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Graphic Design for Authors: Collateral Design and Strategy by Shauna Aura Knight

To figure out what you need—and how many pieces you need to print—you need to look at your goals and your marketing strategy. Where will you be passing out or leaving your postcards? Are you planning to ship stacks of them to bookstores to help a store promote your books? Or are you sending them out via direct mail to individuals on a mailing list you’ve purchased? Are you sending them to a reader convention to get put into the swag bags? Or will you only be bringing them with you when you’re personally appearing at an event? Is the information static (one book, one blurb) or will the information be changing regularly requiring reprints, such as event flyers for readings at bookstores?

You can create general purpose postcards that work for a number of these scenarios, but you’ll want to think about your end user and what information they will need to achieve the goal of the print piece. 4 x 6 postcards are a standard size, though I prefer the half-page size (8.5 x 5.5) postcard/flyer, as it allows me a little more space.

Here’s an overview of different print pieces; some flyers, some postcards, and business cards, so you can see the size differences and how much text or information you can get onto that size piece.


Printing Costs

When you’re thinking about printing, you’re going to want to think quantity and cost early on. If you work with a traditional 4-color printer  you’ll get custom service and the ability to approve proofs and make corrections, but this is more expensive than online printing companies where you just upload the file and they ship the pieces to you.

The Pros: You save a lot of money on printing.

The Cons: If you don’t format things properly, then you’re stuck with the misprinted piece.

You can also sometimes get a good deal on a smaller print run at a local copy shop, but keep in mind that 4-color printing on a press with a glossy finish is different from your local copy shop’s laser printer. The 4-color printing and glossy finish are going to look more professional. Most “big box” copy shops charge $0.50-$1.00 per page for color printing, however, my local copyshop does color copies for $0.25-$0.35.

For some authors it may be economical to buy your own color printer. I do not recommend an inkjet for a few reasons: Inkjet ink gets more expensive than you’d think, it runs if it gets wet, and it takes a really long time to print, and you basically have to “babysit” your inkjet printer to make sure it doesn’t jam or the pages don’t get smeared. On the other hand, color laser printers are a more expensive startup cost.

If you’re looking for inexpensive 4-color printing, two inexpensive print vendors I’ve used (and there are many more out there) are and

Note: If you sign up for a printer’s mailing list they occasionally run sales and offer discounts. Check out their quantities, sizes, and pricing to get a sense of how much printing will cost you. Most of the cost for the printer is in the setup, so once you’re printing 500 pieces, it’s less expensive than you might think to print 1,000 or 5,000.

Going Simple

If you’re doing your own print pieces and you know enough to prepare the files as a printer requires, but not enough to do anything fancy, my suggestion is also to keep things pretty simple. Highlight your book covers, offer a simple textural background (go to a stock photo site and search on “grunge” to find an endless supply of background textures) and make sure your text on top of the textural element is legible. It might not be as fancy and evocative as what you could get with a professional designer, but sometimes simple does the job.

If you don’t know anything at all about graphic design or file formats or stock photos, you can also avail yourself of some of the templates that places such as Vistaprint offer. Your piece won’t be unique, but it won’t look bad either. Design templates are useful because they force you to go clean and simple.

Pro Tip: Background Template and Branding

When you’re going to be designing a lot of different pieces of collateral, including printed pieces as well as online ads, it can really save you time and energy to use a sort of standardized background template. Plus, then all your imagery is consistent and has the same look and feel. You’ll want to ensure any template you use is in alignment with your branding goals.

The below designs show my standard template that I modify depending on the size and purpose of the piece. These 1/2 page flyer/postcards, or the full-page flyer/sell sheet, all use the same general background image, fonts, and layout, making it easy to customize and update. I use the same template for my business cards as well. The exception to this is when I need to design something specific, such as a meme for a particular book.

PrintExcelling with Design

If you really want to stand out, the right design that targets your audience can help you do that. When I used to design the marketing materials for the retreat center that hosted monthly gatherings themed on mythological stories, I chose lush images to represent the stories. My design style is very dark, colorful, and intense, and it served to bring people deeper into the story.

Before I started designing their print materials, the retreat center would send out a 40-page brochure, solid text on every page. I interviewed attendees and they all said, “Oh, I never read the brochure, I just knew the facilitators, that’s what brought me here.” I realized that the current brochure was just a reminder that people tossed in the recycling bin. A very expensive reminder.

The woman who ran the retreat center spent weeks writing the brochure, and it was expensive to print and ship, but nobody was reading it. So it was expensive not just in hard cost, but also in the cost of her time. It was not bringing in a new audience.

The mailing list was about 2500 people, with about 200-250 people signing up for the annual registration, and perhaps 50 or less per month coming to the retreat center. I shifted the design to create a vastly shorter brochure that only covered the basic information and I worked to design it to answer people’s frequently asked questions, but to make it as simple and easy to visually scan as possible.

However, months before we had the content ready for the brochure, we’d put out an evocative half-page size postcard/flyer as a teaser. People told me that they’d put the postcards up on their fridge or their desk at work as a reminder to inspire them to save up money for the annual registration fee of $250 per year.


Selling the Experience

While selling books is a little different from convincing people to register for a year-long educational program and on-site retreats, the core idea of marketing is the same. You want to evoke a sense of your books—your story—through the design of the covers and the collateral materials like postcards and banners that you’re using to draw people to buy your books.

It’s useful to take a look at what you’re actually selling. You’re not really selling a book. Paperback, eBook, audiobook—you’re selling the experience. If you’re selling fiction, you’re selling a few hours of entertainment, of falling in love with the characters, of being immersed in the world of the book. If you’re selling nonfiction, you might be selling the education, the processes, the self-help strategies that help someone improve their life.

To understand what pieces of marketing collateral you need to sell books, it’s best to go back to those strategic questions of what you’re trying to accomplish. This will also help you get a better sense of when it’s all right to create a design on your own, or when it’s strategically worth it to hire someone to create a compelling, evocative design for you. What’s core to the idea of selling an experience is the idea of benefits.

Pro tip: Sometimes the benefits are communicated in text. Often, it’s the mood of your book cover, or the visual design of the collateral, that communicates much of the experience to your reader.


Benefits: A Reason to Click

Any promotional piece needs to give people a reason to click the link, or to type up the web address off a postcard. You want to understand what the benefit is to the buyer. What’s the benefit of buying the book? Even if you’re designing a banner ad for a blog hop, you want to keep in mind the end user.

In a blog hop offering giveaways on each author’s blog, plus a grand prize of $100, you’d think the benefits might be obvious, but I’ve seen a lot of blog hop banners that don’t communicate the benefits to the end user.

First, you have to think about the web banner you’re designing. Are the banners intended to get authors to sign up for the blog hop, or are these banners to tell readers about the blog hop and the prizes? You can see how right there we have two vastly different audiences, and two vastly different goals. Whenever you’re designing something, ask yourself what you want the piece to achieve. What’s the reason for someone to click?

Even if you’re offering up something free—blog posts, prizes, short stories—always remember that people’s time is valuable. If they’re going to take the time to click a link and read your stuff, they need to understand what’s in it for them.

Postcards, banner ads, and other collateral can have vastly different goals. Sometimes you’re directly selling books. Sometimes you’re offering a freebie to introduce people to your writing in the hope that they will buy your other books.

If you’re designing a flyer or a banner to promote your appearance at a local bookstore, the focus is on your book signing or talk, not on selling the books. The benefit is an entertaining or educational evening with you, the experience of being with you the author.

Whenever you’re designing a promotional piece, consider what your goal is, what you want it to achieve. What does your end user get out of it? A free short story or eBook from signing up for your newsletter? A discounted price on your book? Will they get to read a relevant article by clicking your link?

5CollateralStrategy_BenefitsBenefits and Overt Benefits

In a nutshell, a benefit paints the picture of the product or experience the person will have if they click the link and read the article, or buy the book. An overt benefit gets more specific. An example: a self help book might promise to reduce your stress and make your life better. An overt benefit: This book will reduce your stress and make your life better in thirty days. Overt benefits are a little easier to work with for nonfiction, but there are overt benefits in placing a book on sale, or offering a talk at a bookstore.

Remember—you’re not selling a book, you’re selling the experience of the book. Another example: the benefit of a wedding dress isn’t the dress, it’s the experience of looking beautiful on your wedding day. The benefit of the laundry basket isn’t the product, it’s that it’s easier to carry your laundry. So you want your marketing materials to convey that experience.

So much of graphic design isn’t just about making graphics look good. That’s important, but it doesn’t matter how good the visuals are if you completely fail to offer up the specific benefits of bothering to click the link/do the thing.

Where will your online banner be displayed? What action do you want the audience to take? You need to let the reader know what experience they’re going to have if they give you their time. Yes, it’s free to read the posts on a bloghop, but why should they read?

Are they going to read spicy excerpts from romance authors that are new to them? Are they going to read free nonfiction articles on self help? Figure out what your target audience is and what you’re offering them, and make that experience the clear benefit.

Simplifying Benefits and Selling Experiences

If you have a hard time articulating a benefit statement to yourself when designing a piece of collateral, or if there are too many benefits, or multiple audiences, it’s time to simplify, or design more than one piece of collateral.

As a nonfiction author, I ask myself, am I selling my books? Or my services as a presenter? Those are two audiences; there’s overlap, but they are two different things. A third audience might be selling my books wholesale to store owners. Thus, the postcard or flyer I design for someone reading my books is going to have a different focus than my piece promoting myself as a speaker, and my piece promoting my books at wholesale pricing. Different audiences, different focuses, different benefits.

Next month we’ll work with connecting benefits to calls to action and tracking success.


A graphic designer, artist, author, and presenter, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations.

She’s the author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels including Werewolves in the Kitchen, A Winter Knight’s Vigil, and A Fading Amaranth. She is also the author of the nonfiction books The Leader Within,  Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path, and forthcoming The Facilitation Handbook: Enchanting a Group

Shauna’s writing and artwork is inspired by the mythic stories of heroes, of swords and magic, and of the darkness we each must overcome. That the challenges we face shape us, and help each character—each person–to become heroes.  Shauna is passionate about creating experiences, spaces, stories, designs, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination.  Web Site:


CoverRitualFacilitationGraphic Design and Consulting:

Shauna’s artwork and graphic design are used for fiction and nonfiction book covers and marketing collateral. Her work often has a dark, mythic, textural flavor. If you’re looking for an honest opinion on your covers or other collateral, she’s happy to offer a brief review for free.  If you’re interested in engaging Shauna for graphic design, mention this article for 30% off your first project (maximum of $200 off).  You can view her portfolio here: