Book Covers: More Important Than I Realized

Never judge a book by its cover? Baloney! Tommyrot! Poppycock! Book covers are important — more important than I realized.

Book buyers buy books for four reasons: they know the author (Stephen King sells on his name alone), they are following a series (Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files), they read a glowing review and are interested, and finally, the cover grabs their attention.* The latter is especially true for freshmen authors like me. Our names aren’t known, our series are just beginning, and no one has reviewed our books yet.

A Path of Stones is selling quite well on the Apple iBookstore. So far, I’ve sold more than 50 copies, and average at least one sale per day. I’ve finally been able to access the Apple iBookstore, via iTunes, to see what the listing looks like.

Because the title begins with the letter A, my book is smack in the middle of the second row of Popular Fantasy. Nice placement. But the cover struck me. It stood out among the other three rows. For openers, it’s the only cover that features two characters, not just one. Secondly, it’s one of only two in which the characters are actually doing something, not just standing there. All the other covers feature portraits or objects. They aren’t boring, but my one scene of action shines in a sea of portraiture.

This is the cover:

pathcovera

I followed Frank Frazetta’s concept that the cover depicts action and drama, even if it does not convey the actual plot of the story. If you look at his marvelous paintings, all of them depict action. Even the classic painting of Conan standing on a pile of corpses conveys action. The action has just passed, and we have a good idea of the skull-cleaving that transpired. We want to read the story to see it for ourselves.

Remember, the the book cover is marketing. Given that the average online book shopper spends about three seconds scanning rows of potential purchases, it is important to grab the buyer’s attention fast. I’d say the cover to A Path of Stones is doing just that. I’ve made enough from the Apple store to buy two tanks of gas and a cheeseburger.

Apparently, Frazetta’s concept isn’t followed much these days. Also, apparently, it still works.

*  Non-fiction book buyers have reason to buy a book that outweighs the four I listed. They’re researching a subject. That’s rarely the case for the reader of fantasy fiction.

Advertisements

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is often presented as the be-all and end-all of marketing efforts, especially to those of us who are independent writers and publishers.

No, it isn’t! The problem is that the presentation of it to us is painted in broad strokes using a massive brush. It’s over-generalized. It has to be broken down into components. Here is my social media campaign for A Path of Stones, the results, and my observations.

I have four social media outlets: Facebook, WordPress, DeviantArt, and Twitter. The first three exist because I like them, and I’ve been active on them for years. Twitter is simply an exercise in mercenaryism because I still don’t understand what a novelist is supposed to do with a mere 140 characters (besides kill them — a George R. R. Martin joke). Between the four sites, I have 600 friends, followers, readers, and fans.

I began marketing A Path of Stones on those four outlets on January 15. By book release day, February 15, everyone knew I had written and published a novel. The likes, shares, and retweets were phenomenal. The majority of my friends, fans, and followers were behind me. A month later, here are the sales results:

Hardback: 2

Paperback: 0

Kindle: 3

ePub: 53

All those ePub sales were through the Apple iBookstore, a marketplace that I have absolutely no control over. It was a last minute decision when Lulu offered it to me as part of an expanded distribution.

If likes, shares, and retweets translated into sales, I would have made enough by now to buy a car.

Those numbers look dismal! It looks like my social media campaign was a failure. Not necessarily. Let’s look beneath the numbers and at each of the four sites.

My Facebook presence is divided into two parts: a personal profile and an author’s page. My friends on my personal profile are old high school friends, college friends, fraternity brothers, friends I’ve made in Texas, and the core of an old LiveJournal forum that stuck together after the forum folded. The majority of the followers of my author’s page are the same people. Most are younger than I am and have children. They don’t have much discretionary income, and the ones who do are not necessarily fans of fantasy fiction.

My fans on DeviantArt are mostly other 3D artists, and those who like Frazetta-inspired images of buxom women playing with swords. They put the fanatic back in fan. But they like art, not necessarily words. If I had published an art book, I’d probably have sold 50 copies that first day.

WordPress and Twitter are made up of the same types of folks, writers and artists who band together to learn from each other and support each other. Not all of us like fantasy, and those of us who do may not take a chance on a freshman writer’s first novel. If I had written a book on self-publishing, it would have sold like crazy between WordPress and Twitter alone.

So, it would seem that my social media marketing fell flat solely because my market isn’t represented in my four sites. That is not something that is reflected in the generalized statement of using social media marketing for sales success.

There is a way around that. I could join several forums and Facebook groups specifically designed for fantasy fiction. Then, I could plug my book. I can’t do that. Not only is advertising against the rules of most forums and groups, it’s also poor manners. I’m mercenary enough with Twitter. If I am going to aim my social media marketing deliberately at a specific target, I’d join it, become part of the group, get to be known, and stay silent about my book for at least six months. Then, I’d mention it in an off-handed way, such as “You know, I wrote a book on just that very thing. Maybe you’d like it.” That is a possibility; I just haven’t explored it yet.

Going back to the likes, shares, and retweets for a moment. I received more of those for my “I’m published!” posts than any other at any time. The attaboys sure felt good. Encouragement is worth its weight in gold.

In no way am I discouraging you from using social media marketing. I’m simply saying don’t be disappointed if it appears to generate little to no sales.

Now, all that said, I can see where social media marketing works in an outstanding manner for certain groups. Niche writers for one. Say this blog were about the life of a childfree middle-aged pagan man writing in a college town (it actually is, but imagine if that were the focal point). Over the years, my readers here would reflect similar lifestyle tastes. If I wrote a book on that subject, based on my blog posts, and offering twelve new chapters never seen on the web, it would sell and sell well. In fact, that’s exactly how some best-sellers are written.

The same goes for the Millennial generation. I know a few 20 year olds, and they have more than 3,000 friends on Facebook. They are a collective group of young people. If one posted “My new novella comes out today,” 1,000 of their friends would buy it immediately. That’s just how that generation operates. Mine is different. We Baby Busters are loners. We believe if we can’t make it on our own, we don’t deserve to make it (which is why my Kickstarter campaign was so stressful). Two totally different mindsets. I may pick on Millennials, but I admire their optimistic communalism and I hope it never disappoints them.

The campaign for The Fires of Tallen Hall will no doubt be more successful. I’ve noticed a trickling increase in traffic here, on Facebook, and on DeviantArt. In fact, twice now, someone found this blog by searching for my name, and once someone searched for The Fires of Tallen Hall, which appears only at the end of A Path of Stones as a “to be continued in …” line. That tells me the readers of the ePub edition got curious. They will come back. They will tell their friends. Their friends will visit. They will bookmark this page, and my website. That is called the “soft marketing” approach — word of mouth. To my way of thinking, it’s the slowest, but the best.

 

 

After One Week

A Path of Stones released last Wednesday. After one week, this is how the book has performed:

1 hardback sale

1 Kindle sale

23 ebooks on the Apple ibookstore

Not great, but not bad, either. I didn’t expect it to be a phenomenon in the first week, much less on the first day. My marketing approach is known as “soft,” meaning I release the book, do some preliminary announcements on social media, and then let word of mouth take it from there. “Hard” marketing involves phone calls, press releases, and free copies to reviewers. No need in that for the first novel.

What’s surprising are those Apple sales. I signed up for the Apple store simply because Lulu offered it as an expanded marketplace option. All I can figure is the book description appeals to people with iPhones and iPads.

Even more surprising is a hit on this very blog today. Someone found it by searching “The Fires of Tallen Hall.” That is the title of the second book, which I’m currently writing. The title appears at the end of A Path of Stones, on a “to be continued” page. So, someone finished A Path of Stones and wanted to see if The Fires of Tallen Hall was available.

I’ll chalk this week up as a success.

The Importance of Book Descriptions

We publishing Browncoats (Firefly reference; allusion to Independents there) are responsible for all our own marketing. Nowhere is this more crucial than in the book description we write for the various e-marketplaces.

I’m assuming you’re writing fiction. For us, the best option is to use our elevator spiel. If you don’t know what that is, ask yourself how you can summarize your book to a perfect stranger in the two minutes required to travel by elevator in such a way that he wants to buy your book. They’re short, to the point, and juicy.

This works, you crazy hep cats! I just released my book A Path of Stones today. That means, I activated the links on my website. The books have been available on Amazon, Lulu, and the Apple ibookstore for a week now. I already sold eleven ebooks in that week! It can only be because I wrote a humdinger of a description.

Here is the one for A Path of Stones:

Newly initiated wizardess Aura Lockhaven has a strange power within her that enables her to perform miracles. The path of the enchantress offers her hope to harness that power before it kills her. To discover more, she visits the Valley of the Mystic Moon, the home of the Order of Enchanters. The Order is not so enchanting, however. A monster wants Aura’s soul. A vengeful ghost wants her head. A renegade lawman wants both. A mad noblewoman believes Aura is the fulfillment of a prophecy. Finally, there is something about her mother’s maiden name that attracts the wrong kind of attention. Aura may not survive walking A Path of Stones.

My main goals in writing it that way was to convey what the story was about, in suspenseful terms, and to let the reader know this is not another story about a group of mismatched characters walking 1,000 miles to save the world from an evil villain. I must have achieved my goals.

Writing for Bowker’s Self Published Writer newsletter, Penny C. Sansevieri goes into much more detail than I can. I’ll simply link you to her article and tell you to read away: How Great Book Descriptions Can Help Sell More Books.

 

 

 

More About DIY Book Covers

My efforts to design my own book cover for A Path of Stones reached almost Byzantine proportions.

Recently, I mentioned that the cover was too dark. Transferring from the RGB color scheme of digital to the CMYK of print made it 40% darker than the original. I thought that by increasing the brightness and contrast of the cover that it would work. Nope. The next proof was still too dark. Better, but dark.

The solution was to rerun the render, but lighten all the props, clothes, and skins. That one looked bright enough to survive the transfer. To make sure, I emailed it to my wife, who printed it on her company color laser printer. It looked great. There was just one problem now. The image was so light that no matter what color I used, the title and my name faded into the image. The colors were varied enough that even black faded into it. That was as intolerable as having a too-dark cover.

If you’re designing your own cover, that is something to keep in mind. It must be bright and light enough to transfer to CMYK, yet dark (or light) enough in places for the cover text. As if remembering to provide space for that text wasn’t enough.

What did I do? I scrapped the whole set, choosing one I had used before. I knew how it rendered. It was neutral gray, and without much in the way of contrasts and varying colors. I could lighten it without losing the necessary spaces for the cover text.

The new set required some adjustment to Aura’s pose. She ended up looking less dramatic, but more commanding. To compensate, I gave her a magic effect. It was an even trade. In the process, I removed the original V6 child and substituted a V7 Tween Julie figure. She looks more realistic. I chose to leave it to the reader to decide if Julie is cowering behind Aura, or imitating her.

The original cover:

path-cover-2

 

The new cover:

pathcovera

How does the proof look?

picture0208171348_1

Perfect!

A side-by-side comparison:

sidebyside

Formatting an Ebook

It’s about time I discussed formatting an ebook, right? While I have decades of experience in print media, A Path of Stones is my first ever ebook. It took some time to learn to format it, and make sure my process worked before passing the information to you. This post is long, but it’s based on a month and a half of reading, studying, and trial and error, all in one spot.

This ebook formatting process is my process. It works for me with minimal hair loss and alcohol abuse. There are many other ways to do it, using the same programs.

To format your book for epublishing, you will need the following programs:

  1. Word Processor: This sounds like a duh. If you’re writing a book, you’re probably using a word processing program. For an ebook, it plays a slightly different role than it does for print. I will assume you are using MS Word, but the process works for Open Office and other programs.
  1. Sigil: This is an ebook design and editing program. The majority of our work will be done in Sigil. You can download it here.
  1. Calibre: This is an ebook reader. It also permits conversion of an ePub file to Mobi, but you won’t have to for actual publishing. You can download it here.
  1. Kindle Emulator and Previewer: Even if you have a Kindle, you will still need the Kindle Emulator from Amazon. That is, unless you know how to transfer an ebook from your computer to a Kindle. I don’t. Besides, many readers use the Emulator. It allows Kindle books to be read on any device. The Previewer is specifically designed for previewing a book formatted for Kindle, and simulates the look and function of several different Kindle sizes. I recommend using both.

Sigil, Calibre, Kindle Emulator, and Kindle Previewer are all free.

A LITTLE ABOUT EBOOKS

Ebooks aren’t books as we know them. They’re actually websites. They are in HTML format and rely upon Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). They come in two file types: Mobi (for Kindle), and ePub (for everyone else). Formatting will be in ePub, which can then be uploaded to Amazon and converted to Mobi with ease.

There are many parts of formatting for print that you won’t need to worry with in an ebook. First, ebooks do not require headers and footers. They don’t take them, so don’t set them up. Second, the page numbers are assigned by each individual device, so don’t bother adding them. A smaller device has more pages, while a larger has fewer. Third, indentation is made with a paragraph indent, not a tab. Ereaders do not recognize tabs. Fourth, don’t set a specific font face, as most readers set their own on their devices to suit their tastes.

PART 1, THE WORD PROCESSOR

You have that book all nice and pretty, with perfect line spacing, a wonderfully artistic font for your chapter title, and mirrored headers. Guess what? Now, you have to trash it all. The only thing to be carried over to Sigil is the text itself. Fortunately, this step is easy.

If you saved a master document, with all the chapters in one file, this will be simple. If you worked with separate and individual chapters, then you will need to do the following to each chapter. It is a bit of a hassle if you did. On the other hand, transferring your book to Sigil will be easier than if you have just one file.

In Word, select all. Change the font to something ubiquitous, like Times New Roman. While you’re at it, if you used tab to indent your paragraphs, perform a find/replace and replace the tab code with nothing. Then, while still in select all mode, add an indent paragraph command. Indent paragraph is found under Paragraph -> Special. In the drop down menu, select First Line. Set it to either .25 or .3, depending on your tastes. We will perfect that in the Sigil steps. If you have headers, footers, and page numbers, remove them.

ebook1

Now, save your book as a Rich Text Format file. This strips any remaining Word format commands out of the book, leaving only raw text. Other ebook formatting processes save to HTML, but I found that process retains too many Word format commands.

You may close your book now. Don’t save it, in case you need to come back. Open the RTF version and let it sit there. You will need it shortly.

PART 2, SIGIL

I won’t teach you how to use Sigil, only the parts for formatting your book. It does so much more than what I’m going to show you, but my book is a simple novel with little fancy formatting. There are several free Sigil guides available online, and they can be read with either Calibre or Kindle. Dave Heiland’s Sigil User’s Guide is superb, and can be downloaded here.

Below is the screencap of Sigil with my book A Path of Stones loaded in WYSIWYG view. The important parts of the Sigil interface that we need are:

ebook2

A.  Individual chapter

B.  CSS location

C.  WYSIWYG view

D.  HTML view

E.  Paragraph style

F.  H3 header style

G.  Break and start new file at cursor location

Step One: Set Up Your Book

When you open Sigil, it should offer you a fresh, new file. If not, select File -> New.

You should see a blank page, named Section0001.xhtml. Select HTML view. You should see this:

ebook3

 Select the HTML code. All of it. Replace it with the following:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.1//EN”

http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml11/DTD/xhtml11.dtd”&gt;

<html xmlns=”http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml”&gt;

<head>

<title>Your Title Here</title>

<link href=”../Styles/mainstyle.css” rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/css”/>

</head>

<body>

In fact, you can just copy and paste the above. Change “Your Title Here” to the actual title of your book. Save this under the name of your book. It will save to Documents/Sigil Docs.

For the next step, open Microsoft Notepad, or some other basic text editor. It’s time to set up the CSS for your book. I won’t teach you about CSS. There is too much to learn. This is for a simple novel. Copy the CSS below and paste it into a fresh text document:

body {

display: block;

font-size: 1em;

margin: 20px;

text-align: left;

line-spacing: 1.35%;

}

p.normal {

font-style: normal;

font-family: serif;

font-size: 1em;

text-indent: .25in;

margin: 0;

text-align: left;

line-spacing: 1.35%;

}

p.first{

font-style: normal;

font-family: serif;

font-size: 1em;

text-indent: 0;

margin: 0;

text-align: left;

line-spacing: 1.35%;

}

h3 {

font-family: serif;

font-size: 115%;

font-style: bold;

text-indent: 0;

margin-top: 1em;

margin-bottom: 3em;

text-align: center;

}

Save it as mainstyle.css, and put it where you can easily find it. Make sure your text editor will allow you to save the file as a CSS. Word 2007 doesn’t, but MS Notepad does.

A little bit about this style sheet. This is mine in particular. It is simple, but I can verify that the resulting ebook looks good on both Kindle and ePub readers. Feel free to change it to suit your own tastes. I use align left, or rag-right. That gives even spacing between the words of a line. Most people prefer align full, or full justify. Note font-family. The choice of serif forces the book into a serif font, but does not limit it to any one face. This permits the reader to choose Georgia, Times New Roman, Garamond, or any other option offered by the ereader device. If you assign a specific font face, such as Times New Roman, you run the risk of setting the font and prohibiting readers from changing it. That will annoy them. If you do it at all, reserve specific font faces for chapter titles. For line spacing, 1.25 or 1.35 is optimal. Less, and serif fonts can run together. More, and there is just too much white space. I have two paragraph styles, normal and first. P.Normal is for all but the first paragraph. P.First handles the first paragraph, where I do not use a first line indent. H3 is for chapter titles.

You may always edit this CSS at any point during the process. Changes automatically convey throughout the entire book. If you don’t like the way your book looks in the ereader, tweak the CSS. It’s a heck of a lot easier than tweaking an entire book in a word processor.

This CSS proved to be the optimal way to remove the extra line space between paragraphs. That plagues far too many ebooks, and is usually a carry-over from Word.

Return to Sigil. Select the folder marked Styles. Select menu option Files->Add->Existing File. Browse to mainstyle.css, and click Open. That loads the CSS into your book.

ebook4

You’re halfway done at this point. The new HTML tells Sigil to find mainstyle.css, and apply it throughout your entire book.

Step Two: Add Your Book

Return to the RTF document. Select all and Copy.

Now, return to Sigil. Select the tab marked Section0001.xhtml. Select the WYSIWYG viewer. Place your cursor at the top of the page. Click Paste. Go get a cup of coffee as this will take some time, especially if your book is one document. When you come back, your book should be pasted into Sigil. Save it. Remember the old gamer’s motto: Jesus saves, and so should you.

There is another way to import your book to Sigil. That is through File->Add New. It’s much faster. However, the cut and paste method strips out any lingering Word formatting codes.

If all went well, Sigil automatically assigned Paragraph Normal (p.normal) to everything. Switch to HTML view and check. If it did, great. If not, select a whole bunch of paragraphs. Then, click P. That assigns the Paragraph Normal style from the CSS.

Step Three: Formatting Chapters

Time to set up individual chapters. If you wrote your book chapter by chapter, and saved each as a separate file, importing each chapter is a pain in the neck, but it does make formatting a bit easier as you won’t need to split the document at the end of each chapter.

Start with your Title Page. I recommend not having separate Title and Half-Title pages. Just have the Half-Title. That’s the page with the title, your name, and publication year. Go to the end of the year, and place your cursor. Now, click Split at Cursor. Voila! Sigil splits the document at that point, giving you two files, not just one.

Rename Section0001.xhtml to something like Title. Rename Section0002 something like Chapter1. A note about chapter names. In the actual book, you can name it whatever you want. The Table of Contents Generator will see that. For the file name, on the left, do not use spaces. All ebook distributors will reject your book if you do. Name it something like mydoghasfleas or chapter1.

Select the actual title of your book, in WYSIWYG viewer. Now, click H3. That marks the title as a header. The Table of Contents Generator will see it. It’s your choice as to other formatting, such as bold, italics, or size. I recommend using bold, and a larger font size for titles and chapter titles, just to make them stand out.

If your title page doesn’t look right, there may be some leftover Word formatting commands. Go to HTML viewer to find out. Those can be removed. If Sigil doesn’t like that, Sigil will tell you.

Go to the end of chapter 1. Place your cursor there, and again, click Split. You now have two chapters. Rename Section0001 to chapter2. Every time you Split your book, Sigil will name the new file Section0001 or something similar. Just rename it and keep going. Every time you split your book, save it.

Now that you’ve broken up your book into individual files and named them, return to Chapter1. Select and mark the title H3. Again, that tells the TOC Generator to find it. Set it to bold, unless your CSS already does that. If you have a separate opening paragraph, change it in HTML view. You’ll have to change it manually by replacing class=”normal” with class=”first”. Do this for every chapter.

Here is what my first chapter looks like, in HTML view:

ebook5

You can see the style codes for H3, Paragraph First (p class=”first”), and Paragraph Normal (p class=”normal”). Sigil, and ereader devices, know what to do with those.

In WYSIWYG, it looks like this:

ebook6

Keep on going until you reach the end of the book.

Step 3: Finalize

Go through each chapter, and remove any extra spaces after the last paragraph. Those could create blank pages that annoy your readers.

Now, it’s time to add your metadata. This is critical. All ebook distributors want as much as possible. The important pieces are Title, Author, and Publication Date. Click on Tools-> Metadata Editor. To add fields, click the Add Metadata button. Below is mine, and you won’t need as much as I provide:

ebook7

Save it one more time.

Now, create your Table of Contents. TOC serves a similar, but different purpose for an ebook. Like a print book, it allows a reader to find a chapter. Unlike a print book, an ebook TOC doesn’t contain page numbers. Instead, the entries are links. By clicking on Chapter 7, a reader goes to the first page of Chapter 7.

To create one, select Tools -> Table of Contents -> Generate. The Generator finds all those H3 marks, and makes the TOC based on them. It appears to the right of the screen. Check to ensure that every chapter appears. If one is missing, return to that chapter, and mark its title with H3. Refer back to the first Sigil image (the one with red letters) to see what the files and TOC should look like.

There is debate over Front Matter. Personally, I use as little as possible, with only a Title Page and Copyright Page. Acknowledgements go at the end. I also don’t have a cover page, as they are redundant. The cover image is for marketing, and shows up as the thumbnail on Amazon, Lulu, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere. Most markets have previews of up to ten pages, and you want those to be as much story as possible. No sense in clogging those precious pages with a cover image, thank yous, and other extraneous bits.

As for Back Matter, go ape! Remember, an ebook is a website. Make sure you provide active links to your website, blog, and social media sites. A reader can click those links and go right to your internet pages. Don’t let this marketing tool pass you by. Pricing is based on file size, not page count, so you can add a few images to the back, such as maps.

Save it again.

PART THREE, CALIBRE

Sigil’s WYSIWYG viewer is only so good. Time to see how your book looks in an actual ereader. For this, start with Calibre. The interface looks like this:

ebook8

To add your book, click on Add, and browse to Sigil Docs. Once it’s loaded (you can see A Path of Stones in the list), double click on it. The ereader will appear. If all went well, your book should look like this:

ebook9

If it does, congratulate yourself. If not, return to Sigil and keep working on it. Keep reloading it into Calibre to check. Consult the Sigil User’s Guide for further information.

PART FOUR, KINDLE

So. Your book looks great in Calibre. That means, it will look good in Nook, Apple, and other ereaders. What about the big one, Kindle? Let’s find out.

At the moment, your book is in an ePub format. In Calibre, convert your book to a Mobi file. Mobi is Amazon’s proprietary format for Kindle.

With your book selected in Calibre, click on the menu button Convert. This screen will pop up:

ebook10

In the upper right hand corner drop down menu, select Mobi. At the moment, you don’t need to do anything else. Click Okay.

That converts and saves your book as a Mobi file for Kindle. Open your Kindle Emulator. There must be an easier way to do this, but I don’t know it. In your My Documents folder, go to Calibre Library. Inside you should find a folder with your name. Inside that folder, you will find your book, as a Kindle icon. Double click on it, and it will open in the Emulator. Mine looks like this:

ebook11

The Previewer is easy. It actually lets you open the book inside. Browse to your Mobi edition, and Open. Mine looks like this, and it actually looks like a Kindle:

ebook12

Now, you can see why I think it’s important to have both the Emulator and the Previewer.

If your book looks good in Calibre, the Kindle Emulator, and the Kindle Previewer, then your book is ready to upload to Amazon and the other ebook markets of your choice. If not, just go back to Sigil and tweak away.

You won’t need to convert your ePub file to Mobi to upload it to Amazon for Kindle. Amazon will automatically convert the file during the upload process. The best way to see how it looks on Kindle is to download an author’s proof before you accept it for publication.

I threw a whole theme park of information at you, and probably skipped something. If you have any questions at all, please leave them in a comment and I will try my best to answer them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Cover Sizes and Specs

In my first essay on book covers, I described why it may be necessary to design your own, and how to follow Frank Frazetta’s concepts. In the second, I discussed how the transfer from digital to print results in a darker cover. It occurred to me that I never mentioned the physical aspects of book covers, whether you design your own or hire a professional artist.

Let’s change that, shall we?

If you hire a professional artist from Fiverr, or elsewhere, he or she ought to know all this already. If you’re the artist’s first customer, possibly not. If you design your own, it’s important, as I found out.

Whether we design a cover for a print book or an ebook, we work with digital images. In my case, those images are 3D art renders. If you take a photograph of a painting, a landscape, or people, it’s still a digital image. Even if you use film, and scan the image, the final product is digital. So, the theories are the same across the spectrum.

Digital images are variable in size. My renders are almost always either 1800 x 904 or 1500 x 904, measured in pixels. Depending on the usage, the site, and the device, they can appear to be small photos or full screen wallpapers.

Print doesn’t work that way. It’s fixed! The most common sizes are 6 x 9 and 8.5 x 11, measured in inches. There are other sizes, usually reserved for gift books, art albums, and cookbooks. Those lie outside the scope of my experience. That geehonking big 1800 x 904 render is puny on a 6 x 9 page, measuring about half the available space. That’s fine for the back cover, but not the front.

Therefore, the cover image needs to be at least twice the size of what is normal for a digital art image. The final render for my 6 x 9 cover measured 3600 x 1800. The 8.5 x 11 cover required a gigantic 4800 x 3600.

It is always better to shrink a digital image than to blow it up. Shrinking tightens the pixels, while blowing it up distorts the pixels. A blown up image is fuzzy at best, full of odd and ugly geometric shapes at worst. Hence, the term “pixilated.” That is another reason for using an image that borders on the insane size.

As if that isn’t enough, you will also need to add in trim area. This is the part of the image that spills over into the paper that will be cut off. Make sure the image extends to the very edge of the paper. In other words, for a 6 x 9 cover, you need 6.5 x 9.5. This ensures a nice image all the way to the edge of the book, without any black or white border showing up.

For a cover to an ebook, you have a different size dimension to consider. Covers for ebooks are much more square in shape. I’m trying to memorize the dimensions, but they’re closer to 610 x 950, measured in pixels. Too tall or too narrow, and you end up with wide margins at the sides. Worse, Lulu and Amazon may stretch the image to fit the space. That results in a terrible looking thumbnail. A customer seeing it may think the contents are equally terrible, and not buy your book. Trimming your image requires quite a bit of trial and error, but you’ll get it. Amazon and Lulu both give you the exact dimensions, so that is a major help. They differ, so if you publish both Kindle and Nook editions, you will need two separate covers.

Whether for print or ebook, the cover image must be set to a DPI of 300. I’m not sure how Photoshop operates, but GIMP defaults to 72 DPI. That is not nearly sharp enough for print. When an image is scaled in GIMP to 300 DPI, the program shrinks the image. Keep that in mind and scale both DPI and physical dimensions (width and height) at the same time. Lulu and Amazon both reject images that aren’t 300 DPI, so if yours isn’t, you’ll find out.

Also, remember to leave room for the title and author’s name. Text should not obscure the main part of the image. This image is marketing your book, and you want it to look as good as possible. Again, a professional knows this. If you design your own, keep textual requirements in mind.

Lulu and Amazon hate PNG files. Oh, they don’t tell you that, and accept them. At least, Lulu does. The problem with PNG files is that they contain transparent layers. These will be flattened in conversion. The result is a darkened cover. We’re already fighting dark covers as it is, so why make it worse? Use a JPEG file instead. Amazon wants only PDF files for covers, but even a PNG within a PDF will be flattened. Again, use a JPEG and save yourself a headache.

All right. Until next time, happy writing.

 

Color and Brightness in Designing Your Own Book Covers

When designing your own book cover, or hiring a professional cover artist from Fiverr, it is critical to remember how Amazon and Lulu print. Otherwise, your cover will be too dark.

Yep. That happened to me. This is another excellent reason to order at least one proof of your book before clicking that Publish button.

The images we work with are digital. That’s true whether we design our own in a 3D art program, hire a professional to make one using photomanipulation, or take our own photographs. Even if we use a film camera, the final photograph will be scanned. Covers for Lulu are either jpeg or png format files, while Amazon wants a PDF of a jpeg or png. In other words, digital.

Color in digital is read as RGB, or Red-Green-Blue. So is your computer. It’s what we computer users are familiar with. Print, however, is CMYK, or Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black. It’s called the Four Color Process. Amazon throws a monkey wrench into the system by printing in RGB.

Transferring from digital to print darkens it by up to 40%. It can also throw off the colors. If you notice, one system uses green, while the other uses yellow. Cyan and magenta are also not as saturated as blue and red. It doesn’t seem to matter if a RGB image is printed in RGB format. Printing to paper is what throws off the colors and brightness, because paper wants CMYK. To understand what I mean, print a photograph from your computer on an ink jet printer. The colors won’t match, and the image will be darker.

Here is what happened with mine.

This is the original cover, as it appears in digital format.

path-cover

Now, here is the cover to the paperback proof.

pathproof2

It’s much darker in life than in this photo, too.

That is simply the nature of the beast.

Unfortunately, there is no one method for correcting this problem. The rule of thumb is to make the cover image much lighter and brighter than you think looks good. It will translate into the final cover. For some, merely increasing brightness and contrast is sufficient. Professionals on Fiverr probably know this, and take it into account from the start. For me, I’m rerunning the render, at garish light levels. I also lightened the skins, clothes, and set. It looks horrid for an art piece, but ought to suffice as a cover, given how dark it prints.

But, hey. It’s my cover, on my book, with my story. It says what I want it to say. That much freedom is worth that much extra work.

Starting 2017 Right!

The first thing I did in 2017 was wake up. The second thing I did was get a cup of coffee. For the third, I bought a new website URL. Then, I bought an ISBN.

Holy cow! I’m officially a publisher now!

Coming soon to a browser near you is NJBMedia. com. It isn’t active yet. When it is, I will be transferring this blog from dot com to dot org. From what I understand, I can migrate all my posts and readers.

Well, it’s time for a champagne mimosa with my wife. So, I will leave you with the back cover to the hardback of A Path of Stones, with its ISBN and barcode in place.

A Path of Stones