Piper Bayard of Bayard & Holmes

In Indie Publishing 101—Part I, we discussed the shifting paradigm of the publishing world, what it takes to be an independent publisher, and how we produce quality, publish-ready manuscripts. Today, we will look at what is involved in the actual production of a quality indie book.

1. Layout

Pretty books don’t just happen. The visual layout of the book must be designed, paying special attention to font, spacing, and the overall visual aesthetic. We put countless hours into the quality of our content. It is just as important that it be easy to read.

  • Hire someone

Again, ask your author network for references. There are big companies that do this, as well as individuals, and the cost is $200 and upward.

However, I do not recommend hiring out formatting, and this is why . . .

  • Vellum

For roughly the same amount that it costs to hire someone to layout one book, if you have a Mac, you can get a Vellum program and layout an unlimited number of books on your own. To be clear, I am a techno-moron, and even I was able to use Vellum without too much stress. It is user-friendly, and once you get the hang of it, you can format your own books in a few minutes to a few hours.


ProTip: Always save all changes in Vellum to an RTF file. Vellum gives you that option in the dropdown under “File.” If you don’t do this, and your computer dies, causing you to transfer all of your files to a new computer, some of your files might not transfer over unless you have the RTF backup. At that point, you have to re-create the file from scratch. #voiceofexperience


  • Programs for PCs

Online publishing companies, such as Draft2Digital, offer layout services. There are also many other companies out there with layout services for both e-books and print. I recommend a Google search and talking with other writers with PCs about what works for them.

  • Editing

When we do our own formatting, we can make our own changes at will. That means when we update our books or our bios and “Also by,” we can go into our published works and make the changes rather quickly without needing to rely on a third party.

2. Cover Art

It may be that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we can’t help it. We just do. A great cover can make all the difference for sales, and the last thing an indie publisher wants a book cover to look like is “indie” in a bad way. There are several options for achieving the professional covers our books deserve.

  • Hire a Cover Artist

Hiring an artist for cover work can cost upward of $200 and usually does. To find the right artist for you, ask your author network, study bestselling indie books in your genre and find out who did the cover art, or look online. If you love their work, your readers probably will too.

Publishing companies such as Kindle Direct Publishing and Draft2Digital also offer cover services. However, I have never used them to say how they are. I recommend checking reviews and asking other authors who have tried them.

  • Buy a Pre-Made Cover

I know. You’re wondering how someone could have already made a cover for your book. I wondered the same thing, but some of these are outstanding. Just search on “pre-made book covers,” and peruse literally thousands of covers that cost $50 and up. Make sure they are only sold once, so that the cover is actually yours if you purchase it. It may not be exactly what you have in mind, but, then again, it might.

  • Design Our Own

Purchase Adobe Photoshop or some other graphic design program, study the covers on the bestselling books in your genre, noting the common colors, common imagery, and common fonts, and make covers that embrace the current fashion. Yes, covers have their own fashion fads. It’s a learning curve to making them on our own, but there are benefits.

  • The cover will be exactly what we want.
  • We can edit and re-size the cover, as well as make business cards, bookmarks, and bling designs.
  • The cost is only the price of the program and any necessary photos.
  • We are rewarded with the instant gratification that comes from making something beautiful after only a few hours of work—the exact opposite of producing a manuscript.

ProTip: Don’t make covers in a vacuum. Cover art is just like the manuscript. We need to do several passes, and then, when we think it is perfect, we need input from at least two or three people whose opinions we respect. Then we must set aside our egos and adjust accordingly.


3. ISBN (International Standard Book Number)

Books need ISBNs. These are numeric book identifiers that are unique to each form of each book.

The same book needs a different ISBN for each format. For example, our book Spycraft: Essentials has one ISBN for the digital format and a different ISBN for the print format. When we have the audiobook, it will have a third ISBN. The ISBN for each format is the same across all platforms, so, for example, the digital ISBN for Spycraft: Essentials is the same for Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and all other outlets.

Subsequent editions also require new ISBNs for each format.

One popular place to purchase ISBN numbers is Bowker Identifier Services. The (current) cost is $125 for one or $295 for ten. They have other packages, as well, with volume pricing.


ProTip: If you publish the digital format through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you can forgo an ISBN for a KDP-assigned ASIN. However, that will only work for KDP. You will still need an ISBN for other outlets.


4. Copyright Registration

While copyright can be established without technical registration, it is best to register a copy of the book with the US Copyright Office. This will short-cut any lawsuits that arise surrounding the copyright.

Go to the US Copyright Office and follow the instructions to register your work. Read the fine print and do exactly what it says. It’s straightforward, takes about fifteen minutes, and does not require an attorney. Enter your information, pay $55 online, and then upload the manuscript. The Copyright Office will take a few weeks to process it, notify you of any issues that need to be resolved, and then send your certificate of registration.

Copyright registration is not required to publish a book, but it is a good idea. We can register a copyright with the US Copyright Office at any time before or after publication.


ProTip: At the end of the program at the US Copyright Office, it gives you the chance to review everything you have entered. Review this carefully. If there is a way to edit after it goes past that point to the payment process, I have not yet found it.


Now that we have a beautiful layout, stunning cover art, our ISBNs, and our copyright in order, it’s time to publish and market our book baby. We will look at that process on March 23 in Indie Publishing 101–Part III.

These articles are by no means a comprehensive treatise on indie publishing. With the constant changes in the publishing world, we must all keep learning to keep up, so I would love to hear your tips and experience with indie publishing.

How do you do your layouts? What has been your experience with layout programs? Where do you get your cover art? If you do your own, what tips can you share? Do you register your copyright? If so, do you register it before or after you publish.

About Piper

Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes of Bayard & Holmes are the authors of espionage tomes and international spy thrillers. Their latest release, SPYCRAFT: Essentials, is designed for writers. It addresses the functions and jurisdictions of the main US intelligence organizations, the spook personality and character, tradecraft techniques, surveillance, the most common foibles of spy fiction, and much more. It is available in digital format and print at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Please visit Piper and Jay at their site, BayardandHolmes.com. For notices of their upcoming releases, subscribe to the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing. You can also contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard or Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.