Don’t Rush a Good Cover (Why a rushed cover is bad and the marketing of making one.)


Oft times I’ll get that hurried client that wants a book cover. They want a good book cover, an original book cover, one of my best, and they want it NOW. They want their name in neon lights above the title, they want the image to catch attention, and at the same time they want blurbs like “Voted the best by the book readers monthly,” or “a strange man finds a strange object in a strange place at a strange time! What will he do?!?!” all over the picture.  And they get frustrated if I can’t deliver in a hurry. Sometimes they’ll hire someone else and my time is wasted.

If you want a good book cover, a really compelling book cover, from me or just about anybody the first rule is don’t rush it. Sometimes inspiration strikes and I’m able to produce that next masterpiece within minutes. But then there are other times when it’s like I’m pounding my head against a wall for weeks.

So you want covers like this?

If you do, then you have to let the artist think a bit. You wouldn’t cause the premature birth of your child. In some ways it’s the same thing.

When making a book cover, I don’t just slap words over the image and call it a day. I’m considering the following factors:

  1. What will catch the reader’s eye/attention?
  2. What looks great?
  3. Are the words readable when the image is a thumbnail as well as when its big?
  4. Does the lettering style fit the overall theme?
  5. Which is more important: author name or book title?
  6. Does this picture represent the book properly?
  7. Are the images and fonts legal to use?

And more.

The science of making book covers for the internet is similar to book covers for print books, but it’s not exact. With print books, the cover has to attract someone’s attention from across a room. The important part, title or author name, have to be readable from a few feet away. All of the information has to somehow be represented right there from the author’s name to what the book is about. There’s a variety of ways to do this, but the most tried and true methods appear to be putting “new” on the cover if the book is new by a famous author. Famous author’s name big and bold with book title not so much. Image matches content and can be foil, shiny: something that will flash like a neon sign. Blurbs such as “couldn’t put it down!” by some reviewer let people know the book is awesome. (Even when its not.)

With eBooks, the information the cover has to carry is split between it – the image – and the page the image is on. So things like the author’s name, if the book is new, what the book is about, review blurbs, and all other details are on the book’s home page. Take for example this Smashwords page for my book Black Wolf Silver Fox: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/4937

There’s the name of my book, my name, when it was published, two descriptions on what it’s about (the back cover material), search tags, and if I had any reviews that would be there too.

By contrast, look at my book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Wolf-Silver-Fox-ebook/dp/B002H9XUP4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1347812970&sr=8-2&keywords=black+wolf+silver+fox

You’ll see the book cover, about me, about the book, other books bought by people who bought it, a couple of reviews (its a miracle!), when it was published, and so on.

All of that information is put together on the book’s page when the book is set. The cover? Yeah. Let’s take a closer look at my cover.

Most importantly, the picture is very compelling. I have a woman representing a key character in the story. Her attitude was perfect, her clothing superb, her hair awesome. I had to have that picture, and I spent my last dime getting it too. LOL.

Once I had it in hand, I tweaked it a bit to bring out her face, arms and mirror a bit more. That’s where I wanted viewer focus.

In the mirror is a another key component to the story: an hour glass. And the woman (whose name is Aramina btw) is telling you she has a secret. All of that from the book in one fell swoop. Blammo.

Secondly, I have the book title in big, readable letters. Some covers don’t give me leeway to make things that big and still have it look good, but this one did me the favor. Because Aramina, the black wolf, was on the cover I chose to make the words silver in honor to the Silver Fox.

My name there at the top is the traditional place you’d put a name for a famous author. But I’m only the author, so my name doesn’t not overpower the image and I’m not likely to let it anytime soon.

This is the third incarnation of the cover, and it’s the one that has brought me the most sales. The first two covers – omg the first two covers. I’m not showing you the first two covers. But this cover is great.

Other covers, like the Hell cover near the top of this article, can take a bit longer. My client knew what she wanted. She provided me a picture of a woman walking through a forest. (Yes, a forest.) She asked for a couple of small tweaks, but by the time I was done I had the woman walking through the depths of hell itself. It was fun, it was a challenge, it took me at least two weeks.

The Amphitrite cover, by contrast, was even more of a challenge even though making it was a simpler process. In this case, the characters had to be dressed properly for the year 1833. I wasn’t about to try to draw it: my style wasn’t appropriate for this type of story. So I had to find it. I had to find it all. Finding images of women wearing mob caps through a stock image service is next to impossible. Good images of anything similar: ha ha ha. I laugh. I scoff. It’s lucky I don’t charge by the hour. Maybe I should.

I had to research the ship. There are at least a few hundred sailing vessel types out there. I had to get the right one, especially since this story is based on fact. This meant historical research – lucky for my client I’ve a minor in history instead of a major in art. And I got very lucky. I came across an actual anonymous photograph of the exact vessel type I was looking for from that year. I felt blessed by the gods.

Is that the actual photo of the Amphitrite? I’d like to think so, but I should be so lucky.

When the idea finally began to form (right about when I found the photo, which I found first), it was a quick assembly. It took me days to find the parts, and hours to put it together. But I had to have something in my head to work from, and I had to have the puzzle pieces to assemble, and even though I managed to make a cover I’m pleased with in just a few hours… it took me about a month just to figure it out.

Unless your book has outside publicity to pull people to it, your covers run the risk of chasing readers away. An ugly cover (not represented here as a courtesy to everyone involved) will be to the reader’s eye like water off a duck’s back. Sometimes that reader will check out a book, but not always. In the bookstore, this is a big deal. It’s that shiny image that gets the buyer’s attention in the first place.

For the internet, it’s not as big a deal but it still is. Going back to my cover for Black Wolf Silver Fox: that book has been in the market for years. When sales for it nearly stopped entirely I put it to the book’s age. Making that new shiny cover taught me a lesson on that matter. People were seeing this nifty thing and buying it all over again. I just had several sales last week as a matter of fact. I’m not Stephen King, but my book isn’t dead either. I can safely say my first two covers were not helping me any at all.

My best book covers happen to belong to clients who have been previously published and built a name for themselves. This isn’t because they’re famous. It’s because they were used to waiting a year or two before they saw their books on the shelves, and they gave me space and time to think. No rush deadlines from them.

So when rushing your cover artist for that cover, stop and consider. Do you want your book to sell? Then maybe waiting a little bit isn’t going to hurt you. Maybe it’s only going to help you: like waiting a full nine months for your baby to be born, perhaps.

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I’m for the right to bear arms, but bulleted lists are right out.


Bulleted lists, enigma of the eBook world. To use or not to use? Therein is the problem, and as often as I’ve researched the matter I’ve never found anyone who had a straight answer. I’ve found tutorials on how to do them, I’ve found naysayers who say to never use them, and I’ve found people who love them.

Well, after a lot of experimentation and research I have decided to become one of the naysayers. And I’m going to give you a straight answer as to why – isn’t that nice of me?

First, let’s look at bulleted lists. There are two kinds.

  • The kind that have a nifty little black “bullet” before each entry.
  • The kind that has a number or letter before each entry
  • As demonstrated in this list, or that other list. Depending.
  1. The kind that have a nifty little black “bullet” before each entry.
  2. The kind that has a number or letter before each entry
  3. As demonstrated in this list, or that other list. Depending.

These can be very handy little things, especially in  nonfiction books. They tidy things up. Hooray! However, there’s a dark side to these lists. Take a look at the following image.

See all those words that start with N-? The ones that read “No”. See the line that reads “Support for numbered and bulleted lists”? See the two No’s after it in the nice, neat little table? That is why you don’t use bulleted lists.

Now you’re asking me, “What happens if I use them anyway?” Well, for the KindleFire, Nook Color, BeBook, and various other systems you get bullets – providing you did them properly. That’s wonderful if you’re okay with shaving your audience down by how many thousands of people out there who own older or alternative ereaders and either cannot afford to get a newer version or simply do not want to. Those people don’t get to see the little black bullet. They get a strange square or a confusing question mark. Their list numbers slide off the left edge of their screen, and their document is a big mess.

So what do you do about that?

One answer split into two different solutions: You do them manually.

  • For the little black bullet, replace it with an asterick (*) or another standard symbol. Don’t use alternative symbols if you can: they also run the likelihood of becoming confused and turning into question marks.
  • For your numbered list, put the number at the start of the entry by hand as part of the sentence. In other words, don’t let Word (or whatever you’re using) automate it.
  • For the same of having a third item on this bulleted list, let me just reiterate that <ul> and <ol> are wonderful codes to use but should be avoided in eBooks.

You can make the lists a bit more “bulleted like” by changing your style in the CSS or by word to make the lines different. Instead of indenting the list by only .3″ as you would your paragraph, indent them by .6″ – name the style “Bullet” (which also happens to be the name of my dog). It’s that simple.

So there’s the straight answer. Don’t use bulleted lists – make pseudo bulleted lists. If you do them right, they look just as good without the problems you’d get the other way around.


Did you like this post? Did it help you in any way? Please consider buying me a soda by sending a donation to death @ apocalypsewriters.com or kausha @ hotmail.com

Book pages vs. Ereaders screens.


Here are some quick tips you should think about while creating your ebook – or even if you’re having someone else do the work for you. Especially in Smashwords.

In e-books, there is no page.

E-readers are not static; they don’t read like paper with the words in fixed positions unless you’re dealing with what’s known as a “fixed layout” epub – or your pages are all full sized images (such as in a comic book). And even if you are dealing with one of those, the older readers still can’t do it. It cuts your audience size if you don’t consider that while putting your ebook together. Ereaders are personalized pieces of equipment, giving the reader the option to change font size, color, and sometimes even page size. Your book is going to look different to everyone.

Tables do not convert in most ereader formats, and the same goes for the majority of other “special” formatting. Smashwords does not support these things in their platform. Please make sure your book is formatted to accommodate for that. Otherwise we may have to convert your tables into images at a cost of $1.00 per image.

Page breaks: is this pretty style okay for eBooks? Some people say yes. Some people say no. I use them in my formatting, BUT! Having them come through to the reader cannot be guaranteed.  As per the Smashwords Style Guide itself: If I insert page breaks into your document to have a section such as a chapter start on its own page, “the PDF and RTF versions will honor them, but these commands will be lost in most other formats, which strip page breaks and section breaks.” Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Them’s the breaks.

Your book will also lose special fonts and ability to keep fonts at a fixed size. Make sure you have adapted any special formatting like that into something you’re going to be happy with that will translate well. Try to use typical fonts like Times New Roman as 10 or 12 pt size. Don’t go over 14 pt size: this can and most usually will look terrible on the tiny ereader screen, and Smashwords might reject it.

Smashwords has a file size limit of 5MB. For graphic novels, this can be a problem if your book is too large, so be aware of your book’s content before you ask us to format it for you! The good news is epub and mobi compress to smaller sizes, making it easier to work with Pubit and Kindle.

Graphic Novels and those with illustrations: I do realize there are a lot of people over the internet who have said Smashwords can not do heavy graphics. Well, yes they can. It’s just that there are limitations that keep you from making the book too thick or “heavy” as it were. You’re also limited in format. But I’ve been doing comics with Smashwords since I first found them years ago. Back then the books looked terrible. Then again my formatting skills were terrible. (Which is the true problem with many “ugly” Smashwords books: the level of skill.) These days? I’ve caught on and work constantly to improve the look of the Smashwords comic. Why? Because comickers deserve this service, too. By Odin, or Pan… or… something.

(When sending your file, you have the option of sending your graphics separately for us to put into the document or putting them into the document ahead of time. Be advised that embedding the images yourself does not guarantee we will not have to “process” them. Your best bet is simply to read my article on how to prepare the picture and have them properly ready to go.)

For graphic novels and anything that has lettering over the image, make sure it will be readable at approximately 3 inches wide. If you need us to letter the pages for you, inquire and make a reasonable offer in regards to financial compensation.

Do not insert images that are smaller than 100 pixels wide. Images that are too small can get your document rejected for premium distribution. For full-size images, we recommend a standard size of 7 x 5 (approximately) at 72 dpi resolution.

Don’t insert images large then 5 inches wide or 7 inches tall. This will also create problems.

Testing your file

So you have your file and you want to take a look; make sure it’s to your liking.

Each ereader model has a different program inside that allows them to read in the first place, which is why some only read epub format and others only read mobi. Or pdf. Or doc. Etc.  This means they’re each going to interpret that information differently.  If I give you a file that’s meant for the Nook, testing your file in a different program may give you undesirable results.

To help avoid such misunderstandings, I am composing a list below of the different reader types and the files they read best. Most of these will be ereader programs for the desktop and smart phone, but I will add as I get confirmed information. Keep in mind that I am testing standard page size files that are meant for Smashwords only: obviously if I coded strictly for Kobo for example I’d have different results.

Adobe Digital Editions – can read epub but expands the page to maximum screen size, which can affect images negatively. Reads pdf neatly and appropriately.

BEBook – reads prose epubs well, slides images off screen to the right when they are centered; reads mobi like a charm, including images; PDF files look great; reads RTF okay but loses any images.

Kindle for Droid – reads mobi appropriately

Kobo for Droid – reads imported books but stretches images a little out of proportion despite coding to control size

Nook for Droid – reads epub appropriately

Nook Touch – reads epub appropriately but likes to die 3 months after your brother buys you one for your birthday. 😦

Putting Pictures in your Smashwords EBook


The first thing to remember when building a document to submit to Smashwords is that they have a file size limit of 10MB. Also, before anything else, you MUST have a good idea of how to use your word processor (in this case Word but others can be used) to understand some of what I’m talking about. If you don’t know how to use your program, go dabble a bit and come back.

The old Smashwords Style Guide says, “If your file is greater than 5MB, users of Word 2003 and later can use Word’s awesome Compress feature, which will dramatically reduce the file size without visibly harming quality. Simply right-mouse click on an image, click Format Picture, and then click the Compress button. Next, click the All pictures in document radio button, then click Web/Screen (selects the 96dpi compression), then click OK.” They have since revised the Style Guide so I don’t know if that holds true. I do know people still believe this, so….

But even before I came to Smashwords as one of the formatters on their little list, I had found the following:

  1. Compress does work, but it doesn’t compress as much as you sometimes think it should.
  2. Compress can ruin the quality of your images – and it won’t show until after it’s been run through the Meatgrinder or you print it on paper.
  3. Setting your pictures to grayscale in the same dialogue box often can INCREASE the size of your document.

So what do you do when you have a document for Smashwords that’s refusing to lose weight without quality? In this article, I’m going to address how I handle images for a Smashwords document step for step.

Step 0 – Have a good image editing program.

Microsoft Paint won’t cut it, by the way. Smashwords suggests Paint (http://www.getpaint.net/) or Picasa (http://picasa.google.com) because they’re both affordable (read: free). Although I hear it’s no longer being developed, I also suggest Gimp (http://www.gimp.org/), which is also free. I personally prefer Paintshop Pro, which I’ve been using since before Photoshop was emperor. (And if you want to spend money on it, it runs an average of $80, depending on where you find it at.)

If you do use an open domain (free) image editing program, I highly encourage you to drop a small donation of $5 or so to the developers (if they take them) as a thank you for the blood, sweat and tears they donated so that you can sweat some blood and tears of your own.

Step 1 – Check your image sizes

Okay you’ve got your editing software and you’ve… this is very important… opened it. Good. Now, the next step is to go back to your folder containing the images and look at your image sizes. You can do this in a lot of ways. The quickest way is to right click on each and check properties. I personally like to keep my folder settings on detail; all I have to do then is read the folder.

If all of your images are high quality, full color beauties and your Word document size is still under the limit: great! Skip to step 4.

If this isn’t the case then you have some work to do. I start with the largest file-sized images and work my way down one by one, checking things in the Word document as I go. The less I have to edit and compress, the cheaper the formatting cost for you.

Step 2 – Resize

This next part was common sense, right? Of course it was. Open the largest image in your software and resize it to the following dimensions:

  • 5” width maximum – keep aspect ration turned on
  • 6.90” height maximum – keep aspect ration turned on
  • 72 to 100 dpi
  • These sizes are so your image can be universal to ALL ereader screens. Newer ereaders have larger screens, but not everyone has thrown their reliable Nook Touch away. You want your audience to be as large as possible.

It’s important to note here that even when your document is under the size limit, if your images are above this height you’re likely to run into problems with images bleeding off of the reader screen. Not to mention a potential autovetter error. So make sure you images are all correct!

If you don’t understand what that means, I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you much. What I can tell you is the following:

I open my document in Paintshop Pro. At the top of my menu bar I click the tab that reads “Image”, go down to “Image Resize” to open a dialogue window. I make sure the setting “lock aspect ratio” is checked.

I make sure my resolution setting is no less than 72 dpi. Usually I will pick 100 dpi. If I were formatting a color epub strictly for Nook Color or the Kindle Fire, I’d pick 150 dpi and go to around 6 x 9. (Although I don’t recommend you go too high! I have found out by trial and error that large resolution pictures shrunk to tiny screen sizes can lose quality and be a little hard to read.)

Then I choose the width first. If the image is less than 5” wide but over 6.9” long, I will reduce the height and ignore the width. Otherwise, I tell the program to reduce the image to 5” wide. Some programs will then predict how tall your image is going to be under that setting. If so, check it! If compressing your image to 5” wide doesn’t bring its length under 6.9”, you have to tell the program to change the length to 6.9” instead.

*IMPORTANT: setting your image to 7″ long can actually trick an ereader into thinking your picture takes up two pages. That can cause problems in your document.

Set your compression level. In Paintshop, I do that when I hit “save as” to open the save dialogue window. I click a little button labeled “options” to open that dialogue and slide my compression level anywhere from 10 to 20. The lower the compression, the smaller your image BUT the more image quality you lose so don’t go beyond 20! I try to keep my compression as close to 1 as possible, but there are often times I can’t do that.

If your image is in color, you can try keeping it in color to start with.

Save your image under a different name. Do NOT save over your originals! You may have to revisit them to try compression again. Never compress the image you’ve already compressed, or you’re likely to end up with a very ugly mess.

You can save as jpg or png. Smashwords states that png seems to have the best results. If my image has words on it, I might save as a tif with layers turned on or a PSD because of the following step. Your final image that goes into your document needs to be a jpg or png.

Step 3 – Does your Image have text on it?

If your image is a comic or just something simple that reads “feel good about yourself,” the next important thing to ask is if it’s going to be readable on a tiny screen. They’re making ereaders bigger and bigger these days, which makes me think we should just go back to reading giant tomes written by monks at this stage. Despite that many people read eBooks on a small screen such – gasp! – their smart phone. To make your document universal, you have to keep those tiny sizes in mind.

To test, tell your image editor to view the image at a small size such as 20%. When you get your image looking about 3 to 4” wide on your screen see if you can read it. If you can’t, chances are it won’t be able to be read on an ereader. You’re going to have to fix that.

I can’t tell you how to do text without writing an entirely new article. If you’re someone who has put the text on your images, you’re hopefully someone who already has a glimmer of how to fix it. My advice is: make the font a big bigger. Try a different font: some fonts are easy to read at one size and just impossible at another. Increase your kerning: spacing out your letters can also help.

Save your image as per the instructions in step 2.

Step 4 – Reinsert into Word

Go to your Smashwords document, find the image in question or where you want it to be, and insert your new image. From the Smashwords Style Guide, “No floating images: Do not use floating images (if you can click on the image and drag it, it’s floating) because your image may appear in unpredictable places after the conversion. To anchor floating images, right mouse click on the image, then click Format Picture, then click Layout, then click In Line With Text, then click save, then click Word’s center button.”

If you remember the old HTML web pages from the early 90’s with divider bar pictures in-between paragraphs, that’s the style we’re going for. It’s crude, but it works. And it can be very pretty if done well.

If you tell Word to resize your image, that’s not going to work. That autovetter is a cold, uncaring program and won’t pay attention. So when you insert you want the image at 100% so you know for sure what you’re working with.

Step 5  Check your Word document size

Save your Word document. Go to the folder it’s contained in and check it’s size.

Are you below the limit already? Congratulations! Move to Step 6.

You’re not below the limit? Alas, it’s time for you to pick the next biggest image in the folder, go back to step 2 and go through the process all over again.

If you’re done the process to all of your images and your document is still above the limit, check to see how far above the limit it is. If it’s VERY far above this next step may not work and you’re going to have to decide if you need all of your images or if there’s a way to break up your book into sequels without breaking Smashword’s guidelines.

If it’s not that far above, then the next step is to turn your images Grayscale.

Step 6 – Grayscale

I don’t recommend going Grayscale for the following reasons:

  1. Color looks better on my black and white Nook screen as well as my husband’s BeBook,  my first gen Kindle, and f course my color Nextbook2. =^-~ It  stands to reason it looks better on other such screens.
  2. Furthermore, a lot of the newer readers have gone to color.
  3. I was fighting to keep things in color before that happened, as a matter of fact, because some people have turned their notebook laptops into large ereader machines (I know I did), and those are color.
  4. Some people just read while sitting at their desk.
  5. Not to mention the color of smart phones.
  6. There are a lot of reasons to try to stick to color.

If you do have to make the grayscale choice, I recommend you pick and choose various images that might already look grayscale but are compressed in color first. Then decide if all of your images have to be grayscale or if you can stylistically get away with just a few.

Reopen your compressed image in your image editor and tell the editor to make it a grayscale document. In Paintshop I do this by clicking the Image tab and selecting grayscale from my dropdown menu.

Note: Desaturate does not do exactly the same thing. If you’re tempted to use this command to get a grayscale image, your image will still retain a lot of information that using Grayscale won’t keep. Grayscale produces a smaller image in size.

Now save. When you save, your editor may tell you that it has to save the image with so many bytes of color. That’s okay. Hit yes, move on.

Now go back to step 3. Do this until you have a document that’s the size you want it to be. When that happens, you’re either ready for me to format the rest… or you’re ready for uploading to Smashwords if you have the rest done yourself.

Step 7 – A tip for when you upload to Smashwords:

From the Smashwords Style Guide: “If the images are critical to your book, then when you publish your book uncheck the checkbox eBook option for “Plain Text” because photos and charts don’t translate into plain text. If the images are a nice-to-have but not a need-to-have, then go ahead and allow the Plain Text option.”

If you don’t know what that means, you will.

It should also be noted that the PalmDoc format is really another format for plain text. I’ve yet to put a file through Smashwords and have the PalmDoc feature keep the illustrations within. But if that works for you, you have my envy and blessing.

FINAL NOTE: And after reading *all that*, a quick way to get your images the size you need is to resize them in Word, save your file as a filtered html document, and then edit your document in an html editor before reopening in Word. However, this doesn’t guarantee your images are going to look good. They will always be knocked down to 72 dpi and sometimes can come out a little grainy!

Good luck with your image editing!


This article was last updated March 9, 2014. If this was helpful to you in any way, please consider buying the author a thank-you glass of soda. Just send a donation to death @ apocalypsewriters.com or kausha @ hotmail.com.

A Troll’s Tail – epub format


Katrina speaking here.  This is one of my own stories that I spent all day formatting the epub for Goodreads. It’s also available on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Kindle and other places, but for Goodreads I wanted to take the opportunity to learn some more epub skills even though Smashwords doesn’t necessarily use them.

Specifically I was embedding fonts for the first time.

I also did the cover, but art wise that’s old news.

 Finnbhear is a young boy without a father. He loves his mother but there’s a bitter part of him and all he wants to do is sit in his favorite tree hole and sulk.

One day his best friend, a fairy named Kegal, gives him a special offer. Finnbhear must undertake a quest to cut off the tail of the old troll that lives in a cave nearby. If he succeeds and presents it to the Brown Man, he can become a fairy like Kegal. Then he could run away with his best friend and never have another care in the world…

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7922736-a-troll-s-tail

Screenshots