Indie Projects Have the Freedom to Think Big

Here’s a guest post from Threepenny’s ace freelance designer, Phillip Gessert, on having the courage to take beautiful visual risks in designing a self-published book.


Seems like most of us are on the hunt for some kind of credibility. But we haven’t always got a firm grasp on how fluid credibility really is.

Say you’re an indie author, and you’ve happily finished up your first novel. On some level, of course, we’re all sums of our experiences—and your own innate sense of “normal” will creep into your creation. Yet we can give ourselves a lot of creative leeway, too: These works may’ve come directly from the heart, over years—and are hugely personal.

But that personal and human sense can get clouded as we choose our book’s wardrobe. Again, we crave big-name credibility, and have a fairly rigid sense of what that means. We desperately want the book to look…normal.

And what exactly does that mean? Normal in this sense usually means we’d like it to look a lot like a typical best-seller. Head to the book store, grab a book from the table inside the front door, and boom—that’s what a book is “supposed to” look like.

It’s a little like when we’re children, and we wish we were grownups. Endless pizza money, and zero homework. But then we reach adulthood and it’s another story—suddenly we appreciate the benefits of being small, independent, and manageable.

In the case of the indie author, the most salient benefit of that smallness is in your ability to really connect with your readership as a fellow human being. This is not something easily achieved as entities grow—but as an emerging talent, it is in your nature to be individual! And that sense of YOU can be represented on the outside of your book as well as within it.

We are allowed to take risks. Visual risks that you don’t always find on that front table in the book store. But that serve as a reflection of our work, first and foremost.

“But what about marketing? If I don’t look like Grisham or something, I will sell zero books.”

Is this so? We’ve got to ask ourselves—who is buying books from new authors? Are these readers who will literally be choosing between your novel and the one on that front table? Or are these people who love your emerging-ness?

I believe the latter pulls a lot harder. And this audience deserves to enjoy the thrill of discovery! Which radiates from the inside out—from you to your work, and from your pages to the jacket. Every element working in concert to create one unified experience of you, shared through your work.

Which is not uncomfortably fitted into a rented suit, but is right there, raw and clear. This, too is credible—and authentic.

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