Don’t Judge Me By My Cover(s)

Developing and issuing a cover three times in roughly a year is dumb to say the least…

I’ve made a front cover for Io and the Extraordinary… again. If you weren’t aware, that’s me saying I’ve done it for the third time. Developing and issuing a cover three times in roughly a year is dumb to say the least. Here’s why I cocked it up so badly, and more importantly, how to avoid the same situation.

Designing an Ebook Front Cover Fo’ Free

Not having the money to hire a pro, I knew I needed to find a way to make the cover myself. I started by doing a bit of research; looking up tips and examining covers that I thought worked well. All good. Top tip on all the articles I read: don’t draw your own cover. Of course, I tend to believe that following advice is for pussies, so I went ahead with….

Drawing a Cover By Hand

Io and The Extraordinary by R.E. McCreadyYeah… so don’t do this unless you’re Michaelangelo. Even if your design looks sort of alright in the flesh, by the time it’s been subjected to the scanner’s uncompromising glare you’re going to have doubts. I ignored this advice not only because I’m a badass, but also because I’m OK at drawing sometimes. There is good author-made cover art out there, but in the same way that the camera adds ten-pounds, it also downgrades the quality of illustrations. Above average art skills aren’t good enough. They need to be freaking great, backed up with a good knowledge of image editing software (which- you’ve guessed it- I didn’t have).

Using Paint.net

I don’t have Photoshop (short on cash, remember?) so I decided to make my cover in Paint.net. While an awesome piece of free kit, Paint.net was never intended to resemble Adobe’s wallet-crunching powerhouse. It’s for editing photos on the cheap. It’s not for creating new images, or tarting up bad drawings. What I should have done is downloaded myself a gimp… wait… downloaded Gimp. I haven’t used this badboy personally, but every cheapskate self-publishing author out there swears by it.

If you end up using Paint.net, then take my advice: use a new layer for every edit, no matter how small, and get familiar with the deselect function (ctrl-d). You’ll see what I mean.

Taking Advantage of Free Online Services

ioandthe-extraordinary-copyWhen I finally got sick of looking at poor old Io’s aliased and distorted face, I decided to redesign my Kindle cover. This time I strayed across Canva, which is fab for making free, professional-looking images for a variety of things. It doesn’t stay free, but still. I binned off my hand-drawn nonsense and banged out something that looked a bit sleeker. Canva’s not the only free/freemium cover design site out there, so if you’re aiming to whip up a quick cover, it’s well worth investigating the scene.

It was then that DPI started to rear its ugly head, by which I mean services like Kindle suggest using an image of 300 DPI or higher for covers. I didn’t worry about it at this stage as I can’t see anyone getting much benefit from an ultra high-def thumbnail, but I wish I had.

Wrestling with the Kindle/Createspace Paperback Cover Creating Set Up.

Writer Image Pixabay

Turns out that self publishing doesn’t just mean spamming your friends and family with demands that they download your ebook anymore. Now you can extort actual paperback purchases out of them.

This means that you need to sort out your real-world cover. Or just chuck yourself out a window. Slathering yourself in cyanide would also be a good way to go.

I tried both Createspace and Kindle‘s Beta paperback creation service. They’re pretty similar in terms of user interface, although their policies differ. I will say that Createspace is marginally less migraine-inducing because it doesn’t force you to upload the final image in PDF, or choose from a selection of pre-sets that look like Cactus Jack hangover vomit. Neither is fantastic.

Both sites have a handy function which formats the right sized pages according to trim size (book shape) so you can just copy and paste the text in. Now my book’s on the hefty side, and in the more popular trim sizes had a page count of over 800. Amazon (sizeists) wouldn’t print this, and rather passive-aggressively wouldn’t tell me why. When I uploaded my manuscript to Createspace, it told me that my page count was too hench for the selected trim size. I duly selected the 7″X10″ option, and moved right along.

An Image is Worth a Free Month at Megapixl

Next came the return of that maggoty old canker sore, DPI. With a book this size, I knew that pixel density was going to show and my lovely blue mountains weren’t going to make the grade. With a Liz Lemon worthy eye roll…

I decided to make yet another another freaking cover.

Now I’m not going to bore you with every single painful detail of how I made the damn thing, but I found out pretty quick that it isn’t so easy to find a free image of that kind of resolution for a cover that big. A bit of research led me to Megapixl and their free trial. At long last, I selected the image you see below. I had already calculated the proper width (width of cover X2 + spine) in my many preceding failures, and worked out how I wanted the text laid out.

Making Every Word Count

Whatever cover you make, probably the most important thing on the page is going to be the title of your book. Fonts and formatting may seem like a secondary concern, but they makes a big difference. I learnt this through playing around on Canva. The designs there are largely simple, but the text looks really professional because it’s carefully considered. Try using different fonts for different pieces of information. Vary the size of the text. Experiment with colour. Manipulating transparencies is a good way to make different parts of the text jump off the page or melt into it.

 

PDF is Not Your Friend

So PDF is a wonderful tool, but it doesn’t play well with others. If you don’t want to use any of the ready-made dogs’ anuses on offer at Kindle, you’ll want to upload your own cover image.

This means converting it into print-ready PDF. If you’re using Windows 7, that means sacrificing your firstborn to Adobe. Yes, there are free image to PDF converters out there, but I (ahem, my husband) wasn’t able to find one that would do it without changing the size of the image, which is kind of a big deal. It’s a bit easier if you can buy yourself an entire Adobe of one form or another, you use Windows 10 and aren’t a total cavewoman, but there we go. I’m still flummoxed by Excel.

Luckily, Amazon’s newest sulky step-child- Createspace- is a bit more flexible. It will let you upload an image and give you a mild spanking should it not step up to the mark. It also gives you clear instructions on how to do better next time.

And voila! One slightly less garbage front cover. Only LITERALLY Io and The Extraordinary Cover 3three days later.

  • I ballsed it up, I know. But you don’t have to be like me: you could be smart.
  • Don’t draw your own image unless you’re a professional.
  • Use the appropriate software.
  • Use a very high DPI image (minimum 300 DPI at the largest size you are likely to need it).
  • Pay attention to tips you read.

Got a cover story of your own to share? If it’s more embarrassing than mine, hit me up so I can dry my shame tears on it. Or leave it in the comment section below. Your choice.

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