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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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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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The 5 Most Stupid Things People Do With Their eBook Business

June 8th, 2011 . by Peggy

I’ve often said that it is our duty as entrepreneurial publishers to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Like our Mothers in the 1960′s and 1970′s, we are paving the road for those who come after us. If we make eBooks and entrepreneurial publishing look cheap, unprofessional, or just plain awful, what are we doing to the next generation?

Here are the mistakes I see all the time that make me crazy.

1. We seek out the ugliest possible cover design.

Please, I’m begging you, hire a designer. A professional. A person that has done this before. A person with training. Have them do a few different samples (not complete designs) and run them past your creative circle. Remember, you’re looking for readability, a graphic theme that clearly states the book’s intent, and no half-faded images. And remember, NO CREEPY FONTS. I will find you.

2. We don’t make use of affiliate marketing.

These things don’t sell themselves, people. I always endorse a self-operated affiliate program first, but if your book is on Amazon, set yourself up as an Amazon affiliate. Using their simple automated system, create banner ads and other affiliate links for your own products. Push these links out through your Twitter stream, your Facebook page, your podcasts, your iTunes content, your blog, your charitable fundraising connections, your reviews, your classes, your signage, on your business cards, your newsletter, etc. Be a little pushy. (But not too much.) Create a URL that you can promote that links directly to a page with your own products. (See the next post for how to do that.)

3. We think we’re going to make $120,000 a month.

Around these parts, here on Vancouver Island, there was a story about a woman in Cedar, BC, that did over $120k per month in nothing but Kindle eBooks. While I doubt the truth of that, even if it was the case, she doesn’t do that in her sleep. She’s working – probably really, really hard. Or at least, really, really consistently. She runs it like a business, which means she has specific things she does over and over again, and on a predictable basis. She meets deadlines and hires help. And, we’re not talking about one eBook. We’re probably talking about hundreds – possibly thousands. So, until you’ve gone through the ramp-up phase, don’t expect to be buying anything more than a Friday night round at the pub with eBook revenue.

4. We don’t get off our high horse.

I not too proud to know I’m not a literary giant. I make my money writing marketing stuff, for the most part. I’m a small fish in a massive ocean, but I work it. I have no qualms about promoting my stuff when it’s appropriate (vs. when I would just be harassing people).I consider most of what I do as a writer is marketing work, not great writing. No, my mom doesn’t think I do a very good job on some of it. But I know that I’m meeting the objectives of my clients. I don’t write romances or the next Great Gatsby or children’s lit, because although that sort of lit comes into my house on a daily basis, I have no illusions about myself as some great fiction writer or novelist. Yes, it would be nice to make my living doing that, but I still have the screenplays in the bottom drawer, and the novel that I peck away at when I can. It’s more like an extremely enjoyable hobby. And even if I did ever offer anything like that for sale, I wouldn’t have any snobbery about where I placed ads, or where I was “represented”. I’m here to sell. Show me the money.

5. We don’t write another book.

I have recently completed eBook number 155. That sounds like a lot. I can tell you, it feels like even more. Many of them probably don’t get read, like, ever. But I am not offended by this. They are often given away as free reports or client gifts. Remember the volume principle: one book makes $1 a day. Ten books make $10 a day. And so on. The eBook business is a template business – you do the same thing over and over again. There is an expression in the book business: the second book takes 1/10th of the time to create and makes you 10 times the money. In eBooks, it might be 100 times the money.

Plus, I now have a reputation. I can write almost anything, because what I am is a good Technical Writer – I specialize in breaking down complex topics and making them easy to understand. I’ve proven my template, and it works to meet my clients’ objectives. They won’t always pay for originality, but they will pay for what makes them money.

Topics that I’ve researched and then written include WWII weaponry, high-speed Italian cars, and ancient Egyptian enbalming techniques. But most of it is things like how you can buy stocks, how to get a mortgage as a single mother with no money, how you can sell a business in Illinois, how you can buy a house in Mexico, how you can amalgamate all your debts with a second mortgage, how to start a business in Nevada, and other incredibly dry topics that make my hands shake when I think about them. But, it’s about continuity. I get the work regularly because I’ve done it before.

The eBook business is about business – not always about literature. It’s about creating a community about your book. It’s about connecting through your marketing, not just pushing, pushing, and pushing. We all make mistakes – I discover new ones every day that I’m making – but taking things in perspective helps me stay grounded and keep working. “Just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing…”

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