Special Finishes and Industry Standards
By Amy Groening

Publishing a book is much more complicated than simply writing one. No matter how fresh and new the story is, it still needs to stand out in bookstores, and no matter how much people remind you not to judge a book by its cover, your potential readers will—constantly, endlessly, without even realizing they’re doing it.

This is why those little details of a book cover are so essential. It is of paramount importance to have a clean, professional cover design—a recent study found that authors with a professionally designed cover earn about 34% more than those without one. However, when a cover is working really well, it’s sometimes hard to tell that it’s working at all. A cover that was thrown together in MS paint in 20 minutes may hit you like a tonne of bricks when you see it (and not in a good way), but often, a well-done cover will draw you in without even realizing what it is about the cover that attracts you.

This is where special finishes come in. Special finishes have been a staple of book making for quite a while, and as the industry becomes more and more competitive, more authors are turning to special finishes to make their books stand out.

This version of Pilgrim’s Progress Revisited by Christine Winter has beautiful gold foil stamping on the cover to give it a classical, antique look.

The three most popular types of finishes:

Embossing: When a shape is raised (or indented—called reverse embossing) on the cover of the book; this is commonly used in lettering and images. Because of the method in which embossing is created (a metal die is made and then stamped into the cover), embossing has its limitations—it is not good for detail work, where the die edge becomes so thin it often punctures the paper cover of the book (this is true for both paperback books and dustcovers on hardback books).

Spot Gloss: When the main area of the cover is left matte, and then certain areas of it have gloss added to them, to make them stand out. The spot gloss is layered onto the book through a technique similar to printing, meaning it can be used in very fine work. It helps make colours and imagery crisper, and can add depth to an image.

Foil Stamping: When a coloured, metallic foil image is pressed onto the book cover. Metallic foil adds a lot of flash to a cover, but does not allow for much depth in image, so simple symbols and lettering work best for this technique. This is the best choice if you want a glamorous, classic looking cover—it is the most obvious and eye-catching of the special finish options, but should be used sparingly, because it’s so glitzy.

Creating dies, using spot gloss technology, purchasing foils, and adding another step to the cover creation process all cost money, so as soon as you start playing around with special finishes, the cost of your print run goes up. In addition to this, the smallest print run that can be done with a special finish is 500 (at Word Alive Press, at least), which means you may have to order more copies of your book if you want to make the cover fancy.

All that extra expense, just to make a bit of your cover bumpy and shiny? Is it really worth it? That depends on your goals. If your main goal with is to share this book with family members and friends, you might want to give the finishes a pass. However, if you hope to see that book on a shelf in a retail store some day, special finishes are a good idea: an incredibly subtle, effective way of taking your cover to the next level.

The next time you’re in a major book store, take a close look at what sorts of special finishes the most eye-catching books are sporting. It might be hard to catch at first—most people don’t pick up a book saying “Oh wow! Look at the spot gloss on this cover!” or “The moment I saw this embossing, I knew I had to get this book” (unless you’re in the publishing industry, of course); most people might not even notice the book is spot glossed until they take it home. However, this doesn’t mean the special finish isn’t working. The book is in their hands for a reason; it stood out to them, and special finishes helped that book stand out.

Ironically enough, another reason to utilize special finishes is because everyone else is doing it. It sounds a bit contradictory—we say finishes help your book stand out, then point out that everyone around you is doing it too—so how will it make your book stand out, if it’s so common? Big name publishers love their special finishes, and with money to burn, there’s very little question whether their books will get the special treatment. Because of this, it’s even harder to compete in a traditional market if your book is lacking in the “special” finishes that have become commonplace in the industry. The result: a book without special finishes begins to look cheap and low-grade beside the more expensively-produced rivals. The more popular special finishes become, the less it is about standing out, and the more about simply standing up beside the industry standard.

So, how important are special finishes? They may not be what makes or breaks your book sales, but they definitely can help. Of course, if you want your cover to stand out, you also have to ensure people see your cover to begin with, which means a strong marketing and publicity plan. If you only have room in the budget for one of these—special finishes or marketing—definitely go with marketing; no matter how good your book looks on the shelf, you still have to ensure it gets to that shelf to begin with. However, if you can find room in the budget for both, don’t cut corners on your cover; use those special finishes to give your book the extra oomph it needs.

One more thing to keep in mind: The Espresso book machine (an on-demand printer that can print bind a book in less than three minutes, popularly used through Amazon and many other bookstores the world over) cannot produce special finishes. This means if you want to sell a book with a special finish through these vendors, you will have to set up a different kind of account that allows you to sell books you have printed via a traditional printer (if you are working with us, we can set this up for you).

For more information on special finishes, please contact us, or visit your local bookstore to see what finishes stand out to you.

About this Contributor:

Amy Groening is a Project Manager at Word Alive Press. She is a passionate storyteller with experience in blogging, newspaper reportage, and creative writing. She holds an Honours degree in English Literature and is happy to be working in an industry where she can see other writers’ dreams come to life. She enjoys many creative pursuits, including sewing, sculpture and painting, and spends an embarrassingly large amount of time at home taking photos of her cats committing random acts of feline crime.

Leave a comment