Ralph Steadman. (Okay, so that would actually be pretty great.) Imagine Horton Hears a Who! illustrated by Kate Greenaway. A flop, despite gobs of talent from both parties. So how, then, does one find the perfect illustrator?


1. The Brief

First and foremost, you must know what you want. That may seem obvious, but it’s often a book’s author who has the most difficulty describing its aims (this is why agents exist). Before you start reaching out to illustrators, take the time to write a detailed Creative Brief. This is the single most important tool in bridging the gap between author and illustrator. Include your title and trim size, as well as a one- to two-sentence description of your book and its themes. Describe the style of illustration you’re after. Are you looking for “simple black-and-white line drawings” or “complex, full-color, spread-spanning scenes with lots of detail and hidden gems”? Perhaps something in between. Give at least three examples of existing books or illustrators whose style would work well for your project. Identifying a style means you must stick to that style for the duration (so make sure it’s accurate!), but it also gives you an objective standard by which to judge an illustrator’s work along the way. Your Creative Brief should also include the project’s scope—i.e., the number and size of illustrations needed (e.g., “6 full-page, full-color illos and 17 black-and-white half-page spots”). Finally, note the format in which you’d like the final artwork delivered. Hi-res (300 dpi) TIFFs is standard.

2. The Search

Next, figure out what you’re willing to spend. Illustrator fees can vary widely, and typically a more detailed style means more money. Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $200 each for simple black-and-white spot illustrations and up to $500 or even $1000+ for complex full-spread showstoppers. Cast a wide net, as the person whose style is a perfect fit may be out of your price range or unavailable. Reach out to at least five illustrators whose style matches your vision. Ask them for their standard rates and how much time they typically take. Where to look? Sites like,, and are a good starting point; there’s no shortage of online illustrator portfolios.

3. The Schedule

A typical illustration project begins with “roughs” (sketches), then moves through a round or two of refined or “tight” sketches before arriving at the “final” artwork. Note that even if your book calls for color illustrations, your illustrator may prefer to work in black and white initially, focusing first on composition. If your book is character based, it’s not a bad idea to have the illustrator work on faces and figures alone before working them into any scenes. Ask your potential illustrators how they like to work, and discuss some rough dates for each revision stage (as well as deadlines for your feedback).

4. The Handshake

Once you’ve found the perfect illustrator—someone who’s responsive, eager and enthusiastic, willing to work within your budget and deliver files according to your schedule, and whose work coincides with your vision, let her know that she’s got the job. It’s not a bad idea to send your illustrator—your illustrator!—a contract in case something goes awry; you may also ask if she has a contract she likes to use. At the very least, be sure the schedule, payment terms, and scope are listed clearly in an e-mail, and hang on to that e-mail—as well as the illustrator’s acceptance of terms—for at least the duration of the project.

5. The Work

Provide your illustrator with an outline describing what each illustration should depict. Don’t go crazy, but generally speaking, more is more here. (It’s not uncommon to send the illustrator your manuscript as well, for context.) As the rounds start rolling in, it’s up to you to provide concise, specific, and appropriate feedback. It’s acceptable to say, “I don’t like the way Eddie looks—he’s too tall and not friendly enough” at the rough sketch phase, but by round two that ship has most likely sailed, and wholesale revisions may incur additional fees. By round two, your feedback should sound more like, “I still think the woodchuck’s smile could be bigger, and his tail is too bushy.” By round three, you’re essentially picking nits. Remember that an illustrated book is a collaboration between two artists; if your illustrator senses you’re waffling, or fishing for unpaid revisions, her enthusiasm in the project could wane, and the work will suffer. A really good illustrator may push back or make suggestions to you. Be open to these suggestions—you hired this person for a reason.

6. The Money

It is common to split an illustrator’s payment into two or three parts—a half or a third at project start, a third at some agreed-upon midway point, a half or a third upon approval of the final artwork. After you’ve approved your illustrations and have received your final files, send the final payment to your illustrator and thank her for her fantastic work. By this point you will likely have worked out other details, such as placement of the illustrator’s name on the cover, gratis contributor copies, and perhaps even an agreement to work together again on your next book!

Designing your Self-Published Cookbook

While a book’s content is almost always more important than its appearance, cookbooks come the closest to tipping that balance. Because cookbooks are typically used more than they’re read, their designers must take extra care to consider the end user, and function must always take precedence over form. In our previous post, we explored the editorial ins and outs of producing your own cookbook. Here are the most important things to consider when taking your completed manuscript to layout.


A cookbook’s first responsibility is to teach its readers how to cook. The best cookbooks, however, inspire their readers to cook. Unless you’ve got a life story fit for a bestselling memoir, your best chance of inciting spontaneous sous-viding is with mouthwatering photography. Yes, the sort of photography that has readers sprinting for their spice drawer usually costs a lot of money—there’s a reason even the most expensive cookbooks feature far more recipes than photos. But if you’re hoping for a cookbook that invites slow Sunday-morning perusal, budget for a talented photographer and pay attention to the food styling.

There are exceptions. Perhaps you’re the next Mark Bittman, prepared to teach a generation how to chiffonade or care for cast iron. If technique or volume are your selling points, photography may not be necessary. Or maybe you’re catering to that growing portion of the population who’s allergic to eggs, soy, gluten, rice, and root vegetables. In this case, curating these niche recipes may be all the inspiration your readers need. Finally, if you simply don’t have the money, don’t sweat it. Go photo-free. Just be sure you know your way around a font library.


At Girl Friday, we believe that the primary purpose of a book’s interior is to convey information. Good design will also delight a reader, but that delight can’t come at the expense of clarity. Cookbook design is no exception—the stakes are just higher. The visuals cannot merely delight; they must inspire. But because usability is of utmost importance in a cookbook, that inspiration must always be ready to step back and let content reign.

How to convey this information? Above all else, establish a consistent hierarchy. The rules are yours to set, but once set they must be strictly observed. Your recipe titles are likely of primary importance, and so they should be the first to catch the reader’s eye. They should also appear in the same typeface, size, and color throughout—whether they’re two words or two lines long. Ditto your headnotes, your ingredients, and everything else. When readers flip through your book, they should be able to distinguish immediately—i.e., subconsciously—between a process step, an Advanced Alternative, and a Tip for Vegans. Try attacking a fourteen-step vanilla meringue while also attempting to discern whether that Madagascar versus Tahiti bit is important right now or just an informative sidebar to divulge at the dinner table and you’ll understand the importance of clear hierarchy.


Most high-end cookbooks for would-be Wolfgangs use straightforward typography that stays out of the way of the recipes. While a staid set of fonts may not get anyone super fired up to smoke some friggin ribs right about now, personality-free typefaces, clear hierarchy, and plenty of white space create the best user experience regardless of cooking style. In other words, your superb recipes and breathtaking photography should not need any design fireworks to inspire. Of course, a Swiss minimalist approach may not be the most appropriate for Burning in Hell: Mouth-Slavering Meat Recipes from Satan’s Own Man Cave, but restraint is invaluable even in the most extreme cases.

Know your audience so that you can avoid pandering to them, and always avoid cliché. When laying out On the Road: A Trucker’s Cross-Country Cookbook, think twice before adorning your pages with tire treads, street signs, and vintage license plate clip art. Even the hardest of grease-seasoned dudes will appreciate an uncluttered layout when it comes time to pan sear that road-killed opossum.


Perhaps even more important than photography in the production of a really good cookbook—and also more costly—is the printing. The vast majority of self-published cookbook authors will use on-demand digital printing, and while the technology in this field is rapidly approaching its forebear in terms of quality, it still ain’t cheap. A modest print run of several hundred to several thousand books is now fairly affordable . . . assuming the book in question is all words. But most cookbooks want color, which increases printing costs about fourfold, blowing most indie budgets out of the water.

So what to do? First, set aside those dreams of a gold-foil, multi-level-debossed cover with three-piece cloth wrap and a six-color interior. That’s not going to happen. Remember, the aim of a good cookbook is simply to pass on time-tested, multigenerational, groundbreaking, story-telling, diet-accommodating, delicious recipes—and to inspire in your readers the same love for preparing food that warms your own heart and kitchen. If your book simply needs full-color photographs to get those mouths watering, turn to Kickstarter. But don’t be bullish—if you truly believe in your recipes, you may find that they stand on their own, without any accompanying visuals. Just don’t try and have it both ways; nary an appetite is whetted by a bunch of bargain-bin black-and-white snapshots.