Sunday, November 06, 2011

Cover to Cover

If you search the Internet you'll find lots of advice on how to write and also lots about how to get published. Up to now the route has always been:
  • write the book
  • edit it
  • submit it to an agent
    • get rejected
    • submit to another agent
    • get rejected
    • revise the book
    • repeat 'submit to an agent
  • Either give up or self publish or, if you are one of the lucky few, negotiate a contract
  • Agent submits to a publisher.... and so on
Now however E-books have made it possible for many new authors to publish work that would otherwise end in agents and publisher's slush piles. You can test the water by releasing your book as an e-book, publicize it yourself (For how to do that read John Locke's excellent book 'How I Sold 1 Million... ') and then, if there's a demand, produce a paper copy.

Somewhere along the line though you'll need a book cover and there the advice stops. Granted there are websites which offer template solutions but most of them leave a lot to be desired and frankly - a book is judged by it's cover.

We've written and published five books so far in our A Vested Interest series and in the hope that our experience will help, here's what was involved in designing the covers.

Book 1 - A Vested Interest
We wanted the cover of this book to reflect what the story was about so we had to include:
  • DNA to indicate this was about medical science
  • A semi-transparent mechanical bug to show that technology was involved
  • A castle to represent the location Langston Castle in the book and to show there was a bit of history involved
  • An old mine tunnel to represent the secret underground base
Now Shelia and I are not bad at using graphics programs - we picked up that skill when we spent three years as illegal immigrants in Canada, supporting ourselves by building websites. So we took some pictures using a very basic digital camera and started putting together a cover. The actual process I will detail later but here's the result:
The original background image was a picture I took of Blackett Level near Allendale, Northumberland. It was a little overpowering so I faded it out by putting a semi-transparent white layer over the top. Into that I merged a picture I took of Langley Castle and that DNA picture. The 'bug' was inspired by those in the film 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'. On the e-book copy we moved that to the other side. Later we added the Triplet family coat of arms to help identify the book as part of a series.

The plot of this book involved an unpleasant secret buried in the family for almost a thousand years. The secret was revealed in an old diary. To reflect this we created a cover looking like an old book and featuring the coat of arms of the Triplet family. The old book was to be dark colored to reflect the title but when we got the first proof back from the publishers it was almost black. The final version was a lot lighter. For the old book I scanned an old copy I have of Uncle Tom's Cabin and then removed the text. With the aid of my son Adam we created a 'coat of arms' and then turned it and the book cover text gold.

On this one we didn't put the coat of arms on the spine since it was already on the front cover and the spine is much narrower.

Book 3 - No Secrets
No Secrets was very much a continuation of Dark Secrets so we decided to use the same layout. Obviously we couldn't use the same image on the front so chose a Celtic knot instead, symbolizing eternity. Of all the covers it's the one we are least happy with and it may change.

Book 4 - Stones, Stars and Solutions
In this book the Triplets travel the world visiting pyramids and other locations while following clues left in an ancient document. One of the locations is Death Valley, another is the Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico. We started with a black and white picture of Death Valley which we colored dark blue. To that we added the pyramid viewed through a 'window' on the front cover and framed in vegetation from the jungle in Mexico. On the back we added our idea of the power mechanism revealed at the end of the book.
People liked this cover so much they asked if they could use it as a screen background. We obliged with a version without the text, coat of arms or vegetation. Find it here.

Book 5 - Leap of Faith
In this book there's a location Spirit Canyon in Arkansas. It was one of the places mentioned in Stones, Stars and Solutions and also appeared in No Secrets. Spirit Canyon features a stone cabin which you can only get to through a cave and a waterfall. We wanted to show this place on the cover. The problem is that though we know it's location, the actual place doesn't exist so we had to make it with bits and pieces of other pictures.
For a book cover you need high resolution pictures because the file you send to a printer is 5,700 by 3,900 pixels in size although the image I need is 3,510 by 2470 pixels. I start with a template document from the printer. It's actual size depends on the size and thickness of the book. If you use CreateSpace as your publisher this template is worked out for you when you upload the book contents. It can be a little difficult to find but it's there.

Here's what we started with:

  • a picture of a log cabin in Texas
  • A cave in Arkansas
  • A woodland picture in Arkansas
  • A stone cottage near where we lived
  • A picture taken inside the old lead mine at Swinhope Moor, England
  • a blue eye

   ...and here's what we ended up with
In case you wonder, here's where the joins are...

Now this picture is a little busy for a book cover and it's not perfect. I chose to add text with a semi transparent background to hide the imperfections.

Making a cover like this isn't hard. You just need a computer with lots of memory and a decent painting application which can use layers, masks, feathering and b├ęzier text. The industry standard program is PhotoShop, but there are others such as Corel PaintShop Pro or The Gimp which can do the job and are much less expensive. There are lots of tutorials available on the web explaining exactly how to merge images so I don't plan on explaining this here.

 I'm still not happy with the front and spine text on the cover since although it's fine on a printed book it fails to stand out in the smaller versions used for e-books and at Amazon. The spine text could be made clearer by turning it through 90 degrees but I, for one, hate having to turn my head sideways to read the text on book spines.

Now - I've explained how we chose the covers. What are your thoughts? Which cover do you like the best and which do you think we should change?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

If I can't write in the box...

According to an old diary I found, 45 years ago I watched my father filling in a tax form. I noticed he was busy rubbing a candle over part of the form.

"Dad - what are you doing?"

"You see this box with 'Do not write in this space'? If I can't write in the box, no-one else is going to!"

I often wonder if this was an original idea of my father's or if he had seen it on some comedy show.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A mean trick to play on your wife

I went rash and bought a new Kindle ebook today. 'Stairlift to Heaven' by Terry Ravenscroft. (@terryrazz) I'd heard the writer was funny (he was a scriptwriter for Les Dawson, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise , Ken Dodd and others) and I needed a laugh.

In the books he relates the story of  his wife 'The Trouble'. She'd put on weight over Christmas and as normal had gone on a diet to remove it. This time however she hadn't weighed herself before Christmas and relied instead on a pair of slacks which she'd bought before Christmas and which 'fit her perfectly'.  Now imagine you are a woman who's stuck to a rigid diet and after thinking you'd been successful try on those slacks.
...but even a nice figure cannot get away with an
attempt to force it into a pair of trousers deficient in
the waist measurement by two inches. Consequently
the small amount of fat she normally carries round
her waist had become a roll of fat spilling out of the
top of the trousers...
Terry had seen this as an opportunity and had persuaded his sister to take the slacks in two inches.

Now I've played some tricks in the past such as the 'Who nettled the teacher' but I'm full of admiration for Terry. I'm just not in his league.

So if you feel the need to relax and laugh check out 'Stairlift to Heaven ' - it's worth every penny.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to fix the mess the government is in.

Browsing my Facebook account recently I came across this image copied from Revolution News Network's site:
Now of course someone was quick to point out that this would matter if the US was on the gold standard but that had stopped long ago. The problem is that the vast majority of people have this sneaking impression that if you spend more than you earn you are heading for disaster. No amount of explanations from economists will ever convince them otherwise either.

It's not just the US. Things aren't quite that bad in the UK; here we are only 146 billion in the red. Taking into account the US has five times the population of the UK that equates to 730 billion by US population standards.

So do these guys in government know what they are doing? Ask 'the 99%' and the answer will be a resounding 'NO!'

So what could we do about this? It seems simple to me - we change the form of government so that people who actually know what they are doing run the country instead. After all the last person who should be given the job of President or Prime Minister is the egomaniac who wants to do the job and tries to convince us that although he/she is not qualified, we should elect them.

So here's my suggestion. Make a selection of the top five industrialists - those that make the most profit and tell them it's their duty to run the country on our behalf for the next four years.

"...but what about democracy?" I hear you say. No problem. Allow the candidates selected to campaign and we then use standard election procedures to make the final choice. Of course there will be one subtle difference. None of the candidates will want the job and will therefore campaign for their opponents instead of themselves. As a result there will be no 'mud slinging' and no need for campaign fund raising. (Believe it or not but all these idiots politicians are currently asking me to give them £10/£20 to fund their next election campaign!) The candidates will fund their campaigns themselves - these people are rich. That may be a little unfair but they can afford it and anyone who manages to be so successful really has a duty to make the lives of the less able (us) better. Look on it as a minor tax which will help reduce those budget deficits.

How about local government? Use the same method, just apply the requirements on a local scale.

What incentives should we offer these people? If they do a good job and the electorate feel their lives have improved then we'll undertake never to elect them again! Fail and they still could be elected for a second chance.

The bad news is there's one tiny fly in the ointment. To modify government like this would require our current politicians to accept it. There is NO WAY they will ever vote themselves out and we are stuck with the present system.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Odd Page on the Right - Creating a Book in Word 2010

Like most authors, I use Microsoft Word and rapidly discovered one of it's limitations. Word insists on starting any new document on a left hand page in a two page layout. There is nothing you can do to change this. Microsoft tell us that Word isn't a publishing program and apparently expect us to import Word documents into a program such as Publisher before printing. Now that, for us authors, is the last thing we want. We want a single program on which to create our work and format it for printing. Word can be made to do it - almost.

So this is how to set up Word 2010/2007 to produce a layout suitable for self publishing through Amazon's Create Space publishing or Lulu.

First. If you have an existing correctly formatted document then create a new document using that existing document. It will be a lot quicker.
In Word 2010 the procedure is File → New → New from Existing

If you do not have a document to copy then you'll need to create one as follows. To illustrate it, I've used examples from our book 'A Vested Interest':

  1. In Word choose File → New → Blank document

  2. Select 'Print Layout' view

  3. From the Page layout tab select in the Page setup group the 'Size' button and then at the bottom of the dropdown 'More Page Sizes'

  4. Using the 'Paper' tab, select what size pages your book will have. I use a custom size of 13.33 x 20.32 cm (5.25 x 8 inches) which is one of the standard book sizes. Your self publishing firm will tell you what standard sizes are available. I suggest you measure a few books too.

  5. Still in the 'Page Setup' window, on the 'Margins' tab select a top margin of 2 cm; bottom margin of 2.54 cm; inside margin of 1.27 cm; Outside margin of 1.0 cm; gutter of 0.96 cm; Gutter position Left (greyed out); Portrait; Multiple pages should Mirror margins; Apply to Whole document.
  6. Still in the 'Page Setup' window, on the 'Layout' tab select Section start New Page; Check in the Header and footers tab Different odd and even; Un-check Different first page; set the header and Footer to 1.25 cm from the edge; Under Page select vertical alignment Top. Then click OK.
  7. Turn on the ruler and set it as shown in the image above with no indents.
  8. Double click the page area where the header would be (i.e. above where the cursor is currently flashing)
  9. Check 'Different Odd & Even Pages'. You should now see 'Odd Page Header' at the header and 'Odd Page Footer' at the footer.
  10. Close the Header and Footer view
  11. A little down the page type in CAPITALS your book title and center it. (This is NOT your main Title Page)
  12. Insert TWO page beaks . If you are looking at the document in Print Layout view, two pages per screen your first page will appear on the left
  13. The next page will be your main title page where you put the title, the author. I also add at the bottom the location and year of writing. Format this page as you wish it.At the end of the page insert a Page break.
  14. Your next page will be a copyright page and if you have one, put your ISBN/EAN number here. Example text - customise and space appropriately:

    John and Sheila Chapman have asserted their right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the authors of this work.

    This book is a work of fiction and, except in the case of historical fact, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

    Copyright © 2010 John & Shelia Chapman

    All rights reserved under International and Pan-American

    Copyright Conventions.

    ISBN 1-456-30018-0

    EAN-13 9781456300180

    Add a page break at the end of this.

  15. Your next page will contain any acknowledgments you wish to make or will be blank. Add a Page break then a Section Break (Odd page) at this point.
    The 'Section Break (Odd Page)' is the crucial step!

  16. You are now ready to start the text of your book, to reset the ruler, to add a page header and a footer with page number 1. If your book has contents pages add them at this point. Contents pages should always be an even number of pages so add a page break if needed then a 'Section Break (odd page)' so that Chapter 1 of your book always appears on a right hand page.
  17. At the top of the Chapter 1 page (or first contents page if you have one) double click the header area. In the Navigation section of the Header & Footer toolbar make sure 'Link to Previous' is NOT selected. make sure Different Odd & Even Pages IS checked then add the book title in Capitals. Center it.
  18. Double click the Footer area of the page (or click the Footer button on the toolbar) Use the Page Number button to add a page number either centered or at the right. Format the page numbers so that they start at '1' (Right click the number to find 'Format Page Numbers...').
  19. In the Navigation section of the Header & Footer toolbar click 'Next'.
  20. In the Navigation section of the Header & Footer toolbar again make sure 'Link to Previous' is NOT selected.
  21. In the Header add in capitals the author's name and center it. In the footer section again make sure 'Link to Previous' is NOT selected and add a centered page number at the bottom. Select and right click the number and choose Format Page Number. It should be set at 'Start at 1'. The actual page will show page 2.

You should now find that from your 'Chapter 1' the pages will be displayed on the correct side in 'Print Layout' view. If you Add the 'Print Preview Edit Mode' button to the Quick Access toolbar (22) you'll find on using it that all pages (in a two page view) are shown on the correct sides. Extra blank pages will be inserted to make sure the main title page and Chapter 1 pages are on the right hand side.

Following chapters should each start on a new page but usually it is not important that they should start on right hand pages. If you have a short book of less than 80,000 words though you might like to insert a 'Section break (odd Page)' rather than a standard 'Page Break' to force this.

If this post has proved useful to you would you do me a favour in return? Download a FREE copy of the book I co-author - a romantic technothriller called 'A Vested Interest'. Even if you don't read it it will help our ratings. You can get it at and if you want to read it, you can use a phone, a tablet, a computer or even a Kindle.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Clairol nice'n difficult

Shhh... don't tell anyone but my wife uses hair colourant.

Clairol have been advertising on TV a product called nice'n easy colour blend foam. The advert made it look easy to use and I'm the one who gets to apply it so we gave it a go. Here's my opinion and you can probably tell from the title what it's going to be like.

First - it's NOT a foam. A foam is defined as a colloidal suspension of gas in a liquid. In other words it's thick and creamy with very small bubbles. Think shaving cream or spray cream - they are foams but Clairol nice'n easy is a FROTH - much bigger bubbles, think of the froth you see sometimes under a waterfall or the froth on top of a bubble bath.

Second - it's NOT easy. In fact it's the hardest colourant to apply I ever used. It runs. It fails to wet long hair. it's far too easy to get on skin and clothes.

Third - the results are poor. There's not enough 'froth' to cover hair as long as that in the picture on the box. Added to that the colour isn't as deep as it's made out to be.

Maybe if you have very short hair this stuff might be OK but we will NEVER buy this rubbish again. Back to the drawing board Clairol!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Well done Number 10!

Today I went to the 'Number 10' website to find out if anyone had created a petition about one of my pet hates - VAT on ebooks.

It took a while to find what has to have been the last government's better ideas the e-petition site but when I did find it I discovered that it had been closed down in the run-up to the general election (6th May 2010) and hasn't re-opened for new petitions.

Just after the election we were told that it would reopen later in 2010 but now here's what you get if you go through the process:

Notice that the date is now 2011 and that no date other than the year is given!

So well done UK Government! You've taken a valuable method of the UK public making their feelings known to government and squashed it! Maybe those petitions were just too inconvenient? So much for your 'big society' policy!

So I can't voice my opinion on the Number 10 petition site. I can however put the details here and the public can voice their opinion by adding comments.

Petition to the UK prime Minister
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to remove the VAT charge on the sale of electronic books and magazines.

More details from the petition creator
Paper copies of books, newspapers and magazines are subject to a VAT rate of 0%. It is anomalous that electronic copies of these same items are subject to the current standard rate of VAT (20%). The effect of this tax is to make, in many cases, the e-book version of literature more expensive than the paper copy despite being less expensive to produce and requiring almost zero shipping costs.

The manufacture of printed paper products requires thousands of tons of raw materials and an enormous amount of energy in production and transport each year. The public is reluctant to pay more for an electronic copy than for a paper copy. Many look for a less expensive and often 'pirate' source.

By charging VAT on e-publications the government is encouraging piracy, squandering raw materials and adding to fossil fuel use.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

That darn cat...

...decided to have a lazy afternoon.

...decided that it wasn't a good idea to jump from the fence onto the surface of the neighbor's algae-covered pond. convinced that if it's raining at the back door then it will be just fine at the front door.

...decided not to play with the goldfish.

...decided that the Christmas tree was a new toy for him to climb.

...somehow decided we were moving and made sure she wouldn't be left behind.

...decided to sing to us every inch of the 300 miles to our new house.

...decided to wait and see if anything came along.

...decided earphone cables and broadband telephone lines make a great teething ring but power cables don't taste nice.

...decided that baby rabbits should be carried over the rabbit-proof fence round our garden so that they could play with them. Since they proved pretty boring playmates they were left to munch on our flowers.

...decided to jup onto y laptop and in doing so hooked a claw under a key on it. As a result y '' key no longer works!