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4 Things Your eBook Cover Designer Should Also Create For You

December 3rd, 2012 . by Peggy

Whether you’re creating your own eBook cover, or hiring someone else to design it for you, that’s a great time to create additional graphics that will help build your eBook business.

It’s often cheaper to order these items at the same time as your cover design, and easier if you are designing it yourself, because all the source materials are already at hand. Graphic unity is very important in a virtual business, to build credibility and trust, and increase discoverability of your product.

Below are four key areas that you should get done ASAP.

1) Social media icons and headers.

Recently, iTunes changed their image requirements for things like podcasting and personal icons. You know, that square icon that identifies Atlanta Rhythm Section from Peter Frampton? (I’m old. Get over it.) Your image that fits that space can also be used on things like Skype, Twitter, and many, many others. One graphic of 1400×1400, in .jpg format, is all you need across all those platforms, and it should include a professional headshot of yourself. Check out mine here.

2) Banners for affiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketing should be a core part of your long-term marketing plan for your eBook. Even if that only means inviting others to use Amazon Associates links back to your eBook on Kindle. If you plan to use your own in-house affiliate program, so much the better. Having graphical ads that hilight the use of your key graphic elements should be an essential part of that. Here’s your chance to use your book cover design and really put it all out there. Here are some recommended sizes for those banners, below. (Click the image to open it at actual size, so you can see how big the banners will actually be.)

3) WordPress header or banner for your landing page.

It’s important to have a clear image at the top of any web (WordPress-based) pages that you plan to use for your book’s blog or sales page. In WordPress, the standard 2011 theme uses an image of 1000 x 288 pixels. This should ideally include an image of you, and your eBook. The clearer the better.

4) Images for use on social media, especially Pinterest.

This is different from ad banners – you’ll want some other fun and playful images to use as you promote the eBook, such as a 3-D cover, samples of the cover in several small sizes to avoid pixelation on the web, etc. Pinterest, the photo sharing site, has changed this to be an entirely new ballgame. Here’s a great place to share fun and unusual iamges that others will feel compelled to share in return – with a trail of breadcrumbs that lead back to you. For example, do you have a series of great headshots that were not all used in the eBook or on the cover? Here’s the place to use them. Is yours a cookbook? Be sure to get some images of you interacting with food, or shots of the recipes themselves. What about action shots? You, out and about in the community? Near landmarks? Even better, what about video? At the very least, be sure to have a library of images that you build on an ongoing basis. Your designer can help you crop and modify them for use almost anywhere, including your Facebook page or Twitter, but especially Pinterest.

 

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eBook Covers: Screen Fonts vs. Print Type

July 16th, 2012 . by Peggy

Bad font choices can make or break your eBook cover design.

Are you designing your own eBook cover? Great! Here’s how to choose a font for the title and other text on your cover.

(And BTW< this is not something that’s worth obsessing over. You have a lot going on right now – and obviously, your first concern needs to be writing a great eBook.)

The difference between a screen font and a print typeface deals with the intricacies of readability and the science of typography. A screen font is one that’s designed to work and read well from a screen, versus a typeface that is designed for print, and not to be read on a screen at all. It’s a common mistake to not realize the difference, and use a screen font on an eBook cover, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

I should mention that the very word “font” is actually only used to describe the set of files that compose a screen font – not the typeface that is meant for print. Typography geeks might get on your back about that.

Screen (or web) fonts are meant to be readable in reflowable text situations, and represent well in what are generally lower resolutions on a screen. These fonts have different spacing attributes, meaning the spacing between letters, between the “legs” of each letter, and any enclosed areas, such as the gap in the middle of an “A”. Screen fonts are also meant to scale well and look good at both large and small sizes without any sacrifice to structure and readability. Font files will contain different sets of the letterforms than a print typeface. You’ll typically find a bold version, an enlarged bold, etc. Italics are found less often, due to their typically poor visibility on a screen. There’s a great article about this subject here: http://www.sitepoint.com/anatomy-web-fonts/

Print typefaces are typified by greater complexity and customizability, so that a designer in full control of the printed object can manipulate a typeface to an amazing extent. Designers can treat type like a graphic object, even though that’s usually something that’s tough to pull off.

A big part of this entire debate – and yes, it’s still an open debate – is what’s known as kerning. Kerning refers to adjusting the spaces between letters and words. A typesetter can adjust the kerning in a word or sentence so that parts of the letter overlap into the space of the letter immediately preceding or following it. For a great illustration of this concept, have a look at this Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerning.

Because we don’t typically adjust kerning for screen text, each letter in a screen font has a pre-set amount of space that surrounds each letter. This is what’s known as “monospaced” type. In other words, a screen font is meant to be standardized so that no matter what letter falls after which, the font will remain readable and properly spaced. Some screen fonts have evolved to be able to be kerned, but it’s highly automated, and like anything that’s fully automated, there will be some areas that just don’t work precisely the way that we’d always like it to. Sort of like factory cheesecake. Still good, but perhaps not worth blowing your diet over.

It’s not true that all serif typefaces are really for print, and non-serif fonts are for the screen, because in the years since modern monitors first came out, fonts and typefaces have evolved both artistically and in terms of usability. We now see both types of type in both print and on-screen. But there can be dramatic results by manipulating little things like the extension on the cross of a “t”, for example, which helps letters fit in a way that makes good use of the space on the screen, and still looks natural. Some typefaces, like Times Roman, were designed for specific things, like newspaper columns, and there are sooo many much better choices for serif typefaces in books, documents and papers, that I’m amazed that people still use that font at all. Times Roman is like the Scottish Play – you just can’t say the name of it at certain parties.

It’s considered a major no-no to use a screen font in print. The end result is a font that is not kerned properly, meaning that there are uneven gaps between the letters, which if they are used for the title, is going to glare at you from smack in the center of the cover of the book. There’s also something called aliasing, which very simply means that the angled edges of a screen font can be artificially smoothed to appear softer on the eye. Again, this is one of those areas that can get thoroughly messed up if you don’t understand the finer settings of stuff like Photoshop. Simply taking a high-resolution typeface and shrinking it down will not adjust the resolution properly, making it look “jagged” and blurry. See here for another article with an excellent technical explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spatial_anti-aliasing

Screen fonts also have different effects when justified, due to automatic kerning. If you align a paragraph to be justified using a screen font, the letters across the line will be aligned with even gaps from the outermost point of each letter, which means that if an “A” and a “V” happen to follow each other, there will be too much space between them. A print typeface will typically automatically compensate for this, making the line appear more naturally-spaced, and therefore lend itself to a more natural reading experience. You cannot always correct this with hand-kerning. And even if you can, it’s time-consuming.

No matter what, if I were you, I would not geek out too much about this issue. There is an argument to be made that using screen fonts for the design of eBook covers is totally appropriate, considering that they are not meant to be printed out – the covers, too, are seen only on-screen. But I must say that I’ve seen a lot of oddly-spaced type out there: it floats, strangely, like a ship that isn’t anchored properly.

I think it’s a style choice. Is it readable? Does it look professional? Does it clearly make readers understand what they’re going to get in this book? If you answer yes to all of those, then great. Trust your eyes and your instinct.

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When eBook Choices Seem Overwhelming

June 11th, 2012 . by Peggy

Stuck in a revolving door of confusion about eBooks?Stuck in a revolving door of confusion when it comes to various technologies around eBooks? You’re not the only one.

Knowing your options may seem like you’re opening a can of worms, but actually, I find that most of the choices in eBooks really boil down to just a few questions.

The problem is that these few choices have been inflated and repackaged a million ways. When various companies start inventing their own words to use for the same things, nobody knows what the heck is going on.

Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to pigeonhole options when they present themselves, and know if a new choice is something you really need to consider, or if it’s overrated or unneccessary.

Here are the questions I hear about the most in my presentations and workshops.

1) Do I need to create a PDF or an ePub?

This is really the biggie. Everything else falls into place based on this. For more information on each of the platforms, and how to make the choice based on your content type, read this previous blog post from me.

2) Do I need to hire an “eBook Publishing Company”?

This category of company invented itself a couple of years ago. Are they capitalizing on the confusion by charging outrageous prices for stuff that most people can do themselves? In most cases, absolutely. (However, there are some that I’m testing and that I may recommend in future.)  The built-in systems inside Amazon Kindle, for example, enable any non-techie to do it all by themselves. Anybody who can type an MS Word document can publish on Kindle. For more information about how to actually do this stuff yourself, sign up for my mailing list. I’ve got new video classes coming online very soon.

3) Do I need an Editor?

A resounding YES. For me this is not negotiable. In almost 170 eBooks, I’ve met exactly two writers who did not require the services of an editor. Two. Neither you nor I are one of those two. Find someone qualified you can work with, and just make the best deal you can. Try this database of freelance editors to start.

4) Do I need to hire someone to typeset my eBook?

If you are creating something that you want people to buy and read on Amazon Kindle, no, you certainly do not, as that’s not how Kindle works. (If you don’t know this already, it means you need to buy an eBook on Kindle and read it, to familiarize yourself with the platform. You can read an Amazon Kindle eBook for free using your computer, your phone, or your iPad or other tablet – you do not need to buy a Kindle device, or even pay money for an eBook for that matter.)

However, if you’re creating something that should be printed out and written in, or that contains many illustrations or tables or charts, or that must be seen in colour to make sense, then yes, you may want to consider hiring a designer to lay it out as a PDF for you. This means it’s more likely that you’re going to sell it off your own website, rather than on a platform like Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and etc. (Please, I beg of you, don’t simply type up an MS Word document and use that to create your PDF for download. It looks like crap.)

5) Do I need to hire a cover designer?

Unless you have some reasonable graphic design skills, yes, a professionally-designed eBook cover is totally worth the money. Don’t try to buy software and learn it as you create a homemade-looking cover design – too frustrating. You can certainly get a really attractive cover designed for you for about $200 – $500 USD. There are some great people overseas. (Or, hire me. It doesn’t matter – just be sure it looks slick.) I’ve written about eBook cover design guidelines here. You can share that previous link with your graphic designer.

6) Do I need a website devoted entirely to this eBook?

Perhaps not. What every book does need, however, is a landing page. If you already have a WordPress site, that means just adding another page to your current site, one that is totally devoted to selling your eBook, without distraction, alternative navigation, or outbound links. This page is where you’ll direct web traffic to “land” when they respond to things like your social media links, any ads you have to sell your eBook, or from other websites and blogs.

Let us say that you are a chef, and you’ve written a cookbook. The cookbook is a PDF, which means that it’s loaded with colour photos, lists of ingredients, and indented instructions. You want to sell this off your own website, and use it to build your profile. The best way to accomplish this would be to devote one landing page on your site to just selling the eBook. From that page, create a really HUGE and obvious link in the top right corner that says “Order my copy NOW!”, and make that button go directly into the shopping cart experience.

That sales page does NOT need to be independent of your website. In fact, it will work better if it’s not, as it reduces maintenance for you, as well as being able to easily capture traffic from the rest of your website.

7) How do I start writing? What should I use to type it?

Just use whatever you are most comfortable using. These days, everything can be exported and imported. Most people still write in MS Word, which is just fine, no matter how you plan to ultimately output your eBook. (I happen to prefer the free software Open Office over Microsoft products, but as I say, it doesn’t matter.) It helps a great deal to reduce the amount of formatting you use, and keep it as simple as possible, to avoid having to make adjustments to the manuscript later on. Whether you plan to release it as a PDF or as an ePub, as in, Kindle, etc., MS Word (or Open Office) is still a perfectly good way to start out.
Don’t worry at all at this stage about things like spacing, designing the layout of things on the page, or especially fonts. This seems to get asked all the time, and yet, at the first stage, this is absolutely the wrong thing on which to focus. Instead, worry about your marketing plan, your outline, and finding any images you wish to include, again, no matter which type of eBook you plan to create.

While this is not an exhaustive list, this certainly covers the most common questions I hear. The key is to simply not worry about the details too early in the process. The bigger question of things like your marketing plan and your keyword research are still the most important first steps.

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Designing Your eBook Cover

April 4th, 2012 . by Peggy

Why are there so many eBook covers that just suck? Here’s how to un-suck yours, and design for digital, not print.

It used to be said that you had 6 seconds to sell someone on your printed book in a bookstore. Personally, I think that was an overestimation, and it’s gotten much, much worse in the eBook world. You probably have a negative time frame in which to sell your eBook, as its cover is positioned in a grid of hundreds on your screen. You need to reach out and grab the reader by the nose, not simply wait for their passive eye to drift your way.

Keep this front-of-mind: eBook cover design is not an act of art, it is an act of marketing.

Yeah, harsh, I know. But it’s the truth. I started designing my own covers years ago, and now do them for clients, for a very simple reason: I couldn’t get the graphic designer to do what I wanted. The designer would select heavenly images, take hours choosing fonts, etc., and I would often end up with something that I’d love to frame for my wall, but wouldn’t sell a single copy. Bear in mind that graphic designers are taught things like how to use design software, not necessarily things like classic perspective and proportion. And even if they do know that sort of thing, my experience tells me that graphic designers don’t always make good eBook cover designers, because they get caught up in the artistic points, and lose sight of the marketing.

Here is a little self-checklist to go through as you design your eBook cover, either by yourself, or with a graphic designer. All of the following sample images are taken from the top 20 sellers on Amazon Kindle, on this date., which might say something about the relationship of good cover design to sales, meaning, that even if your cover isn’t perfect, it will still sell if you do other things right.

1. It must be seen from a distance: nothing tiny or complicated.

Remember that this cover will typically be seen at about an inch, or possibly two inches high. If you can print it out at 6×9, tape it to the wall, step back 20 feet, and it still makes sense to a stranger, you’re on to something.

Text is too tiny and too much detail.

Text is too tiny and too much detail.

2. High contrast text and images only.

Readability is key: your title of your eBook is based on your keyword research, (right?) and you need to be sure that people are able to see it on all sorts of screens, in an eBookstore, etc. Don’t put words over top of images without giving them a glow or drop-shadow to enhance readability. No fuzzy greys.

Nice high-contrast image and easily-read title.

Nice high-contrast image and easily-read title.

3. Use colour wisely: keep to one or two focus colours, then a bold accent as focal point.

Just like dressing oneself, don’t put too much colour or fading of one colour to another in a small space. One or two key colours, perhaps those that relate to some sort of branding around the eBook, and an accent. The accent may very likely be the title of the book, in a bold colour contrasting with your background.

Pretty blues, but lacks readability and focus.

Pretty, but lacks readability and focus.

4. If you use an image, it had better be close-up / zoomed in.
Unless it’s a silhouette, don’t use un-cropped images. Bring the subject in close. Make us feel like we’re right there. Eliminate distracting background to all images, and we’ll focus on what you want us to see.

Readable text, but image is meaningless.

Readable text, but image is meaningless.

5. Don’t use brown. Top sellers all have: black, blue, and red.

This is just personal observation. However, orange and yellow work well. Brown is a passive colour, not mixed from primaries, and it may be that something deep within our brains associates it with muddiness or lack of clarity. However, red means blood or excitement, blue recalls the open sky, and black is depth and mystery. There’s a whole colour theory about this, debated by psychologists, and perhaps you have more time than I.

Nice blue, clear text, leading image.

Nice blue, clear text, leading image.

6. No creepy fonts – can’t see them in small preview images and hard to read on a screen, even if they look OK in print.

Creepy or fonts not designed for titles are so, so wrong. Too cute, too curly, too ridiculous. Unless you are mimicking handwriting, please just stick to highly-readable fonts that are designed for use in titles.

Not bad, but the font just isn't bold enough.

Not bad, but the font just isn't bold enough.

7. Mimic your print book if you have one, but not if it doesn’t work in digital format.

Consistency in branding is important. However, printed book covers rarely migrate well to digital status. It makes perfect sense then, to design for digital first, then adapt for print, changing as little as possible.

8. If you aren’t using an emotive image, use a dramatic, archetypal illustration.

The emotive image is great on a cover. (Emotive image = either the current problem or pain, or the desired corrected outcome or happy result. ie. The couple riding off into the sunset would be the happy ending.) However, if you’re not using a photo that meets the above requirements, and are using an illustration, be sure that it’s archetypal enough to be universally understood. It must have strong contrast and high visual impact.

High-contrast, meaningful image on all in this series.

High-contrast, meaningful image on all in this series.

9. Limit the text to title, author name, and a 22-character tagline, if at all.

If in a series, put the digit number high up in right-corner. Keep it clean. Let the image speak, because that’s what will catch their eye first from a distance.

10. Use consistent imagery throughout your work, and esp. within a series.

It’s important to retain branding, and series eBooks can he highly successful. It’s often said that if you have an eBook that’s not selling well, write a sequel. Then all of them sell well. Readers can’t resist more of the same.

Sparks departs from his signature cover style. Too bad.

Sparks departs from his signature cover style. Too bad.

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Best Practices: Book Cover Design

February 2nd, 2009 . by Peggy

I’ve personally been involved on the design of about 25 book covers now, both ebook and printed books. Here are my 10 top tips for a great book cover.

The design of your book cover is extremely important, no matter how you plan to distribute it. Marketing rumour (I won’t say research, because I can find no quotable sources on this) tells us that from the moment a person picks up your book, you have about 6 seconds to convince them to buy it. This includes the time they take to look at the back cover and the spine.

You may think that an ebook is somehow less worthy of time taken on a quality cover design, but I strongly disagree: if anything, it is more important that your ebook have a quality cover design, as the ebook market is currently in a growth stage. It’s important to put your ebook into the next category up from some of the (let’s be frank here) garbage that has been distributed this way in the past.

These are in not in order of importance, and perhaps some of these don’t apply to your project.

1. The cover and typesetting should really be done by the same person, at the same time.

This wholistic approach unifies the design and gives it greater impact. A good recent example is the design of Jeri-Lyn McCrea’s Words in Action, which continued the floating words on the cover into the end papers, where the user can write a goal for the year inside the cover. All of this gives your content greater credibility.

2. Keep the design clean.

Avoid a cluttered look, make use of white space, and follow the fashionable rule: two main colours, plus an accent. (Think black skirt, red sweater, and the shoes and the belt should match either the skirt or the sweater – not a third colour.) Don’t give them too much to look at: strip it down to the basics. Too much stuff can threaten, confuse, and frustrate readers. Keep fonts clean and easy to read, and keep text from looking squished together. Use the back to flesh things out if you must, but keep the front of the cover cool and simple.

3. Use a focal point to orient the user.

The idea is to give them something that instantly tells the reader what your book will give them. This focal point must be meaningful to just about anybody, so test it out on a few people before you fly with it. This focal point could be a photo (my favourite) or something else that communicates clearly what your book is about, such as a single word in bold letters, etc. Your book cover is a promise of what’s inside. Grab their attention with a symbol or single word that will focus their attention.

4. Be sure they can read it without glasses.

Even as I typed that, it sounded stupid, but it’s true. Many people need reading glasses, but they don’t wear them while walking around a store or while using a computer. If they can’t read the cover because the print’s too tiny, you’ve lost your opportunity.

5. Use the spine properly.

The trend of creating spiral-bound self-published books makes me shudder. Not only does it look terrible, but you can’t use the spine to attract attention for your book on a shelf. Libraries won’t buy them, either. If you need people to be able to lay the book flat for some reason, there are much better alternatives than something that looks like it was done in your basement. The spine is very valuable real estate, and anything you can do to make the text there really *POP* is great. Keep the content restricted to the title and author’s name, as if you’ve titled your book properly, you can leave the sub-title for display on the front only.

6. Include a photo of the author.

A photo tells the reader who is doing the talking, and establishes instant trust. The photo does not have to be huge, but it should be included. If you are super-shy about having your photo taken, get a nice headshot done by a good photographer, and have it re-touched until you’re happy with it. Dress appropriately to your subject matter, and make it a cropped closeup of your face. (See a future article on what makes a good author headshot.)

7. Leave appropriate space for the technical gunk.

Freshman FlyFisher's Insect Guide - Back CoverCheck out the image here of the back of a book cover I recently designed. This book is rather small, only 4 inches wide x 6 inches high. Even taking that into account, we’ve left the scan codes at full size. This ensures that they will scan appropriately no matter what sort of equipment is being used. The ISBN number is clearly displayed, and one of the author’s websites is visible somewhere. The appropriate category is in the top left corner, which helps bookstores and libraries place the book to best selling advantage. The price is also given in both Canadian and US dollars. The ISBN-13 scan code includes a separate price bar code, and a separate UPC code allows the book to be sold in virtually any retail venue – not just bookstores.

8. Use appropriate information hierarchy.

Again, refering to the photo, pay special attention to the font sizes. The largest font size is used on the information that is most important – the book’s description. The smaller the font gets, the less important the information. Even subtle changes of a point or less can be detected. This leads the reader down a logical path of what order we want them to read in.

9. Make the design match the content.

I don’t understand why we continue to see child-like colourful designs with hand-drawn illustrations for business books. If you wouldn’t attend a business meeting wearing that cover, why should you ask your book to wear it? If the content is business, make the cover business-like. If the content is self-help, make the cover uplifting and beautiful. Good style is good business.

10. Don’t waste real estate.

A book cover is actually 7 locations: the front, the spine, the back, and don’t forget the inside of the front, and the inside of the back, plus the first right-side paper in the front and the last left-side paper in the back, which can be special sheets called endpapers. If you are publishing a hardcover, you can print the endpapers in one solid piece, and if you’ve gone softcover, you can print directly on the inside cover and the first “page” of the content. I’d love to see every author to ever publish put an order form there to order more books off their website. The cost is pennies per book, and the rewards can be great.

Remember: good design is good business.

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