Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Kindle 10 – E-book covers

An e-book doesn’t have a cover or jacket in the sense of a printed book (i.e. to protect the pages inside) because your e-reader now does that job for you. In a sense, the device you use to read your e-books acts as a cover for your entire library bound up in one slim volume. This seems to be the main resistance readers have to e-books, because a nicely produced paper book with a well-designed cover is more than just the text inside. After all, you can’t decorate your bookshelves with thin grey e-readers… at least, not unless you are a very geeky millionaire! You can now get a range of pretty covers for your Kindle in the same way you can get “skins” for your phone, so you’re not stuck with boring grey or white. But each book on your e-shelf is physically coverless. So no cover needed, right?

Well, yes and no. E-books can contain electronic pictures (which you insert as .jpg files into your text). So, in theory, they can have a .jpg version of a cover, too. In fact, Amazon’s current guidelines for publishers require Kindle e-books to have a cover image, so they are not going the way of the dinosaurs and unicorns yet. (Muse: HEY, are you trying to say I’m a dinosaur?) Also, readers are still very much focused on the cover image as a buying tool, and the amazon website displays a thumbnail sized cover as part of the book’s product description. So if your e-book doesn’t have a cover, it’ll get a default image and lose that essential first-line marketing tool.

The good news is that an e-book cover is both simpler and cheaper to produce than a printed cover, because you don’t need a high-resolution file, and (obviously) you don’t need to actually print it. You don’t even need to worry too much about the colour definition, since Kindle currently displays in black-and-white and will convert a colour cover to greyscale anyway – though, of course, this might change in future, and other Kindle apps (for PC and ipad etc.) do display in colour, so it’s probably a good idea to go for colour in your cover if you can.

The bad news, as you’ve probably guessed, is that designing an e-book cover is no easier than designing a cover for the printed version of your book. And since it’s such a vital marketing tool, its design is just as important, maybe even more so, since all a potential reader will see on the website where they buy books is a thumbnail of your “front” cover. They don’t have the option of picking up the book and reading the back, and you can’t attract their eye with glittery stars or a slimy feel.

So where do you start?

I’ve already mentioned that you can’t just scan the cover of your print edition, because the copyright for this belongs to your publisher. If you ask nicely, and they are feeling equally nice, they may give you permission to use it, as Chicken House kindly did for “Spellfall”. This gets you out of having to design a new one from scratch. But don’t rush to use your print cover, because a cover that works well on the physical version of the book might not work so well as an e-cover (Muse: and you might have always hated it, anyway!) There are different things to consider for an e-cover design.

I’ve already mentioned size. If your printed cover has a lot of small writing on the front, this will not be legible at thumbnail size and will be hard to see on your e-reader (although Kindle does have a zoom facility so readers who have downloaded the book can take a closer look). The title and/or author’s name should therefore be large enough to read at thumbnail size. Which of these should be biggest – title or author – depends how famous you are. Be honest! The image is also important. If it’s fussy, with lots of twiddly bits and a subtle background, then this won’t show up so well at thumbnail size in black and white. To the Muse’s eye, the e-covers that work best are the simple ones. This often applies to print covers too, so some will translate fine.

The print cover of Spellfall actually works well as an e-cover, because it has a large title and fairly simple design with good contrast when displayed in greyscale. (The paperback book had glittery stars, which don’t show up here, but that doesn’t really matter.)

Here are a couple more e-covers the Muse likes:

Right, now  it's your turn...

1. Design a cover. You have four options:

(i) You can secure permission to use the print version, then scan or otherwise obtain a digital version.

(ii) You can paint/draw/otherwise create your own original design and scan it in.

(iii)You can base your design on existing pictures or digital photographs, provided you’ve checked these are copyright free and in the public domain, then use your photo-editing software to tinker with them and add the title, etc.
A good place to start looking for public domain photos is publicdomainpictures.net though you’ll probably find they don’t have any images that match your vision for your book. I find it easier to go out with a digital camera and take photos myself. You can capture some great images this way, and an advantage of taking your own photos is that when you crop the interesting parts out of them they’ll probably still be big enough to make an e-cover. And as long as you are careful not to take pictures of well-known products, or strangers' children, or on private property, you shouldn’t have to worry about product/model release or copyright issues... though it pays to err on the side of caution.

(iv) You can pay someone to design an e-cover for you. It’s a good idea to check out other covers they have done and make sure you pay a flat fee (rather than royalties).

2. Whatever method you choose, next use your photo-editing software to resize the image to 600 x 800 pixels and 72dpi, and save it as a .jpg file.

3. Insert this .jpg file into your e-book at location 1 (i.e. the very beginning), immediately followed by a page break. I’d also suggest using your CENTRED style to position it, so that if your reader turns their screen sideways it will display nicely.

4. Add a bookmark/anchor called “cover” just before the cover image (but not on a blank line). See Kindle 9 for instructions on how to do this. (Muse tip: The I-beam should display large, against the left side of the image.)

Note: If you are using e-book building software or a route to Kindle other than the one covered in this series, then this method may give you two cover images. Amazon’s guidelines frown upon this, but some of their published e-books have two so don’t panic if this happens. Two covers won’t make your book stop working. It’ll just look a bit strange.

And that’s it. Your e-book now has a cover, which Kindle should find when your reader selects GO TO cover from the menu.

This brings us to the end of the e-book build stage, so here would be a good time to back up your work if you haven’t done so already. Next time we’ll look at converting your Word file into a Kindle book, which is where the real fun starts!


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