Monday, April 15, 2013

Indie Pub Part 3

We've been reviewing some of the nuts and bolts of independently publishing a book. Last time we talked, we discussed getting your book ready for print. Today we're going to look at making book covers.

Making an Eye-Catching Cover

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Never judge a book by its cover.”  To be blunt, “Balderdash.”
books are judged by their covers all the time, and they should be, in fact. A good cover will tell your potential reader something significant about the book. Not only must it include the title of the work and the author’s name (preferably in a legible font large enough to be visible as a thumbnail image), but it should also contain some manner of artwork that will give your reader an inkling of what the book is about.
Mark Coker, President of Smashwords, writes, “Book covers are important to many readers because they're a visual representation of the book, and your most important advertising. A good book cover image adds to the reader's enjoyment of the book. An ugly book cover, or no book cover, sends the message to the prospective reader that you're amateurish, lazy, or sloppy. You spent hundreds of hours (or a lifetime) writing your book, so don't skimp on the cover.”
The most common solution for the independent writer is to farm out his or her cover to a graphic artist, who may charge anywhere from $50 to $500 for a professionally produced cover. But since this is about learning to do this for free, today we’re going to discuss how to design and develop an eye-catching cover all by yourself for little to no cost.

Design Guidelines

To begin with, let’s discuss the size of the cover. New standards recently released have done away with some of the more unusual cover designs that have been seen recently – especially when it comes to e-books.


They should be vertical rectangle-shaped (the height is greater than the width), not squares, and must be a minimum width of 1,400 pixels. A recommended size is approximately 1,600 pixels wide by 2,400 pixels tall (the proportions of most paperback books in the USA, which have height 1.5 times greater than their width). To view the pixel dimensions, right mouse click on the image and click properties. There's room for personal preference.  Aim to make the height approximately 30-60% greater than the width and the book should look good.


The fonts you use should be legible and sufficiently large that you can read them in thumbnail version. Your cover font can be almost anything you desire (so long as it does not contain a hyperlink or contain profanity or false advertising). I recommend choosing your font based, at least in part, on the overall theme or genre of your book. It’s also best if you keep the title fairly short. Long titles can put the reader off.


It’s also good to avoid clutter in your design. Limit your font choices to two, if you can at all, and keep the images you select fairly clean and free of distracting detail. It needs to simply suggest what the book is about in a teasing, intriguing sort of way.
Speaking of images, where do you find them? There are a number of choices available to you. You can a) take your own pictures. Just be sure your images are at least 300 dpi in quality, and again, are suitable and professional in appearance.
You can purchase Royalty-free stock photos from a number of sites. I personally use, but I also recommend There are a gazillion image sites out there, but these I’ve found to have a reasonably wide selection from professional photographers. Purchasing royalty-free images means that you don’t have to pay a royalty every time you use the image. It is important to read the ULA (User License Agreement) of the image site, so that you are sure you’re purchasing the correct rights and are following the attribution guidelines.
The third option is to use images that are granted a commons license. Many of the images on Wikipedia have a Creative Commons license, which means anyone can use them for any reason, so long as you provide attribution.
I do not recommend just grabbing an image off of Google or Bing image search and using that. Even if you modify the image and claim “fair use” under the copyright act, you can still face a lawsuit from the original photographer, and can be sued. It’s happened.

Image Editing Software

Once you have your cover dimensions, font choice and images, you are going to use image editing software to create your cover. There are free versions you can download, as well as cheap ones you can buy if you don’t have one already.
Gimp is a free version you can download from that will allow you to edit images. There’s also from An online photo editor is called simply, “Editor” and is available at
I use Microsoft Digital Image Suite, an older program I’m familiar and comfortable using. Adobe Photoshop is one of the best out there for Windows, but fully professional graphic artists almost universally use Apple to edit their images.

Print Cover Considerations

Unlike e-books, print covers are different in that they have to include a spine and a back cover as well (and this may affect your image selection).
The spine is determined by the number and thickness of the pages in your book. If, for example, you were using Createspace to publish your book, you would then take your book dimensions, say a 5x8 inch book (five inches wide by eight inches tall), multiply the first number by two, and then add .25 to both dimensions to give you a .125 inch bleed all around the book. So the height of a 5x8 book is actually 8.25 inches. And the width of the book is 10.25 plus the spine.
So, for example, if your book is using white paper, you would multiply your page count by 0.002252. (If you’re using cream pages, then multiply by 0.0025. And if your book has a color interior, multiply by 0.002347).
Every book will vary slightly when bound. Allow for 0.0625" variance on either side of the fold lines for your cover. For example, if your spine width is 1", your text should be no wider than 0.875".  Because of this variance, avoid hard edges or lines that end on the fold line.
The final consideration with the print cover is the location of the barcode. The barcode will appear in a 2” by 1.2” white box in the lower right-hand corner of your book's back cover. The location is approximately .25” away from the edge of the spine, and .25” away from the bottom of the book.
And while you don’t have to include this information on a cover, I also recommend putting a “blurb” on the top half of the back that gives the reader a sense of what the story is about. I also recommend a biographical section that tells the reader where and how they can find out more about you (ie: include your website, blog, Facebook, Twitter account, as well as other books you’ve written).

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