DIY e-book Covers 102: Text

February 22nd, 2012  |  Published in writing

As I mentioned in my first post on the subject, you can do a lot with nothing but text on your covers. There are four things (in my opinion) to think about when dealing with text: font, size, placement, and effects. I will go through each of them in turn below. Keep in mind that these are all guidelines, and that once you know what you are doing, you can break them.

Font

Pick a font that fits your story. Do not go for an embellished, script-style font when writing science fiction. Similarly, don’t use an angular, modern font when writing fantasy or historical fiction. When in doubt, choose a plain font over a stylized one. And you should probably stay away from Comic Sans (unless you are writing a story called “I Hate Comic Sans”).

Once you pick your font, stick with it for the entire cover. Consistency is often shorthand for “professional looking”.

Size

A perfect example of well done text.

Since you are working on a cover for an e-book, there is something you need to remember about your text. It has to look good and be legible when shrunk down to the size of a postage stamp, because that is how people will see it when they are browsing through Amazon or Smashwords or wherever. What that means is that your title should be in as big of a font as possible (short of running into the edges).

After that, remember that people will automatically assign importance to the words based on their size. Which means that your name should be in a smaller font than the title. You will notice that the more popular an author, the larger their name is on the cover. That is because they are a brand, and readers are more interested in finding books by them than with what the actual title is. If you fall into this category, you don’t need this guide, just ask your graphic artist to make the book look good.

What this means is that once you figure out how big to make your title, drop the font size down a notch for your name and stuff like “a short story” or “a novel”. If you have blurbs from people, those should be smaller still.

Placement

Fortunately, if you got the size right, you can place things just about anywhere, people will pick up on it (which is how a tag cloud works, when you think about it). In general, people (who speak English at least, other languages have different conventions) will read from left to right and top to bottom, which means that its hard to go wrong with having the title up top (but centering it works well, too).

The more important part is having sufficient whitespace (or blank space for those of you not using a white background) around your text. If you don’t, things will run together and be difficult to read (impossible to read at postage-stamp size). Furthermore, whitespace around your words will make them stand out, so giving them a bit of a buffer will make them seem larger and more important. As a general rule, the importance of something on a page is inversely proportional to the amount of whitespace surrounding it.

Effects

Plain text may seem boring, but there are all sorts of things you can do with it. You can play with the colors (think of the Google logo), the alignment, the orientation, all sorts of things. I’m not going to talk about this much, as once you start paying attention to covers, you start noticing ones that use nothing but text and look amazing (the cover image above is a good example). So experiment and see what you can come up with.

Next time I’ll start to talk about images. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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DIY e-book Covers 101

February 6th, 2012  |  Published in writing

This is a very simple cover I did a while ago. The only graphic in it is the leaf above the i, and it was public domain.

One of the services that traditional publishing still provides is art. Many writers aren’t graphic artists, or at least not illustrators, and when I saw a post over at Cheapass Fiction, I realized that people might be able to benefit from my experience. First, let us define what we want to achieve with a cover: We want people to buy/download our stories. To make that happen, the cover should be professional looking and eye-catching (in a good way). Ideally it would have artistic merit in its own right and give the potential reader some idea of what the story is about, but both of those things, if poorly executed, will detract from point #1 (being professional looking). So, how do we go about doing this? Here are some basic rules:

  1. Read the guidelines. If you are going to publish at Amazon, check out their guidelines. Same goes for Smashwords. Same goes for Apple (apparently they reject anything that has a web address on it). Same goes for anywhere you want to put it that isn’t your own website.
  2. Keep it simple. Many people will be viewing your story from a list, which means that they will see a thumbnail. Many will also be viewing it on a smartphone. What this means is that your cover needs to look good postage stamp sized, so keep it down to what is necessary: Title, Author, image, and possibly story type.
  3. Use a light or white background. As a general rule, the darker a background, the more difficult it is to make it look professional. This is partially because you need high contrast for the image to look good as a thumbnail, and with a black background that means white or light text.
  4. Use a border. The problem with a light background is that it can blend into its surroundings, which is bad. So add border in black or grey.
  5. Use as high quality graphics as you can find/afford. If you are a photographer or know one, this can be to your advantage. Same goes for illustrators. If not, go with professional stock graphics from places like iStockphoto.com or dreamstime (dreamstime has a catalog of free royalty-free images that you can use). You can usually get what you need for $20 or less. A tiny, professional icon is almost always better than a large-scale piece of amateur art. I hope that this next bit is unnecessary, but attention to licenses, do not screw other artists by stealing their work.
  6. Look at how everyone else is doing it and don’t be afraid to ask them. Find covers that you like, and figure out what makes you like them. Also, if you see an author doing their own covers and you like it, ask them about it, they will probably tell you, this is how I learned about iStockphoto, I asked Tobias Buckell how he could afford to do the covers for his short stories, and he told me.

Keep in mind that these are just guidelines, all but the first can be broken once you know what you are doing. Also keep in mind that I’m not a professional Graphic Designer, and I’ll probably look back at the stuff I’m making now and wince, so if you have anything to add, feel free to drop a line in the comments.

If you look at the stories in the sidebar, all of them with the exception of the Drones cover were created by me, and all of them inexpensively. In a future post, I plan on spending a bit more time on how to actually make them, and will probably post a template or two for you to use.

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