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:
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…
I had planned to have finished the first draft of the next book by the 30th of March. To this end, I pulled out all the stops. I was writing day and night, lunch time, after dinner, before going to bed and even while sleeping.
All that hard work paid off – I did it! Not only did I hit my target, I managed to get it done days earlier than anticipated. That, like, never happens. And it’s got me worried.
You see, getting something done quickly is great, unless it’s done so hastily that stuff goes missing or gets overlooked or gets done sloppily.
I’m not really worried, not like that. It’s more that I’m going to stay on my toes during the second draft, keeping an eye out for anything glaringly obvious.
When’s that due? Glad you asked. 25th of April is the deadline for that. So I’m going at that hammer and tongs, right?
Instead of going straight into the second draft, I’m going to let my reading / writing brain have a rest and get cracking on the cover. That’s right, rather than put the cover off until the end, I’m going to use the down time to do some creative drawing.
So I started with a sketch of an octopus, the protagonist of my story, a spud named Tedrick Gritswell. After some scruffy sketches, I used the watercolour to get some feel for how he would look, and once that got somewhere close to what I was after, I added a layer and dropped in a background.
Corel Painter has some neat features like layering, lighting and texturing so I mucked about with that so see what I could use. After all, my spud ain’t smooth, he’s got skin. Plus there’s shading to be done and depth of field and all of that.
At the time of writing, I’m still working on the coral cliffs in the background and getting some rocks and shells and other plants in there, along with cleaning up the water and adding some details, but here tis:
I’ll keep at it for the next few days while I chill out my brain, you know, maybe get out and make a petrol station for Joey like he’s been bugging me. Fresh air and exercise, that’s what I need.
I’ve been quiet since releasing Part 6, I know, and I’m sorry. Don’t think I’m sitting around, twiddling my thumbs, though. Not me, that’s not how I roll.
Sure, I had a couple of days of down-time to recuperate, get my head away from the checklists and shout-outs and double-checking and distribution that comes with a new book. That was fun.
But after a bit the brain gets itchy, the fingers get twitchy and it’s time to start writing again. I picked up on the next in the Paranormology Series, tentatively titled “Portsmouth Avenue Ghost” and got cracking at it. The funny part is that the first draft is almost done.
How is that funny?
It’s funny because I had the overwhelming notion to stop. Jam my foot hard on the brake. Deploy the parachute. Why? Because it was going too fast. Now that’s something you don’t hear everyday, a writer lamenting that the book is coming along too quickly, but it’ true. I wasn’t unhappy with the story, in fact I’m quite chuffed.
So why slow down? Quality, man, quality. The skeleton is there, with good fleshy bits hanging off it and some hair and skin – I’ll fill in the rest later – but stories have a need to sit and ferment, stew in their own juices as it were. If you push it too fast, you can miss out on developing subtle features like a character’s growth or a location’s description, on the bits that make the story that much more interesting. I’ve done it before – neglected to rest the story that is – and I have been unhappy with the outcome.
Not this time. This time I have forced made notes to myself in the text, parked it for future reference so that the next time I read over it, it will be like reading the story for the first time. Or, if you rather, like reading the story as someone else.
You might then think that I actually have been twiddling my thumbs. After all, I’m not writing, right? Nothing could be farther from the truth. I’m midway through another book, on a very different tangent altogether.
Running under a kind of crop-rotation theory, I figured that too much working the Paranormology angle will exhaust and weaken it. I’ve only just finished up with Sci-Fi, hence that needs a rest. So I’m going for the ‘Weird Fiction’ angle, in a similar vein to The Bullet and Atlas, Broken.
Hot Dog! What’s it about?
I’d like to tell you, but I can’t. Not yet, anyway, not until I’ve got the first draft done and I’m happy with it. I can drop a few hints, though.
First, it’s a detective novel. Think first person, film noir. “Gee. Thanks, Jez. That narrows it down some.”
Secondly, it has a distinct nautical or aquatic theme. There’s murder and mystery and good old fashioned skulduggery.
Thirdly, the characters are relatable, but certainly not ordinary.
Too much of a teaser? Sorry. Like Portsmouth, I don’t want to rush this one. Once the first draft is complete, I’ll let it rest a bit. In that time, I’ll be getting the front cover done. My plan is to use my Wacom to make the sketches and watercolouring and shading and whatnot. Come to think of it, I’m really excited about that. More on that when it comes, I guess.
In the meantime, I’m afraid you’ll just have to bear with me as I plod along. First draft has been scheduled for completion by March 30th and so far, it’s on track. Well, it would be if I wasn’t spending time writing blog posts.
Running with the purple and gold theme, I made up a few more eggs and painted them blue, graduating to white at the bottom. Then came the white vine squiggles, with round balls on the ends of white flicks.
Finally, the balls were filled with white, gold and rose gold, just to mix things up again. Gloss up with several coats of polyurethane and we’re ready for Easter.
There are two big rules that go with making Easter Eggs.
Always make more eggs than you will need and
Never let little boys with curious fingers anywhere near your eggs otherwise:
This guy was only three coats of gloss away from finished! Oh, the humanity!
Pushing the digital version of your book to hardcopy requires a revision of your front cover. You’ve knocked your cover up. You are pretty chuffed with it because, hey, everything is just as it should be.
Pixels are, after all, pixels.
Printing out a cover throws a couple of curve-balls. Two notables are colour and cut.
Cut is the easiest to explain. When a book get made up from a printing press, there are a number of processes and physical factors that need to be accounted for. Pick up a book off your shelf, go on. See how the cover stock is different to what’s used inside the book? See how it’s glossy, whereas the pages are not? See how the pages perfectly line up with each other?
It’s not an accident. The machines that make up a book have various tolerances when assembling, and then the whole thing gets trimmed to perfection. Aah!
The trimming bit is where you need to be concerned. Your cover will have bits cut off. I’ll repeat that because it’s important:
Your cover will have bits cut off.
The top and bottom edges, and the edge opposite the spine, are ear marked for a bit of slice-and-dice action. Lulu gives you templates you can use:
This one is for the PocketBook size, and as you can see, it has three distinct regions. The ‘Trim Area’, the ‘Safety Margin’ and the ‘Live Area’. If you use Gimp or Photoshop, add the template as a top-level layer so that you can see how your cover will end up:
Notice that all words are within the safety margin – no one wants to have their title sliced off! And, before you ask, yes, I found this out the hard way. The margin of safety is there for a reason. Use it.
What’s not so obvious is that the centre of your image is now a wee bit to the left. Doesn’t sound bad, until you get your book and that ‘wee bit’ has turned into a ‘Hella lot’! Realign your words, shadows, etc to align to the ‘new’ centre, and save yourself a headache.
If something looks good one your screen, great, it will probably look good on someone else’s screen, too, unless they’ve got their colours all up the wazoo. You can’t help that. In contrast (pun somewhat intended), if I look at a book, and then hand it to you, the colours on the front page haven’t changed.
So it is important to get it right.
I can’t really show you the difference as it gets printed out here, because my camera isn’t really picking up the details, but I’ll show you what I did for Adaptation:
On the left is the digital edit, and on the right is the Lulu hardcopy edit. You’ll notice the words spacing and alignment has been adjusted for the margins of safety.
The colours are muted on the left, just the way I wanted them to be but, when it was printed, they appear especially dull. No good. So with the Lulu edit I upped the contrast, increased the saturation and use the auto ‘white balance’. The result is a more vivid cover, unsuitable for digital (I think) but comes out just right in hardcopy.