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?

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