This Book Cannot Make Any Money — How the Cover Was Made….

Well, I’m recovered from the convention (I didn’t get con crud, but I did need some time to get over things) and ready to resume the “This Book Cannot Make Any Money” blog series.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve already managed to release the print edition of “This Book Cannot Make Any Money.” It might still be further revised; I’ll go into this more on my next blog, but I found at least one issue with the print edition that I would have fixed if I’d been able to get a proof copy first (a week after I pushed it out, Amazon announced that all KDP print authors could now purchase proof copies… just that little bit too late. Sigh), but I don’t think there will be any changes that will affect this blog post.  At least I met my goal by getting the book out in time for Marscon.

So, when we last left this blog series, I was talking about the cover.  I had a plan to produce an “illustrated” cover by blending clip art elements to put together something resembling a custom illustration. Those of you who’ve seen the final result know that I didn’t end up with anything resembling that plan, but let’s discuss what I attempted, why that didn’t work, and what I ended up with.

To start with, I had to figure out the dimensions.  Normally, when I have the budget to hire someone, I only commission the front cover (which is all you need for ebooks) and slip that artwork onto a solid-color background to make the full wrap, so all I need to know for the cover artist is the trim size.  Because I was STARTING with a full-wrap cover, however, I needed to know a bit more than that, first.

I decided to make this a 5″ x 8″ cover, which is smaller than my typical trade-paperback standard-sized 6″ x 9″ book.  I wanted to be sure the book was thick enough to have legible text on the spine, so a smaller trim size made sense.

Because I was starting with a full-wrap cover, I had to build the whole book to find out the actual page count (which is partly what derailed this series, making it more re-cap than follow-along like it originally was intended to be).  In the end, I was able to determine that my book (factoring in not just the text but the front-matter, aka the copyright page, title page, acknowledgements, table of contents, etc. in the front, and the back-matter, aka the advertising in the back) was 234 pages.

Per the formula on both the Createspace and the KDP Print page (I am linking to Createspace because its bookmarked, and at the moment it’s the same for both printers, but it may change in the future; more on that, later), the way to figure your cover width is Bleed + Back Cover Trim Size + Spine Width + Front Cover Trim Size + Bleed.  Similarly, cover height is determined by the formula of Bleed + Book Height Trim Size + Bleed.  Bleed is a constant (0.125″).  Trim size for front and back are always the same (in this case, 5″ x 8″).  Spine width, though, requires you multiply the number of pages by the paper width, so I had to pick which paper I was going to use.

I had an option of white paper or cream paper.  The choice is largely aesthetic, but the cream paper is a little thicker (by some thousandths of an inch) than the white paper.  Picking cream paper (again, I wanted to thicken the spine, but there are other reasons you might pick one over the other), I multiplied the 234 pages by the 0.0025″ paper width to get 0.585″ for the spine.  Please note, different printers calculate spine differently, and they will give you their own formula for determining it.  Sometimes, a “page” refers to one side of the page, as it currently does with Amazon’s two print services; sometimes it refers to both sides of the page (front and back), so I would have had to multiply the paper width by 117 instead, and the paper might have been a different thickness altogether.

Sometimes, the printer may change the page width on you, if they get a different paper supplier.  So, READ THE DOCUMENTATION your printer provides, EVERY TIME you build a cover.  The documentation will also give you such information as how much bleed you need for the cover, how much of a margin you need to give between the edge of the page and the “live elements” (meaning the text and the important parts of the artwork), etc., etc.

Now, I had a concept for the artwork I wanted to put together.  For an unrelated project, I had — entirely with free clip art, but using Photoshop Elements — been able to reproduce different versions of the British Royal Coat of Arms (for purposes of comparison and contrast).

Given what some of the stories were in the book, my plan was to reproduce one of the simpler coats of arms from this project, but instead of using lions and fleur-de-lis I would use other, thematically appropriate silhouettes.

Things started out okay.  I found a decent shield design:

I centered it on a background and colored it appropriately (leaving what I thought was enough room for the title and my name.  I did it using a piece of graphic software I’d never used before, simply by figuring out how to duplicate layers, use the colorify tool, and use the cropping tool.  I made it in GIMP (which was a pain, as it operates VERY differently from graphic programs I’m used to, but I eventually figured it out), and came out with this:

Problem:  The image in my head included such thematic elements as robots, Greco-Roman helmets, a space station, and crossed swords (two sci-fi elements related to the sci-fi story fragments, two fantasy elements for the fantasy story fragments).  I figured the easiest one to find would be the Greco-Roman helmet.  But when I went looking through all the clip-art sites I knew of that had free-for-commercial-use (important if you have a budget of $0, as is the case with this project) clip art, this was the best I could find:


And here we run into one of the problems of trying to get cover art when you can’t do art and don’t have the money to hire an artist:  You have to find things needed to execute your vision that are made available FOR FREE.  Sometimes, the best thing you can find is a picture of a helmet where the eyes are pointed one way and the crest is pointed another.  Sigh.  This bit of clip art would be perfectly fine for some art projects, but for a quality book cover it’s completely unsatisfactory.

I didn’t like any of the robots I found (though I did eventually pick one).  I never did find a space station that worked when reduced in size enough to fit on the cover.  And without those sci-fi elements, the swords made the cover a little too fantasy-themed for what I was going for.

I tried various options to replace the elements that weren’t working — the traditional tragedy\drama masks (as one of the stories features a retelling of a particular Greek tragedy), karate silhouettes (as one of the stories features martial arts), and finally forced myself to try slapping in the best of those robots, after all.

And this was the best I could come up with:

Ugh.  That just looks so… cartoony and mismatched.  It wasn’t appropriate for this book cover, at any rate.

So, the art director side of me had to tell the cover artist side of me to change plans.  I usually prefer an illustrated cover, but my one idea for an illustrated cover wasn’t working, so it was time to change plans.  If I have a budget of $0, I can’t afford to be too picky, and one of the advantages of a self-publisher is flexibility; so, even though it hurt, I’d have to try using a photo on the cover.

This book is mostly a collection of of (self) rejected manuscripts (well, the good parts, anyway), so plan be:  A picture invoking the image of writing, with a “rejected” stamp over it.

This proved to be both easier to find the components for and simpler to put together.  There were plenty of pictures that invoked “the writer’s desk,” and while the image is a pure fiction of what my writer’s desk looks like (much too neat, and I usually work on a computer) I found I liked this one:

Put a frame around it (and delete the parts outside of that frame, which again took me a while to figure out how to do using GIMP), slip it onto an appropriately colored background (I picked black), and then all that’s left is the stamp and the text.

Which brings up fonts.  I needed a font that looked like stamped text, which (fortunately) I found several options for.  After going through the various suppliers I knew who had free-for-commercial-use fonts (Fontsquirrel, DAFont, and 1001 Fonts), I wound up picking Armalite Rifle (which I found by searching for a “stencil” type font).  If you didn’t know you were looking for a “stencil” type fonts, you could just browse the whole collection.  It only takes about a day to go through the entire font catalog of all three sites.

It was at this point that I found a major difference between building a cover with Photoshop Elements and building a cover using GIMP:  Elements has a number of tools for adding text and word art; if GIMP has those same tools, I couldn’t find them.  I wound up having to build the cover in Scribus.

Which worked out fine.  Scribus had the tools needed to color and angle the text appropriately.  It also allowed me to add the title font (I picked Roman Caps, which I found by searching display fonts) and the back cover text (written using the Alegreya font, which I’ve been long familiar with as I use it for the print editions of my fantasy novels).

And, as I’ve already posted, I came out with the following cover:

It took some adjusting, even when I got to this stage, after I saw what it looked like in the KDP Print proofing tool (note:  there are MAJOR differences between Createspace and KDP Print.  For example, with Createspace you can place your ISBN barcode wherever you want just by including a blank box in the right spot.  With KDP Print, there is only one permitted spot to put the ISBN barcode.  I had to flip my barcode and my company logo from my standard book design because of this), but I’d figured out the software well enough to make those changes with relative ease, by then.  In the end, even though it was nothing like I originally planned, I was quite happy with the cover.

The book design, though… well, that’s another story.  But what my next blog will be about, so stay tuned!