by Cathi Stevenson I’ve created approximately 2,000 book covers since about 2000. Most were for print projects, so there was a back cover that required copy. Over the years, I’ve developed a file of information that I send to all of my clients as we’re nearing that part of the project. These are just guidelines, but for the typical 6 x 9 book this is what I have found works best, and what I share with my clients: BACK COVER TEXT: You have room for about 250 – 300 words on the back cover. Submit it in an unformatted (no boxes, no tabs, no indents, no italics, just plain text double spaced between the paragraphs) Microsoft Word file (.doc) or plain text file. WHY? People won’t struggle to read your text, so it needs to be set in a comfortable size, with enough space between each line (called leading) that it’s easy to read. You also need to leave a good-sized margin around the text, so people will have a place to put their fingers, and not have to constantly adjust position as they’re reading. I ask for plain text files because the text has to be imported into InDesign and sometimes text boxes, tabs and other formatting will cause problems. I can always save the file as plain text myself, but if I’m not using the same word processing program or version of it, then that can also cause problems. LISTS AND QUOTES: If your back cover text contains lists and quotes, you have less room. WHY? Both lists and quotes use only a portion of the lines they’re on. In the case of some lists, you’ll have only a few words on a line. In addition, lists often require extra space between each line. Quote credits often require a bit of extra space and again, only part of the line is being used. In short: they eat up space. Check out the images at the end of this article for a visual explanation of what I mean. IMAGE CREDITS: Make sure that you include any credits necessary to comply with the license of images you have purchased to use on the cover. The exact wording will be included in the End User License Agreement (often called a EULA for short), where you made the purchase. If you have an author photo to go on the book, you should also credit this. NOTE: Image credits can also go on the copyright page, or in the case of a hardcover on the inside flap of the dust jacket. IMAGES: Must be 300 dpi at full size. WHY? This is the minimum required for print, but dpi on its own means nothing, that’s why I added “at full size.” If you have an image that is 4 inches wide and 4 inches high at 150 dpi, simply changing it to be 300 dpi will mean you can only print it at 2 inches wide by 2 inches high. If you force the increase to 300 dpi and keep the size 4 x 4, then the quality of the image will deteriorate and it will not print well. LOGOS: For optimum printing quality these should be submitted in the native EPS (vector) file, with fonts converted to outlines. BAR CODES: Include your 13-digit ISBN and the price (if you want the price embedded into the bar code). I will make the bar code here to ensure it is formatted at 100% black, CMYK and a vector image. WHY? Most of that is technical jargon, but it is the only way to ensure the bar code will print properly and scan. PNG images, which many agencies provide, cannot be formatted in the proper color gamut (CMYK) so you’re taking your chances using them or gif images, or a “lossy” image format like jpg. A vector image is the best way to produce a bar code that will scan. BISAC HEADINGS: If you want your book to have a subject heading for shelving, please find your proper heading here.
by Cathi Stevenson There are "creative" ways to get your book on the best sellers' lists without the bother of having to wait for sales, reviews or even writing a book that's popular. This is a repetitive scandal that breaks again ever few years or so with different players. I've seen it so many times since I started working in the self-publishing industry 15 years ago, that I hardly bat an eye any more. The writers of this article did their due diligence though, and it shows how using these questionable method can backfire. The Huffington Post covered the buying of reviews last year. You can actually get a review on almost anything for $5. Another article about buying reviews ran on The New York Times site back in 2012. Many retailers have made attempts to thwart both practices, but even after exhaustively weeding out the cheaters, it's only a matter of time until someone reinvents the wheel, or comes up with a new spin for it.
by Cathi Stevenson When Authors Go Bad Article here about an author behaving badly. Describes how author Kathleen Hale targeted and stalked a reader for giving her a one star review. Yikes!! And double yikes!! to this "humorous" piece Hale herself wrote about killing animals. In case you're into this sort of thing, here's another interesting story about an author chasing down a reviewer, with far more serious results. The reviewer claims the author actually attacked her and hit her on the head with a wine bottle. You don't have to do much to attract this kind of attention it seems. In June, I judged the e-Book Cover Design Awards over at The Book Designer and received a series of very weird e-mails in response to a casual comment I made about a cover. I've also been the subject of two blog posts — one about a project I had nothing to do with (a fact the writer never bother to confirm) and another from a competitor who read a very, very general article I'd written about images on book covers and took it personally. I'd never heard of him before, nor had I seen his book covers. I bet he thinks those TV commercials are really about him, too. Who Is This Mysterious Author? And because we seem to forget there is an entire world of books out there, some even written in languages other than English, here's an interesting guessing game surrounding the real identity of best-selling Italian author Elena Ferrante. (Relax, the books have been translated into English).
by Cathi Stevenson It really is the little things that count. Things that many people might not consciously notice when they're there, but miss when they're not there. This is true even when laying out a book. Spacing between lines, words, the type of numbers you choose, the font, drop caps...these are all essential elements that need to be considered if you want a book that is both pleasing to look at and easy to read. Book layout really is an art. That might be hard to believe in this world of technology, where it's possible to do such work by merely choosing a few options in some software program. But, if you take just two minutes — literally, to watch this video, you will learn a few things that can take your book layout from boring and amateurish, to sleek and professional. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOruWL2FOCs
by Cathi Stevenson A book that has been professionally designed will appear more polished and appealing to potential buyers. These formatting tips are not limited to the front cover of a book. There are many ways to enhance the look and readability of back cover text and interior layout. 1. Don’t make your line width too long. Many people assume the solution to too much text is to either drop the point size or extend the trim size or margins. This is not the case. No matter how much space you have, no line should exceed about 70 characters. After 70 characters, the reader has to blink and readjust his or her focus, then determine where the next line is and travel back visually to the beginning of the new line. Long lines make this a tiresome, frustrating task. No one will struggle to read your text. 2. Make sure you’re using the proper glyphs. A common mistake is to use the symbol for feet or inches when single or double quotation marks are required, and vice versa. Quotation marks curl or slant, while measurement symbols are straight up and down. All good quality fonts will offer both. 3. Know the difference between an em dash, en dash and hyphen and when to use them. There’s never any reason to have a double hyphen (–) when you really need an em dash (—). On a PC, the em dash can be obtained by holding down the ALT key and pushing 0151 on the numbers pad, to the right. The en dash is ALT 0150. Wikipedia has a good explanation of the types of dashes and when to use them here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dash 4. Drop caps can add style. Some people like the stylish look of a drop cap at the beginning of the back cover text, or at the start of a new chapter. It’s important these be neat and laid out properly, though. The bottom of the drop cap should sit on the baseline of the line it sits on. If you prefer a stickup cap, then it should align perfectly with the first line of text. The stickup cap is usually easier to create. 5. Small caps are another element that are often used and abused in book design. Some people like the look of small caps, and they can be a nice decorative element when used at the beginning of a section or for some headings and titles. It’s important you actually have the real small caps font, though. Most design and word processing programs will offer this option, but that doesn’t mean the font is there; They’re just “faking it” by making any upper case letters slightly larger. This can cause problems when creating a PDF for the printer, and it rarely looks good. If you enlarge a letter to fake small caps, the larger letter will be thicker, wider and look heavier. 6. Make your margins nice and deep. Remember, there has to be room for peoples’ fingers to hold the book. No one wants to be constantly moving his or her hands to read text. Also, if your interior margins are too tight, readers will be forced to open the book wider than the binding might allow, causing pages to fall out. These things all reflect on you as a publisher. 7. Don’t skip a title page. A title page can take on a life of its own and add value to a book. It doesn’t have to be just the title, either and it doesn’t have to be only one page. It can be several pages and include illustrations or decorative elements, title, sub-title, author name, publisher’s imprint, quotations, copyright information and credits for editors and fonts and the forward or preface. Chapter 27 in Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking: Editing/Design/Production (3rd ed., 2003) covers this subject very nicely. 8. Using a business name. If your company has a name, have your book designer create a little logo for it, if you haven’t had one created professionally. This can be done just setting the company name in a nice font and doesn’t have to be anything fancy. If possible, avoid using your own name as part of the business title, because this will tip off reviewers and bookstore owners that the book is self-published. Many people have preconceived notions about self-published books that are not very positive. 9. Make sure your black text is 100% black for a black and white interior. Some word processing programs and free PDF creators do not produce 100% black text, and books end up printed in 90% black or lighter. This can easily be checked within any layout or design program such as Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator, as you work. If you’re not using the proper software there might be no way to check this. You can also preflight your file in Adobe Acrobat Professional to uncover this and other issues. 10. Working with the right colors. If you’re using Print on Demand technology (also called POD and digital printing), then it’s almost always a good idea to send the printer files formatted in the CMYK color gamut, even if the printer says it’s okay to send RGB. Switching colors “on the fly” from RGB to CMYK, even when a professional printer does it, often creates unexpected results, and not just with color; In some cases images can look pixilated or blurry after being switched from RGB to CMYK.
by Cathi Stevenson It has to be discussed…again. Visual vibration. So many independent publishers don’t seem to think it’s an issue and I’d bet my last chocolate-covered almond it’s resulting in lost sales. What is it? Visual vibration is caused when two bright colors are mixed together on a book cover or website or ad and they create an “afterimage” effect. It’s almost as if a dancing halo has been placed around the word or shape, making it nearly impossible to look at the image for any amount of time. It’s painful. It’s the last thing you want happening on your website or your book cover. You can avoid visual vibration by introducing a less vibrant, neutral color to the mix.
by Cathi Stevenson The files you supply must be created properly, or you’re going to have issues. Some printers will print whatever you send, and don’t check anything. Others, like Lightning Source (LSI) are more particular and more expensive. But you get what you pay for and I think they’re worth it. You absolutely have to make sure your files are properly formatted. There’s no sense creating a cover in Word (it doesn’t work with the right color gamut) or even the beloved GIMP, which is an awesome software, but alas, it too will not work with CMYK files. You’ll have no problem creating an e-book cover with these programs, but print is a bit more technical. If you’re going to be paying money for print proofs, you might as well do it right the first time. WARNING: The following contains technical jargon which you should be familiar with (you are the project manager), so I’ve provided links that will explain them to you within the text.
- If you’re using LSI, you will want to use their cover template generator. It will supply your customized cover template in EPS, PDF or InDesign formats, and your barcode will be in the file (you have to give them your ISBN). Color should be CMYK. Some printers will accept RGB files, but they’re still printing in CMYK. This means they’ll flip the color “on the fly” and you’ll be forced to deal with the results. As you can see from my link, they’re not always good.
- No more than 240% black or color saturation on the cover. Again, some printers don’t care, but if you’re printing with LSI it’s necessary. They will send you a .csf file to use with all your Adobe programs if you ask them nicely, so you won’t have to worry about this, the software will adjust things as you go.
- 300 dpi for everything. Don’t think that because you enlarged an image it will work. A 300 dpi image that was doubled in size becomes a 150 dpi image no matter how you’ve fooled the software into saying otherwise. So, while you might get by the prepress check, you’ll still end up with poor print quality. I wasn’t able to find a simple explanation of this online, so I created this image. You can see on the middle image that was simply enlarged to 300 dpi from 72 dpi that the quality is nowhere near as good as the one to the right, that was created at 300 dpi. But, as the one on the left shows, 72 dpi is fine for online purposes.
- Good fonts. Use them. All fonts are not created equal.
- Make sure to check that your fonts have embedded after you export the PDF. If you don’t, you could be in for some unpleasant surprises when a substitute font ends up in your printed book, throwing off your layout. In Adobe Acrobat Pro you can check this in Files/Properties/Fonts and beside the list of fonts it should say embedded or subset embedded.
Darker Covers Can Cause Problems
- Putting a lot of ink or toner on a book will mean a longer drying time. Heavy inking/toner sometimes causes issues with the lamination or other finishes not adhering as well (remember, you’re not attaching the coating to the porous paper, you’ve putting it on smoother ink/toner).
- Denser ink/toner creates a “layer” on the paper and that can crack and peel over time.
- Then there are “hickeys” which often appear in large areas of solid color and are most prevalent on darker colors. While they are simply a fact of life in printing, since darker colors require more drying time, so there’s more of a chance dust particles will land on the paper and create a “hickey” effect.
It costs just as much to produce bad book covers or bad marketing materials as it does to produce good ones. Everyone has seen the poorly rendered 3d-style images that look like robotic mannequins. Sometimes people will combine these with photos and even clipart. It’s bad. It’s really, really bad. It would be far better to go with a nice font and use creatively designed text to fill the space. If you really must have some graphic detail, consider an abstract background or use of color. How many times have you seen a book for freelance writers with a manual typewriter on the cover? How many freelancers are still using manual typewriters? What does a manual typewriter even have to do with freelancing in today’s world? Even a modern computer keyboard probably isn’t going to be interesting enough or unique enough to catch someone’s eye. How many times have you seen disembodied shaking hands on business marketing materials, advertisements and even billboards? Again, if you don’t have the budget or creativity to get to “wow," just use text. It didn’t hurt sales for the bestseller, The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. These Skype ads are little more than text and logo and they're pretty awesome. And this ad against workplace aggression says it all. The right graphic designer will be able to create great brochures and marketing material like this and this and this and this with nothing more than a keyboard. You can also manipulate the text to create interest like the designers did for the book cover for Drive, by Daniel H. Pink and Heat, by Bill Buford. You can try a creative twist on words like TiVibu did for their ad series (and here and here). Keep in mind that the font is what's doing the heavy lifting on these designs, so choose carefully. No Comic Sans, or upper case cursive text that no one can read. Another big mistake is the cliché image. Using chess pieces on books about business or business marketing materials has been done — to death! One book production company recently published a book that not only used the old chess cliché, it actually had the pawn featured on the book cover. Whose goal is to be a pawn? Other overused clichés that small business owners and publishers can’t seem to let go of include puzzle pieces and locks and keys. Unless you’ve thought of a completely fresh way to use these elements, come up with another idea. They have simply been used too often. Image desperation sometimes leads people into choosing the wrong illustration all together. The cover or marketing materials should demonstrate the solution, not the problem. If your book is about raising a happy child, don’t put a crying toddler on the cover. Your solution — the topic of the book, the information people want — is the happy child, not the weepy one. If you're a locksmith, don't put an image of a desperate person locked outside in the rain on your marketing materials. When’s the last time you saw an obese model on the cover of a weight loss book? Hint: never! That’s because they’re selling thin, thin is the solution. And avoid the temptation to be too clever, it is insulting to your audience. If your book is called A Blueprint to Happiness, do not put the blueprints for a house on the cover. Also stay away from anything that could be construed as offensive. One publishing company has its own promotional book cover featuring a naked statue with the male appendage almost dead-center. I’m not suggesting these elements can never work; They just need to be handled carefully and with originality, otherwise your message will get lost in the crowd, look dated or worse, shout “amateur”. Having a solid, professional design greet your potential customers increases you’re chances of getting noticed.
by Cathi Stevenson If you don't want your staff spending time answering the same questions over and over, make sure your messages are clear. That means signs, whether they're impromptu types of information taped to the front door, or important notices about meetings, need to be designed so they're noticed and people can read them. By age 40, most of us can read something 10 inches away. By age 50, that distance is usually closer to 16 inches and it increases as you get older. This condition, called presbyopia, is caused by the eye loosing its ability to focus and approximately 90 million Americans suffer from it. When you consider this and other eye conditions that affect vision, you can understand how essential it is for publishers to choose fonts with great care. This doesn’t apply just to the interior of the book, but to the title, back cover text, online ads, websites, posters and any printed matter that will be used in promoting your books. Here’s a little trick that will test the legibility of your font under less than ideal circumstances: just set a few lines and blur the text in Photoshop or similar software. Do letters such as a, o and d fill in? Do tall letters like i and t and l look alike? Are the letters so close together they’re just one big blur? Do narrow parts of the glyph (glyphs are the letters, numbers, punctuation marks, etc.. that we use to write with) vanish all together? Some fonts that fit this criteria include: Futura, Futura Condensed Bold, Futura Book, (but not Futura Light, condensed or bold), Frutiger Light, Frutiger, Frutiger Bold, Gill Sans, Gill Sans Bold (but not Gill Sans Light) Otpima, Bodoni, Bodini Book. Century Schoolbook, (not Century Schoolbook Bold) Garamond, Garamond Semibold, (but not Garamond Bold), Palatino and Palatino Bold. Remember, no one is going to struggle to read your message.
by Cathi Stevenson Your business correspondence should look professional. While that definitely means using good grammar and proper spelling, the fonts you choose can also help or hinder your message. For a professional, consistent look, choose two fonts for your company. Use these fonts in everything you send from your desktop computers, and make sure staff e-mail signatures comply. Few things look worse than seeing "John Doe, CEO" in Comic Sans. Unless of course, John is eight years old.