Can I Fit 900 Words On My Back Cover?

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.




Top 5 Questions I Am Asked About Book Design

 1. Why shouldn’t I lay my book out in Word?

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:

  • Sometimes the black text is only at about 90% when printed, so you’re essentially getting a dark gray.
  • Word does not work in CMYK colors, which are necessary for printed books. It works in RGB colors, which are meant for screen viewing. I’ve written an article on color that you can read, if you’d like more information.
  • Word will display fonts that you don’t actually have. If you choose the italic or bold options in Word, the program will “fake” those effects, even if you don’t have the bold or italic version of the font. This means, your PDF will not have the bold or italic effects you want.

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.

 2. Where do I get an ISBN for my book?

  •  In the USA you purchase ISBNs from Bowker.

 3. Why don’t I need a barcode on my e-book?

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.

 4. Does it really matter what font I use for my book?

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 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:

  • Minion
  • ITC New Bakserville
  • FF Scala & FF Scala Sans
  • Adobe Garamond (one of my all-time favorite fonts)
  • Trade Gothic
  • Electra
  • Fornier
  • Dante
  • Din

 5. Do I really need a website?

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.

Book Design

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.

Learn, Promote, Get Connected

Years ago there were a number of forums and eMail groups for self-publishers. These days, there are very few, and many of those that are there don’t seem to be doing the job they once did. The same groups that once had 50 or more posts a day are now lucky to get that many posts in a month. The “old timers” — members who could offer information based on years of experience, have gone (or were forced to leave, during one of the many infamous “flame wars” that took place); Some forums became too burdensome for volunteer moderators to keep up with and a few seemed to go down a dark path and ended up on Angela Hoy’s Whispers and Warnings list, one writing forum is there for not paying freelance writers of all things!

In some cases blogs fill a void. There are numerous blogs geared towards self-publishers that are run by very knowledgeable people in the design and publishing industries, who also know what a possessive noun is and does. They’re also quite entertaining writers, and interesting conversations sprout up in the comments’ sections.

Many more though, are run by people who are posting their own learning experiences with self-publishing as they go, and while that too can be both helpful and entertaining, the misinformation from lack of knowledge is worrisome. I often read things like, “well, I typeset my book in Word and it looks fine.” It’s just not a good thing to encourage someone to set a book in Word, with the possible exception of a someone whose Word mastery is at the level of  Aaron Shephard’s, but even there are issues involving color and spacing that simply cannot be handled in Word. One “expert” (his word, not mine) actually refers to sans-serif fonts as “san serf” fonts, periodically throughout the text. I guess spell check and proofreading were too much effort. That little gem also had a cover “decorated” with Microsoft clip art, which usually isn’t licensed for commercial purposes and even if he did obtain permission, Microsoft clipart rarely has any business on a book cover.

Oh, there was a day when clipart was self-publishers really had to choose from, but with the advent of micro-stock companies, reasonable images can be legally licensed for as little as $2, some offer free images even for commercial use. If that still doesn’t work for you, go with a text-only cover and make your title stand out as the feature element.

I will admit I missed the old forums, the lively discussions and the interesting cast of characters from all over the world, with all different levels of experience…and then one day a few months ago, I found them again! Maybe not the same cast, but a few of them were there, and many more who were just as brilliant and just as interesting. There were at

LinkedIn has numerous groups for writers, communications and marketing experts, publishers, authors, designers, and most that I belong to are fairly active. But it doesn’t really matter if any one group is active or not, because there are so many you can join, that each day there will surely be something on one of them that interests you.

Aside from the camaraderie and convenience of finding answers to your questions, LinkedIn’s social networking offers a wonderful profile page for its members, and I can tell you through experience that head hunting firms are tracking down potential job seekers using LinkedIn. I worked on a contract position in an office a few weeks ago and that was part of the job — finding qualified candidates who might be interested in a senior position with another company, if the offer was right.. Not only that, but I have recently been contacted about a contract position by a local company who found my profile on LinkedIn.

Artists can display their work on LinkedIn via the free Behance Network. I am also going to have to gush over the Behance Network interface which is so remarkably simple (unlike the ever-changing interface of a certain blogging host I deal with), anyone should be able to figure it out in a matter of minutes. For example, I recently added a new image to my portfolio and then wanted to move that image to the top. On my left a bar appeared with a big white arrow that said “top.” Like Alice drinking the bottle that read “drink me,” I dared to click top, assuming it would take me to the top of the page. No! It moved the image I wanted to the top. Does it get any easier?

I also experimented with LinkedIn ads. They were great for getting directly to my potential clients, but I did find the service a little expensive and it operated quite a bit like Google’s Ad Words, a system that confuses Google’s Ad Words’ staff at times, so I will continue advertising on Facebook. Facebook ads are both easier to use and inexpensive. The only drawback with them is your credit card number is linked to any games you play. That’s fine if you’re aware of it, but I accidentally made a purchase one night that I hadn’t intended to make, and it processed through the credit card I had on Facebook. Thankfully I only made a $2 purchase, there was a $1000 option there I could have just as easily clicked on when trying to figure out how the game system worked.

How It’s Made

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:

You can see the thumbnail image of the original book we added to the back flap to promote it. Shades of Gray, has been featured on this blog before, when it won a historical fiction award.

What Went On at the Self-publishing Seminar Debate

“…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.

The entire article, written by Lynn Andriani can be read on the Publishers Weekly Website.

Visual Vibration: Lose It

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.



Book Hits #1 Spot for Kindle Sales in Japan

 A big congratulations to Wayne Lionel Aponte, whose book,  The Year of No Money in Tokyo has just made it to the number one spot for Kindle sales in Japan. Wayne is a delight to work with and his book is the remarkable story of how he triumphs over some amazing obstacles (being broke and American), in Japan, during that country’s worst recession since the Second World War.

Wayne is a journalist and a teacher. He has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post,The Wall Street Journal,The Financial Times (London), and The Nation. He has lived in Japap just over 20 years.


Author Enjoying Success of Niche Market

 There are many reasons to avoid independent publishing and more people who will quickly list them if you suggest it. But one of the most valid reasons to self-publish or to create a micro  publishing company, is to take advantage of a strong niche market. Books that target niche markets are often overlooked by larger, traditional publishing houses because they don’t appear to have the commercial potential other books might have. This is often not an accurate assumption, but it’s their money and what can you do?

I’ve worked on several such books and each of them has been successful. No, not Random House-sold-50,000-copies-in-the-first-month successful, but certainly successful enough that most authors would gladly do it again. And many go on to have second and third books within a relatively short time frame.

Author Chicoro, is a great example of this success. Her first book, Grow It!, written for women with Afro-textured hair, has been in the top 5 of hair books on Amazon since December 2008 and as of the writing of this article was enjoying the number one spot in the hair category. It’s not luck that got her there, however. As my grandmother would say, she’s “one smart cookie.” She knows her market very well, stays focused, professional and produces a superior product in a genre that was in desperate need of some down-to-earth, been-there-done-that information.

There is nothing wishy-washy about Chicoro. She’s one of those rare individuals who can put her artistic side on hold while her business side gets down to…well, business. When I politely suggested she use her real name, instead of “Chicoro” on the front cover, she insisted we go with Chicoro and she was right. It is now a “brand” for her books and people immediately recognize it. This will surely serve her well as she closes in on the publishing date of her second book.


Research: More of What Designers Do With Their Time

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.

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