Today on the blog I have E. M. Tippets, owner/founder of E. M. Tippetts Book Designs, and a best-selling author on Amazon.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your background. What did you study in college?
I studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics in college at Oxford University, so I spent undergrad as a foreign student. Then I went to law school at UCLA. I always wanted to be a writer, but I also wanted to have a good fallback should I ever need one. There’s nothing quite as secure as knowing that if it became necessary, I could rebuild that first career and keep my kids fed.
What is your position at your company and what do you do there? How many employees do you have and what do they do?
I’m the founder/owner of my company, E.M. Tippetts Book Designs, and these days I basically work as the office manager, making sure projects stay on schedule and files get where they need to go. I employ three formatters as independent contractors, and they do the heavy lifting (and make most of the money, as is only fair.) The three of them now do nearly all the design of the paperback interiors and ebook headers and do a spectacular job, in my opinion. I’m always excited to see what they’ll come up with for each book that comes in.
Can you tell us a bit about the designing process? What does that entail and how long does it take?
So, we do a few different kinds of design at E.M. Tippetts Book Designs. Our main business is taking an author’s manuscript and turn it into a paperback interior and an ebook. The design process is only a small part of the job – though an important one. We always start by looking at the book’s cover, as we want the interior to match the exterior. The ebook formatter can get started even before the cover’s in because of the way ebooks work. It’s easier to insert graphics afterwards and size them however seems best.
The paperback formatters always need to wait until they see the cover, because they’ve got more constraints and need to know how everything is going to lay out on each page. Once they see the cover and have the fonts, they get to work putting together an attractive interior that’s more upmarket than what a publisher would provide anyone other than their star authors. The time varies with each project, but they tend to get winning designs on the first try, though the authors are always at liberty to ask for a redesign. This happens so rarely that it hasn’t been much of an issue.
I also design covers, and those can take anywhere from six hours to forty. It really depends on what the author wants and how many tries it takes to produce the desired result. The important thing to know about designing a book cover is that it is actually an advertisement, like a billboard poster. You don’t want to be too intricate and muck around with details. You want as clear and compelling of an image as possible, something that attracts the right kind of readers for that book to pick it up. That means finding an effective image and making a title block and author name style that compliment it.
Is it worth the time and expense to set up a custom photo shoot instead of using stock art for a cover?
It depends on the genre and your expected sales. I wouldn’t do it in, say, LDS fiction – which is one of the genres I write. Of course, if you are a professional photographer like my interviewer here, you can afford to get beautiful pictures at a decent price! For a popular genre with a lot of sales potential, custom photos can make a huge difference. Nowadays there are so many books coming out that even stock photo sites with millions of photos are selling multiple copies of the best ones. If you see a photo that looks perfect for your cover, odds are someone else has already used it.
If you have a good designer, though, you can get by with the stock photos until you’re earning enough to pay for custom photography. A good image alone won’t necessarily sell a book. It’s a matter of putting a good image together with good layout and design.
What about formatting and typesetting? What sets you apart from others?
A few things.
1) Of all the formatters who do the fancy headers and such, we’re one of the only ones that isn’t a sole proprietor. There are four of us at the company, so we can take on projects at short notice and provide good turnaround. Formatting can be a tedious job, so it’s easy to burn out. Each of us has three backups if we hit our saturation point, and thus we are better able to keep deadlines than most.
2) We’ve got formatters who specialize in their formats. The paperback formatters do a lot of paperbacks and know the ins and outs of how to make a book interior attractive. The ebook formatter has done over 150 ebooks in this past year alone and knows what does and doesn’t work, both aesthetically and technically.
3) We use the same software as the pros. More and more formatters are adopting InDesign for their paperbacks, but we’ve used that right from the get-go. That’s what all the major publishers and magazines use, so we are able to replicate their look much more easily than someone working in Word.
4) Finally, while I myself am no expert in indie publishing, I am an indie author and a former attorney. Because I handle customer service almost exclusively, I have the opportunity to answer questions authors may have. We watch books launch every few days, and I can provide up to date information on what the big names are using and how it’s panned out for them. I can also walk brand new authors through the most common publicity practices prevailing at the time. Other formatters may also be authors, but they rarely have time to answer a lot of questions and really engage with the client. I do have that time because I’m not also formatting the books, most of the time.
Do you offer branding services to your clients? What does that involve?
I do, and it usually involves picking a color scheme, an image, and a font for the name style. My name on my books is branded, and I recommend that. I chose my branding after researching other top-selling romance authors. Then the idea is to use the name style, an image if that’s appropriate, and the color scheme on all their materials, from their website to their FB banner to their business cards and Twitter background. My branding can be seen at www.emtippetts.com. And then if you go to www.emtippettsbookdesigns.com, you’ll see I’ve used the same fundamental colors, but in a different way. My name has the same style as well.
You’re also a best-selling author. Do you do your own covers? Why/why not?
Rarely. I do sometimes, again for a book that I think has less sales potential – which in my case is usually my LDS novels. Not because I think LDS isn’t as worthy of a genre, but it’s a necessarily smaller readership. There are only 14 million of us in the world, and while that may sound like a lot, only half speak English, half again are active in the faith, and of that smaller segment, a very small proportion read LDS fiction. LDS bookstores have very little circulation outside Utah and Idaho.
So, the cover to Paint Me True is mine, but for all my other romances, I’ve hired Sarah Hansen of Okay Creations. It’s important to me to have another perspective on how to sell my book. Because I’ve written it, I know all it’s little details and nuances (or I think I do, at least). It really helps to have someone else take a glance at it and say: “THIS is what will move copies.” It’s always something simple and straightforward, that I would never get on my own. Doing your own covers is like painting a self portrait. It’s very hard to be objective.
Thanks, Emily, for the great interview! Don’t forget to visit her portfolio on Pinterest, and check out her Facebook and Twitter pages.