Cover Creation with Lightning Press

So you’re publishing through Lightning Source, and you’ve hit the old brick wall – the cover brick wall. The errors that say “fonts not embedded” or something frustrating like that. And now you want to tear your heart out because you’re being charged something along the lines of $40 per rejected upload and contrary to Ingram’s belief you are not made of money.

I love Lightning Source’s quality and when I was first seeking a publisher for Heavenly Bride they were the only self-publisher willing to print bewbs. They’ve got a good agreement with my distributor, Drivethru, and the service has been pretty okay when I’ve had to deal with them. But their cover instructions are vague, inconsistent, and outright murder.

If you ask me to make you a cover for Lightning Press, rule #1 is I’m not going to guarantee its success. And I’m going to want payment up front. I will then follow directions and if you’re willing to go with me through the motions of correcting things when they go wrong, I’m happy to give it the old one two. But the same guarantee I would give you with, say, formatting an ebook for Smashwords won’t be there. Why you ask? Because I would have no way to check my work and their instructions, as I’ve mentioned already, are horrible.

Which means you may want to do it yourself. So here is what I would do in your situation, step for step.

Step One Do’s and Don’ts not necessarily in order:

  1. I would NOT create my basic cover in Word. I would NOT send that Word copy to a cover creator, steal a week of their time, and then dump them without payment when that didn’t work out. The Lightning Press instructions do mention briefly not to use Word. So don’t.
  2. I would create my cover images from scratch using an image editing program. I have Paintshop Pro and Photoshop CS2. I have used these two programs to create covers that were accepted by Lightning Press in regards to Heavenly Bride more than once. If you’re using Gimp or some other program, perhaps this tutorial can help you but no promises.
  3. I would create my cover as a PSD file of at least 300 dpi in the size dimensions I intend to print the book. Which means if my book is going to be 6 x 9 I would create the PSD to be no smaller than 300 dpi and 6 x 9 in size. I would also place text and important image bits INSIDE the safe area, which is NOT to be confused with the bleed area. If you have gotten lost at this stage on what I am talking about, open a new browser window and start doing some research.
  4. Because I would want to know what I was doing first and foremost.
  5. I would indeed set the file to be CMYK by the time I was done. I might even create it in CMYK from the beginning. Lightning Press wants CMYK. If nothing else it would be RGB color that would convert well to CMYK. Some RGB colors don’t convert very well.
  6. If possible I would embed fonts.
  7. I would make sure the barcode required by Lightning Press were at the center bottom of the back cover. If you want it off to the side that’s between you and Lightning Press – but their instructions said to put the barcode there and so that is where I would be putting it.

Step Two Do’s and Don’ts not necessarily in order:

  1. Unless I were a highly trained cover making master, I would already have my book’s interior PDF ready to go.
  2. I would take the page count from said PDF (known as the book block) and go to the Lightning Source cover template generator and get me a template. Maybe it’s cheating, but it works.
  3. What kind of template you get is up to you, but I would get a PDF. This is where Photoshop comes into play.
  4. I would then open the PDF in Photoshop, I would also open the cover files I already built.
  5. I would then place the cover files in their respected places on the template. It’s a template, its plug and play. If you don’t know just where to put things in the template you didn’t do the research I suggested you do earlier. No cookie for you.
  6. I would save this as a PSD for future reference.
  7. I would flatten layers.
  8. Then I would export the PSD as a PDF. The settings I would set it are: PDF/X-1a:2001. You will see what I mean in the save as dialog. I would make sure the settings are set for high quality print or something to that affect involving the PDF/X settings. Nothing less will do.

A FAQ talking about that and other parts on that is here:

Step Three: The Brick Wall

This is where I hit my brick wall. According to the Lightning Source instructions I’ve done everything right so far. So now I need to check it.

  1. First I would open my PDF in Adobe Acrobat – not the Reader version but the professional version.
  2. Under the file’s properties I would fill in the metadata and other appropriate places.
  3. Under the same properties dialogue I would find the fonts tab and make sure things are embedded. In the case of this cover no fonts should be showing because everything has been flattened to an image layer. But if you’re checking your book block this is where you go to make sure your fonts are as they should be. If your fonts are not embedded you need to back up and try again.
  4. I would find the convert colors dialogue and make sure things are converted to CMYK. The setting I would choose is Web Coated SWOP. I would make sure images are not downsized while doing this.
  5. I would be very careful during these conversions because they can not be undone.
  6. Then I would find the preflight dialogue. I am apparently supposed to choose “PDF Analysis” and run it to see if there are any errors. My version of Acrobat doesn’t have that. However all of my other dialogues said no errors found.
  7. However if I did come up with some error such as the metadata didn’t match or the profile wasn’t where it was supposed to be, I’d spend two hours doing a fruitless search on Google trying to find out what those errors mean and how do I fix them. This paragraph right here is why I refuse to guarantee any Lightning Source covers I may make. From here I simply can’t go any farther.

The document Lightning Press has out on how to check your PDF is here:

Step Four: That’s it.

  1. I would upload the cover and hope for the best.
  2. And to be quite honest at $40 an upload pop, I’d also be checking out alternatives that are a bit more forgiving towards the self-publisher in regards to their lack of Acrobat knowledge… or inability to afford a version more recent than the one I currently own.

Hope this helps.

The Lightning Press steps to cover creation can be found here:

Such as they are.


If this article was any help to you at all, surprise me by buying me a soda at death @


2 thoughts on “Cover Creation with Lightning Press

  1. This must be Katrina? Anyway, this is hilarious as well as expert. If you wrote text books, people would study. You’ve done all my book covers because I know *nothing* about this stuff and I still read the whole article because of the quality of the writing. Rock on!

    • Thank you! I try very hard to make my articles entertaining. Glad to know it works!

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