Published 2020-01-13Carol E. Leever
One of the things an author has to deal with publishing either an ebook or a print on demand book is getting a cover. If you are not an artist yourself, this usually means hiring someone to create covers for you. There are also various websites that will create fairly generic covers using an easy interface -- or if you have any sort of photo-manipulation skills, you can put together an image yourself using stock photos.
I wanted to go over some of the things Camilla and I encountered when doing our various covers (plus share some of the cover art with you at the same time). As you probably know, if you've read any of my blogs, I started digital painting a few years ago, so I typically do all our cover art. That being said, I was far too sick to do the covers when books 3, 4 and 5 came out.
We were pressed for time when book 3 came out so we had someone cobble together a quick cover for that book. He warned us, however, that he was not an illustrator, and what we were asking for was not something he typically produced. As soon as I started feeling better, one of the first things I did was redo that cover with one of my own paintings. So currently books 1, 2, 3 are all my artwork.
I was still very sick when books 4 and 5 were released, so we hired a professional illustrator to do those covers. She did an amazing job, and we both love the covers she came up with. However, hiring an illustrator is not something everyone can do. Sometimes it's hard to find a good one (who has the time to do your job), and they can be quite expensive. When you're first starting out as a writer, money tends to be tight.
I wanted to go over some of the basic issues you should consider when hiring an artist, or creating your own covers.
First, you have to make certain the cover is the correct size. The Amazon dimensions are good for pretty much all the ebook publishers out there -- we have not had to modify the dimensions on any our covers to publish elsewhere. Amazon list various dimension (the aspect ratio is the same for all of them 1.6:1) but you typically want the larger size -- that gives you the best graphic and you can always resize them smaller later. Amazon tells you the ideal size is 2,560 x 1,600. But when you are hiring an artist, you want to go bigger so that you can resize the images for various promotional work. You can't take a small image and make it bigger without losing pixel quality. What you are looking for is:
Raw File with Layers:
If you are hiring an artist, it's a good idea to ask them for the raw file with all the layers intact -- not just the JPG or PNG (either works for Amazon). The reason you want the raw file (it will probably be a PSD photoshop file) is because you may want to do various promotional images where you remove the text layers or crop part of the image. The last thing you want to do is try to remove text from a jpeg.
For example, this is our cover for Lilyth's Hunt.
With the raw file, I can also display it without the text:
Or I can go in and isolate parts of it for promotional work:
We were also producing Audiobooks which meant we needed a cover for that as well. The Audiobook cover has a completely different aspect ratio to the ebook cover. Audiobooks are typically perfectly square at:
If you also need an audiobook cover, you need to have 'more' in your image. There's a bunch of space on the right and left side of the image that needs something filled in. Most likely you won't want to commission 2 different images -- that costs twice as much. The best thing to do is commission 1 image for the audiobook that can be cropped to the proper ebook size. That means that the text and main image must fit inside the ebook size -- last thing you want to do is smoosh your image by changing the dimensions. (This information must be conveyed to the artist in detail so they know exactly what you want!)
Typically when I start a cover, I use this basic default file at the 4500x4500 dimensions:
The blue section is sized for the Audiobook. The red band down the center of it is sized for the ebook. I know that any image I create must fit inside that red band, but that there must be overflow for the audiobook to fill the entire square. The text is easily resized provided you have the raw file with the layers included in it.
Here's an example of the Night's Gift audiobook cover without the text. The image in the center fits perfectly within the ebook dimensions.
BOOKS for PRINT:
One of the nice things about Amazon is they have a print on demand option for your books. This means that when someone orders a book, Amazon prints it and mails out the paperback copy of your book. This sounds like a great option -- but requires a lot of prep work.
First you need the 'print' file for the actual book. This is not your ebook file. This will be a pdf that has very specific requirements. (I'll have to do a separate tutorial on creating that PDF since this is specifically about covers.)
Along with the book itself, you need a print cover. This is also not going to be the basic ebook cover you've been using. It has both a front and a back to it, and a spine that must be big enough for the number of pages in your book. That means no 2 books will ever have exactly the same sized book cover.
When you first start setting up your print book through Amazon, you have to get the 'book' itself uploaded before you have any idea what size cover you'll need. Once the book has been uploaded and Amazon has determined the number of pages in the book, they'll give you a specific downloadable file for your cover that has all the dimensions inside it. The image comes either as a PDF or a photoshop PSD file. It looks like this:
Essentially what you do is open this file, set the 'image' you see to a low opacity so that you can see through it, and fit your cover image into the various areas. There are a couple of things to pay attention to. You can not cover up the BARCODE location. It must remain free of content like 'text'. Also, the spine is fairly unforgiving -- your spine portion of the image must fit precisely inside it or you'll end up with overlap. There are instructions written on the left hand side that you need to pay careful attention to.
One of the main issues we also had with the print covers is they do not look the way they do on a screen. I don't have any sort of screen calibration devices or software, and neither Camilla nor I have any sort of 'printing' experience. So we had to experiment through trial and error on the 'colors' and 'saturation' levels of the image. Initially the covers looked exactly the way we expected them to look on the screen, but when we got our first sample copies of the actual books, the covers were extremely dark and de-saturated.
You'll need to make certain you bump up the brightness and saturation levels on your cover images to get what you expect. The cover for Radiation caused us the most difficulty. That image was originally dark and de-saturated on purpose -- it's a grim topic of a world destroyed by a nuclear holocaust with a skeletal immortal boy in the center of it. But when it came out in print version, it was so dark we could barely see anything. I had to drastically alter the color scheme to get it to print correctly. You'll see in the image below how bright it is -- even though it doesn't really print that brightly.
One of the things that I figured out was causing the problem was the 'brightness' of my monitor. When I had an image I liked, I would go into the monitor settings and mess around with the brightness levels -- drop it real low, and push it real high. You essentially want to make certain that you're happy with the image under either condition -- that will give you something 'closer' to what you expect when the image is finally printed.
The second issue we had was the actual image sizes -- none of our images had 'backs' to them. Ebooks and Audiobooks don't require backs. So I never painted them. Also, book 4 and 5 were done by a different artist -- and she didn't paint the backs either.
You can get away with not having a back simply by putting a solid color rectangle on the back with your 'text' on top of it. But we wanted to have actual images. That meant I had to go in and paint another whole section of the images that had little content. There's no point in putting a lot of content into that image because it's going to have large text blocks on top of it, and most people won't really see it.
We didn't really have the money to rehire the artist for book 4 and 5, so I just painted in the second section of the images myself. I did my best to follow the original artist's style, using similar painting strokes, and then blended in the two sides as best I could. She had done such a lovely job (particularly book 4 -- I think that's my favorite) that I wanted to match her artistry as best I could. I'm still a bit of a beginner when it comes to painting, but in the end I think all the images came out well.
Of course they're not something anyone has really seen, because of the giant blocks of text in them. So here are the text-less images of our 6 print covers without the spines or the text blocks:
Last thing to note: you don't actually need Photoshop for any of this. These days there are plenty of other art programs out there that are more than capable of doing the same things Photoshop does. And typically all of them can open up PSD files without any trouble. (The final files you need are JPGs or PNGs not PSD files.) Some of my favorites are Krita (which is free), Procreate on the IPAD (not free, but cheap), and ArtStudio Pro (also not free, but cheap) which you can get for either the IPAD or the desktop. I'll have to write another blog one of these days about my extensive hunt for alternatives to Photoshop. All three of the programs I listed (there are dozens more) are more than capable of standing up to Photoshop and are easy on the pocketbook.