I’ve created approximately 2,000 book covers since about 2000. Most were for print projects, so there was a back cover that required copy. Over the years, I’ve developed a file of information that I send to all of my clients as we’re nearing that part of the project. These are just guidelines, but for the typical 6 x 9 book this is what I have found works best, and what I share with my clients:
BACK COVER TEXT: You have room for about 250 – 300 words on the back cover. Submit it in an unformatted (no boxes, no tabs, no indents, no italics, just plain text double spaced between the paragraphs) Microsoft Word file (.doc) or plain text file.
WHY? People won’t struggle to read your text, so it needs to be set in a comfortable size, with enough space between each line (called leading) that it’s easy to read. You also need to leave a good-sized margin around the text, so people will have a place to put their fingers, and not have to constantly adjust position as they’re reading.
I ask for plain text files because the text has to be imported into InDesign and sometimes text boxes, tabs and other formatting will cause problems. I can always save the file as plain text myself, but if I’m not using the same word processing program or version of it, then that can also cause problems.
LISTS AND QUOTES: If your back cover text contains lists and quotes, you have less room.
WHY? Both lists and quotes use only a portion of the lines they’re on. In the case of some lists, you’ll have only a few words on a line. In addition, lists often require extra space between each line. Quote credits often require a bit of extra space and again, only part of the line is being used. In short: they eat up space. Check out the images at the end of this article for a visual explanation of what I mean.
IMAGE CREDITS: Make sure that you include any credits necessary to comply with the license of images you have purchased to use on the cover. The exact wording will be included in the End User License Agreement (often called a EULA for short), where you made the purchase. If you have an author photo to go on the book, you should also credit this.
NOTE: Image credits can also go on the copyright page, or in the case of a hardcover on the inside flap of the dust jacket.
IMAGES: Must be 300 dpi at full size.
WHY? This is the minimum required for print, but dpi on its own means nothing, that’s why I added “at full size.” If you have an image that is 4 inches wide and 4 inches high at 150 dpi, simply changing it to be 300 dpi will mean you can only print it at 2 inches wide by 2 inches high. If you force the increase to 300 dpi and keep the size 4 x 4, then the quality of the image will deteriorate and it will not print well.
LOGOS: For optimum printing quality these should be submitted in the native EPS (vector) file, with fonts converted to outlines.
BAR CODES: Include your 13-digit ISBN and the price (if you want the price embedded into the bar code). I will make the bar code here to ensure it is formatted at 100% black, CMYK and a vector image.
WHY? Most of that is technical jargon, but it is the only way to ensure the bar code will print properly and scan. PNG images, which many agencies provide, cannot be formatted in the proper color gamut (CMYK) so you’re taking your chances using them or gif images, or a “lossy” image format like jpg. A vector image is the best way to produce a bar code that will scan.
BISAC HEADINGS: If you want your book to have a subject heading for shelving, please find your proper heading here.
Click on images to view at full size.
Word is a word processing program, not designed to format files for press. There are lots of issues that can and do occur when you use Word to lay out a print project:
Word can be a fine tool—if used properly, to lay out e-books. RGB color is preferred for e-Books of course, and the fonts will change on various devices anyway.
Barcodes are the physical scanning codes you see on products that allow scanners to determine the price. E-books are not a physical product, they are never scanned. You should have an ISBN assigned to your e-book, though.
Yes! Yes! Yes! There are many reasons, starting with professionalism, moving through readability and ending with sales that make it essential to use fonts wisely. You don’t want to alienate even one buying customer. I wrote an article a year or two ago for the Independent Book Publishers Association, and have posted an updated version of it on my blog, that addresses one aspect of fonts, that offers information that might be useful when creating ads for your book, and even the cover design.
A few years ago Stephen Coles wrote a great article on book cover fonts for FontFeed.com. I think it’s still relevant today, and many of my favourites made the list. I recommend you read the whole article, which includes images.
Cole’s top 10 list of book cover fonts:
Yes! I’ve written about this topic before also, and here’s an excerpt from that article:
I asked well-known agent Andrea Brown of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, if she thought it was important for authors to have an online presence and she replied, “short answer is yes—authors must have.”
That opinion is shared by Gwen Gades, owner of Dragon Moon Press in Alberta, Canada. “Social media is very important, as is author branding. More and more readers choose based not just on a book, but because they have gotten to know an author “personally”.
Large publishing houses, including Random House have an online biography for each of their authors that includes book cover images, links to purchase their books, links to personal blogs and websites, as well as Facebook pages. Harlequin has a similar setup for its romance authors. The Penguin Group (USA) has also recognized the importance of authors having and online presence and have a PDF called Penguin Authors Guide to Online Marketing, published back in 2008 (Google the title if you want to see it).
If you’re a small press owner or self-publisher, you’ll want to spend your time and money wisely, and in today’s market that should be in online promotions where you’ll be able to reach the highest number of people for the least amount of investment.
Design elements should be carried throughout the book
Since my site is mainly one for book cover design, I work with many clients who come to me for just that one element of the book.
There is no problem with this, but I like to at least make contact with the interior designer, or if that part of the job is already done, see the finished product. This is so I can create a cohesive look that carries from front cover, through every page and onto the back cover.
The fonts you’ve used; any graphic elements, such as dingbats or lines; drop caps or other features used on the books interior can be mirrored on the cover, and vice versa.
This is not always possible of course, sometimes covers change for various reasons, but the interior of the book stays the same. One good example is once a movie has been made about the book, a new cover will immediately be produced that reflects the move characters and title, but quite often the interior is not altered.
Book Cover Express has a wonderful, very experienced interior designer and through the years we’ve formed friendly working relationships with many others. Collaboration is not usually an issue.
One problem I do run into is with do-it-yourselfers who are creating very amateurish interiors, using Times and Ariel, mixing too many fonts, not spacing paragraphs properly and not understanding punctuation (there is a difference between a hyphen, an em dash and an en dash). Since the cover is the handshake that greets the world, you can’t really afford to display anything that’s no able to hold its own in a competitive world with professionally-designed books.
Try to remember your book is one project and it should have a distinctive look that identifies it throughout.
Sometimes book covers include only text, or color, or an image that’s almost ready-to-go, out of the package. Sometimes it takes a bit of creativity to get what you want. When Jessica James contacted me about designing the cover for her second book, Noble Cause, I jumped at the chance. She’s a great client…easy to work with, pays promptly and wins awards for her books.
All she really told me is she didn’t want any images, but wanted the cover to look like an old leather book cover. I looked around and saw many images that might have worked, but I had a few of my own that I thought might do the trick even better.
found a Bible printed in the 1800s at a local bookstore a few years ago and scanned it. The worn, embossed design seemed perfect for Noble Cause.
After some color adjustments I thought I could use it, but under closer scrutiny, I realized the image texture appeared to be “fuzzy” (it cardboard), so I scanned a vinyl portfolio case, worked some magic to make it look more like leather in Photoshop and placed that over the scanned cover, blending the two. I liked the result.
A few hours of blending, adding layers, and fiddling with the color options and I was satisfied. Next, I added some fleurons I had used on her first book cover. I made dozens of different fleuron designs many years ago to sell on stock art sites. They are one of the most useful design elements I have.
Trying to get the gold embossed text was a little tricky. I used a graphic enhancement licensed from Alien Skin for the basic look, then played around with the color. I ended up darkening the area around the glyphs so they’d stand out more against the background. This is what we ended up with:
“…writers are delusional…”
Laughter broke out at a recent web seminar when Publisher’s Weekly Reviews Director, Louisa Ermelino said, “And writers are delusional; no matter how they’re published.”
Many interesting points on the topic of self-publishing were discussed, most of a more serious nature.
Panelist and author Jason Pinter expressed frustration at frequently hearing the same success stories of self-publishing. “What annoys me is that the same names are always used: Godin, Konrath, Hocking, The Shack.”
Pinter also said that poor marketing is the reason so many self-published books fail, a point Carolyn Pittis, SVP of Global Author Services at HarperCollins, agreed with. “Marketing is the issue of our time. Book marketing is the biggest challenge that anyone in the book business is facing today, purely because there’s so much noise and so much content getting created and so many potential distractions.” Phil Sexton, of Writer’s Digest, also believes that the efforts authors put behind their marketing plans influence the success—or failure, of their books.
Ermelino made another very interesting observation, “Maybe self-publishing is going to be an extra step added to publishing … Maybe what’s going to happen is you self-publish a book, someone notices it … an agent? … and it goes from there into the traditional sphere.”
Seminar moderator Guy LeCharles Gonzalez asked the group how programs such as Harlequin’s self-publishing imprint can help self-published writers, to which one panelist responded, “It’s all about the money; it’s not about finding wonderful books—come on.”
The event was sponsored by PW and Digital Book World and held on February 22, 2011.
It has to be discussed…again. Visual vibration. So many independent publishers don’t seem to think it’s an issue and I’d bet my last chocolate-covered almond it’s resulting in lost sales.
What is it? Visual vibration is caused when two bright colors are mixed together on a book cover or website or ad and they create an “afterimage” effect. It’s almost as if a dancing halo has been placed around the word or shape, making it nearly impossible to look at the image for any amount of time. It’s painful.
It’s the last thing you want happening on your website or your book cover.
You can avoid visual vibration by introducing a less vibrant, neutral color to the mix.
There are many hidden aspects of a designer’s job that take a lot of time. One of the most important, and often most time-consuming, is research for image accuracy. When a client has a book set in WWII for instance, and asks that a helmet be used on the cover, any old helmet won’t do. The designer needs to find a helmet that was actually in use during that time, in that country, with those particular soldiers. That means combing through online military sites, heading off to the local library, writing eMails and making phone calls.
I remember a few years ago someone wanted a hypodermic needle on the cover of a horror book. The publisher found one, everyone liked it…and only the author’s wife caught the fact that it was a dental needle and not one that would have been used in a hospital, where the book was set.
Many years ago someone pointed out that an early version of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s book Emily of New Moon, did not have a new moon on the cover.
It’s an issue with any medium. The movie The Last House on the Left, featured a scene about a missingboat key. Astute viewers noted that the boat was a newer model Ski Nautique: they don’t use keys, a digital code punched into a keypad is required to start them.
Yes, it can take hours, days and even weeks, depending on how complex the cover is, to research every aspect of it, but it only takes one second for a knowledgeable person to notice a mistake, and a few minutes for him or her to post about it online.