How to Publish an Indie Book, Part 3 of 6: Your Cover, Author Bio, and SynopsisColin Wright
In life and in publishing, first impressions are vital. And when it comes to your Books, you have three major avenues through which to make that impression: your Cover, your Bio, and your Synopsis.
Your Cover is what potential readers will see sitting on bookstore shelves amid a clutter of other covers or on the digital shelves, shrunk down to nothing, competing with everything else on the Internet (not a fair fight by any measure).
Your Bio is what they’ll read when they want to know who you are and why they should read something you’ve written. You are your product, whether you’re writing self-help or vampire fiction. That means you’d better have a Bio that that quickly and accurately expresses who you are, giving them enough information to justify reading your words.
Your Synopsis is a summary of your Book, plain and simple. You need to touch on the important points and give away enough to tantalize without spoiling the major plot points or primary thesis. In essence, you have to give them a taste, but only a taste.
Saying Without Speaking: Your Book Cover
Your Book Cover is an opportunity to shout across a bookstore or through your computer at passersby, gripping them with dramatic imagery, compelling typography, or some other visual cue that they’ll be attracted to. This attraction has as much to do with them as you, and as such, it’s smart to take into account who your target audience is for the work. Romance novels shouldn’t be covered with black and white Helvetica poetry, and punk-rock design Books shouldn’t display (un-ironic) oil paintings of damsels riding white horses.
You have several options in getting an appropriate Cover designed for your Book, the first of which is to hire someone who knows how to do such things. Most print-on-demand services have some kind of Cover design add-on available (CreateSpace, for example, will do something professional for somewhere between a few hundred to over a thousand dollars, depending on the complexity), and some also offer the option to build one yourself with an online tool they provide (again, CreateSpace has this option, though the results tend to be what you would expect from a free service).
You can also find someone to design your Cover freelance for a very reasonable fee. The most common rates I see for well-designed work these days tend to be $200-1000, with most ending up in the $300-400 range. It’s possible to find good work for less than that (at sites like 99Designs), but it becomes a real gamble, and most of what’s presented by crowdsourced schemes like that are templated or derivative (the designers doing the work can’t afford to spend much time on the design because of the tiny amount they’ll make for it). It’s also possible to find work that costs more, but you should carefully calculate your expected returns on the Book ahead of time to make sure you aren’t going over budget. (Note: Asymmetrical offers three affordable tiers of cover design from a handful of designers we trust at the Asymmetrical Studio.)
Another option is to learn to design your own book Covers. This may sound intimidating, and I won’t tell you it’s easy, but it is possible, and it could be a very viable option, especially if you plan on writing several books, or want to design books for other people, not just yourself. The first step to learning to design you own book Covers is learning the tools you’ll use, and the most versatile tool you could have is Adobe Photoshop. You can pick up a whole lot about Photoshop online for free, you can pay a monthly subscription to have access to premium tutorials, or you can take a class like the one I teach online (Intro to Design for Publishing) and spend a month learning to design your own Covers, in addition to learning how to use the tools to communicate what you want to communicate.
Get to the Roots: Bio and Synopsis
Writing short pieces of work like Bios and Synopses is a deceptively difficult task. There’s a quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery that goes “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” The same is true with your Bio and summary. You want to tell the important things and nothing else. The tricky part is that what’s important for one person or project won’t necessarily be what’s important for another.
When I write a Bio, I like to first consider my audience. In most cases the people you’re trying to reach with a Bio are those who are unfamiliar with you or your work. As such, you don’t want to use any inside jokes or sarcasm that might be misinterpreted. You should also be careful with humility or exaggeration. Think of your Bio the same way you would think of being introduced to a group of people by a friend—you don’t want to have your traits or deeds blown way out of proportion, but you also don’t want them to completely gloss over the points you would want others to know about you.
It also helps to divide up the information, if not into paragraphs (when space is an issue), by sentence. Tell who you are and what you do. Then display some accolades (awards, press you’ve been mentioned in or shows you’ve been on, etc). Then tell something personal: where you’re from, if you live with your family or your dog, things which help pull together who you are as a person and keep your Bio from seeming like an advertisement.
Your Synopsis works in much the same way as the Bio, though instead of writing about yourself, you’re writing about your work. You want to keep it short and sweet, but your goal is to generate enough interest that someone reading the Synopsis will want to read more. You don’t want to write in the same voice as the Book—instead you want to express in neutral words what value the Book presents, be it strong characters, a compelling storyline, or valuable insight into a certain field or practice. Paint a picture for the reader: with fiction, that will probably mean describing the main characters and the world they inhabit and conflicts they face. With nonfiction, you’ll want to tell about the information or field you’re discussing, and the context in which you’re discussing them (narrative, step-by-step, etc).
For your Bio, Synopsis, and Cover, you’ll want to have different versions to suite the myriad situations in which you’ll need them.
When we publish a Book here at Asymmetrical, we usually create at least three versions of each.
Author Bio Examples
We keep at least four sizes of Bio on hand for each author: snippets, small, medium, and large lengths.
The snippets are a sentence or two apiece, and focus on some aspect of the author. Here are two example snippets for Joshua Fields Millburn:
Snippet 1 (Fiction):
Joshua Fields Millburn is the author of eight books, including a novel As a Decade Fades and the forthcoming story collection Goodbye? He lives in Montana.
Snippet 2 (Nonfiction):
Joshua Fields Millburn is the author of eight books. He left his corporate career at age 30 to become a full-time author and writing instructor. His essays at TheMinimalists.com have garnered an audience of more than 100,000 monthly readers.
And here are examples of small, medium, and large Bios for JFM:
Joshua Fields Millburn left his corporate career at age 30 to become a full-time author and writing instructor. His essays at TheMinimalists.com have garnered an audience of more than 100,000 monthly readers. He has been featured on CBS This Morning, ABC, NBC, FOX, NPR, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, Forbes, Elle Magazine, Boston Globe, and various other outlets.
Joshua Fields Millburn jettisoned most of his material possessions and left his corporate career at age 30 to become a full-time author and writing instructor. His essays at TheMinimalists.com have garnered an audience of more than 100,000 monthly readers. He has published seven books, toured international, spoken at Havard Business School, and has been featured on CBS This Morning, ABC, NBC, FOX, NPR, CBC Radio, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, Forbes, Elle Magazine, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Seattle Times, Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, Vancouver Sun, Village Voice, LA Weekly, Zen Habits, and various other outlets. He currently lives in Missoula, Montana. More info: JoshuaFieldsMillburn.com.
Joshua Fields Millburn left his corporate career at age 30 to become a full-time author and writing instructor. His essays at TheMinimalists.com have garnered an audience of more than 100,000 monthly readers.
Millburn is the bestselling author of three fiction and four nonfiction books and has been featured on CBS This Morning, ABC, NBC, FOX, NPR, CBC Radio, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, Forbes, Elle Magazine, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Seattle Times, Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, Vancouver Sun, Village Voice, LA Weekly, Zen Habits, and various other outlets.
He has toured internationally and has spoken at Harvard Business School, SXSW, World Domination Summit, and several other organizations, schools, and conferences.
In 2012, Millburn co-founded Asymmetrical Press, an independent publishing company and community that embraces new technologies, methods, and ideas to help writers and creators reach an audience.
Born in 1981 in Dayton, Ohio, Millburn currently lives in Missoula, Montana. Read more at his website, JoshuaFieldsMillburn.com.
Book Synopsis Examples
I usually write up two main Synopses for the books I write, one for use on sales platforms (like on Amazon), the other for longer description opportunities where people want to read more, rather than just getting the outline to decide whether or not they want to purchase it (pitches, blog posts, etc).
Here’s a short, sales Synopsis I wrote for my book Real Powers: Part One:
It’s 2027, and as the global economy shifts from unprecedented prosperity into harsh decline, the world’s experts struggle to understand why.
A young blogger discovers a device with a hidden purpose, an idealistic journalist upends her career by targeting the people who own the news, a master media manipulator questions his work and takes on a challenging new client, an energy tycoon bristles as her powerful position is challenged, and a technologist-turned-cult leader questions his own faith.
The hacktivist group Opus makes headlines around the world—their intentions unclear—and spurred by events he doesn’t fully understand, an unaccomplished young man born into a political dynasty decides to shatter conventions and expectations to take his rightful place in the world.
And a longer one, used in a pitch packet to generate interest in the series as a whole:
The year is 2027, and world is a different place, though not different enough.
The global economy is on the verge of collapse, and although many claim the downswing is part of a natural cycle, there are others who think it’s a harbinger of something much bigger. Of something orchestrated.
In Europe, the EU has been segmented into three classes, to make way for top tier voting nations, non-voting union states, and third-tier debtor nations. The US is on the verge of a drone war with Canada over hotly contested Arctic mineral rights, and private corporations are beginning to flex their significant muscles, taking on entire governments in the pursuit of the most useful genetic technologies and other resources.
This is a world in which an asteroid the size of Michagan was detonated before it had the chance to strike the planet by a joint US/Brazilian effort called Occasio Ultima (‘last chance’) The remains of that asteroid were pulled into orbit around Earth and are now mined for rare earth minerals and other extra-planetary resources, leading to a land rush of sorts, and a wave of in-orbit industrialization that helped build careers and reputations.
A young tycoon named Niki Jenks emerged from the flurry of activity in the years after the asteroid. She built and conquered an entirely new industry, harvesting solar energy with a swarm of miniature satellites that could merge to form massive solar arrays, and then pull apart to deliver energy to nearby satellites and harvesting rigs through wireless inductive charging—the transmission of energy through antennas.
As the daughter of consumable resource energy tycoons, Niki carved out her own kingdom and expected to rule it, though the idea for the ‘minilites’ had come from someone else. Her ex-boyfriend, Mason.
Mason was a businessperson of the traditional sort, making his fortune online by producing valuable things and building communities around the people who wanted to buy them. After a few years of dating Niki, however, he found that his lifestyle no longer synced with his priorities, and he took off to travel full-time, leaving his former business endeavors—and his relationship with Niki—behind.
A cunning businessman, Mason was able to start new endeavors on the road, and it was one of these companies—an import/export business based in Argentina—that got him tangled up with something much larger than he could handle on his own.
While checking in on one of his warehouses in South America, he stumbled upon what seemed to be a robbery in progress, but which turned out to be a sleight of hand involving his warehouse space and a group of well-organized criminals. They seemed to have left behind a small, unextraordinary looking device of uncertain use, and that device pulled Mason into a conspiracy that would take him around the world, into a secret government prison facility, and back to the net, where he’d try to unravel the puzzle of what the device does, and what its creators intend to do with it.
But Mason isn’t the only curious individual looking into the mystery of the devices and their faceless creators. Up-and-coming journalist Joanna Hubble caught the scent after being very publicly booted from her job with a well-respected news organization for looking into people who were above her pay grade—the monolithic Smith family of politicians and public officials, who also happened to be one of the largest investors in the organization.
The result of this firing was something she couldn’t have predicted: fame. The world’s most successful media-manipulator—Manicule—identified her as the potential face of a movement, and made her past work a very public spectacle. Something that annoyed her to no end until she found her way to some people with answers, and those people helped her avoid not only the downsides of stardom, but of existing.
Joanna’s disappearance threw a wrench in Manicule’s plans, but he had others ways of pushing the new agenda he was championing—that of journalistic integrity—for his recent client, Michael Smith. Michael was a young, good-looking son of a family that was essentially American royalty, and as such was always competing with the exploits of his more successful siblings and other relatives. Catching himself at the bottom of a dangerous spiral, Michael decided to push himself for the first time ever and see what he could achieve; even if doing so went against his family’s wishes.
Michael wasn’t the only public figure taking a break from the status quo in order to make waves. Former technologist and current Singularity cult leader, Xerxes, found himself trying to staunch the flow of followers from his forward-facing organization—to where, he didn’t know, but he intended to find out. After some research and following up on a surprisingly friendly, but still very threatening, letter, Xerxes worked to infiltrate the shadowy hacker collective known as ‘Opus,’ which was apparently the magnet pulling Xerxes’ flock from his pastures. In doing so, he discovered that the group had made strides toward human/machine Singularity that he hadn’t thought of, and decided that if they weren’t going to take full public advantage of the technology they’d invented, he would.
At the center of the tangled web is Opus—a group that news organizations liked to skewer, politicians liked to preach against, and governments loved to use as an excuse to pass constricting laws—an organization that few know anything about, other than that they brazenly deface and destroy that which they find to be wrong and that their sigil—a colorful wrestling mask that hearkens back to their early days taking down cartels in Mexico—is the silence that appears before the storm. An indication that something is going to change; and that there’s no way to stop it.
And here’s a nonfiction example from JFM’s memoir Everything That Remains:
Twenty-something, suit-clad, and upwardly mobile, Joshua Fields Millburn thought he had everything anyone could ever want.
Until he didn’t anymore.
Blindsided by the loss of his mother and his marriage in the same month, Millburn started questioning every aspect of the life he had built for himself. Then, he accidentally discovered a lifestyle known as minimalism…and everything started to change.
That was four years ago. Since, Millburn, now 32, has embraced simplicity. In the pursuit of looking for something more substantial than compulsory consumption and the broken American Dream, he jettisoned most of his material possessions, paid off loads of crippling debt, and walked away from his six-figure career.
So. When everything was gone, what was left?
Everything That Remains is the touching, surprising story of what happened when one young man decided to let go of everything and begin living more deliberately. Heartrending, uplifting, and deeply personal, this engrossing memoir is peppered with insightful (and often hilarious) interruptions by Ryan Nicodemus, Millburn’s best friend of twenty years.
Together, Millburn and Nicodemus co-founded TheMinimalists.com, a website with more than 2 million readers, where they write about living life with less money, less stuff, and more meaningfulness. Their story has been featured on CBS This Morning, ABC, NBC, FOX, NPR, CBC Radio, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, Elle Canada, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Austin American-Statesman, Seattle Times, Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, National Post, Vancouver Sun, LA Weekly, Zen Habits, and numerous other outlets.
(Note: Because it’s often difficult for Authors to coherently condense their work into something more soundbite-ish, Joshua hired a professional copywriter to write his book’s synopsis. This is advisable if you need a clean pair of eyes to distill your book down to its essence.)
You’ll want a few different version of your Book Cover for promotional purposes, allowing for different sizes, some with words, some without, often reusing colors and elements so that they will be recognizable even when used as banners or posters.
Here are some examples from Real Powers: Part One:
The above image is an ebook Cover, sized to Amazon’s specifications (you might tweak it for other platforms, but most will accept this sizing standard, as well).
Above is a print-ready Cover/spine/back file, used for the print version, which I use in addition to an ebook version. I usually use CreateSpace, and as such use their file settings, but you’ll want to make sure to create a different file for each service you use, as the smallest size changes could make a huge difference in how the finished product looks.
Above’s a banner I created for the Real Powers series, incorporating imagery from the second book’s Cover, as well. This kind of banner is used as more of a tease, and is best utilized when the imagery is strong, so that you needn’t use text to draw attention to it.
Above: a side banner quite easily be rearranging the elements from your Cover. Another option is to write up a super-brief Synopsis or callout about the book, and use it alongside an element from the Cover (image, title, colors, etc).
Finally, I use the above icon for the social media accounts for the series. Simple, no text (some networks don’t allow too much text in your avatar photo), and distinctive.
(Note: Asymmetrical offers inexpensive access to Professional Cover Designers in our Studio.)
About This Series
Over the course of six essays and six podcasts, Joshua Fields Millburn and I show you, based on our own experience as successful Independent Authors, how to publish an Indie Book (hence the title). This series includes six parts (listed below).
Each essay also contains a short podcast in which we expound on the contents of the essay, using our own personal experience and opinions as a beacon to guide the conversation.
We welcome your feedback and questions in the comments below, which we’ll use to append our teachings herein.
Podcast: Covers, Bios, and Synopses
Now, before you move on, you ought to jam your earbuds in your ears and listen to Joshua and me chat about Covers and Bios and Synopses.
Move on to other segments in the series:
- Introduction & How to Write a Book
- How to Edit and Proofread Your Book
- How to Create a Book Cover, Author Bio, and Synopsis for Your Book
- How to Format Your Book for Print, Ebook, and Audiobook
- How to Distribute Your Book via Various Sales Channel
- How to Successfully Promote Your Book to an Audience
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(Photo by Megan Jae Riggs)