Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Try this great new way to design book covers

In the past, for my "important" pbook (printed book) covers I hired a professional artist who worked from my conceptions. I was generally very pleased with the results.

I went to art school as a kid, I won some art prizes, I like design work and I am considered "pretty good." At the age of 69 I am still getting better.

I've designed most of my ebooks and a few pbooks, too.

One thing that held me back was my ignorance and fear (and presumed inability) of producing a proper PDF of the pbook cover to submit to either Lightning Source or CreateSpace, my two pbook printers. This was something, I thought, that separated the pros from me.

CreateSpace, Lulu and other author-services companies provide free cover templates for their customers. Below are some quickie examples of sleep-inducing covers I produced with free templates.

And below are some dreadful covers of real books other people produced with free templates.
  • Templates have a big advantage: they make it possible for people with absolutely no artistic ability to produce book covers.
  • As you can see, one of the big disadvantages is that many people use the same templates.

A few times I "cheated" when using a CreateSpace blank template. I attached my own front cover design (produced with a mix of Microsoft Image Composer and Photoshop Elements) to a simple CS spine and back cover. The results were OK, but not as good as they could have been or should have been.

Below is what I was able to produce with this half-assed, half-baked method for my new Do As I Say, Not As I Did (which quickly became an Amazon Kindle bestseller). I could not match any of CreateSpace's available spine colors with the red I chose for the front and back.

Next is an abandoned feeble and futile attempt to make a cover in Microsoft Word.

And finally is a much better cover produced with brand-new template software that uses MS Word, from Joel Friedlander and Tracy R. Atkins. It still needs a bit of tweaking but I am extremely pleased with both the ease of production (fast learning curve) and the final result.

(below) And here's what it looks like in 3-D, as imagined by  

(below) There is no guaranty that cover borders will turn out properly, so here's a later version with a stripe but not borders, now on sale on Amazon. I switched to a lighter, more elegant typeface for the author's name and subtitle to increase the relative impact of the title, and also emphasized the bestseller status.

(below) I also tried and abandoned an all-black version. The template makes it easy to experiment.

(below) for the final version I restored the red trim, put my name against a white band so it's easier to read and moved the subtitle up so it's right below the title.

Joel Friedlander is an award-winning book designer and the man behind -- a very useful blog for self-publishing authors (and even traditionally published authors and non-published authors). Tracy R. Atkins has over 15 years' experience building technology platforms, holds many tech certifications and is a Microsoft Certified Professional. Both men are self-published authors.

Like many "real" book designers Joel initially sneered at amateurs like me who used Microsoft Word to format book interiors. He wrote:  Typesetting with a word processor is never going to give you the smooth color, sophisticated hyphenation, and fine control over your type that you can get with a professional-level program.
HOWEVER, he also wrote: “the books we see that look bad, only look that way because the author couldn’t work out how to make it look the way it ought to . . . . It isn’t because of the tool that was used the create them.”

That last quote provides a clue to Joel's recent change of heart that led to his template business.

Joel wisely realized that he was not going to be able to convince thousands of amateurs like me to use "adult" software like InDesign that can cost as much as $849 and can take a long time to learn how to use properly. I’ve done some test pages with InDesign but never bothered to use it for a complete book. One of the ugliest books I've ever seen was a book about book design produced with InDesign. On the other hand, no reader has ever complained about the pages inside the books I've formatted with Word.

Joel and Tracy worked together to produce and market a growing collection of extremely good templates for the interiors of both pbooks and ebooks. I plan to try one very soon.

Their newest product family has templates for book covers based on MS Word. I tried a cover yesterday. The instructions were complete and easy to follow. I had just two minor problems but easily solved them myself in a few minutes. My front cover design was done previously and I spent less than an hour learning and using the template. The result was exactly what I wanted to achieve and was accepted by CreateSpace with no problems. CreateSpace even plopped the ISBN bar code in the right position provided on the template.

My project was a bit different from the procedure envisioned by Joel and Tracy because I already had a complete front cover image. I did not need to use the template's built-in text-handling capability for the front, but I did use it for the spine and back.

I had a little trouble when I wanted to change the background color of the template. At first I didn't realize that the color wasn't  "real" color in a table cell but was an image. When I caught on I was easily able to substitute my own images. My front cover image was complex with background color, a manipulated photo plus text. My images for the spine and back cover were simple blocks of red color and I plugged-in text and art where I wanted it to be.

My other problem may be the fault of the template, of Microsoft or of me. I needed to adjust the spine width to .689 inches to reflect the page count (306 pages). Whenever I tried to put the proper size in the cell width window, it initially showed the proper size and then snapped back to the default 2.5 inches. I avoided this roadblock by using my mouse to grab the edge of the spine and drag it inward until the proper dimension showed up in the window.

The template is extremely flexible and can (not "will") allow you to produce a fine cover.
member: excellent tools -- whether cover design software, a camera or a sculptor's hammer and chisel -- can only help someone who has artistic talent and knowledge. They will not convert an ignorant, egomaniacal fool into Michelangelo. His "David" is at the side.

Everything in the template online store is on sale until 6/18/14 at midnight Pacific time. Just go shopping and when you add an item to the cart, it will give you the discount automatically.

Prices, even when not on sale, are extremely reasonable for what you receive. And, when combined with free support and a liberal "no questions asked" refund policy, the templates merit serious consideration by anyone who formats books.  

Now some plugs for a couple of my books that can help you with cover design:

The Look of a Book: what makes a book cover good or bad and how to design a good one


 The Two Buck Indie Author's Type Book

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