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Of Eggs and Baskets

The phrase to strike fear in a designer’s heart

CritiqueNothing douses an artist, designer or any sort of creative person in a cold shiver of dread then the phrase “Let me run this by my friends and family”.

“But wait,” you say! “I need opinions from other people to see what I’m missing!”

Yes, you do absolutely! But allow me to explain from a couple of different perspectives.

When an author (or anybody hiring a creative) completes an art brief – be it a simple email outlining what they want for a logo, a web design or in my case, a cover art request, they do so with a certain vision. This vision may not be a good idea, and the designer will try to recommend other approaches, be it to make the book more marketable, or a website more useful.  Sometimes the ideas will be agreed upon, and sometimes the author will insist on what they want. In all those cases, the communication is one on one – designer to client.

Imagine a designer’s surprise when a concept comes back with critiques from five different people who weren’t involved in the initial conversation and now want to add things that may counteract each other? Suddenly, the designer needs to cull through different suggestions, pick out those that may not work for the existing design (sometimes things we visualize just don’t work in practice), and try to communicate to the author who is equally confused by the barrage of “helpful advice”.

Now lets take it a step further: how are those friends and family and the advice they give related to your product?

Well, you say, they are all readers! Wouldn’t they be my audience?

Sure – if they normally read/watch/enjoy similar genres without a push from you. If  your sis is a romance reader and you show her your mystery cover, her suggestions may not be the most helpful because she isn’t your target audience. She isn’t the one who will be trolling Amazon’s new mystery categories looking for something to jump out at her.

Similarly, author friends (or worse – authors in a critique group),  will throw suggestions to you based on their personal feelings and experiences. “Isn’t there a dog in the story? Why isn’t the dog on the cover?” Or “Author names should always be huge” or “You should have the title in this really pretty script font”. Some of these these may be very valid suggestions. But how many of you – especially those of you who are just wading into the publishing waters (small press or indie) –  know how to cull out gems from hay?

Allow me to be of help. Yes, you should absolutely seek out help if you aren’t sure about your cover (or any design). But choose wisely.

If you have an editor – an experienced editor who has many published clients in YOUR genre – they are a great person to get advice from. They know your book as well as you do, and they have the advantage of having some distance from the book and potentially seeing avenues you haven’t explored marketing wise. (This is the ideal person to consult with while in discussion with your artist about what you need them to create)

If you have author friends who are pretty successful in your genre, those are great people to seek advice from, because they’ve walked your walk and talked your talk. And paid the same dues you’re paying now.

If you know readers – readers who enjoy your genre – those are diamonds and should be treated as such.

And finally, when you send them your new shiny cover, don’t ask them “what do you think” or “should anything be changed?” Ask five people if anything should be changed and you’ll get 5 different answers. Instead, ask “would you click on this book?”. “Would you pick up this book from a shelf?” And if they say “No,” to any of these questions, ask the whys. Don’t try to find a solution before you know the problem.  Once you know the “whys”, you can go back to your designer armed with specific things to change, and rock solid reasons to change them.

To Print Or Not To Print? That’s a good question.

DivineWarriorx3dPublished at InD’Tale magazine in Fall 2013

There’s nothing like holding your blood sweat and tears in your hands in the form of a printed book. There it is, a physical manifestation of countless hours of work, rejection, fears, praises and doubts. Some authors don’t think it is worth it. Some authors won’t write a book without putting it into print. And while every author must decide that question for him or herself, allow me to present the actual logistics of what is involved in creating a print book.

Before we go further, let’s make sure everyone is one the same page if you’ll forgive the pun. When you write a book, you probably do so in a word processing software – unless you tap out a novel on your phone during lunch breaks. Once your book is finished and hopefully edited, someone (you, if you are flying solo, or a formatter who is hired by you or your publishing company) will transform your masterpiece into several digital files formatted specifically for Kindles/Nooks/Ipads/Kobos of this world. You will get a (hopefully!) awesome book cover for your book; then you, or another mysterious someone, will upload your digitally formatted book onto Amazon/Barnes/Itunes/Smashwords and you will be published in the virtual/digital/ones-and-zeros world. Matrix anyone?

Now let’s get physical, because you’ll need a whole different set of assets. To publish a book in physical form you will need a print-formatted manuscript and book cover. (Obviously I deal with the later, but I’ve roped in one of my friends and print-formatting junkies Tamara Cribley from the Deliberate Page to help with the former). You will also need a different ISBN number for a print book. (Actually you need a different ISBN for each different medium of your book. An audio book also needs a different ISBN).

Why do you need a “print ready” file format for your manuscript? Well, so your print book doesn’t look like crap 🙂 We’ve all seen books with margins too wide, double line spacing, huge fonts, or two returns to signify a new paragraph. And not to mention having a single line on a page before a break for a new chapter – classic what not to do.

To compete with the pros (New York or smaller publishing houses), you need to spend time and/or money. Time if you’re doing this yourself, or money to hire someone who can do this for you. Keep in mind, there’s “converting for print” and “formatting for print “ – and if you hire someone, know the difference to get exactly what you’re looking for. According to Tamara of The Deliberate Page,

“Some POD houses will allow you to upload your manuscript in a .doc or .rtf format and they will convert it into a printable format for you. The danger here is that unless your manuscript has been pre-formatted to very specific standards, set by your printer of choice, the final result will look nothing like the document you spent so much time on. Very likely, pages will flow differently, forced line breaks will fall in bizarre locations, and chapters will not start where you expect them to.

Your best option is to upload a formatted print-ready PDF. So what makes a print-ready PDF? Well to start with, you’ll want to make sure that the page size of your manuscript matches that of your final printed book. If your book is going to be printed as a 6″ x 9″ trade paperback, your manuscript should also be using a page size of 6″ x 9.” Next you’ll want to make sure that your margins are appropriate, both for the requirements of the printer, as well as your reader. Once you have those two parameters set, go through and re-format your copy. There are a lot of tricks of the trade, but we’ll leave those for a later time. Now, your manuscript is ready to be exported as a formatted PDF. What makes a PDF a much better option than a .doc or .rtf, is that what you see, is actually how your book will be printed, (assuming two parameters we spoke about are set properly). No crossing your fingers, hoping that the conversion looks “okay.”

There are some great resources available online that deal with formatting, but if you’re looking for a quick turn around, or just aren’t ready to learn all the minutia involved, a pro will give you print-ready files, formatted specifically for you POD printer of choice, without any of the hassle.

Once you have your formatted manuscript, you will need to create a print cover. This is where your cover artist plays an important role. Most of the time, when you hire an artist to do a cover, they will send you a high resolution “front” cover – a rectangular piece of art that when printed will measure at around 6×9 or 5×8 at print resolution. (This is something you may want to ask your cover artist about before they start on your project).

Print resolution means just that – an image suitable for printing. Ever print something crappy from google images? Aside from a debate on quality of printers, most web images show up crappy on paper because they are sized for screen viewing. Spitting something into print entails a much larger file size and quality to an image.

A print –ready image will be at a “high” resolution – 300 Pixels Per Inch or PPI (Sometimes referred to as Dots Per Inch or DPI) to be exact. You may be able to plug that image into your print vendor (CreateSpace or Lightning Source are the two big players of Print On Demand books), and use their software to hack together a back cover or spine. (Warning – time suck!)

Or, you may want to hire your cover artist to design a full printed book cover – what I refer to as a “print wrap” and what some call a “dust jacket” containing the front cover, the spine, and the back cover.

The front cover generally remains the same as that of your ebook – you want to keep continuity! If someone finds your ebook and decides they want to buy a print version, you don’t want to confuse them by showing them a completely different cover.

The spine may contain your name, the book title and sometimes a thumbnail of the cover. If your book is too thin, the spine may not have enough room to contain anything readable so it may end up being blank. (And if your book is that thin, you may want to think twice about investing into print. Will your readers shell out their money for a very short print book? Would it make more sense to bundle two novellas together into a collection?)

The spine of the book is directly related to the amount of pages in the book. To avoid the wrath and potential revision charges from your cover artist, make sure you have the print –formatted manuscript finalized to give your artist the final page count. (And it can’t hurt to pad in a few pages with an excerpt from your next book, especially next in a series. Always think of ways to include subtle promo!)

The back cover may contain a blurb about the book. You’ve labored hard on those flimsy three or four paragraphs so make them do double duty. You may also want to include any review quotes, maybe an author bio and picture, etc.

Once you have both these pieces in place (the print wrap and the print-formatted manuscript) you can mozy on to Lightining Source or Create Space to unleash your masterpiece onto the unsuspecting public. I won’t go into details as to how to do that, but start here: https://www1.lightningsource.com/tutorials/tutorials_title_set_up.aspx 
https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/

You will have to offset the cost (in minutes or dollars) of book cover creation/print formatted manuscript creation against the price of your print book. Is it worth it? It depends on what you hope to accomplish. There’s nothing like a feeling of signing your own book for an excited reader. But if all your books are sold digitally, there may not be a point in investing in print – at least for now.

How to get Started?

All our book cover packages include a consultation to find the best direction for your project, combining your vision with a visual marketing strategy.

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"Fiona Jayde took the image I always had for my novel and made it come alive. It was perfect, along with the promotional items she created for me. I highly recommend this cover designer for your book needs. She was wonderful to work with, fast and efficient, and made sure I was a satisfied customer. I look forward to working with her again so he can design my next cover masterpiece!" Best Selling Author Sherry Ewing