Category: Books

Book cover advice for self-published authors

This advice pertains mostly to Fiction titles, but aspects will also apply to non-fiction.

Furthermore, you can choose to ignore anything if you like! This advice is purely based on thousands of book covers seen in the course of a decade or so of buying books for the City Library. But look up the original cover for The Martian by Andy Weir and you’ll see that it’s possible to do really well with a pretty average cover.

In general, looking at successful books in your genre will provide a useful guide. Subtle and not-so-subtle design cues tell readers what to expect from a book, and will signal whether it’s science fiction, romance, or thriller.

In addition, sometimes design goes in phases. Maybe cosy mysteries are all illustrated pictures this year but next year they’re more about photorealism. Keep an eye on what’s happening in your genre.

If you’re not sure what genre you’re writing in, you need to find out. Ask some friends to tell you what they think, or put the question to your newsletter subscribers.

There are groups you can join where people will critique your cover and provide suggestions to improve it. Following these groups for a while before you post anything is a great way to learn, before committing to a cover.

Covers nowadays need to look good in a thumbnail – a small image on a cellphone might be the only thing that a prospective buyer gets to see. So the book title, author name and image all need to work well even if shrunk down.

If you’re good at design you might be able to do it yourself, but book covers are a very specific thing, and your skills may not transfer. If possible, hire a book cover designer with experience in your genre. You might also find something suitable as a “pre-made”. Pre-mades are mockups with placeholder titles – once you’ve bought it the designer will add your title and author name. They may also allow one or two small changes to the design, sometimes at extra cost, sometimes included in the price.

Many people are using Artificial Intelligence to create covers, or assist with the creation. It might be impossible to copyright an AI-created cover, as elements or styles might have been sourced from other artists. At time of writing, AI-assisted covers seem to be pretty safe, but it’s something you should definitely check up on before committing to a print run or even releasing an ebook. It could be a very costly mistake.

The actual size/aspect ratio of your cover for an ebook is quite straightforward, but for a print book you might need to allow bleed at the edges, and you also need to know the thickness of the spine. This will depend on the formatting of your text. If you change font size you’ll need to recalculate the spine width. And if you change the type of paper, this will also affect the spine width. Being two millimetres out can make the cover look unprofessional. There are tools online to help you calculate this, and then you can provide your designer with a template. Just make sure you don’t want to make any changes or you’ll probably incur extra cost! Even changing the wording in a few paragraphs could potentially bump the page count up or down.

Covers for audiobooks are in a different aspect ratio than for books. If you’re using a cover designer (recommended) then this will probably cost extra. Again, it will be worth it because a designer will be able to rearrange all the original elements without distorting them.

Whatever you do, remember that the cover tells people a lot about your book before they even open a page. If you want to be seen as a professional author you need a professionally-designed cover.

The best place to see a whole lot of covers to get an idea? The City Library, of course!

If you have any questions on this, feel free to contact us.

Versions Tuawhā update

Kia ora!

Submissions for this year’s Versions project have closed, and we’re working on editing and proofing, getting ready to publish later in the year. Warmest thanks to everyone who submitted some of their creative work.

In this, the fourth year, we’ve had more submissions than ever before – hooray!

If you want a fun creative project, keep your eye out for the announcement of next year’s Versions submissions. You can write a short story, flash fiction, a poem, a play, a song — we even had a visual arts submission this year!

This is a great way to become a published author – we give you a prompt, you write something, and we take care of all the rest. Then we have a book launch where you can come and celebrate being part of the project.

It’s fun, there’s no pressure, and it might just inspire you to create something else.

If you have any questions about Versions, email

Chinese Language week

New Zealand Chinese Language Week 17-23rd September 

New Zealand Chinese Language Week (NZCLW) was first launched in 2014 designed to increase Chinese Language learning in New Zealand. NZCLW seeks to bridge the cultural and linguistic gap by delivering fun and practical initiatives that encourage people to learn Chinese. Celebrate this year with our local Chinese organisations who have organised an exciting range of activities in the city. 

At Central library 

Sunday 17th September 

An afternoon with PN Chinese School  


Calligraphy, storytelling and crafting workshops.

First Floor, Children’s area 

Raising Bilingual kids in Chinese Culture 


Presentation with guest speaker Melody Chang. Run by the Manawatū Chinese Association, Active Learning.  

All parents welcome.

Oroua Room, Ground Floor 

17th September- 23rd September 

Student Work Exhibition 

Come and see what the PN Chinese School have been working on! 

First Floor, across from the Community Languages area 

Display by Manawatū Chinese Association 

Learn more about Cantonese Language! 

First Floor, across from the Community Languages area 

As part of NZCLW 2023 the book ‘Weka’s Waiata’ by Nikki Robinson has been published in Mandarin Chinese, te reo Māori and English. It’s a trilingual children’s book!

“Together We Read” on Libby

From Sep 27 to Oct 11, there’s a programme called “Together We Read” on Libby, which lets multiple people read/listen to the same title at the same time – no wait lists!

This year the featured title is Aotearoa-based author Charity Norman’s Remember Me.

In Remember Me, Emily Kirkland returns to New Zealand to care for her father, who suffers from dementia. As his memory fades and his guard slips, she begins to understand him for the first time – and to glimpse shattering truths about his past. Truths she’d rather were kept buried.

The ebook and audiobook can be read on all major computers and devices, including iPhone®, iPad®, Android™ phones and tablets, Kobo® tablets and eReaders, and Chromebook™ and there are no waiting lists or holds. The title will automatically expire at the end of the lending period, and there are no fines for late return.

Find out more about Libby here.

See more about Together We Read here.

Or pop in and see us!

Manawatū author finalist for Best First Novel in Ngaio Marsh Awards

Congrats to Riley Chance (aka Roger McEwan) whose book Surveillance is a finalist for Best First Novel in the 2023 Ngaio Marsh Awards!

McEwan’s novel attempts to answer the question: “what would New Zealand look like under mass surveillance?”

The author, who originally wanted to remain anonymous behind his nom de plume, finally revealed his true identity recently, stating that it was because “I need to get along to events. If there’s a writers’ festival and they say can I come and talk, I have to.

The Ngaio Marsh Awards were established in 2010 by indefatigable #yeahnoir fan Craig Sisterson, to promote crime, mystery and thriller writers from New Zealand.

Another local author made the longlist for the Ngaios: GB Ralph with Murder on Milverton Square. Go, local authors!

Music is a portal to reading

A special feature blog post by Senior Service Guide Zak.

Reading and noise: not two things you’d think would go well together (unless you’re enjoying an audiobook, many of which are available right now through the library on Libby or BorrowBox)… But a good book paired with the right album, I find, is like cheese and wine.

My favourite pairing recently has been Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities trilogy with the eponymous first album of Finnish prog-folk band Auri.

Divine Cities is what you get when you cross a spy thriller with the sprawling, reality-shattering antics of our favourite fantasy worlds – the gods are dead, the miracles that made life livable no longer work, the people live in squalor, and as they try to eke out a life without the deities that defined their society a series of bizzare murders are making the best and brightest think: maybe magic isn’t completely gone from the world after all. 

Wonder, possibility and myth are the name of the game in this series, which makes folk music – with its traditional instruments speaking of days past and cultures kept alive – a perfect fit.

Auri brings to mind everything from isolated Northern-Irish hamlets to sweeping steampunk skylines, to mysterious coastlines begging to be explored. There’s something about the music that really gets the imagination going, the sound drawing crisp pictures of what you’re reading out of the page – dancing pennywhistles, soaring strings, some of the cleanest choir vocals you’ve ever heard, all accompanied by a rock drumbeat that reminds you not to fall too comfortably into your chair – the story you’re reading has stakes, perhaps apocalyptic ones. 

I’ve never found an album that goes so well with a book it relaxes you into the world and gets your heart racing at the same time… but that’s exactly what happened here. I’d recommend either of these two things alone any day, but truly: do yourself a favour and try them together.

The Divine Cities trilogy – City of Stairs, City of Blades, and City of Miracles – by Robert Jackson Bennett is available at the City Library in paperback, and Auri can be streamed wherever you get your music. [Editor: Auri’s second album Those We Don’t Speak Of has just been ordered for the City Library.]

Does my self-published book fit in the Library’s collection?

Congratulations! You’ve written a book! Not everybody can say they’ve done that!

Now you’d like the Library to buy your book. Okay, first read this article about library supply companies.

Got it? Right, now let’s have a look at what the librarian is thinking about when they’re deciding about purchasing your book.

The number one thing they’ll want to know is ‘will people who come to the Library want to read this?’ A library generally only holds onto books that people want to take home and read. So you want to make your book attractive to someone who’s browsing. Make sure it has a good cover. (You’ll find a blog post about covers here.) A snappy blurb. A great first sentence, etc.

Make sure you know what genre you’re writing in. Perhaps even go to the library to find books similar to yours. That way you can tell the librarian where you think it fits. Where it will get the most usage.

If you’ve written a thriller novel for adults but printed it in A4 size, your book will quite literally not fit in the collection. The Fiction shelves are spaced for novels of a certain size range.

If you’ve written a children’s picture book with 100 words per page, you might have written a chapter book by mistake. Again, go to the Library and see what other books are similar to yours, and how they are presented.

All set? Great. Now, read this article on how to approach the Library about your book, or go to the Local Author Resource page for more.

How to ask the Library to buy your self-published book

Firstly, congratulations on writing a book!

Next step: contact the Content Development Librarians. The City Library does not accept unsolicited materials, and we do not accept donations, so contact us first and we’ll tell you everything you need to know.

We can’t buy everything. As Lemmy from Motorhead often said: where would you put it? Content Development Librarians decide which books to buy, based on the current shape of the collection, the buzz around the book, past performance of an author, and all sorts of other factors. If there’s legitimate demand, we’ll hear about it.

Content Development Librarians are often away from their desks doing various jobs, so be sure to send an email or make an appointment to chat with us. We love talking to local authors!

Please bear in mind that a public library does not hold copies of a book forever. There is a constant rotation of stock, and when your book is removed from the collection, it is purely a practical thing and not a judgement on its quality.

Have a look at our page of advice for authors too – you may find your question already answered on there.

What to put in your email/one-sheet

Kick off with something like “New book from local author”.

Give us a quick blurb – basically the same thing you’d put on the back cover of your book.

Tell us anything unique about it – this might be your “elevator pitch“.

Attach a good quality cover image.

Tell us the price, the release date, the ISBN – all the publication details.

Make sure to include a link to where we can buy the book. Maybe from Wheelers, or a local bookshop.

It’s always good to end by thanking the recipient for their time.

When will you hear back?

Generally, with public libraries, you won’t hear anything back. They’ll either buy your book or not.

After all, you’re the one who will know when your books are sold at shops or through Wheelers, and your email is a sales advertisement not a customer query.

Since there are more and more self-published books every year, the Library receives more and more emails. It might take a few weeks to look at them and make a decision.

If you really need to know so that you can sign up for the Public Lending Right Scheme, you can always check the Library’s catalogue any time.

Listing your self-published book with Wheelers

Wheelers is a library supply company that is used by many public and school libraries in Aotearoa to purchase stock. You can list your book with them by filling in the form on this page.

They will do all the work of cataloguing, processing, invoicing libraries, etc. for you, and take a percentage of the sale price.

Why would you do this? Most public libraries have fewer backroom staff these days, and with hundreds of new books being added every year, there’s simply no time for librarians to individually buy every book from separate vendors, then create a complete catalogue record for them and process them (add protective covers and strengthening tapes). This is why the Library has a few dedicated suppliers who do a lot of that work.

Since all the backroom work must be done for every single title, it’s conceivable that even a donated book could cost the library more money than one purchased from a library supply company. (Which is one of the reasons we do not accept donations.)

Note: cheapest price is not the only consideration for libraries — supporting local authors is part of our mission! But to support local authors best, we want to see their books available in libraries all over the country, and using a library supply company is the best way to do that. If you do get your books into several NZ libraries, remember to register for the Public Lending Right scheme!

Not every library uses Wheelers, but many do. If you have a specific library you want to ask to buy your book, it’s best to contact them directly. Please see the related article ‘Does my self-published book fit in the Library’s collection?

If you’re a self-published author in the Manawatū and are having problems listing your book with Wheelers, please get in touch and we’ll see if we can help!

‘Versions’ writing project

Every year the City Library gives you the opportunity to get published!

We give you a writing prompt to get you started. Let it take you wherever it will!

Submit your finished short story, poem, play script, or song, and we’ll publish it.

Maybe you’ve never written but want to give it a try, or maybe you’ve already done a lot of writing but want something quick and fun to do. Versions is for everyone!

We’re all about celebrating the abundance of creative talent here in the Manawatū.

Keep your eye on our What’s On page for the prompt announcement each year, or contact us to learn more.