Hi everyone, and thank you for tuning in to another episode of the We Make Books Podcast - A podcast about writing, publishing, and everything in between!
We Make Books is hosted by Rekka Jay and Kaelyn Considine; Rekka is a published author and Kaelyn is an editor and together they are going to take you through what goes into getting a book out of your head, on to paper, in to the hands of a publisher, and finally on to book store shelves.
We Make Books is a podcast for writers and publishers, by writers and publishers and we want to hear from our listeners! Hit us up on our social media, linked below, and send us your questions, comments, concerns, and tell us your favorite novel covers!
We hope you enjoy We Make Books!
Episode 45: Formatting Cover Art for Publication
transcribed by Sara Rose (@saraeleanorrose)
R: Welcome back to another episode of We Make Books, a podcast about writing, publishing, and everything in between, and this episode definitely leans more toward the publishing end of things and cement boots and everything. Right down, drowning you in information.
I’m Rekka, I write science fiction and fantasy as R.J. Theodore and Kaelyn’s making a face at me.
K: I’m Kaelyn and, uh… My job is to make sure that Rekka maintains her sanity a little bit while trying to explain very, very complicated things here.
R: I’m totally sane. The question is, am I making myself understood?
K: Yes, this is sort of rounding out our discussions on cover and book art. We’re getting into the technical nitty-gritty of how you now take a lovely picture, that someone has done for you, and actually get it on the cover of a book so that it looks right.
R: We are going into the weeds! A wild book-cover template has appeared!
R: How do you make it become your friend?
K: So Rekka is particularly disposed to talk in great detail about this because Rekka is a designer. This is one of the things that Rekka does. Beyond just knowing how to set up and lay these things out. Rekka knows a lot about color and composition and accounting for how things look on a screen versus how they look in print, and how all of these terrifying details actually work.
R: There’s so much information that I wanted to communicate. I hope I do a good job. I hope it’s clear, I hope it’s not overwhelming. I feel like this is important, because there’s a lot of stuff that, just generally, people don’t understand about the process and when they have a cover illustration that they’ve commissioned, the now what? This is the episode for the, “Now what?”
K: I think the key takeaway from this cover art and artwork series we’ve been doing, is this is way more complicated than you ever thought it was. I’ll leave it at that. [K laughs]
R: Yeah, and I struggle to allow the word complicated. It’s just, it is a specialty.
R: I mean, every step of this process is a specialty. You, the author, are exercising your specialty in writing, and then an editor exercises their specialty in editing, and then a copyeditor does theirs, and then a cover artist creates a cover with their specialty, and then a designer uses their specialty to lay out the book and the cover. And these are all specialized parts of a process that, in the past, have been teams of people. In this day and age, where we expect to be able to self-publish and Do It All Ourselves has become less of a specialty-based thing and more of a I Can Do This Myself, I Am Empowered, therefore I should do this myself. Which, you know, should you? It’s… ehh. Listen to this episode, I dunno, you decide.
K: As we say many times here, it’s not easy and there’s a lot more that goes into this than you would think. So, Rekka, takes us through all of that. I think this is a really good resource episode. So take a listen, hope you enjoy, and we’ll see you on the other side of the music.
[into music plays]
K: Speaking of looking at things—
[R and K burst into laughter]
R: That’s tenuous at best.
K: Not all of my transitions are good ones, Rekka.
R: Maybe the worst ones are the prize ones, though.
K: Hey, look, radar displays images in certain ways, we’re talking about displaying images in certain ways today. No… alright.
R: It’s so weak. It’s so weak.
K: Come back to me.
R: No, don’t. Can we just move on?
R: So we spent September talking to you—well, August and September, a little bit, with one small deviation, talking to you about cover art. So one thing that I’m always good for is a long, droning episode about how you would formal something. So we thought about, maybe, for people who have received cover art that they’ve commissioned, how do you now turn that into a file that you can upload and provide to a printer, to create a book cover?
K: This is kinda the last step, if you will. You’ve got this file and you’re ready to have a book printed. Now, there’s a few things here.
R: The first point is, you’re not ready to have a book printed. Not yet.
K: All of the real fun, especially difficult technical stuff, really comes from, then, trying to figure out how to get this on a cover where it’s not accidentally zoomed in on a square of a hundred pixels and all you can see is the corner of one of the letters from the title.
R: This is why we don’t let Kaelyn format the covers.
K: Look, stuff happens sometimes, Rekka. [Both laugh] So, Rekka, as we’ve—hopefully, if you listen to this show regularly, you know by now Rekka is a designer by trade… is it by trade?
R: I am technically a designer by trade. Yeah. I chose this on purpose.
K: And knows how to do all of this stuff. And you will notice that I said Rekka is a designer. Rekka has a degree in this. I am saying this because this is not easy to do.
R: At the very least, it is easy to mess up.
K: Yes! Yes. So, Rekka, I am a cover artist. I have sent you files. Probably multiple files, actually.
R: Um, well, that depends on our contract.
R: You’re going to get a file, either with or without your cover lettering already in place. As we’ve talked about in past episodes, in the past few weeks, the cover artist may also do text treatment for you, or you may need to find a designer to do that for you.
The file format that you receive is going to be dependent on what was agreed upon, and part of why I started with whether or not it has text in it is because if you need to manipulate that text in the future, you really hope that you have a layered file from your cover artist. And by layered file, I’m talking, probably, about a .psd file or a .tiff with layers. More likely, you’ll get a .psd. I think, unfortunately, Adobe’s got the stranglehold on the market and their filetype with layers, by default, is .psd.
If you’ve got a .tiff I would find a way to open it and check really, really soon because you do wanna make sure that that text treatment is on its own layer. Because every time I’ve received a file from a cover artist with text in it, it’s not in a good position for the final layout file.
K: And just to be clear, and part of the reason I was asking this is, if you’re planning to do stuff to this and mess around with this, and you don’t have Adobe, and it’s a .psd, you’re not really gonna be able to do a whole lot with this.
R: Right, you’re still gonna need to be able to open the file and that means Adobe. And if you only open Adobe files when you’re preparing your cover for the final, live version that’s going to go on the cover, you can subscribe to Adobe and get Creative Cloud for a month and then cancel after you’ve gotten what you needed to and then come back the next time you have a cover.
R: If you are an author who’s releasing ten books a year because you self-publish, you probably are going to need to have a running subscription with Adobe. I would definitely suggest that you, well, okay, so here’s the thing. If you know that you don’t know what you’re doing with this, pass it on to a graphic designer.
K: Yeah, so let’s be clear right from the start here. This is coming from me, who, I have very limited experience and ability, with Photoshop, with .psd files. Dealing with this, even just sometimes I had opened files for books just because I needed to check something, and I have never been more afraid to click on things before in my life.
R: You should be afraid. Definitely be afraid. If you don’t know what clicking on something will do, be afraid.
K: I just wanna emphasize, you know, for Rekka, she looks at this and she knows everything that she’s looking at. The widgets, the buttons, the gloopity-globs, and what they do. I look at this and just see lines on top of lines on top of objects, that if I move something now and the entire thing is ruined.
This is not easy. I think we think like, “Oh, it’s Photoshop, whatever. I do that and make memes all the time.” This is not the same thing.
R: Um. Depends on how lovely your memes are. I mean, if you really get complicated you might be already half-way to doing your own title treatment.
So when you get a file from an artist, anybody else who’s created it, they’re probably going to have done so in their own mannerisms. The way you would create a .psd file is not necessarily the way someone else will create a .psd file. So you have to take a minute to acclimate yourself to their thought process. So you have to find where they hide the layers that have text on them. You have to hope that they labeled layers with filters so that you understand what that filter was trying to do for the image itself.
K: And, by the way, if you’re going, “What the heck are layers?” Do not try to do this by yourself.
R, giggling: Yeah.
So you’re probably not going to get a lot of layers, like all of the artist’s layers, because again, they might be illustrating digitally and so they do a little bit of touch-up on one layer and when they got what they wanted and it looks the way they wanted it to, then they flatten it to the layer below so it’s not just like a tiny little glob of whatever color they were working in that could accidentally be removed from the other thing if you start moving elements around.
R, continuing: So, the file you receive from your artist is likely going to be a flat illustration, unless you arranged otherwise, like I said in the episode with… Colin, I think. When I commissioned Julie Dillon to do the Flotsam cover, I did specifically ask for certain things to be on their own layers so that I could use them as elements in a video and move them around a little bit, just for some subtle motion.
K: I’ll jump in here with the non-designer take on this. For those of you listening at home, and you know I joked earlier if you’re going, “What the heck are layers?” If you are wondering what this is, in an Adobe Photoshop file, certain—whether they be colors, images, objects, text they’re on what’s called layers. And they’re literally images or, well images primarily, stacked on top of each other. And—
R: Think of them like transparency sheets. So if there are colored pixels on that transparency sheet, that layer, then you will see something, and if there are no colored pixels on that layer you won’t see anything, unless it is the background, in which case it is the background color that’s set for that document.
K: Yeah, so each of these—so these layers, when they get stacked on top of each other and, as Rekka said, when they’re flattened, what that means is you’ve taken all the layers and pressed them down into one new layer altogether, at that point. Now those objects are bonded together for the rest of their lives.
R: For life, yeah.
K: And there’s no separating them.
R: So the artist probably has a version of that file with layers, and what they sent you was flattened because you asked for an illustration, you didn’t ask for the entire process. It’s not show-your-work, it’s please-provide-me-with-an-illustration. So if you did get lettering on it, if you’ve got your title treatment from the artist, it’s probably on its own layer, one hopes, and you hope because the artist isn’t working with your cover template and they don’t know your final spine width and they don’t know all the text that you might need to put on there.
So, hopefully, they’ve put it on a layer so you can move it around a little bit after the fact. Because, like I’ve said, I have gotten many covers from clients where the text was already in place and it was too close to the edge when I sized things up for the final print version. Because you need some space to be able to trim off the edge. Because if you don’t have image past the edge of the paper, then you get a white like around the edge rather than a nice, crisp end that comes in the middle of the image. So you want your trim to be smaller than your image size, and you also have margins around the outside and you want the title, usually, to be centered on the front cover. But if it’s too close to the outside margins, then the only thing you have left to do is make sure that you have enough resolution that you can enlarge it so it centers, but then it might be too big—
R: So if you’re stuck with an image where the lettering is on the same layer as your illustration, you’re probably going to run into trouble. So, when you open up your file that you get from your artist, that’s one of the things to check. Make sure that the titling can be edited separately from that background illustration. And, if it can’t, write them back real quick. Hopefully it was in your contract. I bought a fifty-dollar premade cover, just as a placeholder for something, that I wanted to deal with later. And the text was provided and it was eBook shaped only. It was vertical, it wasn’t a full wrap-around cover. And the text was not editable in my file and I was like, “Oh. Now I know why it was so cheap,” because I wasn’t getting a file I could really work with.
Colin also mentioned, in that episode, make sure you are allowed to edit that file as you need to.
K: That’s exactly what I was gonna say is, Rekka, some people are probably wondering, “Okay, well, why wouldn’t they just send me the layers and, if I know how to do this, let me flatten everything myself?” And you know, the thing is, as we talked about in the real cover art episode, this is this artist’s work. They don’t want to give you something that you’re going to mess around with to the point that they’re not okay with their name being on it anymore.
R: Right, right. You know, if you have an illustration that’s on one layer and then you’re just messing around with the text that you probably—
K: Wrote anyway.
R: Yeah, well you were slightly involved in picking the font or whatever. Then, chances are they’re going to give you that title treatment, at least. Now the text might not be editable, so you might not be able to say, “Whoops, I gave you a typo and now it needs to get fixed.” You might have to go back to them for that, and then pay them more because that’s your fault.
So, you hope that you get to at least move the text around so that you can make small adjustments later. The next thing that I would check is your print size versus your resolution because it is possible to get a 300 dpi image, 300 is standard printing high resolution, but it’s also possible for that image to only be four inches across, which is smaller than you need for your wrap-around cover.
It’s still 300 dpi, so if you only specify 300 dpi, who knows what you’re getting? You need it to have a certain print size. So it’s probably going to be 8 ½ - 9 inches, 10 inches, depending on your cover size. If you have a 6x9 cover, you need to make room for the spine, you need to make room for the back cover, you need to make room for the trim size and the bleed. So your 6x9 cover is probably going to be something more like 13 ½ x 9 ¼ overall.
K: Rekka… you just threw out a lot of terms there. All of which—
R: Nah, it’s fine. Everyone understands what I mean.
K: No, well, all of which seemed to relate to the anatomy of a book!
K: So, backtracking to that, this is something—you’re not getting an image that then you just slap on into a template and then it prints the book. As, Rekka said, there’s the back cover, the spine, the front cover, there’s bleed. I’ll let Rekka talk more about what bleed is. But then, you have to think about, you have to line up everything that—Okay, I want this on the front cover, I want this on the spine, I want this on the back cover. Then, of course, there’s also: Is this a paperback or hardback book? And then that starts to get tricky.
R: Hopefully, you’ve made all of these decisions before you hired your artist so that you could give them this information.
K: Yes, yes.
R: Because, as we’ve mentioned in the past, if you have a dust jacket with a wraparound inside flap on both ends, now suddenly you need an extra six inches on your landscape image that your artist is giving you. And that’s a much bigger image and they might charge you extra for it, and that would totally be reasonable because you’re asking them to create more. And it’s almost another back cover, so it’s like a wraparound around.
K: But there was another word, Rekka, that we talked about—one of my favorites—the bleed. What’s that?
R: Um. Sadly it’s not about blood...letting.
K: Yeah, sort of disappointing—I mean, it is actually, in an abstract way, kind of some blood-letting.
R: Well, there are blades involved. Basically, you don’t want your image to only be exactly the size of the cover, you want the cover image to extend past the area you’re actually going to use, and then they trim off the extra. And what they trim off is considered the bleed, and that’s usually a standard amount of extra image that they require and, typically, it’s about an eighth of an inch all the way around.
K: So let’s say this is a paperback book—
K: —and they’re getting, they’re printing whatever is sent to them.
K: This is, assuming that a human looks at this before somebody takes it out of a box to read it—
R: And these days, with POD, there’s probably not a human looking at it.
K: Yeah, exactly. Printing presses, yes, they’ve changed a lot, but really they haven’t changed all that much because it’s stacking up pieces of paper, putting them in this cover. The edges are not going to be uniform on a lot of these. They’re gonna be close, but maybe not exact, so you’ve got this giant cutting device coming down and slicing the edges off.
R: Three edges, not all four.
K: It’s gonna be like, “Listen, I know you wanted a book, but here’s a pile of loose paper that’s kind of in the same order, I guess?” Pick up a paperback, or even really a hardback book, if you look you’ll see marks on the side of it where you can tell where the paper was cut.
But what this bleed is providing, extra background essentially. Nothing that is central focus to the cover, be they pictures, people, or words, should be in the bleed area.
R: There’s a safety area away from the edge where things are going to get trimmed off because there is no guarantee that the trim is going to be perfect every time, so you want to make sure that if it wiggles, and I think they allow for, like… they promise you a hundredth of an inch but it’s really more like a tenth of an inch and the wiggle is different every time.
R: Especially for POD. You want to make sure that your text is well-enough away, not just so that it doesn’t get trimmed off, but that it still looks like it's in the position you wanted it in when the whole book is assembled and trimmed and standing free.
K: And this is exactly why I’m terrified of this. There have been times that I’ve had to order short runs of advance copies of books and I’m messaging Rekka like, “Is this right??? Is this right??? It doesn’t look right!! Why is there so much black around the side??” “No, that’s supposed to be there, Kaelyn.” “Are you sure????”
It was very stressful.
R: Yeah, if you saw the flat file for an ARC copy where we have the ribbon across the top in a special color to make it stand out as an ARC and it has the date and everything like that. When you’re looking at the flat file, it looks like that text is not centered because of the bleed above it and around the edges.
K: Yeah, it’s very disorienting and I was a little worked up. So, Rekka, let’s say you either know how to do this, you’ve done it yourself, or you’ve hired a designer to do it for you. You’re gonna send these files to a printer. Let’s say you’re gonna do print-on-demand. What are some things you need to know about the files? Before you’re sending them and then when you’re getting something back?
R: Right, so if you’ve already checked that you can move your stuff around and maybe you’ve already positioned it so you can, I definitely recommend, if you know how you’re doing your print-on-demand, that you use that same service to get a proof print right away.
K: Mhm. Yeah.
R: And it’s trickier with Amazon because I don’t think you can do it until you submit your final files because they don’t want to spend a whole bunch of time correcting things in the printing process for you. So if you’re sending through KDP, before you publish your book, it’s covered with Do Not Sell or Print-Proof or Author Copy Only, or some kind of text. And it’s very sad looking. It’s hard to get excited about looking at your print proofs from Amazon.
You can go through IngramSpark—
K: Or Lulu.
R: You can go through Lulu. So IngramSpark is actually a book distributor, so if you go through IngramSpark, you can get those books into Barnes and Noble, libraries, whoever orders it from a catalog, they’ll go through the Lightning Source catalog and they will get the IngramSpark version of your book. If you upload to Amazon, nobody else is gonna buy that book because they know Amazon’s profiting from it.
R: What I do, is I distribute for Amazon through KDP and I distribute everywhere else through IngramSpark. So, if you go through IngramSpark, you know that’s how it’s going to get printed when it goes out to other bookstores. If you go through Lulu, unless you decide that you’re gonna set up a Lulu storefront and actually sell your books through Lulu, you are getting an idea of how it’s going to look. But Lulu’s printers are not Lightning Source’s printers are not KDP’s printers.
So the colors might not be exact. So if you have a really exacting eye for color, you’re gonna want to get as close to the final printer as you can. And that’s what it is. But there is something that you do want to be looking for, and this is why I suggest you send it off, even if you send it off to Lulu at first, and that’s how the colors are going to shift from what you see on your screen to what comes out on paper, because your screen is backlit. So all the colors on your screen are built using red, green, and blue (RGB) light.
K: Yes, and this is exactly what I was going to say, is Rekka, why is it so important to see what this looks like once it’s actually printed?
R: Because everything you’ve seen on your screen, on your devices, everything backlit is subtractive light and everything you see on paper is additive light. So paper is made with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink (CMYK). Sometimes you have two different shades of yellow and two different shades of magenta, to get extra rich depth of color. It depends on your printer. When you look at light coming out of your screen, the light is the image coming into your eye.
R: When you look at paper, the image is the light reflecting off that paper into your eye. And they are not perceived the same way.
K: Think about if you have a smart TV or even a digital picture frame and you put, you know, pictures up there. You’ll notice that they look different than if you printed them.
K: Let’s say, not even just you got the pictures printed at CVS.
R: But even a print from a photo shop is going to look different than the version you see on your screen. The colors. The darker colors might be more dark, but the neon colors might not be as neon. So it’s not like colors get more by being printed. Some colors look better as backlit and other colors look better as printed.
K: In my experience with this, what I found is that if you want colors to be very vibrant printed, you need to over-vibratize them before they go to print.
R: So certain colors just will not print in a four-color process. So when you get your file and if you’ve either hired a designer who has Photoshop, or you have Photoshop, you want to take this file that they sent you and look for the gamut warning. And the gamut warning will emphasize the image areas where the colors are out of gamut. And what this means is like, “ink ain’t gonna do that. Now, a gamut’s not gonna tell you how they’re gonna shift. It’s just gonna tell you which colors just aren’t gonna happen.
K: There’s a reason that we have so many animated movies that are meant to look like traditional, flat animation but are actually done by computers. Because you can get a richer color and texture in there. You can emphasize—you can brighten and emphasize certain things, as opposed to, there is a certain limit to what you can do with a piece of paper and a paintbrush. Or a printer, in this case.
R: You think about Batman: The Animated Series. The reason that that animated series looks so different from so many of the cartoons that were happening at the same time, is because that was done on black paper—
R: —versus everyone else who started on white paper. So these are just things to know that, you know, understand how light and color and reflections versus projections, and all this kind of stuff, how they work. It doesn’t really help you if you have a color out of gamut, though.
R: The only thing you can do is take that back to the artist and say, “This color. I love what you did,” make sure you’re complimentary, “I love what you did, but this color isn’t going to work. How do we push this so that we get the same effect without changing the color entirely?” I mean, sometimes the only thing to do is change the color, but sometimes you can shift things.
So if it’s supposed to be a neon green, but you’re not gonna get that neon green out of a print press, what you can do is darken the areas around it and try to make it look more neon than it actually is by contrast. This is stuff the artist is gonna know. You don’t have to tell them the solution. Just say, “Hey, this area’s out of gamut, if I print this, it’s not going to look as good as you made this look on screen.”
Because chances are, if you get a file from your artist, they were working in RGB because you want them to work in RGB. Even though this print book will be printed in CMYK, the colors on screen for CMYK mode are not accurate, so when you work on screen, adjusting colors, you adjust them in RGB.
So this artist probably sent you an RGB file. So you can go back to them and say, “I need this to work in print, please.”
K: A good cover artist will know what this is and what they need to account for, when creating this stuff—
R: Or an experienced cover artist, you know? Someone might be an amazing illustrator but not really understand how a printing press works, if they haven’t worked with printing things themselves. Now, if they’ve ever worked printing posters of their work, they’ve probably run into this before. It’s incredibly frustrating. But it can be adjusted.
So you work with them and, frankly, you get your final cover art and sometimes it’s the first time you’ve seen these colors in this image. So it’s not out of the question to come back and say, “These colors are a problem because, as we’ve described in the contract, this is for print as well as eBook. I need this to look good in print,” and they’re not gonna want it to look crappy in print, either.
K: Yeah, of course not. Their name is on it.
R: Yeah, they might have asked you for a copy, you know? And they want to put it on their shelf and they wanna be proud of it. But one thing you can do, to improve the way color looks, is choose the finish on your paper when you are setting up your cover. That’s something that you can sort of do to brighten colors or adjust colors based on an effect that you want. I think you’ll see spot lamination sometimes on offset printing presses and such because it can do this and it looks really nice.
So we’ve looked at resolution and print size, and we’ve checked for gamut warnings. Hopefully now your image is all set, you know it’s the right size. It’s going to print out without pixelating and it’s going to print out without color-shifting too much. And now you want to actually set it up for layout because during this process you’ve also been working on the book.
You’ve probably gotten your copy edits back. You’ve been making adjustments. You had to add a chapter. You realized your glossary wasn’t in the file. You’re finally getting to the point where you’re like, “Alright, this thing’s ready to go.”
K: Ha. I am… coming close to being maybe done with this.
R: I sure hope.
R: So you have your final page count and now you can get your final spine width. And once you have your final spine width, then you can really make this cover done. Because up until the point where you know your final spine width, everything is just guessing or adjustments or whatever. You might have sent it off to print through Lulu and you had a slightly less done version of the manuscript that you wanted to see in print, and sort of see what this might look like, even if it wasn’t the final. Now you have the final manuscript and you know this is gonna be 495 pages.
R: This is what it’s going to be, because I am so done with this.
And now you go to your printer and you say—
K: “Hello, here is this thing that I am sick of looking at. Can you give it physical form so I can look at it all the time?”
R: Well, yes, but you do need to know that spine width. So the way that you calculate spine width is by taking the pages per inch of the paper stock that you’ve selected. Now, this is… I’m starting with the nitty gritty and I’m starting with the off-set printing method where you actually have a relationship with the printer and you have chosen a paper stock.
R: And they tell you it is this many pages per inch. You take your total page count and you divide it by your pages per inch.
K, exhausted: Rekka, you didn’t tell me there was gonna be math involved in this.
R, sympathetic: I know, I know. I was a graphic designer. I wasn’t supposed to have to do math. But I have to do math with alarming frequency. I’m gonna pull up some actual specs. How’s that sound?
K: Uh, while Rekka’s looking up some… some specs here. So when we went to the Nebulas last year, we wanted to get some advance copies of Salvage to hand out there, except that the printer that we normally go through was not going to be able to have them finished and shipped directly to the hotel in time. So instead, what we did was we found a local printer in Los Angeles, had them print it and then they actually just delivered it right to the hotel. They didn’t even need to ship it. Except that they used a really, really nice paper.
R: It was so nice.
K: Beautiful. It was gorgeous. The book ended up about an inch thicker than the actual finished book because the thickness of the paper was so much bigger.
R: I’m pretty sure we have photos of this on Instagram somewhere already.
K: Probably. We have joked about this a lot, yeah.
R: So, a sixty-pound paper, and I’m not even gonna go into how they determine what’s a pound of paper, that is listed on these specs, is 435 pages per inch. So your 495 page book is divided by 435 fo the pages per inch, and the resulting spine width—I go for the thousandth—so 1.137 and that will give you your spine width. So in the center of your page layout is your 1.137 inch-wide rectangle which represents your spine. (This is in your template.) And to either side of that, you’re going to add the width of your total trim size.
So my books are 5 ½ inches by 8 ½ inches, so the width is 5 ½ and you add that to that number twice, and now you have your total width of your cover, if it were flat and had no pages inside it.
K: So what you’re getting, then, is if I pulled the cover off a book—
R: Don’t you dare.
K: I would never. But if I did. If I was a soulless monster and I did that and I laid it out flat, that is the total measurements of what this is.
R: From right to left.
R: Okay. So that is the spine width, plus the cover of the trim size. In your image itself, or your layout file, you’re going to have to crop out parts of the image that don’t fit because most artists don’t give you exactly the right size. Because you don’t know your spine width. They’re just going to give you a roughly book-shaped thing from their experience. I’ve gotten final cover art from people, as I said, from clients, and they give me the final cover art from the artist, and they give you too much space. And you want too much space, but you are going to have to decide where that space is coming off from in your final layout.
So what I use is a program called InDesign, and I set my InDesign layout to the trim size, 11.758 and I’m just giving you these hard numbers—if you’re trying to follow along and you actually try to create the file, you’ll see what I mean. So that’s the width, and the height is the height of the book trim size, for my books like I said. They’re 5 ½ wide by 8 ½ tall, trimmed. So my trim size is 8 ½ tall.
K: It’s funny because we’re throwing out all these measurements and there are people probably sitting at home going, “Oh, okay, so that’s a book size.” If you own a lot of books, like I do, I want you to go to your bookshelf and try to figure out how many of those books are exactly the same size.
K: There really isn’t a standard size for books. And some of them—I’ve seen books that, sometimes the book is a little taller than what I would normally expect of a book and I imagine that’s because it was a really big book and they wanted to maybe have to minimize some of the pages because those start to get expensive to print after a while.
R: I mean, that’s where the 6x9 trade paperback size came from, is an attempt to reduce the paper needed to fill a book.
R: If you have large print books, you’re going to find that they’re generally also larger-sized because that reduces the need for paper once you increase the font size and it takes more pages to tell the story.
K: That said, though, that’s the reason why they’re more expensive.
R: Yeah, and you don’t want it to feel cramped just because you got a larger font size. So, yeah, you pick your book size by going through your bookshelves and finding a book that feels like you want your book to feel. In your hand, what size, and all that kind of stuff.
I picked 5 ½ by 8 ½ and the process that I’ve described is how a layout for that size book, with this thickness of paper that we’re discussing, is how that would work. And it’s going to be different the more of these elements that you change and go with, you know, different options.
Just to finish setting up this file, the trim size is the size of the file layout. I also specify in my file set-up that I want an eighth of an inch, .125, bleed all around the edge.
R: Then, when you output the file, you can specify that you want to include the bleed and add crop marks and all the things that the printer needs. And that will be in their specifications, so you want to pay attention to the specifications for the printer you are using because they’re all different.
Some are very similar, but they’re also all different.
K: They’re not all—it’s snowflakes.
R: Yeah. So if you’re using a printer and you know who they are, I would definitely suggest you just go and see if they have a template. If you’re using an off-set printer, then that printer will help you set up a file. If you are going with IngramSpark or KDP or Lulu, they will all provide you with a cover template. There’s usually a form and you put in what paper you choose, what binding size you’re going with, and how many pages you have and they’ll give you a file that you can use to set this up.
K: Yeah, they’ll do the calculations for you, essentially.
R: Yeah, and they you can take that and you can either use those calculations in a custom file that you set up, or give it to your designer and they will either use that or set up their own file the way they like it set up.
Now you have this layout and, let me tell you, the spine should be centered in it. If your spine is slightly off-center, then your spine is going to be slightly off-center, and I don’t mean the part of the book that folds, I mean where your title in the spine shows up will be off-center. So, the easiest thing to do is just start from the spine and work your way out.
K: Books and people, we want the spines to be nice and centered.
R: And then, again, go to your books on your shelf and take a ruler and measure how far things are from the edge of the book. How far they are from the edge of the folds. How wide the title is across. How far away the byline is. Stuff like that. Use that to guide you if this is your first time doing it—but if it’s your first time doing it—
K: If all of this sounds really complicated to you, it is. And maybe consider paying someone to do it for you.
R: There is nothing wrong with recognizing that the amount of time it would take to learn to do something properly is worth a certain amount of money to you.
R: It’s absolutely true.
K: And by the way, if you decide, “Hey, you know what? I’m gonna do this a lot, I really just wanna learn this,” there’s online classes. There’s ways, there’s tutorials, there’s resources out there to do this. That said, you can watch all of the tutorials and YouTube videos you want, if you can’t draw a straight line using a ruler, maybe this isn’t the right thing for you to be doing.
R: I’ve always said that somebody shouldn’t make the first website they build a website for a client. And I don’t think you should make the first cover you print, the launch of your debut novel. You know?
K: Yeah, well.
R: There are other things to consider for your cover, such as—we’ve already mentioned what if it’s a hardcover with a jacket?
R: Then there’s something to consider, which is the stamped cloth underneath that jacket. What is that going to look like? Are you going to go for foil printing? Are you going to go for UV printing? Are you going to go for embossing? What other treatments are going to happen to your cover? And then you need to pick a printer who’s capable of doing them. And you’re also going to need to be able to provide them with any of those stamps they need, you need to give them a guide of what that’s going to look like.
Now, if they are a very full-service, off-set, traditional art house printer, they may include all of these kinds of decisions and such in their pricing of their package to you. But you need to know what’s on you to come up with and what’s on them, if it’s print-on-demand, they expect you to provide everything.
K: Yeah, and just to be clear, when Rekka’s talking about an off-set printer, this is somebody who you’re going to, in theory, do a run of books with. You’re not doing one here, you’re doing like five hundred.
R: At least.
K: At least. Minimum. Yeah. And in that case, you’re gonna have somebody at the printer who gets these files and looks at them and checks and goes, “What about this? What about this?”
You’re gonna have sort of a consultant there, if you will.
R: Yeah, they’re gonna give you paper samples and you’re gonna feel them and you’re gonna go, “Oh my gosh! That paper manages to feel like leather, how did you do that?” Those aren’t options you’re going to get from even IngramSpark who will do a hardcover with a jacket wrap for you, print-on-demand, but print-on-demand is not going to give you these bespoke, very luxurious options that you can get from an off-set printer. Like, Saga Press has some amazing covers and they also do amazing things with the print treatment of them.
So if any of the books on your shelf are Saga Press, just go hold them, you know?
K: Yeah, just to be clear. I apologize, I think we didn’t quite define this at the start of this episode. If you’re unaware, POD is print-on-demand, it is the most expensive way to generate a book because what’s happening is someone is going online and saying, “I want to buy this book. I want it in paperback.” And if it’s set up for print-on-demand, it’s just going into a computer, essentially, where it’s saying, “Yes, one of Book ABC,” printing it, going into a box, and being mailed to someone.
It is very possible the first person to physically handle that book will be the person that bought it.
K: There’s no quality check there, there’s no control, there’s no consultation with a printer.
R: I mean, there’s supposed to be, but let’s be real.
K: There’s not. So, just be aware. Look, print-on-demand is a fantastic thing that’s really made it great for a lot of self-published and small prints.
R: Indie, yeah.
K: Indie. To get paperback, and even hardcover in some instances, books out into the hands of their readers. But it is not the same as going for making a large print run where you actually sit down and talk with someone and design this and figure out what the book is gonna look like.
R: You could always take this to an off-set printer. A printer in your area will happily print your book project for you, and any time in the future, past, present. But POD meant you could list it on Amazon and not have to pay upfront for warehousing and printing for this book. Because if you keep the book at a distributor, you’ve gotta pay that distributor to hold onto your book because that’s precious space they could be filling with New York Times Bestsellers, you know?
Print-on-demand meant you didn’t need to pay for warehousing for copies that may or may not ever sell. And you’ve heard the stories of people who had their own books printed and then they sat in the garage for years until they’d discovered they’d gone moldy and they threw ‘em all out, or they just moved and threw ‘em all out because they weren’t selling.
There was a time when printing your own book meant you were hand-selling out of the back of your car, or taking them to events and trying to sell as many copies as you could, just to get rid of them basically, to get your life back, get your house back kinda thing. So POD has made all of that a luxury. People who can afford it might still do that, but you don’t have to anymore.
So, yes. A copy of your book might suddenly jump from $1.36 to print, to more like $5.46 to print and that all comes out of your cut, but it still gives you a share of the profit, as opposed to, “Well, my garage still has 736 more copies. I haven’t profited on this book yet.” You know?
R: Obviously, there’s a lot more to this than I’ve described. I apologize, it’s hard for me to describe it because I do a lot of it automatically these days. And a lot of it also depends on the book itself. So the page count, the trim size, the treatments you’ve decided on and how late in the game you’re doing all of this.
R: But what I do recommend is that at any point that you are stopping and waiting for the next stage, as I said, it might only cost you six bucks to print the thing, send off for another proof if you’ve changed anything. Don’t be surprised. Because you don’t wanna find out when you order your first ten author copies that your title is off-center. Because you forgot about trim size and safety zones and all that kinda stuff.
I definitely recommend, as many times as you make what you think are the final change, that you send off for a print proof. And then track the changes because you’re probably gonna keep fiddling with the thing. Track the changes you make so that when that print proof arrives, you know what you might have already changed, so that you’re not adjusting your more recent file based on what you see on that cover, forgetting that you already fixed that your title was off-center or whatever.
K: So, you know, this is another theme of this show. Read the contract. Track your changes.
R: And get proofs often.
K: Yeah. But there’s one thing we didn’t really talk about that is still relevant to formatting and displaying covers, which is what if you are just doing this digital only or what if you need digital images?
R: So, the eBook cover is essentially a crop of your print book on the front side of it. But there are things to consider beyond just, “Okay, I cut off the spine and the back cover.” You also want to make sure that it’s legible.
R: So, in this digital age there are a lot of different thumbnail sizes that are out there and you can look up the various—You can basically just go by Amazon because they have like five different thumbnail sizes, depending on where it’s going to appear.
K: Exactly, just scroll through. There’s a big difference, now. We’ve just spent all of this time about, talking about making your print book look beautiful and everything so somebody will see it in a store and pick it up and go, “My goodness. I find myself attracted to this book. I think I am interested in it.” Now it’s one of however many thumbnails are splashed across a computer screen.
K: You’re trying to make the cover look appealing in a different way now.
R: Not only appealing, but legible.
K: Yes. Legible is important, yes.
R: The smaller you go, the more of your tiny details are handed over to pixels to try to render them. And if you’ve ever seen pixel art, you know how roughly things get translated as you shrink down in size. You want to, potentially, come up with a slightly different version for your digital product than you might even include in your eBook itself.
And I’ll use the anecdote from Parvus is that Annihilation Aria, which came out from Parvus this summer, has a different print cover than it has for its digital product image in the online stores.
K: Speaking of neon and trying to make sure it shows through well.
R: Speaking of gamut warnings.
R: We had to deal with that. But also the cover for the print book, the text is outlined.
K: It’s meant to look like neon sign, yeah.
R: But on the thumbnail size, it almost completely vanished.
K: It was very difficult when we were putting covers up for advanced purchases. It was funny because I knew what it said and was supposed to look like, and your eyes start playing tricks on you because you’re seeing exactly what you expect to see. But then—yeah.
R: And that’s a lesson for you, as the person who’s been staring at this for a really long time, is: show it to someone else. Chances are you already know what you think you want it to look like, and you might not notice the things that are either mistakes or not translating to that size as well as you want them to. So you can get a list of the different sizes that Amazon will reduce your image to and that’s all from the product image, which is the eBook cover you upload to KDP, for example.
R: Or to Draft to Digital, or if you directly to Barnes and Nobles, to their publishing service for eBooks. But it’s not the cover that’s going to be in your eBook when somebody loads it up on their eReader. So you can set the eBook cover to look as close to the print cover as you want, and keep that in your eBook file, associated with that package of files that you’ve created for your eBook. We have a whole episode about that, go check that out.
But your product image that you upload separately is going to be the one that gets reduced to those thumbnail sizes. So you can control how that image displays. Now, granted, when somebody goes to your product page and they’re now looking at the big version of your image, yeah, now you’re getting an image that might not look like the version that’s on your print cover or inside your eBook, but it’s worth it if it brings people to the page because they are attracted to that thumbnail size in their search results.
K: Just go on Amazon and look through, go on the top bestsellers and just scroll through. And I want you to think about how many of those, even though those ones are probably a decent size, you’re having to stop and squint at.
R: Right. So in the case of Annihilation Aria, what we did was we filled in the outlines with the color and we just made it a solid block neon text.
K: Much easier to read.
R: It worked out much, much better. It looks great as a thumbnail, it still is beautiful on the print cover, when you’re holding it you’re like, “That’s a nice cover!” But the thumbnail is doing its job and the cover is doing its job and you don’t wanna confuse or conflate what those jobs are.
K: Yeah. It’s, um… tricky is a word for it. No, it’s, what I was saying is I was looking at this, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, this looks fine.” I knew what this cover was supposed to look like, my brain was filling in the gaps. So, as Rekka said, get somebody else to look at this and make sure that these are things that, to somebody who doesn’t know what they’re looking at, are legible, are getting across the message or the image that you want it to.
R: Right. Exactly. Also, there’s the audiobook version. And your titling from your artist being on a separate layer is definitely going to come in handy now because the audiobook preview, as set up by the tradition of printing these on CDs, not even the cassettes.
R: I mean, you could go back to cassettes, but it was the CD that sort of set the standard.
K: And they were square.
R: And they were square.
K: I remember that audiobooks sometimes had different covers, if you will, than the actual book itself. If you went to the library, I remember it was like the paper cases with all the CDs in it?
K: So then they’d just take that image, that was set up for the CD case, and put that as the thumbnail online.
R: A lot of the time, our first audiobooks that we played digitally, were getting played in an .mp3 player or in iTunes. So they were already set up for square images. Because, again, CD covers.
R: So, part of the reason that a lot of audiobooks have different cover artwork, just completely different, is because of rights management. So, if a different company made the audiobook than printed the book, they might not be very friendly and share the rights to the cover art, as Parvus did.
Dreamscape is the audiobook publisher for Annihilation Aria and Parvus was happy to share the artwork because it looks more professional if everybody’s using the same artwork.
K: But that’s not always the case. Or, sometimes, maybe the publishing house says, “Well, we’ll license this to you, but it’s gonna be a ridiculous amount of money.”
K: And then, you know, the audiobook production side of things go, “Oh, well. That’s cool. We don’t feel like paying that.”
R: “We’ll make something that’s kind of similar,” you know, and then they go off and they do it themselves. To better or worse effect.
R: And other times you’ll see an audiobook where, clearly, they didn’t have a wrap-around cover art or they didn’t have the layers, so you get this weird blurry effect to either side. Or I know The Aeronaut’s Windless, if you look really closely at that audiobook cover, somebody went in with the Photoshop stamp tool and made the cover art as square as they could. It survives a brief glance, but it’s not ideal.
So, if you have your cover and the spine copy isn’t already in the way, or whatever, you can just move the text to somewhere a little more central. SOmetimes the central figure on your cover, if you want it to be in there, now has to be off to the side, a little bit, of your title. Or some things gotta move and that’s fine. You can do that, make those adjustments, do a hundred iterations until you find what works, but only if you have layers and your text treatment isn’t flat on your background illustration.
K: Yeah. So, well… I can’t say that’s everything, because that is not everything. That is not even close.
R: It’s really not. I mean, we didn’t even get into back-cover copy placement and all this other stuff, but…
K: Yeah, but, this is sort of to give you an idea of how this happens. Print books don’t just magically manifest after you finish writing it. There are a lot of people that go into putting together a book and making sure that it looks good after it’s done.
R: I mean, there’s sometimes a very small, very hard-working tiny team of people. It’s not always a ton of people and, if you’re a self-publisher, don’t think that you can’t do this by yourself—
K: Yeah, absolutely.
R: —but you do want to get some experience before you commit to saying that you are good at this and you should continue to do it.
K: “I am making a good decision.”
K: But, no, and it’s true and the thing is that someone like Rekka can do all of this, you know, on her own. But, again, Rekka went to school for this. This is something that took her years of time, experience, and learning to master.
R: I mean, and I didn’t go to school for book cover production—
K: Well, no, but yeah.
R: I mean, I made book covers as part of my college education, but it was more about understanding what makes things legible and what makes thing attractive to the eye. What makes a person’s eye move across the page the way you control. And all those things are now instinctive and go into what I do when I set up these files, which is why I can’t even describe, sometimes, what my process is. Which is kind of like, you know, you walk up to an artist and you say, “How do you draw like that?” Well, they can’t answer that question.
K: Yeah, yeah.
R: So there’s a lot that goes into it and, yes, if you are willing to put the time in to learn, you can do this. Just like I could have illustrated my own book cover, but I knew the time that it would take me to develop a style that I wanted for my book cover, was not worth taking that time away from my writing.
R: This has always disappointed my mother, that I didn’t draw my own book cover illustration.
K: Eh, there’s still time.
R: And—But! The point was, the style I wanted was not my inherent style.
R: And so I would have to spend months and years developing the style that I did want, or I can make an investment to have a professional whose style already was what I wanted do the cover for me and allow me to go back and do what I was good at. It’s okay to not be amazing at everything.
K: Who said that?
R: I dunno, I just did.
K: So that’s kind of rounding out book cover production. If you take away anything, I hope it is that this is not the easy part of this.
R, laughing: No.
K: I think everybody goes, “I’m just gonna have the cover and it’s gonna be so awesome and it’s gonna be on the book.” … Yes. But there’s a lot of steps to get to the part where it’s on the book and you can actually hold it in your hand.
R: And there’s a lot of steps to get to the part where it’s awesome.
K: And that, yes.
K: Well, I think that’s our episode.
R: I think it’s gotta be our episode, because we’re now running a little bit long. So, yeah! There’s a lot here and if you were trying to take notes, I apologize. But I wanted to get in this habit of, every now and then, let’s just get real technical about this.
K: I think we think about a lot of making books in very non-quantitative terms. Where we’re like, “Yeah, and then you have to figure this out and you’ve gotta decide about this character and this plot point,” and there are some parts that are technical about this. Where it’s like, “Listen, you have to do this,” and this is how you measure it.
R: You know, unfortunately, some things just, if you want the book to not look like a pile of messy paper glued into a vaguely book-shaped thing, then you want to follow this process because that’s the way that it’s all set up. That’s how you get that result. There aren’t too many ways to be extra creative about this aspect of things.
K: Yes. You know, this was more of a technical episode, but hopefully it was, as always, educational and informative. And entertaining.
R: And slightly overwhelming.
K: And overwhelming, yes.
R: It’s important that I sound like what I do could only be done by me. I mean, that’s how I keep food on the table.
K: And hopefully this hasn’t scared you off from trying to do this.
R: I mean, play around with it! Like I said, Lulu’s there, you can order one book at a time. See what happens.
K: And if you do, let us know how it goes.
R: Yes! Show us your books, if you’re a publisher. What covers have you put together and formatted and, you know, sent to fulfillment yourself? We’d love to see them!
K: Yep, and you can find us…
R: Oh, you can! Can’t you? We are @WMBcast on Twitter and Instagram, and you can find us at wmbcast.com for all our old episodes, and you can also find us and support us at Patreon.com/wmbcast, where you can thank us for all our technical, helpful, overwhelming knowledge.
K, laughs: Or you can just scream at us.
R: Yes. And you can share these episodes or any episode that you think would help a friend out and leave a rating and review, please, on Apple Podcasts, because that is just how this apple pie is made.
K: Feeeeed the algorithm.
R: Yep. Absolutely. Oh, speaking of which, we are now on Amazon podcasts.
R: Did you even know that was a thing?
K: I didn’t, no.
R: Well, we are there. We got listed.
R: So wherever you go for your podcasts, please feel free to listen there. But, when you leave ratings and review, at least for now, Apple podcasts is still where we want them. Once Amazon gets in the game, you know how it goes, but…
K: I’m looking forward to an Apple-Amazon Deathmatch.
R: It’ll be like the Fast Food Wars only it’s just like the Algorithm Wars.
K: Yeah, I think that is where we’re going. Yeah… Well, everyone, thanks very much for listening and we’ll see you in a couple weeks.
R: Take care, everyone.
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