While I was researching how to self-publish a book, I kept coming across the same advice over and over again - don't design your own cover; don't design your own cover...
The message was clear: a bad cover can kill a book and it is worth the money investing in a professional design.
Whilst I could see that a bad cover could impede sales, I still wanted to have a go myself so I spent a few weeks mulling it over and investigating further. First, I discovered that the cost of a professional design was likely to be significant in the overall scheme of the money at stake. I knew I wanted to spend on an editor and that there was already little chance of me ever making back the cost of that alone. Adding the cost of a cover into the mix would have meant that I would be unlikely to ever recoup the funds expended. Also, I really wanted to give it a try. I'm not really artistic. I mean, I can draw adequately and studied art at a basic level at school but I'm nowhere near a professional standard. Still, I like creating things and learning new skills. But I was aware that the DIY route would come at a cost too - I'd need new software and stock imagery to play about with. And I knew nothing (I mean absolutely zero) about using computers in design. I could have told you that a JPEG was a photo and that's about it. GIF's TIFF's, PNG's, dpi's, file size - all completely foreign to me.
I had just about conceded defeat (I mean, why spend a hundred quid on image software and pictures when in all likelihood I'd then need to pay someone to do it properly once the stubborn part of me finally conceded that I needed help?) so I sent out a tweet that I was giving up. Within minutes a lovely and supportive reply flew back from Jennifer Joyce, a fellow self-published writer (find her on Twitter under @Writer_Jenn) who told me not to let anyone put me off trying something if I thought I would enjoy it. I remain grateful for that tweet because I persevered and ultimately produced a cover of which I am rather proud. Okay, it did cost - the images came to about £40 (from Shutterstock) and I ended up acquiring Photoshop (around £60 - a gift from my husband for our anniversary) but the end result looks (almost) how I wanted it to. Plus I didn't have the stress of dealing with a third party over something which I felt strongly about (often a recipe for disaster), it still came out cheaper than paying someone else to do it and now I have Photoshop for use in other projects. Perhaps, in the future, if sales ever justify it, I would outsource cover design but while I am still on a shoestring budget I now have the confidence to give it a go myself. Here's how I got there:
I read the following posts:
and another one which I can't find any longer, which is a shame as it probably left the greatest impression on me. In the missing article, the writer had wedded himself to an idea at the outset - a particular image, as I recall, and he couldn't get it out of his head. He tinkered and tinkered with it but just couldn't get it right. In the end he admitted that the image was wrong and went in a completely different direction, producing a much better cover. As someone who was insistent upon a certain image/style until I finally gave in and acknowledged that it wasn't working, this post gave me the push I needed to go in another direction.
I also had a look at CreateSpace's 'Cover Creator' (accessible via the website; KDP has one too but obviously not for a cover encompassing a spine and back cover). This should be investigated at the outset as you may be happy using one of the standard designs on offer. It wasn't for me, though (but see below as to how it did come in handy).
After reading these articles I spent a while online and in book shops gathering pictures of covers I liked. I measured them, I studied them and tried to reproduce them in spirit. What I discovered was that I was drawn to illustrated book covers. Not necessarily fancy ones but silhouettes, shadows, abstract patters, that sort of thing. What I didn't like were photographs.
So I finally took the plunge and downloaded an image from Shutterstock to play around with in Photoshop (see 'Image no. 1' above).
I printed it out and mocked up a cover, folding the paper so that the image of the tree spanned the front, spine and back and I added text by hand. I carried it around with me for a few weeks but something was nagging away and it was this: I had read somewhere that the cover should compliment/reflect those usually used in a genre but still stand out. So, if most books in the category of ghost stories, for example, had illustrated covers then go with that but if they used photographs then the advice was clear: don't try and buck the trend or you might put off potential buyers.
I went back to Amazon and discovered that many collections of ghost stories had photographic covers or very basic designs using blocks of colour. No fancy illustrations. Also, by this stage I was beginning to acknowledge that the tree wasn't looking as good as I had hoped, particularly after the text was added. The image was off, the fonts were off.
I addressed the font issue with these articles:
and spent some time on the Font Squirrel website, downloading free fonts (making sure they were free for commercial use). I printed off pages of text (my name and book title) in each of the fonts I liked best and ended up selecting Fjalla.
I then went back to Shutterstock. My £40 had bought me the rights to use 5 images and so far I had only downloaded the tree and the gothic flower pattern used on this website. I looked at a couple of photographs and asked my husband what he thought. I selected one, played around with it a bit, cropping the picture, adding a few red brushstrokes in places and inserting text. It started to come together quickly and I could see what a vast improvement it was on my first effort.
(I should say that before I acquired Photoshop I downloaded and tried to get to grips with GIMP - a free image manipulation software. It was pretty good but as a novice I needed a lot of help and found instructions difficult to come by. Photoshop, however, is so widely used that it was easier to work out what to do. If you have any level of existing knowledge, though, GIMP may be just fine and save you £60 or so.)
Once the front cover was done I had to pull together the back and the spine. This is where I found Amazon's Cover Creator very useful. Whilst I hadn't wanted to use one of the many standard covers available (where you basically use a set layout and upload your own picture and text in the boxes indicated), they had a 'blank' cover which essentially just sets out where the spine of your book and the bar code should be. I was then able to upload my front, back and spine and make sure that it was all in the right place.
One final point I would make is this: I was pleased with my final JPEG onscreen but when it was printed by CreateSpace the print quality (in my opinion) didn't do justice to the design. This has been true on every copy printed. The tree on the back cover is barely visible - it just looks muddy. I know it is not a fault with the file - it is of a superior resolution and I had bookmarks printed professionally using the same file and they are excellent.
Anyway, I hope this helps you if you are thinking of giving it a go yourself. Good luck and remember Jennifer's advice!
Those of you who know me are aware that I am pregnant and have been suffering with it! Not much writing has been done and I am really missing it but today I feel a little brighter and have even managed my first cup of (decaf) coffee in three months.
What has this to do with 'My Writing Day' I hear you ask? Well, everything really because my routine is about to change again. With my son (now two and a half) I had settled into a writing pattern, although it has had to adapt as his habits and behaviour have altered. Now everything is about to shift and I have no idea how it will work. But it got me thinking back over the past few years and I found a piece I had written when Matthew was about eight months old and had not yet started nursery. It has been sitting idly on my computer so I thought that I would share it with you. Reading it back has been interesting - some of the guilt I used to feel regarding the housework has definitely eased!!
My Writing Day
I decided to write this after reading an interview with a well-known celebrity who has just published his debut novel. When asked about his inspiration for the story, he replied along the lines that a whole family just popped into his head one day and took up residence there. They just wouldn't leave him alone.
This was not the first time I'd heard of a plot manifesting in this way. Many authors claim to have experienced an invasion of their psyche such that the experience of writing is, for them, more akin to an exorcism than a craft.
Unfortunately, I am not one of them.
For me, writing involves the briefest flash of an idea or observation which, if not recorded in some medium almost at once, is invariably lost. Sadly, my characters don't come back to haunt me or talk to me in my sleep, therefore much of my time is spent scribbling on scraps of paper or tapping a note on my phone or laptop before the precious moment has passed. Then the hard but enjoyable graft of adding flesh to the bones begins.
In terms of a typical day, I start early; considerably earlier than I did before I had my son.
He is now eight months old and, despite assurances from many an experienced parent that 'it will get easier', the nights and days are still blurring together with exhausting regularity.
But let's assume that my day begins around 6.30 a.m. and that I have had some semblance of sleep. The baby is changed, fed and watered. His bottles are cleaned and sterilized and I wave at some soap and water before pulling on yesterday's clothes.
Thus far I have not even thought about putting pen to paper. The little man then takes his morning nap and I am left wondering where the last two hours have gone. When he wakes, we have a play around and then I load him into his pushchair.
This is generally when the writing part of my brain starts to kick in, although I have learnt from experience to make sure that we leave the house before I allow it to wander too far. That way I am more likely to pack the change bag properly and less likely to be wiping my baby's face with a pair of my knickers that I had mistaken for a dribble cloth. (Husband, if you are reading this, it only happened once....) I then push the pram down the hill towards the village centre.
This is when I can turn over plot problems in my head, think about the latest critiques I have received, perhaps come up with some good first lines for a new project. Meanwhile, baby is happy being bounced around in his pram, the more potholes the merrier it seems, and generally watching the world go by.
It is the next part of my day which is crucial to actually committing words to paper; I have to time our walk so that his eyelids are nice and droopy when we reach the library. It is a disaster if the lights go out too soon, leaving me wasting precious writing time walking around. I have tried writing on the computer at home during nap times but it never quite works out. The first temptation is the television, the second is the housework. If I am at home working at the computer instead of cleaning up, I feel like I am being lazy but for some reason, (perhaps out of sight, out of mind?) there is hardly any guilt if I use the library computer. In fact, I come away feeling proud that I have worked hard.
So thank heavens for my local library. It provides somewhere safe and sociable for me to play with my son whilst introducing him to books, a sanctuary for me to carry out research and, ultimately, to get an hour or so to myself most days whilst he sleeps. Priceless. I just wish I could get a cup of tea, but then they probably don't want me moving in...
All work is saved directly to a cloud space on the internet so that I can pick up at home where I leave off in the library if I am lucky enough to get some additional time in the afternoon or perhaps at a weekend whilst my husband watches the baby.
The walk back up the hill is arduous. Every sinew is tugged and tested, particularly if I have filled the basket underneath the pram with library books and packets of biscuits (well, I need to keep my strength up for all that walking and pushing) so at this time I'm generally only thinking about collapsing onto the sofa with a much needed brew. Not that it ever happens that way; by the time I get home baby needs feeding, changing. You get the idea.
Sometimes, though, I'll mull over the project I have been working on in the library. Perhaps a new character, or a problem with the plot will come to mind and give me an excuse to stop and catch my breath whilst I make a note of it on my phone.
Once we are home, writing is out of the window and out of my head for a few hours, although I will sneak a peek at a writer's blog or website if I get a chance. Smartphones are great for this. I am a recent convert and love the idea that I can access my work, a how-to article or a piece of advice in seconds. It has really made a difference, with time being so precious.
By the time the afternoon nap is upon us, I am usually too tired to think about my writing projects but occasionally we'll go out for a second walk, or perhaps drive to the local supermarket to pick something up for tea. Again, wheeling around the baby in a shopping trolley gives me time to think (it's a good job he doesn't get motion sickness) although this, too, is not without its perils, like forgetting to pay (never a good idea) or locking your baby away with the shopping whilst you go to the café (again, wouldn't generally advise it).
I get a further bite at the cherry when my husband comes home and takes over baby duty for a while but I must confess that I generally use this time to chuck something in the oven and catch a bit of Law & Order (the older the better).
So that, at least for now, is 'my writing day' but I am discovering that children grow up quickly and my son is due to start nursery for two days a week next month. I have mixed feelings about this; I will miss him terribly but I know in my heart it is the right thing for him and I must confess that I am looking forward to having more time to spend writing. In the meantime I am conscious that my days with the little one are precious and that I must take care to enjoy them to their fullest. Whilst I love writing, I would hate to miss out on my son's baby months because my head is always off in a dreamland. I remind myself of this every day.
Anyway, enough; I'd better sign out. The little man is starting to stir signalling that it is nearly time for our hike back up the hill. Besides, it seems I've forgotten his bottle and I think I might have my t-shirt on back to front... Darn.
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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