Getting By With a Good Enough Cover

by Corina Koch MacLeod

trophy 1 | the both and | shorts and longs | julie rybarczyk
Image by shorts and longs (CC BY 2.0)

Most authors know that readers will judge a book by its cover. So, having a decent cover is pretty uncontested. I’ve seen some gorgeous covers, produced by talented cover designers for hundreds of dollars. Ouch.

But does a cover have to be the best, or even brilliant?

Can you sell your ebook with a “good enough” cover, or at the very least, a cover that’s not offensive or distracting? Is it okay to lower the bar a little (or a lot) on cover design and still get book sales?

Jason Matthews, author of How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks, All for Free thinks you can, and I’m beginning to wonder if he might be right. Maybe what matters more is choosing the right title, or maybe what’s inside your book is actually more important than what’s on the outside.

I’m currently working on a new book with Carla, and we’re wrestling with what to do with the cover. Before we sell our first-borns for a cover, I thought it’d be fun to do a little DIY experiment. Please know, I’m not a cover designer, and I’m not even very artistic — it’s a trial to match my socks to my outfit every day (do you still have do that?). But sometimes, I do have a sense of when a cover offends, so I set out to see if I could create one that doesn’t.

Authors are often cash-strapped, so I also hired a cover designer to design a cover for $30. Here are the covers, the one designed by me and the one designed for $30:

  • Which cover do you prefer? 
  • Would either of these covers be deemed good enough? 
  • What works? What doesn’t?
  • What do you need to consider in designing a cover?
  • Which cover do you think I created? (Stay tuned for the big reveal….<grin>).

While I might not be great at designing a cover, some of you might be. And if that’s the case, you’ll save lots of money doing it yourself. There are other advantages to DIY covers, too, and I’ll tell you more about those in a future post.

Related Post
How to Design a Book Cover for Free

Manuscript Preparation: Lines and Spaces

by Carla Douglas

A reader asked recently: I have been taught (back from days of the typewriter) that you indent the beginning of paragraphs (5 spaces) and use 2 spaces between the end of one sentence and beginning of the next. Is this still the case or is there a new norm? I noticed that your paragraphs and spacing do not follow this rule.
Here’s my reply: Thank you for your questions and keen observations. You’re right. Those of us who took typing in high school were taught strict adherence to these rules: a five-space or half-inch indent to mark a new paragraph, and two spaces after the end punctuation (most often a period) in a sentence. These rules have changed somewhat, but not everyone observes the changes.
Your first question, about indenting paragraphs, is the easiest to address. You need to indicate when you are beginning a new paragraph, and indenting the first line is one way of doing this. So the format you remember is still correct. Another way to mark a new paragraph is to use a block format (think back to typing class and the formal business letter) and simply leave an entire line blank between paragraphs.
Which of these options you use depends on a few things. If you’re writing a formal essay or research paper, for example, your instructor or the department may dictate a style to use. APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Languages Association) are two well known style guides. Among other things, they will tell you (sometimes in exasperating detail) exactly how to indent paragraphs, list references and punctuate and capitalize your sentences. If a paper is double spaced, then indenting paragraphs makes the most sense. 
In less formal or personal writing, you may decide to single space your writing, in which case either indenting the first line or leaving a line blank between paragraphs would be appropriate. In some cases you may do both. If the writing will be published, however, it is up to the designer or publisher to dictate which style to use. Basically, as a writer you will do what you’re told.
Your second question is also about the appearance of the text. The practice of including two spaces between sentences has a long history in  English language publishing, and has to do with the size and width of various fonts and the general ease of reading printed type. An extra space between sentences, especially in close or small typeface, was thought to make it easier for the reader to navigate. 
From the 1950s onward, the practice began to decline in publishing but continued in typewriting. Finally, with the introduction of word processors in the 1990s and electronic and proportional fonts that allowed for more uniform spaces between letters, the extra space has been all but outlawed. 
One of the first routine tasks editors undertake when working on a manuscript is to remove all these extra spaces. Most style manuals (except, strangely, APA, which recommends a return to two spaces) will tell you that one space follows end punctuation in a sentence. Conventions have changed — what was once intended to make it easier on the reader’s eyes is now considered a typographical crime, giving the appearance of a smile full of missing teeth. To quote Ellen Lupton in Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors & Students: “Don’t put two spaces between sentences. They leave an ugly gap.” We’d best do what we’re told.

“Give unto Caesar…” The IRS and Canadian Authors

Image by Tax Credit (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By guest blogger, Christina Attard

I will begin with one of the scariest words in the English language: taxes.
Ok, it is a word that I enjoy because it signals an oncoming mind puzzle of numbers, but for many writers, math is not a strong suit.
This past week, I received an email from an author friend of mine who, like all good authors, recently moved to a remote writer’s retreat without phone or internet service. (She waits for a weekly trip to the public library to catch up on emails.) I thought that her dilemma might apply to other writers in a similar situation and wanted to share the story.
She received an offer to publish her second book from a small press in the United States. The catch was that they had never worked with a Canadian author. They were hesitant to proceed with a printing contract until an understanding could be reached about how they would report the royalties to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and determine what the reporting responsibilities of the author would be.
My first instinct is to suggest that the accountant managing the affairs of the publisher is in the best position to make recommendations about their responsibilities with respect to US tax legislation. However, I thought it might help my friend if I could find out a bit more about the IRS’ regulations regarding her responsibilities.
To simplify the process, I will lay it out in three steps:
Step 1: Identification
Under normal circumstances, an American author would already have or be eligible to apply for a Social Security number. My Canadian friend is considered ineligible for a Social Security number as a non-resident alien. She will need to identify herself to the IRS using an International Tax Identification Number (ITIN) instead. For this, she will need to complete a W7 form.
My understanding is that the application process can take up to 8-10 weeks and that Canadians should take special note of Exception 1. d) in the instructions.
The instructions are available at:
The form is available at:
Step 2: Withholding Tax
Ordinarily, when a foreigner receives income from a US source, that income is subject to a 30% withholding tax. Because Canada has a tax treaty with the US, that rate is reduced to 0% for Canadians. It is the responsibility of the author to provide the publisher with documentation showing that he or she is eligible for a reduction in that withholding tax. The necessary form is called a W8 BEN. The form will ask which article of the treaty allows for the exemption and here you will need to fill in Article XII / 12 Royalties.
The instructions are available at:
Step 3: Income Reporting
The publisher should then pay the author accordingly and issue a form confirming earnings for the year with one copy forwarded to the IRS and one copy forwarded to the author. The form is called a 1042-S.
ACanadian author will not be liable for income tax in the United States and is not required to file a return. However, if the 30% withholding tax was applied by the publisher, the author can file a return with the IRS in order to have that tax reimbursed.
The author would then file her taxes with the Canadian Revenue Agency as usual and may be required to declare the American source income for that tax year.
For more information, you can reach the IRS information line at: 1 267 941-1000.
Overview documents are available at:
Disclaimer: This article is not meant as professional tax, legal or financial advice. The information contained herein was gathered from a general information call to the IRS and from online sources. The author assumes no liability for its use or its accuracy. Readers are encouraged to consult with a professional advisor before deciding on a course of action.
About the author: Christina Attard, author of The Do-tique, is an experienced fundraising professional, a writer, researcher, editor, networker and blogger. She loves solving complex problems, helping make acts of transformative philanthropy happen, writing and meeting new people.
She can be reached at

Are you MIA? Why you need a head shot. Now.

by Corina Koch MacLeod

… which really isn’t the same as being shot in the head. Allow me to explain…
Lately, I’ve been perusing a lot of author and editor websites and I’ve noticed an interesting trend: some authors and most editors are missing in action. I don’t know what they look like and that’s unsettling in a Twitter-egg kind of way.
Shy author
Perhaps there’s an explanation. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that authors and editors may be on the more introverted side of the continuum, given that they spend a great deal of time wrestling with words while in isolation (what other personality type would do that?).
However, in their shyness or humility, I think authors and editors may have missed something important: they’re more than the sum of their words.
Everyone knows that babies love faces. In fact, in the first months of life, babies tend to prefer faces to nearly anything else. Perhaps they know that in some way, recognizing and seeking out trustworthy faces is essential to human survival.
Faces are important to adults, too. While we might forget a name, we’re less likely to forget a face. We don’t have to immediately remember someone’s name to pick up where we left off (or to duck into the cereal aisle, when the need arises). And like babies, we also look to faces to decide whether we can trust someone.
This is both good and bad news. Right or wrong, we make judgments based on appearances. If someone saw me in my writing attire (yes, working in your pajamas is certainly one of the perks of being a WAH word nerd), he or she might not come to the best conclusion about my competence as a writer and editor. And that leads me to my next point…
What conclusions will people draw from your visual absence from your website? Will those conclusions help you or hurt you? You spend a great deal of time presenting yourself to the world through well-honed words, why not coax an image to work for you in the same way?
There are many opinions about what constitutes a good headshot. Below is a list of questions that can help you create a headshot that showcases you at your best:
  • Can we see up your nose? You took your headshot using your laptop’s built-in camera, didn’t you?
  • Have you actually taken a headshot (and not a foot shot – you’d be surprised by how many foot shots I’ve seen).
  • Can we see your face clearly? Some authors like their pictures taken in shadow or incognito. Unless you’re a vampire or Lemony Snicket, you might want to step into the sun.
  • Do you look like you have the flu? Granted, you spend a great deal of time indoors, chained to your computer. That’s bound to have an effect on your complexion. Do yourself a favour and present yourself in a good light (sorry).
  • Do you present yourself in a professional way? For instance, did you comb your hair? Did you launder the shirt you’re wearing (before you put it on)?
  • Do you need people to trust you? Believe you? Make sure your facial expression and posture communicate that.
  • Does your personality come through? Adrienne Montgomerie, a fellow word nerd, had her headshot taken in front of a graffiti-covered wall. Clever, huh? And you know what? She is clever, and she has a great sense of humour, too. Cat London of Cat London Photography has infused a little humour into her Twitter photo, presenting herself as a lighthearted photographer who just may be able to make the most camera-shy author smile.
True, there’s only so much you can do with a headshot. It is, after all, a picture of your head. You can, as suggested above, play with lightingbackground, facial expression and the shirt you wear. It’s not a lot of creative leeway, but there is enough room to come up with something that’s personal. It helps to remember that your face is personal, as you’re the only one who has it.
If you’re anything like me, having your picture taken is about as pleasant as having your toenails pulled off, one by one. If you’re not sure about how to go about presenting yourself at your best, consider hiring a professional photographer* to take your photo. Professional photographers know how to bring out your personality. And unlike your significant other, they’re also good humoured about snapping fifty pics to get that one good shot.
*Carla and I had been putting off having the “dreaded headshot” taken, so we enlisted the help of a professional – Maryl Cook of Maryl Cook Photography, who managed to make the process quite pleasant, if not fun. She’s excellent with babies, and even better with big babies. Since then, we have discovered another photographer who has quite a way with a camera: the aforementioned Cat London of Cat London Photography. If you live in the Kingston, Ontario area, check them out.