Thursday, 21 February 2013

Creating Book Covers - 1

If you search the Internet you'll find lots of advice on how to write and also lots about how to get published. Up to now the route has always been:
  • write the book
  • edit it
  • submit it to an agent
    • get rejected
    • submit to another agent
    • get rejected
    • revise the book
    • repeat 'submit to an agent
  • Either give up or self publish or, if you are one of the lucky few, negotiate a contract
  • Agent submits to a publisher.... and so on
Now however E-books have made it possible for many new authors to publish work that would otherwise end in agents and publisher's slush piles. You can test the water by releasing your book as an e-book, publicize it yourself (For how to do that read John Locke's excellent book 'How I Sold 1 Million... ') and then, if there's a demand, produce a paper copy. I wrote an e-book on the process of producing both the paper copy and the e-book version. You can either buy it at Amazon or get it free here.

Somewhere along the line though you'll need a book cover and there the advice stops. Granted there are websites which offer template solutions but most of them leave a lot to be desired and frankly - a book is judged by it's cover.

We've written and published five books so far in our A Vested Interest series and in the hope that our experience will help, here's what was involved in designing the covers. In a future blog post I'll cover the technical side of creating the covers.

We wanted the cover of this book to reflect what the story was about so we had to include:
  • DNA to indicate this was about medical science
  • A semi-transparent mechanical bug to show that technology was involved
  • A castle to represent the location Langston Castle in the book and to show there was a bit of history involved
  • An old mine tunnel to represent the secret underground base
Now Shelia and I are not bad at using graphics programs - we picked up that skill when we spent three years as illegal immigrants in Canada, supporting ourselves by building websites. So we took some pictures using a very basic digital camera and started putting together a cover. The actual process I will detail later but here's the result:
The original background image was a picture I took of Blackett Level near Allendale, Northumberland. It was a little overpowering so I faded it out by putting a semi-transparent white layer over the top. Into that I merged a picture I took of Langley Castle and that DNA picture. The 'bug' was inspired by those in the film 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'. On the e-book copy we moved that to the other side. Later we added the Triplet family coat of arms to help identify the book as part of a series. Now this cover is  in the 'It's OK' class. and after a year we decided it needed re-working. At the same time we took the opportunity to change the title to give readers a better idea of what to expect. The main theme of the book is the development of a genetic 'fix' which allows mankind a much longer lifespan. That being the first step in taking humanity to the stars. We kept the original title as the book series title and changed the title to Immortality Gene. Here's the second version of the cover:

The plot of this book involved an unpleasant secret buried in the family for almost a thousand years. The secret was revealed in an old diary. To reflect this we created a cover looking like an old book and featuring the coat of arms of the Triplet family. The old book was to be dark colored to reflect the title but when we got the first proof back from the publishers it was almost black. The final version was a lot lighter. For the old book I scanned an old copy I have of Uncle Tom's Cabin and then removed the text. With the aid of my son Adam we created a 'coat of arms' and then turned it and the book cover text gold.

On this one we didn't put the coat of arms on the spine since it was already on the front cover and the spine is much narrower.

Book 3 - No Secrets
No Secrets was very much a continuation of Dark Secrets so we decided to use the same layout. Obviously we couldn't use the same image on the front so chose a Celtic knot instead, symbolizing eternity. Of all the covers it's the one we are least happy with and it may change.

Book 4 - Stones, Stars and Solutions
In this book the Triplets travel the world visiting pyramids and other locations while following clues left in an ancient document. One of the locations is Death Valley, another is the Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico. We started with a black and white picture of Death Valley which we colored dark blue. To that we added the pyramid viewed through a 'window' on the front cover and framed in vegetation from the jungle in Mexico. On the back we added our idea of the power mechanism revealed at the end of the book.
People liked this cover so much they asked if they could use it as a screen background. We obliged with a version without the text, coat of arms or vegetation. Find it here.

Book 5 - Leap of Faith
In this book there's a location Spirit Canyon in Arkansas. It was one of the places mentioned in Stones, Stars and Solutions and also appeared in No Secrets. Spirit Canyon features a stone cabin which you can only get to through a cave and a waterfall. We wanted to show this place on the cover. The problem is that though we know it's location, the actual place doesn't exist so we had to make it with bits and pieces of other pictures.
For a book cover you need high resolution pictures because the file you send to a printer is 5,700 by 3,900 pixels in size although the image I need is 3,510 by 2470 pixels. I start with a template document from the printer. It's actual size depends on the size and thickness of the book. If you use CreateSpace as your publisher this template is worked out for you when you upload the book contents. It can be a little difficult to find but it's there.

Here's what we started with:

  • a picture of a log cabin in Texas
  • A cave in Arkansas
  • A woodland picture in Arkansas
  • A stone cottage near where we lived
  • A picture taken inside the old lead mine at Swinhope Moor, England
  • a blue eye

   ...and here's what we ended up with
In case you wonder, here's where the joins are...

Now this picture is a little busy for a book cover and it's not perfect. I chose to add text with a semi transparent background to hide the imperfections.

Making a cover like this isn't hard. You just need a computer with lots of memory and a decent painting application which can use layers, masks, feathering and  b├ęzier text. The industry standard program is PhotoShop, but there are others such as Corel PaintShop Pro or The Gimp which can do the job and are much less expensive. There are lots of tutorials available on the web explaining exactly how to merge images so I don't plan on explaining this here.

 I'm still not happy with the front and spine text on the cover since although it's fine on a printed book it fails to stand out in the smaller versions used for e-books and at Amazon. The spine text could be made clearer by turning it through 90 degrees but I, for one, hate having to turn my head sideways to read the text on book spines. I'm also a little dubious of the base of the stone cabin which doesn't quite fit on the ground correctly. I probably need to add some weeds here to cover the join.

What's wrong with this cover?
  • It's too busy
  • The text fails to stand out against the background
  • The author names are too small. At Amazon's thumbnail size they are unreadable.
This one desperately needed a new cover. My son Adam worked on it and produced a new image for it which I cloned sideways to make it wider and then added text to it. Here's the new cover:
The cover shows the moment when Kate and her five year old son Tom take the 'Leap of Faith' from which the book get's its name. Now tell me, what emotion do you think Tom is feeling?

Regret and Retribution

We've now added an additional book 'Regret and Retribution'. In this book some of the action occurs on the top of a mountain in Arizona where the characters come under attack by a hostile alien. Fortunately, the alien  takes human or animal form, so I didn't have to come up with what he/she looks like. I used a modified sky scene from Death valley (used already in Stones, Stars and Solutions) and to that added a mountain top scene. The actual mountain used was Helvellyn, a mountain of England's Lake District. In fact I used it twice, once in the background and again, mirrored and stretched in the foreground. On the rear mountain I superimposed a modified picture of  a galaxy. The whole thing was darkened and a faint blue glow was added at the edge of the foreground mountain.. Finally I added the cover text. The trick here is to make sure that it's readable even at a thumbnail size used on Amazon's website. Here's the result:


Consequences was released at the end of July 2012. It's cover shows a moment when Donna was released from a 'mindstorm'. It's dusk, raining hard and misty. The helicopter searching for her is driving the rain and Donna holds her hair to prevent it lashing her eyes. She spots something on the ground and reaches for it. We used the same mountain top but added storm clouds. The figure of the woman caused a few problems, it's actually made up of four different images. She's making an unusual movement - reaching with her left arm over her right knee. I would have swapped arms but Shelia, who has long hair, told me 'Once you have your wet hair in a strong wind under control, you don't risk letting go.'

Ashes to Ashes

Here's our most recent book cover for 'Ashes to Ashes'. We start this book with the aftermath of an alien possessed woman running wild in the mine complex. Death plays a big part in this book at it's beginning and that is reflected in it's cover. I think, with practice I'm getting better at doing these covers and this one is very effective both on a paper book and as an ebook, even when shown as a tiny thumbnail. What do you think?
Here's just the front of the book:

Friday, 15 February 2013

Twenty-five ways to get an instant agent rejection

1.      Send a three or more page query letter.
2.      Start your book with a flashback.
3.      Start with a prologue (Yes - some experienced authors are getting away with it).
4.      Get someone to write the query letter on your behalf.
5.      Confuse some common words - of/off, to/too, there/their/they're, past/passed, allay/ally, cash/cache, accept/except, bate/bait, sight/cite/site.
6.      Make lots of spelling mistakes and typos.
7.      Handwrite your query.
8.      Use lots of redundant expressions like. 'dark black', 'fiction novel', 'loud shriek' (quiet shriek anyone?)
9.      Send your query as an email attachment.
10.  Beg an agent to accept your work.
11.  Mention how many times you’ve been rejected by agents.
12.  Tell the agent how much your grandmother/aunt loves your book.
13.  Start by moaning about the quality of other books being written.
14.  Submit work which isn't finished.
15.  Lie to an agent. E.g. "Enclosed is the work you requested...."
16.  Don't include a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the reply.
17.  Use another author's well known character or plot.
18.  Include lots of profanity on the first pages.
19.  Submit work less than 40,000 words long.
20.  Submit a first novel of more than 120,000 words.
21.   Start your query letter with "This is the best...."
22.   Submit more than one project.
23.   Write a fawning query letter thanking the agent for looking at your work.
24.   Address the query to 'Dear Agent'.
25.   Send the agent a genre they don't represent.

From my e-book "An illustrated guide to getting published" Get an early version free at There's a new version (see the link at the right) which includes publishing at Smashwords and other places.

Of course, I'm sure you can think of many other ways to get your work ignored. I invite you to submit your suggestions and perhaps example letters in the comments below.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Can a bookshop make money from ebooks? Yes!

Bookshops everywhere are worried. There's a revolution going on and they are losing sales because of it. The revolution is that of ebooks!

Oh I know there are those who say 'I love the feel and smell of a proper book' but these are mostly people who have not yet got an ebook reader. Once these people have got their hands on one it doesn't take long for them to change their minds. That means fewer sales of paper books.

Yet we all still like going to the library and browsing the books in a bookstore. Having found the book we like do we then buy the paper format or simply make a note of it and look it up at Amazon later to get it in ebook format? I have to admit, I've done the latter many times but felt guilty that I've denied the bookseller a profit from the sale. He/she has, after all, helped me in my book purchase.

So how can the bookstore make money from ebooks? I think there is an answer, and one which is simple to put in practice.

How a bookstore can cash-in on ebooks

The bookseller makes use of the many affiliate programs offered for ebooks. Smashwords seems to offer the best one but there are others such as Amazon and iBooks. Here's how to do this:
  1. If you, the bookseller, have not already joined an affiliate program then sign up for them at:
    Smashwords -
    Amazon UK -
    Amazon US -
    iTunes (iBooks) -
  2. If you do not have a Twitter account then sign up for that at
  3. For Amazon, add the site stripe to your Amazon account
  4. For Amazon, on your computer navigate to a book's page at Amazon and click the Twitter button on the associate site stripe toolbar
    Copy the text as far as the 'via@...
  5. If you're using the far more profitable Smashwords affiliate account the links are even easier to make - see here.
  6. Paste that text into a QL generator page on Internet. I use the QR Code generator at
    At this stage you can edit the text to include the price and any other details you wish to include.
  7. Copy the QR code generated and paste it into Word for further editing as follows:
  8. Print this out on a self adhesive label and fix it to a bookmark provided by the author. You can leave a stack of these at your sales desk, insert them in books or fix then to a thin card placed inside the back cover of a book (or on the back if there's space). You might also need to make a few posters advertising your ebook service and where the customer can get a free QR code scanner app for their mobile phone. (Try QR Droid
Customers browsing your books can scan the QR codes and buy the books immediately using Amazon's 'one touch'. You get the commission on the sale. 

Of course there is no reason why this should be restricted to using Amazon as an ebook provider. If an author comes into your store promoting his/her books negotiate a deal with them to sell their ebooks through Smashwords - Not only do they support more reading devices but they provide a higher royalty rate to the author - 85% and the affiliate rate can be set so that you get a higher commission on the sale than you would get from Amazon 30-40% would seem fair. (I give 35% affiliate commission at Smashwords)

You might also contact authors and invite them to send you some bookmarks featuring their book with an area on which you can stick your QL code.

You might even end up making more money from ebooks than you do from paper books and you won't have to do a thing at the till!

And authors? Try making and having printed some bookmarks. Here's some examples: