I’ve used the same general layout for the Paranormology series – Two thirds picture at the top, one third writing at the bottom. The top is of the haunted building. The bottom contains the title and author upon a close up of some of the material making up the structure.
The Smashwords guidelines specify a minimum width of 1400 pixels, with a height greater than the width. I use 1400 x 2278. For the lower section, I’ve chosen a piece of wall with some cracks and flaking paint:
After that, I’ll add in the title and the author, along with a flourish to separate the two. I used the font Augustus because it was narrow and crisp. I’ve made a duplicate of the writing layer to have a slight coloured rim around the lettering.
Now that’s alright by itself, but the brickwork needed to be contrasted a tad more with the writing, so I added a glow to it, reduced the contrast and added in a purple and yellow wash. I then put a shroud on the outside and bordering the two images, to give it a slightly darker look.
I threw in some faint plasma for a swirling, mystic look and finally added some snow at the bottom panel to tie it all in. The result:
I really needed a picture of this house for the front cover. But taking the photo is only the first part of the job. Next was turning this rather old looking piece into something one might consider haunted.
The house, captured in broad daylight, was not exactly ‘creepy’ looking. Not only that, as you can see there are artefacts within that would not belong in a Victorian era story. Anachronisms, perhaps? Either way, they had to go:
We can see the walker, the plastic bins, the electrical junctions and the wires. The letterbox looks fine and the number on the door is too small to make out, so that’s good, too. Oh, right, and the compact fluorescent lamp as well. Another little ditty is the reflection in the glass – there’s a ute in there. Aaaand that building over to the right.
To get rid of these things, I used the good old ‘clone’ tool in Gimp. The technique is to carefully clone parts of the surrounding background and surface over the top of the unwanted anomalies.
This works best with consistent (like the grey bricks) or noisy (like the mulch on the ground) backgrounds. It’s a pain in the bum with distinct, contrasting objects like the fence rods and the window. For these, I had to match up the cloning very carefully indeed to avoid a glaring inconsistency with the straight lines.
Not that anyone is looking that closely, but still. It’s also a heck of a lot easier when you don’t have a Joey jostling your arm every few seconds.
I then removed the sky, twiddled with it, darkened it and kept it for later. The colour of the house and the leaves needed to be duller and more dreary. For this I adjusted the grey bricks to be more purple, and the green leaves to be more yellow. The top windows needed dulling (because we can’t reflect a blue sky at night, right?) which was a matter of using the magic selector and reducing the lightness.
With all that done, it was time to add some layering in there.
The story is set in winter, and while it is not full-blown midwinter, it’s still cold and there is a smattering of snow about. Well, that means I needed to add snow. Where and how the heck could I do that? It took some doing, but I think I got there. More on that in a tick.
In the story, it is winter. It is cold. It is snowing. The problem I faced is that this photograph is in Melbourne, in Summer, when it’s hot and definitely does not snow. I could think about, say, grabbing a can of shaving cream and spraying it about, but I doubt the owner would be impressed and the result wouldn’t cut it. The only thing for it is to add fake snow over the top of the image:
The snow was done in three passes. I use Gimp to do the dirty work, mostly because I’m comfortable with it, and also because there are a lot of little tools and filters that can help out.
First, I used the chalk shaped brush, with a white to grey gradient, and passed it over the ‘top’ surfaces of things, so the window sills, the fence posts, the railings. It’s not a heavy coating, more a smattering, because it’s early winter. I was going to do more on the footpath, but it turned out, when I did a quick check, that the image on the book wouldn’t be able to include the lower quarter. Ah, well.
The thing is, the image above is still too sunny and happy, so I wanted to add in some more, falling, snow. So be it:
So there’s snow on the ground, some falling snow, and I’ve gloomified the setting. It’s looking a bit more like what I had in mind, but there’s still more to go. I need the sky back, for starters, and I want some highlights on the house so that it’s not one grey, amorphous blob.
I duplicated the house layer and blended it together with the underlying house to bring up more of the detail. The clouds in the sky looked about right with a dark filter on there, so I left that alone.
Right, all that’s left is to add it into the general template for the Paranormology series.
It’s getting harder and harder to find houses that fit the front covers for my stories. The latest, Cooper Alley Ghost, needed to be old, craggy, two storey and squishy. Why? Because it’s in an alley, not a street or avenue. Trolling the haunts of Moonee Ponds and Essendon, hunting about for the right one, I came up with a whole lot of not much. This one is single storey. This one is too grand. This one is way too modern. The houses in that area, you see, tend to be sitting on large blocks. There’s a nice, comfortable feel about them and those that have be squishified into apartments and the like tend to have been built only within the past decade or two. Not at all suitable.
So I gave up on that and scratched my head some and thought and thought and thought. If only I had a jet-pack, I could fly about the suburbs and rapidly cull from my list the houses and buildings that weren’t suitable, and narrow in on those that were. I don’t have a jet-pack. And even if I did, I doubt that it would be the most practical way to… and I struck upon an idea. Google Street View, of course! Why bother driving around, slowly crawling the backstreets and looking creepy, when some gigantic tech company has done that already? No, really, have you seen the cars? It’s a little creepy the way they putter up and down, and even more creepy when they go into the back-alleys of Carlton and show you the insides of people’s backyards.
Anyway, after comparing the tomato gardens of the people of Fitzroy and Carlton, I got back to my task and hunted about for a house that would fit the bill. After twenty minutes, boom, there it was – the ideal house. Two storey, slightly creepy and crumbled, squished between two other houses. A tiny front yard and a smattering of plants. Perfect. Now I just had to get there and take a photograph.
Well, it’s school holidays, and that means I’m taking care of Joey, dragging him about, taking him to the pool, to work, to boxing, to the shops. None of those places are anywhere near Carlton. Bum. OK, so we had to make a special trip. On the hottest day of the year. And we were in Port Melbourne, had to fight through the city traffic to reach the other side. That, or go on a long, sweep around. Either way would be unpleasant. The city, at that time in the morning, I reasoned, shouldn’t be so terrible. That’s a relative term. The traffic was lighter than peak-hour, granted, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been faster walking. And don’t get me started on the terrible driving. The day was getting hotter, Joey was getting crankier and my patience was getting drier. We finally popped out the other side and reached Nicholson Street.
Parking. Yay, hadn’t thought about that. I normally ride a scooter, so there’s no need to worry about parking. On Nicholson Street was not an option – all the parks were gone. So I hit up Leicester Street and poked about there. Permit parks over here, no standing over there and lots and lots of ticketed parking. Heck, all I wanted to do was jump out, take a happy snap and go home. Not happening. So then it’s around to the next street and the next and, a stroke of luck! There was a two hour spot just waiting for us next to a (much needed) water bubbler.
We got out, headed to the house (just up the road) and, wouldn’t you know it? There was roadworks signs and parked cars all over the place, with no clear shot. I tried from a few angles. No good. I stood closer and further, tried the zoom on the camera. Still no good. Joey was at boiling point. So was I. “Blow it,” I said, “Wasn’t there a 7-Eleven on the way over?” A slurpee took joey off the boil and shut him up for at least thirty seconds while I thought. I didn’t fight all that way to give up, and considering the general feel and age of the suburb, there had to be other samples about. We wandered up and down for a little while. At last! A house! Two floors, old, etc. Sure, there’s a car parked in front but it’s back far enough that with the wide angle on I should be able to…
And just at that moment, the occupant of the house comes home on his bike. No, seriously. I wasn’t doing anything illegal, of course. I was on the sidewalk, taking photographs, but you can appreciate how uncomfortable it got. So there were a few shots with said occupant in the picture, putting his bike inside. Can’t use those:
Nope. I went to the house next door, but its front was way too close to the street, so that was no good. Nope, it was this one or nothing. I stole back, distracted Joey with something shiny in an alley, flipped the phone to wide-angle and took the shot. Boomshakalaka and thar she blows, a fine specimen of an aged house… complete with treadmill out the front, plastic garbage bins and electricity.
Once I’d finished with the front cover of Adaptation, I had a look at some of my other titles. Yep, you guessed it, I wasn’t happy with them. I mean, the Paranormology series ain’t so bad (except, let’s be honest, Beaumauris Road Ghost) and Atlas, Broken is almost where I want it to be, but The Bullet stood out as the poor, underloved book that just wanted to have its day.
The Bullet was one of the stories, back in 2014, that I pushed out without too much thought. It was the first to be put into hard-copy, because it was small and easy to manipulate I guess, good for a trial run. But it’s still a book and it still wants love.
So there’s the old cover. Come to think of it, that’s the one for the print, since the text is slightly to the left and squished in a bit, but never mind that. The whole point is that while the bullet is front and centre, sure, and the story is about the bullet, the cover doesn’t really let your eye do anything more than read the text and see the bullet. The factory in the background isn’t prominent. In fact, I was showing Joey just the other day and he said, “Yeah, I like it, but what’s are all those lines at the back?”
Good lesson there, too. Ask a kid. They’ll be honest.
So I got to thinking about covers and what makes this yawn-worthy? Firstly, it doesn’t convey anything about the book apart from the obvious – The Bullet, with a bullet on it. OK, great, what else? The factory is stunted, there’s nothing steampunk about it, and it doesn’t challenge me in any way. It’s also very symmetric (aside from the squishing to fit it to a print book) so, really, there’s nowhere for the eye to go but top to bottom.
I trudged back over my source material again and looked at a bunch of other book covers and realised, yup, it needs a make-over.
So here we have a completely different design. Firstly, it’s darker. There’s no factory to fuddle things up, but the implication is there what with all the smoke billowing about. You’ll also note, there isn’t one bullet, but many, highlighting the major theme of the story, of this bullet and its peers. It’s challenging in that it asks what’s so special about this bullet that looks exactly the same as the ones next to it. The font is an older newspaper-style, formed but haggard, rough and rusted. Lastly, the symmetry is removed, with the words somewhat right aligned, but not perfectly.
The eye is free to bounce about a bit, first gathering the bullet, then the words, then picking at the bullets in the rows to see if there is any difference between them, anything further to see through the haze of steam and smoke. The rows of perfect rounds suggests a factory, a process, so there’s no need to harp on about it.
With such a large print and uncluttered image, it looks waaaaaay better on the small scale which, as I’ve come to realise, is very important, considering most book sites display their wares in small icons and thumbnails.
I asked Joey what he thought about this one. He said, “I dunno. I liked the first one.”
Kids, eh? What do they know?
This cover change was also necessary because, well, I’ll let you know in a bit.
When I first started out writing, I was busy with the whole ‘writing’ part of the deal, you know, putting words together to make sentences and all that jazz. Then, when it got time to get real, I slammed into the ‘oh-crap’ wall, filled with blocks of requirements held together with a mortar of doubt.
Books need a description. And they need an ISBN. And they need to be categorised according to their content and type. And, of course, they need a front cover.
Well, as far as I can tell, you can get away with not having an ISBN, and you have categories of ‘General’ under fiction which, I guess, sort of covers just about anything, and technically you don’t need a front cover to have a book published.
But it sure helps.
So there I go, flailing against the wall, doing whatever I could to get through to the other side. A front cover? No problem. How hard can that be? I mean, it’s just words and a picture right? Well, technically yes, that’s correct, there are words and there is usually a picture, but it’s not as simple as… No worries, gimme two minutes.
Cue me running around like a maniac, taking photographs with my old, clunky phone, trying to figure out how to operate GIMP, fending off the calls from work – heck, it’s eleven at night – and a whisky shot or two later, here you go:
Yeah, I didn’t like it either, but you have to admit, there are words and there’s a picture, so it’s a cover, right? Besides, it was bed time and I wanted this thing up and out and off my hands (There’s a lesson right there – if you’re feeling pressured, you’re making mistakes and if you’re making mistakes, back off, go to bed and tackle it tomorrow).
Alright, fine, it was poo, I agree. So after I did the same for part 2 and 3, I sat back and thought that I’d better take it more seriously. After all, by this stage I was looking at hard copies and, yeah, these guys ain’t gonna cut the mustard.
I started with the idea of emphasising the split from title and author as top and bottom and the imagery in the middle. I found a nice carbon fibre background and a chrome bar to add the separators and changed the font to something more appropriate. And for the most part, I was happy with it, until I looked at it with fresh eyes last month and thought that looked unpolished.
The uniformity of the imagery was bothering me. Sure, the method of thresholding the image and using the darkness to create a silhouette over a gradiented background made some amount of sense, it still didn’t convey exactly what I was after. So I’ve gone and made a change, I hope, for the better.
Yes, that’s still the same carbon fibre and chrome curtain rod. Yes, that’s still my eyeball (albeit updated) but now we’ve got a more modern twist on things.
Firstly, you’ll notice the change from a single point of reference, to having the city below, a bustling, light filled city, shining in amber, contrasting the relatively cyan eyeball on top. Amber and teal, apparently, is the combination of the month. The cityscape lends itself nicely, since the perspective of the main roads naturally lead one toward the top, reminiscent of the famous ‘all seeing eye’.
I was going for a pixelated eyeball to emphasise the use of technology, but then I backed off on that since it made it look a little too 8-bit. Instead, I went for a glass-tile filter to add the squareness to it, keeping detail while still breaking the imagery up.
All things considered, I’m chuffed with the result.
You know when your eyes are burning and your fingers and cramped and up come up for a gulp of air and realise, ‘Heck, almost there!’
The fifth episode of Paranormology is only a hop, skip and a jump away from getting published. Allow me a couple of seconds to enjoy the moment.
Back to it. I’ve highlighted the issues and suggested corrections, now I’ve got to pick up the pieces of paper – literally – and update the electronic copy.
Why ‘literally’? Well, funny story:
As you can see from the pic, there’s a whopping bulldog clip what holds all my sheets together. This system works really well because it keeps the pages in order when I take it from my bag, or put it on the table, or drop it on the ground. Where the system fails is when I unclip it, then let the pages slide off the desk and across the floor.
Let this be a lesson – when you print out your manuscript, add page numbering. It’s fast and it means that, if the pages get screwed up because of one’s clumsiness, it’s trivial to put them back into order.
As it was, I spent a good ten minutes flicking through, sorting and shuffling and rearranging.
You’ll also notice that I used a yellow highlighter rather than my favourite red pen. Reason is that I couldn’t find Old Red anywhere. The highlighter + black pen combination isn’t that great, in that I need to do two marks rather than one, and the black pen had a tendency to get smeared on the marker.
The end result is good. I can scan a page quickly and spot what needs to be updated, so that’s not a problem, and if I can’t have a red pen, I’ll settle for this, albeit grudgingly.
What comes next?
Updating the electronic copy with the corrections. It’s laborious, it’s boring, but it has to be done. A few cups of coffee should help.
After this, or during – if I need a break from words – comes the cover. I’ve got the sky how I want it, and I’ve removed a few ‘modern’ artefacts from the house and surrounds. Now I need to get the colours right, perhaps add a some environmental cues, and decide upon a font for the title.
And then, somewhere along the way, I have to start a blurb – *shudder*. For such a small patch of writing it is the most agonising to write: Summarise without being vague. Give clues without giving anything away. Create interest without using cliches. And do it all in a neat and tidy space of five sentences. Blegh.
So I might be near the end, but, really, there is much still to be done.
I did it. As I rode home, I went over and over the possible situations: A hostile occupant. A disinterested one. Getting told to sod off. Getting an over-eager interest. How would it turn out? How would it all end?
I circled the block, checked it for other houses that might be more suitable (there weren’t), parked the bike, cricked my neck, cricked my fingers, admonished myself for procrastinating, and took off my helmet. “Hi, my name is Jeremy Tyrrell… Hmm. G’day, you don’t know me… nah. Hi, there. This might sound strange… Nup. Yo, firstly, I’m not here to sell you anything… Oh, boy.”
Clearly, pre-planning wasn’t working, so I opted to just wing it. Somehow, that felt better, or made more sense. I don’t know.
The front door was just over there. Only a few steps away. Through the gate, along the path, up the steps and across the portico, then ding-dong! Show time.
Easy as. Only the gate wouldn’t open. A latch? A bolt? Hasp and staple? No. A wire was tightly wrapped around the gate securing it to the brickwork.
No go, eh bro? Not so.
I am reminded by the saying, “Better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
Is that even legal?
Good question. I had to do some searching around to get a handle on photography laws as it pertains to private properties and public places. Turns out, it’s actually quite legal.
In a nutshell, unless I’m a Peeping Tom (kinda tough to be one at 5:30 on a main road), or being a nuisance, taking a photograph of a building or scene that is visible from a public area is fine. There are exclusions, such as if one is photographing a commercial concern and goes on to make proceeds out of what is essentially not theirs, or if one has been told to push off, or if there are minors involved.
If one is on private property, however, permission needs to be obtained from the owner or relevant body.
In short, if you’re on the street, it’s fair game.
The result? Ehhh, not so fast. A got a photograph, but it’s not a cover just yet, not without removing things like telephone wires, street numbers, garbage bins, antennae and all of that.
I like this house. Handsome, two floors, a lovely garden, and large enough to sport several rooms. The sky above looks pretty turbulent, too. just need to make it darker, gloomier.
There’s a fair way to go yet. Right now, I’m getting a tea and going to bed.
Last post I uploaded the front cover to the KDP creator. I had blundered in that the DPI or dots per inch setting was at a default of 72, rather than the required 300. Changing the DPI to 300, re-exporting to PDF and then uploading resulted in the following:
Check through the list on the right. The markup within the table of contents was removed, without affecting the table, so that’s fine. Also, it asks you double check the Author, ISBN and Title. Good idea. Do that. Character for character.
Hey, there’s even a 3D view:
Woohoo! Looks pretty good. The automatic whatsit that Amazon has going stopped complaining about the size of the PDF since it now closely matched the dimensions of the book itself.
You can look through the pages, and I would strongly encourage you to. Why? Because the PDF you uploaded will not be what gets used. Observe:
If you look closely, the border closer to the spine is greater than the border against the edge. I used a 1cm border in the PDF, Amazon has automatically added in an extra padding on the spine. This is a good thing, since it will mean the words aren’t squished into the paper-fold.
I can’t guarantee it, but after playing with it for a bit (doing a few uploads to get it ‘just right’), I think that the engine is smart enough to recognise page changes and update the table of contents accordingly. Even so, check that each chapter in the TOC matches the actual page for the Chapter. It’s a small task that will save you having to apologise to your readers for a dodgy TOC.
Once I was happy with it, I hit the ‘Approve’ button. Click
So life is grand, right? I’ve uploaded the manuscript, I’ve uploaded the front cover as a PDF, it’s looking pretty much how I want it, all I need to do now is order a proof.
What’s a Proof?
Electronic eBooks are cool because, hey, what you see is what you get. You can pop your ePub or PDF or mobi file onto your favourite reader and have a look-see to make sure it’s all fine and dandy like cotton candy. Of course, different readers with different dimensions will display things differently, but you can rest easily knowing that the software does a best effort to make stuff look and read properly.
Not so with printed books. Paper ain’t that advanced.
And while PDFs are fantastic for viewing something as a bunch of pages, the conversion to a hardcopy means extra padding on the inside of each page, a few extra pages added for the actual printing house and physical constraints applied because of the thickness of paper, the stock used, etc.
In other words, once you’ve done all the work uploading your masterpiece, you need to order a proof to make sure that it – it being the actual book what gets pumped out by the presses and will land into the laps of your audience – looks and feels and even smells like you want it.
Yes, smells. There actually is a difference in smells between books. I’m not sure if it’s the cover or the paper or a combination or just something in the manufacturing process, but there certainly is a smell associated with a new book.
Lulu strongly encourages ordering a proof. They will not allow you to use Global Reach without you having ordered and actually looked at a copy of your book. For this, they will let you order it at cost price.
I personally make a habit of buying at least two so I can keep one and give one away as a present.
What about Amazon? No. You cannot purchase a proof, even though you own the book.
Let me clarify: There is no facility for ordering a proof at cost price. You will pay the full price of your book.
But… but I made the damn thing!
I know, I know. Believe me, I know. It’s yours. You did it. You made it. Why do you have to sell it to yourself?
It turns out Create Space, by itself, does allow author copies. And while Amazon uses Create Space to manage your hardcopies, it does not allow you to purchase author copies.
So what happens if you wanted to print off, say, 1,000 copies and distribute them yourself in a vanity-publishing style venture? You’re up for either ordering the 1,000 copies at full price or temporarily discounting the book to cost, ordering, then raising the price back up. Either way, it’s ugly.
This is a two-sided story. Personally I believe that author copies should be allowed, and encouraged, and even enforced like Lulu does. I can see, though, that purchasing your own book at full price does affect the ranking of the book, and rightly so. A purchase is a purchase, regardless of who made the original purchase.
And before you ask, no, I’m not an expert on how Amazon does the rankings. I’m sure it’s time based and it’s also categorically based – that is, you have different rankings for different categories – but as for how the numbers get calcumalated, I can only say that more sales -> better rank.
Also, depending on the royalty rate, you’ll get some of the money you spent back. Icky, I know, but maybe it’s Amazon’s way of avoiding rank-diddling by someone with a hefty cashroll. Eh. Dunno.
So, after all of that, I picked up my credit card, and ordered my own book. You won’t believe what happened next!
In the previous post, I spoke about how to get the cover to play ball. By downloading the template you will save yourself a lot of trouble, but how does one use it?
I like GIMP. A lot. I know there are other graphics programs that do a lot of stuff easily but GIMP has just been my go-to and probably always will be. Hats off to the developers.
Anyway, to use the template, open it in GIMP.
You’ll notice on the right hand side there’s the “Layers” pane. I added my front, spine and rear layers underneath. By adjusting the transparency of the top-most layer (the template) I can see how I fit in the guidelines at any time:
To turn off the top layer altogether, when I’m working on things directly, click the eyeball next to the layer. Also use this for when you’re exporting your final image.
Note the rear: I’ve kept the blurb clear of the barcode area because KDP, like Lulu, will automatically stick a barcode on that spot. Can you change it? No. Why not? Because it’s a standard spot and there’s really no reason to have it customisable. It’s like software engineering, really. Yes, it probably could be customisable, and we could put a whole lot of man-hours to getting the darn thing to be on the other side, or rotated, or put on the top, or the spine. We could do that, yes. Or – OR – we could not, and recognise that it’s not really an issue and state very simply that that’s where the barcode goes and apply the developers to better, more important tasks.
Sorry. One of the most annoying phrases as an engineer I hear is, “Can we make it customisable?” Rant over. Moving right along. Where was I?
Ah, yes, the template. So you’ll see, straight away, that the eBook cover is not going to work. It doesn’t have a spine. It doesn’t have a rear. You’ll need to knock those up. I used a picture of Eel Grove for the rear, because it’s a dark image and sits well against the light blurb.
For the spine, I whipped up an underwater theme, graduating from the light to waves to the dark reef-bed. The text had to be rotated to run down the spine, and I added a slight drop-shadow to help with the contrast.
When it was all done and I was chuffed with how it looked, I exported it. KDP wants it as a PDF. Gimpy can do this, no sweat, but the resulting PDF file is 17 MB. For you spring chickens, that ain’t such a thing, but I remember the time when our harddrive was 40MB all up, and the speed of a modem of 1200 bps.
Anyhow, I uploaded it to KDP and sat back.
Oh. Poop. What have I done? The preview window on the KDP form looks… terrible. It’s like it’s.. it’s… it’s the tiniest bit on the bottom of the spine.
That’s what it looked like.
What has gone wrong? I’ll tell you. There’s a thing called DPI, or Dots Per Inch. Don’t worry too much about the details, but when I saved the image to PDF, it saved the data in a rather stretched format.
Back to Gimpy-boy (Yes, I call it Gimpy-boy):
Open up the Print Resolution dialog and the mystery is revealed. See that width / height? That’s because, translating pixels to ‘dots’ on a page means that I’ve made my picture stupidly large. Aha!
I adjusted the X and Y resolution from 72 DPI to 300 DPI and the width and height went to 9.25″ x 12.88″.
But the book is only 6 x 9, right? Yes, true, but we’re working off the template and we need to include trim and all of that. Anyway, 9.25″ is hella closer than 38″! Phew!
OK, so export to PDF again, re-upload and cross all digits and tentacles…