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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Cover Designs

Second Thoughts on Pre-Publication


Here's the second step in the diagram I published last week.  Once again, I see some problems. Let's start with "Design Book Cover." By all means, start to think about your cover early.  Readers are confronted with millions of choices when they look for a book, and your cover needs to be able to catch their attention quickly. 

Try walking into a bookstore with no real purpose in mind.  Just stroll around and notice which books catch your eye.  Which ones fairly jump off the display table to say, "Hey!" and which ones make you curious once you have taken a closer look?  Many factors go into book cover design, and unless  you already have artistic ability or design experience, you may not immediately understand why some covers are better than others.  Look at how many different elements appear in your favorite covers. Is there just one image or many?  Are the colors a hint about the content? Does the cover image wrap around the book from front to back?  Do you like cutouts? embossing? glitter?

When you've found a few designs you like, try walking away from them and looking back at a distance.  While seeing your book prominently displayed on a bookstore table is the ideal, how will prospective readers actually encounter it?  Will it stand out from others of the same type? Will nothing but the spine show on a shelf? Will buyers go online and see only a thumbnail version?  And if so, are the elements on the cover big enough to be visible in a thumbnail?  All of these are issues you should understand before the actual design process begins.

But design it at this stage?  Not so fast!   Are you experienced enough to do your own design?  I know I wasn't.  I had an idea of what I wanted to show on the cover, but it took a professional to do the actual positioning, the trim sizing, and the font selection. Depending on what company you choose to handle the production of your books, you may need to pay for their design services or hire a designer to prepare to cover copy for  you. Don't scrimp here.  A poorly designed cover can lose a prospective sale in just a few seconds.  At least wait until you have production details set before you make a final decision on the cover.

Now, a brief word on copyright.  Authors NEVER need to pay for (or even register) their copyrights.  They come automatically when you write anything.  So don't let anyone charge you for that copyright.  Just make sure your manuscript has that all-important symbol: Copyright ©Your Name and Year of Publication. It goes on the second page, the reverse of your title.  That's it.  That's all you ever have to do. You may, however, want to look into obtaining a Library of Congress cataloging number, but your production company should take care of that for you.

That leaves two other optional tasks in this category, but I don't understand why you should even consider NOT buying your own ISBN numbers and forming  your own business.  Here's why you need to do both.

1. A production company will offer you a free ISBN number, but its numbers will clearly identify that company as the publisher and may even limit  your rights to do other things with the book at a later date.  You can purchase your own ISBN from Bowker for a fee of $125.00 or so.  Or you can buy a set of 10 numbers for twice that.  The numbers never expire, so if  you plan to write more than one book, or publish in more than one format, get your own set of 10 in the beginning.

2. Forming  your own publishing company will make you feel important and make you rich!  (Well, maybe not the rich part, but it is an ego boost.) More important, if you don't have your own company imprint, like mine, Katzenhaus Books, your books will carry the name of the production company you choose.  Not a good idea, especially when most readers do not understand the difference between a print on demand company and a vanity press. Starting your own business is as easy as just doing it.  You don't even have to file papers on it formally until it is making a profit of several thousand dollars.  And in the meantime, while  you are waiting for your book sales to make you rich, you can at least take your expenses off of your income tax if you are the sole proprietor of a small business.  What's not to love?

So there you have it.  For pre-publication, start looking at book covers with a critical eye, name your company, and buy some ISBNs.  You're in business.

Preparing your Kindle Cover -- Tip # 2

Amazon will do its part to publicize your book by giving it a page of its own and displaying its cover in a variety of places on other pages: New Books This Month, Bargains under $3.99, Best-Sellers, Top-Rated, "People who bought this book also bought . . . . ," and
"You might like . . . " But you have to do your part by creating a cover that meets their standards, AND one that attracts curious readers.  Here are a few tips on how to do that.

The general rules for formatting your cover are included in the free Kindle publishing guide, which you can download at: <http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00822K3Z0>. Be sure you get the guide and read it carefully.  It will save you a lot of grief later on.

Remember that on a computer screen, the image of your cover may only be an inch high, and you want it to be legible. People won't buy a book if they can't read the title. Use 40- to 60-point font for both your name and your title.

Usually your title is the most important element.  When you hit it big and have a huge fan base that will buy anything you write, then you emphasize your name.

If you write a series, or if your books all come from the same period and setting, the covers should look similar, so that readers begin to recognize the style.

To further that effort, put the title and your author name in approximately the same spot on every cover. Also, use the same font for titles in a series.

Simplify your cover design, so that the most important element stands out.

Wherever possible, use 3-D covers like the ones above. Turning the image a bit, so that it looks like a real book rather than a flat rectange, makes a huge difference in spur-of-the-moment purchases. You can Photoshop the images yourself, or find any number of  artists who will do it for you. My images above cost me $5.00 apiece.  Amazon will not use a 3-D image as their primary one, but if you look closely at your book's Amazon page, you'll see that it says, right under the picture,"Share your own customer images."


You can add your 3-D image there, and anyone who goes to the page can click on the alternate image and see it as a "real book." 

Remember this Tip of the Day:  Covers Sell Books!


Your Book Cover -- The Rules Are Changing

The Rules: They Are Changing! I'm forwarding in this post a message from Mark Coker of Smashwords about the changes:

On June 14, we announced over at the Smashwords Blog -
- and at Site Updates -
- that starting around July 15, we'll require larger cover images for new Premium Catalog titles. Also that week, I updated the Smashwords Style Guide and Smashwords FAQs to reflect the new requirements.

Your current Premium Catalog titles, even if they have smaller cover images, are NOT affected by the new guidelines unless you update the cover image.

This change is prompted by new requirements at Apple that go into effect in August. The new requirements are also consistent with updated recommendations by Amazon (some day, Amazon-willing, we'll distribute to Amazon!), which also now recommends larger cover images. We think the new recommendations make good common sense because they create a more satisfying customer experience for readers who use the newer high resolution screens such as Apple's amazing Retina display.

Starting July 15, cover images for new titles, and cover image updates for existing titles, should be at least 1,400 pixels wide. Please see the Smashwords blog for full details and suggest width/height ratios and options -

If your book is among the tens of thousands at Smashwords that have the smaller covers, and you're already Premium Catalog-distributed, you can leave your cover as-is for now. Better yet, consider this a good time to update your cover. As I mention in my new best practices book, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, the cover image is the first impression your book makes on a prospective reader. If your cover image doesn't look as good or better than the covers put out by big New York publishers, you're at a disadvantage. Make the effort to upgrade to a professional cover image. Professional cover design is very affordable. Most of the cover designers on my "Mark's List" (send a blank email to
and you'll receive it via instant autoresponder) charge between $40 and $100 for a cover. They all have online portfolios, so you can decide if their work matches your vision. We don't get a commission if you hire them, though all the folks there are on the list because they've done good work for your fellow Smashwords authors and publishers. If their portfolios don't match what you're looking for, ask your favorite indie authors for references. There are many great cover designers out there for under $300. *Always* review an artist's online portfolio before signing on with them, and try to work directly with the artist rather than through an intermediary."

Here are my next two cover images, both of which were designed by Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics to fit the new requirements:



























And here are the rules for Apple and Amazon:

Starting in August, Apple will require that all new ebook cover images be at least 1,400 pixels wide.  Their previous minimum was 600 pixels. Why is Apple requiring higher pixel counts?  Most likely, it's because they want to provide ebook customers a more pleasing visual experience for their current and future higher-resolution iPads, iPhones and MacBooks.  Since we think the Apple's guidelines are reasonable (they help readers with next-generation screens enjoy your covers in all their glory), we'll adopt Apple's requirements as our new minimum standards for cover images.

Amazon recommends images that are 2,500 pixels tall, with the height 1.6 times greater than the width.  This means that the new Apple/Smashwords requirements will help you create an image that's also more pleasing to Amazon's current and future customers.  Two birds with one stone.

Let's dig into the math
  Smashwords has always required vertical-rectangle-shaped images, where the height is greater (taller) than the width.  Most good-looking covers have heights that are around 1.3 to 1.65 times greater than the width.
Provided your cover is at least 1,400 pixels wide, you have flexibility here whether you prefer slightly wider covers or slightly taller covers.

Start with your width.  Although the new requirement is a minimum width of 1,400 pixels, I'd recommend a width of 1,500 to 1,800 pixels to be safe.  This will help you get closer to Amazon's recommended height, and will also provide you some measure of future-proofing for a couple years out when we might see pixel requirements increase even further.

Let's say you choose a width of 1,600 pixels.  If you want a 1.33 ratio, multiply 1,600 by 1.33 and you get a height of 2,128 pixels.  If you think that looks too short and squat, try 1.5.  Multiply 1,600 by 1.5 and you get a height of 2,400 pixels.  If you want 1.6, or 1.65, multiply by that.  Don't obsess too much over the ratio, though.  Focus on creating a cover that works best for your book.