#014 - Self Publishing … what about the cover?


For the new author with a manuscript ready to go, you have to think about the 'production' of your work. Probably the first thing to tackle is a cover ... or jacket. If you are only self-publishing in EBook format, then you will need an eye catching cover image. If you are looking to produce your book in a paperback print format with a POD service, then you will need to equip yourself with a jacket that will 'wrap' round the book on three sides ... front, back and spine.

So ... what about a cover?

As a self-publisher, there are choices to consider when furnishing your book with a cover. The first is to do it yourself; the second is to employ a designer of some description and the third is to use an on-line facility provided by your chosen POD service provider. Whatever choice you make, it's fairly essential that the cover image produces the right result. It will need to contain, or indicate to the reader, the key elements of your story. It will need to be eye-catching and look good as a full color image printed to your chosen book size as well as a thumb-nail against the title of your book on Amazon. One of the warning notices to take heed of is to ensure that any images used in putting together your cover graphic are royalty free or correctly purchased from the owner of the copyright.

Design the cover yourself.

The 'do it yourself' option is not so daunting as it initially appears. You do not need to have ten years experience behind the baffling menu options in Photoshop to produce a startlingly good cover image. There are plenty of drawing-apps available on the Internet with their own free download versions. You only need to get your head around the following few basics.

Page size: Whatever screen size you are working on, you will need to be able to set the scale of the printed page in inches or centimeters. It goes without saying that the bigger screen you have to work from the better, especially where high end graphics are concerned.

Importing images: You will need to master the ability to import an image on to the working page and then manipulate it in terms of size and position. This is normally a straight forward process using 'handles'.

Transparency: This is the single most useful tool needed to 'blend' images together and with the 'arrange' tool, you can bring them to the front or send them to the back of the page. This, in effect, allows you to 'stack' images, one on top of the other.

Layers: This facility will allow you to work on your progressing image in various layers of control. By working in layers, you are able to manipulate an image in one particular layer without affecting the position of content in other layers. This is especially useful when putting down a background and overlaying images and script on top.

Export: This is a process that allows you to export your finished image out to other apps or storage facilities. It basically does what it says on the tin but make sure you highlight the area of the image you wish to export first by either lighting it up or boxing it in.

These are the key elements of a drawing program required to produce an exciting cover image, and with a bit of practice, you could well wonder why you ever thought of paying for a design. The operating functions are similar on most drawing software, so get to grips with the problem and save yourself a lot of money along the way. Take some time to 'play about' with the software. It won't bite back and will be difficult to crash. Even if it does 'give up the ghost' on you due to some sort of mismanagement, you can simply reload the program and start again ... because it's FREE!

Employ an artist.

Employing an artist or designer is a route that many self-published authors are forced to tread. It's expensive (relatively) and you will need to give the individual involved a very concise and specific brief. An artist or designer will not keep submitting endless proofs to you, simply waiting for your approval. His or her time costs 'money' and so your brief had better be right first time out. Some will send you a form to fill in containing all the information they require to put together an initial image. Others may well want to discuss the project on the telephone supported by a detailed brief from you. Whatever your choice of designer, the golden rule is that if you find a good one, make sure you keep him (her)! Pay them on time; tell them you really like their work, give them a credit in your book and try to keep in touch between book projects. Finding a good graphic artist or designer who can come up with an eye catching cover graphic, sympathetic to your work ... and someone you can have a proper conversation with ... is rare! When you do eventually find one, make sure you do not let them go! Your local newspaper is still the best place to find a graphic artist if you have no recommendations and if all else fails, then there is the Internet. Of course, the obligatory word of warning must be 'do not part with loads of cash until you have seen some 'work'. A good and honest designer will come with one or two ideas against your brief before asking for large amounts of money. There is one final point to remember. You will inevitably be asked what 'resolution' you require for your final graphic, and this can vary depending upon who you will be submitting your final work to. However, the normal minimum standard is 300 dpi. The definition of dpi is as follows.

Dots per inch (DPI) - is a measure of spatial printing or dot density, in particular the number of individual dots that can be placed in a line within the span of 1 inch (2.54 cm).

KDP, for example, require 300 dpi or better to ensure good, clean edges to the title script. You can, in most cases, set the dpi value on many drawing programs when you export the final image into a drawing file type such as .jpeg or .gif. In others, you may need to set the DPI value in 'settings' before you start to set up your page.

Cover elements.

There are three main elements involved in producing a cover. The first is the background, the second relates to the images used and overlaid on to the background, and the third is the script makeup and fonts used to be laid over the images and perhaps the blurb. So, in effect, you will be working with a minimum of three layers. If you are producing your own cover, you would be advised to set up a layer for each image used, so you can work on them individually without disturbing the setting of other images on the page. Reading the help files of your chosen drawing program will resolve most issues relating to 'layering' as you tackle your cover project.

Image elements.

In essence, the images on your cover should tell the story, grab the attention of the shelf scanning reader and be compatible with the accompanying 'blurb'. The blurb is a very condensed version of your final synopsis and will sit on the back cover of the jacket or sit alongside your thumbnail image in an on-line bookstore. If you are assembling your own images, please make sure they are free to use. Many images are available in good quality, high resolution for you to play with as long as they are not used simply on their own and must be 'worked' or 'manipulated' to meet the conditions of the license. If you are attempting to put together your own cover, we recommend you make good use of the 'transparency' option in your drawing program. There is normally a wide range of effects to chose from that will blend your images together so that you end up with a professional looking cover plate. Also make use of the image 'crop' function to ensure you are only using that particular part of the image you need. Even if you are employing an artist or designer, it is often well worth sending him or her, a selection of images to give them an idea of what you have in mind to be included in the final production.

Technical elements.

The technical aspects of producing a cover for your book project relate to the fact that it's a work of fiction. If you had been writing a non-fiction book about say the Architectural Heritage of the Pentagon, it would be fairly easy to put a picture of the Pentagon building on the front cover and everyone looking at it on the bookshelf will quickly gain an idea about the contents. It would therefore be great if the cover of your book gave the potential reader a similar insight. There are no golden rules here except to say look at lots of covers on the Internet and see which ones leap out of the screen for you. You may like the simple image such as a knife with blood dripping from it, the shadowy face of a wild eyed man or shocked and frightened woman. If you have a friend with a good resolution camera or camera-phone, invite them over to take some pictures using yourself as a model making sure you have hung a bed sheet, or something similar, over a door to create a neutral background for your image. This will allow you to 'cut out' the image from the background in your drawing program. You can do the same with 'props' of course using the bed sheet on a table for the neutral background requirement. If you are keen to use multiple images to tell the story, it's a good idea to make sure your final image is not overcrowded. Less is much, much more here! When overlaying script, it's also good practice to check that the font you use is legible, not only displayed on a full size cover but also as a thumbnail image on the Internet. Having a great image, but not being able to read the title and the name of the author is not recommended.

Cover importance.

There is no doubt that a good cover image is one of the really important things to get right when producing your finished work. It's the first thing your potential reader will be drawn to whether buying your book in hard copy from a bookshop or as an electronic edition on the Internet. It should firstly be eye-catching and secondly indicate what could be between the pages at a glance. This is of course a substantial target to aim for but a good cover image or jacket will sell your book ... of that, there is no doubt. Whether you will be able to produce a cover yourself, that is commercial and professional looking, or be inclined to put a brief out to an artist or designer, you should be happy with the end result before publishing. No one knows what is between the covers of your book ... except you! Therefore, the cover is in fact a full color invitation to a potential reader to flip it open and start to absorb the words. If they then like the sample, they almost inevitably buy. If your cover is not able to entice a potential and curious reader to 'find out more'... then it's possible you will simply not sell it!