Book Fairs and Spine Design

It’s taken me a little longer than I’d hoped to write about the Alresford Literary Festival and Hampshire Writers’ Society Book Fair, largely because I attended the Winchester Writers’ Festival immediately afterwards and was all set up to run Flash Fiction Day immediately after that. June has been absolutely crammed full of good stuff, but it has made it rather difficult to find the time to write about any of it.

My table at the Alresford Literary Festival.

My table at the Alresford Literary Festival.

I’ve now attended three book fairs in total, having started with one held by the Hampshire Writers’ Society last year, and though I’m hardly an expert at this sort of thing, I’ve noticed enough similarities between all three events that I feel as though it’s worth considering them all as a bundle rather than trying to get into what happened at each one. So far they’ve been much the same, which is great because I always seem to get a lot out of them.


My table at the Hampshire Writers’ Society Book Fair. Fun fact: the artwork behind me is made out of sliced bread!

I’ve found that, although book fairs are great for getting out there in person and meeting readers, they’re actually nowhere near as effective at getting your name out there as simply having your work available online. I’m pretty sure I’ve given away more ebooks in the past week than I gave away leaflets at both this year’s events combined, and that didn’t involve any work on my part. In cyberspace, you can reach a significant chunk of the world’s population at the push of a button. In meatspace, your reach extends only as far as the walls of the building you’re in. But the great thing about book fairs isn’t simply reaching new people: it’s talking to them, hearing what they have to say, and having the opportunity to set up right alongside other authors at the same time.


One thing that really struck me at these last two events is that the other authors out there are really on top of things when it comes to their work. I thought I’d put together an ambitious display, and I thought I’d sunk a lot into these two events by putting a week’s wages into my stock of books, but there were people there with information in frames on their tables, with on-the-day giveaways and helium balloons, people who’d actually put together small print runs for their paperbacks. I actually feel as though my work and my presentation holds up well alongside them – especially since the budget for most of my books was essentially zero – but it’s not until you turn up at something like this in person and get talking to other authors that you realise how high the bar can be.

That said, despite book fairs not being the best way to reach lots of readers, I’ve actually sold a fair few paperbacks. People have bought at least one of everything at this point, which I take to mean that the covers and blurbs of all the books are doing their jobs. So far the flash fiction anthologies seem to attract most of the attention – which I suppose is to be expected given that a) they’ve got bold, bright covers and b) there are now four of them – but at the Hampshire Writers’ event most people passing by seemed to be more interested in Face of Glass. It’s possible that’s down to the new cover, though it might also have something to do with the setup at that particular event. I always have to change the display a little based on how much space is available and what the surrounding displays are like.

SAM_2258Claire Fuller’s debut novel from places all around the world. Apologies for the blurry photo, but better images of these covers can be found on her website.

At the Hampshire Writers’ Book Fair, I was set up next to Claire Fuller, who had an impressive collection of paperbacks for her debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. She actually brought a lot of these when she came to speak as part of the MA course at the university: her book has been translated into several languages and they all have different covers. Even the different English versions have different covers for the UK, US, and Canadian markets. It’s interesting to see how the same book is presented in different places around the world. A lot of the designs feature many of the same elements, but some are completely different. I’ve also noticed that the French version of the book has a slightly different title (along the lines of “The Infinite Days“).

1BookFair2016Though Claire Fuller has the backing of a publisher (Penguin in the UK, others elsewhere), and so will naturally have some top notch paperbacks to show for it, I was also quite impressed by what other authors managed with print on demand books. I’ve been generally impressed with the quality of the paperbacks produced through Createspace (which seems to be the go-to printer for self-published authors), but one of its weaknesses has always been the accuracy of the printing/binding process. That is to say, the quality of the cover image is good, but it’s impossible to know for sure whether an element on the cover placed very close to the edge will appear or whether it will get chopped off when the book is bound. This is a big part of the reason why all my flash fiction paperbacks feature one simple image wrapping around from front to back: the exact placement doesn’t matter.

Because of the limited printing accuracy, Createspace recommends against putting solid lines in the places the front and back covers fold to form the spine. However, I’ve now seen several authors do exactly this, and I’ve seen several copies of their books, and they all seem to have been printed absolutely fine. One example of this would be Mother Earth by A. P. Jessett, who was at both book fairs.

Unfortunately, the image above doesn’t show the spine at all, but it’s essentially the same solid brown as the title/author bar across the middle, which blends seamlessly into it. Between the rather splendid cover art and the spine, however, there’s an obvious and deliberate border: where the spine starts, the cover art stops. It’s the sort of setup that would look obviously wrong if the printed elements of the cover didn’t end up occupying exactly the right portions of the physical book. However, in practice they clearly do match up, and the overall design is quite striking. Even if Createspace recommends against it, this appears to be quite a good design option and for this book (as well as the others I saw) I think it works well. I like that the wings of the eagle wrap around both sides of the book onto the back, and the solid brown spine seems to help with that: it might look unusual if one wing visibly wrapped around the spine but the other was interrupted by the pages of the book.

Also (though printing accuracy isn’t a factor here) I like the little outline of Europe peeking in at the bottom right cover. You often see book covers with some kind of texture as a background – and the cloudy background here is an example of that – but including a subtle yet recognisable image as well adds an extra layer to the whole thing.

Since I’ve begun this by saying that it’s taken a little longer than I’d hoped to get around to writing this, it’s probably also worth mentioning that the same is true of the Winchester Writers’ Festival and I’m hoping to get on that very, very soon. However, if you’d like to read about this year’s event, Amelia Mackenzie (one of the 2016 scholarship attendees) has just beaten me to it! Definitely a post to check out.


  1. ameliamackenzie

    I think your stall looks fantastic! And yes, those colourful anthology covers really stand out, and get more noticeable every time a new edition is added.

    I don’t think I’d even heard of Createspace until today (but then, I’m really NEVER up to date on self-publishing stuff) but you’re right; the cover for Mother Earth is beautiful, and eye-catching enough that I’d definitely pick it up. Those wings peeking through on the back are such a nice touch.

    And hahaha, I’m glad I beat somebody to the WinWritersFest blogosphere! I thought for sure I’d be the last (and I don’t even have your excuses, since I didn’t have to actually run FFD or attend any other bookish events). I look forward to reading your account! πŸ˜€

    • Damon L. Wakes

      I’m going to be a little stuck once I’m up to five books in the series, as it’s too many to fit on one stand. I might have to set up something separate for the “New!” book next time, but even that would only get the current setup through one more year.

      I’ve been using Createspace for all my books so far. It was good when I started, and they’ve since improved it by adding the option of matte covers (which I desperately wanted from the start). I’m still keen to see them start printing author copies in the UK (as shipping from the US is impractical) and ideally the option of hardbacks, but at this point those would be bonuses more than anything. Being an Amazon company, Createspace seems to do well at getting decent physical books out there in the same way as all their other products, where the Kindle publishing system just suffers from Amazon’s attempts to monopolise the ebook market. Even then, using both is the only way to give away free ebooks when people buy paperbacks, which is something I’d really like to see take off universally.

      I’ve not really had time to keep up with what everyone else has been saying about the Writers’ Festival: I’ll probably read through quite a bit while writing my own. Your post was actually very handily timed in that respect. These book fairs were actually a week or so before the Festival, so the only excuse I’ve got there is that I wanted to get this posted before tackling the other event. Flash Fiction Day did end up being a fairly solid 48 hours of running the event, though: it was a very different experience to when only a dozen or so other people joined in, even though I thought that was a good turn out in its own right.

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