Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Use creativity and care with clip art and stock photos


While it's possible to design an attractive and powerful book cover with nothing but words -- or mostly words -- most covers have pictures, either photographs or illustrations.  

An illustrator will provide paintings, drawings, graphs, etc. and you can pay anywhere from $5 to several thousand dollars for original artwork.
 

photographer could be you or another amateur, or a professional. A pro will probably want from $250 to $3,000. Renting props and hiring models will add to your cost. For the front cover, it’s really important that a photo be first-class. This is an area where an author with a contract from a traditional publishing company has a big advantage over a self-publishing author.


Stock photos and clip art are alternatives to just-for-you photos and illustrations. They cost much less -- maybe even nothing -- but are not exclusively yours One instant indication of a self-published book is obvious clip art on a book’s cover. (It's more likely to be obvious to people in the book business than to readers.)

The term “clip art” (or “clipart”) goes back to the time when illustrations -- often for use in newspaper ads -- were printed on glossy sheets of paper and could be “clipped out” by the person designing an ad.


Today, most clip art is digital, and is purchased in large collections on CDs or DVDs or downloaded from the Internet. Clip art photos, illustrations and cartoons are ubiquitous, but be aware that some clip art is NOT supposed to be used for commercial purposes -- like books. There’s no need to risk an embarrassing and expensive lawsuit when high-quality art is available for very low prices, or even for free.


Free photos are available at various state and federal government websites ranging from New Jersey to NASA. Military services, the Library of Congress and the White House have plenty of pix, too. Many corporate websites have excellent free photos, but be sure to follow the rules for using and crediting photos. The Microsoft and Apple websites have fine free portraits of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs -- but don't put either photo on the cover of a book attacking Bill or Steve.


While most self-publishing authors do not have the budget to hire a photographer to provide custom artwork, you are more likely to get high quality pix from stock photo suppliers like Fotolia or iStockPhoto than from the mammoth clip art collections. Prices range from under a buck up to about $100. I usually pay $10-$20. Do your best to not choose a photo or illustration that resembles a widely known logo or one that has already been used on a competing book.


The cartoon on the cover of this book was purchased from Fotolia, but it’s so perfect that a custom-made cartoon would not be any better. If you want to write a book criticizing this book, go ahead. Co-author Sheila M. Clark and I can stand it. We’re tough.

Books about the same subject tend to use similar cover illustrations. In the case of publishing, it's usually a photo of someone writing, someone reading, or one or more books. All four book covers shown below use similar photos of books with their pages fanned out. The illustrations are very large and the pages open upward.



When using a stock photo, particularly for a book in a field where similar or identical stock photos may be used, have it modified so it looks a bit different. For this cover, the fanned book is inverted and tilted along with the text to suggest action, motion or flight. The illustration is much less important than the title. It is reduced to become a decoration and does not dominate the cover. Carina Ruotolo, my cover artist, even changed the color of the fanned book's cover to match the purple of the text.



The amazing Carina is a magician with Photoshop and changed a white-haired grandfather into a black-haired father for this book cover.

If you have an unlimited budget, you can hire a famous photographer or artist to enhance your book cover. The cover of the book shown below has art by Leonardo da Vinci, but I didn't pay anything to Leo or his estate.

[below] Carina cropped and flipped the Mona Lisa -- one of the most famous pieces of art -- to give it a new look. We may have violated "The Da Vinci Code," but so far, da Vinci has not complained.


Later on, I ditched Mona and changed the title, too.

Some of my recent ebooks have no artwork at all, so the type can appear as large as possible in the small online "thumbnail" illustrations.



Monday, November 28, 2016

Book publicity often accomplishes nothing, but be prepared in case yours works




You probably know the scout motto, "Be Prepared." In various versions, it's used worldwide by both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts .

The motto goes back more than 100 years. In Scouting for Boys, Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell explains the motto:
  • "Be Prepared in Mind by having disciplined yourself to be obedient to every order, and also by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it.
  • Be Prepared in Body by making yourself strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and do it."

Satirical singer/songwriter Tom Lehrer has a different interpretation of the phrase.

OK, back to books . . .

In 2008, eighty-year-old New Jerseyan Alfred Pristash paid Author House to publish a memoir called My Changing World.

Pristash spent 18 months writing the manuscript in longhand, and then dictated it to a son who typed it. The book received extensive and complimentary coverage in NJ.com and in a major New Jersey newspaper. The article mentioned that the book sells for $73.99 and is available at Amazon.com.

I was curious to see how a book from Author House (which often publishes crap and alienates its authors) could possibly justify that high price.

[above] The AuthorHouse website is barren and useless. Links for “Overview," Reviews, “About the Author” and “Free Preview” contained nothingSince April, 2008, the site has indicated that more information would be "coming soon." 

When is "soon?"

How long should potential readers wait?

How long should the author wait?

I did not place an order.

If you are lucky enough to get media coverage of your book, be sure that your online presence is ready to back it up and sell some books! If you've paid to be published, don't waste your time and money. BE PREPARED.

I received email from Steven Aaron, Marketing Manager awebdesignforbrands.com. Steve wants to sell services for my new www.batphones.net website. 

He said: "I’ll be happy to assist you in getting an affordable, professional, responsive, website that looks amazing with a professional touch that you can easily manage on your own after it’s completed. We can deliver whatever you need within 2-3 weeks. And if you already have a website, we can help you with Search Engine Optimization, and add E-Commerce design such as shopping carts for your customers. We develop Mobile Applications as well."

I was interested and took a look at his company's website.



(Left click to enlarge)

It was obviously unfinished, not ready for prime time. There were many blocks of temporary Latin text (known as "greeking" in the graphics arts field). One faceless employee was identified as "John Doe," a web developer.

I was not favorably impressed and will not likely do business with Steve's company.

BE PREPARED.

Friday, November 25, 2016

You probably know about beta readers. Your book also needs beta holders

I -- and many others -- have preached variations of the theme that "it takes a village to make a book." Ideally you'll have a professional designer and one or more professional editors and maybe some marketing experts.

It's common to have help from friends and relatives outside the book business: a few hawk-eyed, literate "ordinary people" who serve as beta readers to detect and report on what the highly paid pros invariably miss.

I twice learned the importance of having ordinary people hold a physical book before publication in order to judge their reactions. You need these "beta holders" in addition to beta readers.

(Beta is the second letter in the Greek alphabet and comes after alpha. Alpha and beta

are the equivalents of A and B and gave us the word "alphabet." With computer software, the "beta version" is the second version (actually it may be the 943rd version). It is almost ready for distribution to the public but probably has more "bugs" in it than the final version will.

The beta version of software is made available to "beta testers" who will use it and probably encounter problems that will need to be fixed before the software is made available to everyone. The book business has followed the pattern of the software business in having beta readers. I've never heard of alpha readers. Presumably the alpha readers are the author and editors.)




(above) My first self-pubbed book (2008) was titled with a quote from a wacky teacher I had in high school (I Only Flunk My Brightest Students). I took a proof copy to a party at a neighbor's house and passed it around to a few strangers who were sitting with me at a table. The title had made sense to 'kids' I went to school with, but not to these strangers. They all assumed that the title was my quote and that I had been a teacher. I re-titled the book as Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults) and it went on to become a bestseller.

The second situation happened in 2015.




I showed a proof of my newest book, Do As I Say, Not As I Did to a few relatives. As I hoped, they laughed at the title -- but they skipped over the subtitle to flip through the book. I quickly modified the cover to put the subtitle right below the title and in a bolder typeface and shifted my name to a lower position. I am not yet as famous as Ivanka Trump so my subtitle will probably help sales more than my name will.

I would not have caught either of these problems if I did not let amateurs hold my books. Beta holding can be a critical part of book production. Try it with your next book.

I also changed the "bestseller" text from three lines to one and combined it with the rest of the text at the bottom of the cover.


But, OOPS. I later realized that my name was too far away from the "I" in  the title and the "My" in the subtitle, so it was time for more modifications.
 

(below) By the way, beta holding even works with ebooks that will not also exist as pbooks. Just upload a cover image to an ebook reader or tablet and let your beta holders do their work.




The original version of Anthology of Third-World Email Scams had "world" deliberately misspelled as "wirld" as a joke. Some beta-holders thought I had made a real mistake, so I revised the cover to have proper spelling and I added a quote. This book is both educational and entertaining. Click to learn more about it.

NOTE: The realistic fake covers shown in today's post were produced with MyECoverMaker -- a vital resource for anyone designing and selling books.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Damn it. Today is not "Macy's Day."



I hope I live long enough to witness a Thanksgiving Day when no dopey newscaster for a New York TV or radio station refers to the "Macy's Day Parade" instead of "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade." The parade was first presented in 1924, and the mis-labeling probably started soon after.



[above] HOLY TURKEY SHIT! It's worse than I thought. I like Macy's. I'm a third-generation Macy's customer, but this is ridiculous. 



The selling of "naming rights" like "Citi (Bank) Field" and "Staples Center" is common for buildings -- but are holidays next? Will we see "Disney July Fourth," "Manischewitz Passover" or "Bud Lite New Year?"



[above] While I'm at it, I'd like to throw some mud at the media dimwits and ordinary New Yorkers who type or say "Port of Authority" (really the "Port Authority of New York and New Jersey").




Monday, November 21, 2016

Authors: who cares who published your books? Probably no one


I was at a community social event recently to meet some people I knew only through Facebook. I had taken a few copies of a new book to give to them. We were seated in a huge room with hundreds of people and we talked to strangers who were sitting near us. 

When I took the books out and signed them for the FB friends, the strangers immediately asked if they could see them. They flipped through the books and smiled (a good sign). 

One said, "I never met an author before." Another asked where she could buy the book. A third asked how long it takes to write a book. Someone asked if I find it hard to write a book. Another asked how I decide what to write about. 

One question that nobody asked is "what company published the book." 


From what I've observed, a publisher's name on a book is very different from a brand name on a bottle of wine or a pair of shoes. It's more like the name of a TV channel -- pretty darn close to completely irrelevant.

Readers are interested in a book's content and maybe the author's reputation -- not the name of the company that delivered the content. 


  • Zoe Winters writes quirky and sometimes dark paranormal romance and fantasy. She says, “The average reader doesn’t care how a book gets to market. If the book is good, it doesn't matter if your Chihuahua published it.” 
  • Author Simon Royle wrote, “People don't buy books from publishers. They buy them from authors.” 
  • Edward Uhlan founded Exposition Press -- an early and important pay-to-publish company -- in 1936. He said, “Most people can’t tell the difference between a vanity book and a trade book anyway. A book is a book.” 
Concentrate on producing top-quality books, and promote them properly. 

If you will self-publish, choose a good name for your tiny publishing company. Don't for a minute fret that readers will reject you because the logo on your books doesn't belong to Penguin or Simon & Schuster.




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dog pic from Google Images