Kindle/Nook question - what makes a good book cover?

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Laer Carroll, Nov 2, 2011.

  1. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    Go to your favorite bookstore and walk down the aisles, as I did this morning for some ideas about how to finalize my cover for Shapechanger's Birth. I was struck with just how bad, from an artistic and commercial standpoint, many of the professional covers were.

    You must consider the bigger picture when selecting any product. There are plenty of free or cheap programs. I've used many. (For that matter, I've created some.) But documentation is a very important consideration. It may be more important one than the efficiency and interface of the software itself.

    Go to that self-same bookstore and find documentation for any program you are considering. I found (and then checked out from the library!) two which helped me a lot. They saved me many days of frustration and puzzlement and desperate emails to expert user forums such as I went through with DAZ 3D Studio.

    Photoshop, for instance, is "touted widely" for a good reason - which includes books about it - which includes several versions. Don't think you have to buy the pro versions, which run into the hundreds of dollars. (The most expensive are about $2000.) Photoshop Elements will cost you $90 at Amazon. And it will do most of what you want. Maybe you can even look up exactly how to do it, from a book with lots of illustrations and examples to clearly and quickly take you through the effort.

    Look at buying the latest version minus one of any software. They are often cheaper, just as good as the very latest version, and may have more books about them. Which may be in your public library.

    I can highly recommend two such books.

     
  2. CMTheAuthor

    CMTheAuthor Life is fantastic, yes?

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    Pretty much my point. Throw in the issue of aesthetic subjectivity, and you'll see why I'd be a bit skeptical. But anyway...

    I'll admit I have an advantage in this regard, due to having a natural ability to figure most types of software systems out pretty readily by testing them. Documentation isn't as big a deal when you can play with the software and figure it out that way.

    I understand not everyone is quite as tech savvy, so I agree that for most, documentation would be more important. I think Paint.NET also has tutorial forums for asking questions (I didn't really look at them much, due to not needing most of the abilities it offers, heh), so it's not like it's totally lacking in this area.
     
  3. N. E. White

    N. E. White tmso Staff Member

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    Well...I searched and could have sworn we had a book cover critique thread, but it appears that folks have been putting up their own thread for each book cover they produce.

    So...Laer, can I post my book cover idea up here for feedback?
     
  4. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    Of course. I and everyone else here want to know how to make our covers better, if we have any say in the matter. We'll steal good ideas from anyone!

    Hope I don't sound mean here, but you must be VERY tech savvy and talented.

    I can safely say that I am too. I spent more than 40 years as a software and systems engineer. I created software and wrote users guides for, most recently, NASA and Boeing. I got paid big money helping people use software to help them engineer deep-space probes, jet fighters, UAVs, and much more.

    A program with limited functionality and a good user interface can be played with and figured out well enough to use without documentation. But a sophisticated program, no matter how good the interface, cannot be used that way. Some kinds of guides are needed if you want to get a job done well and within a reasonable time.

    Photoshop Elements is such a sophisticated program. Even though it is a junior version of the full Photoshop for professionals, it still forces EVEN ME to go to the books.

    The two I mentioned are both necessary because I could not find any one book which served all my needs.

    Elements for Digital Photogs is a recipe book full of photos detailing how to do a hundred or so important tasks we might need to do. A lot of times that was all I needed. My sky was too dark for my book title to stand out? Do this, do that, problem solved.

    But then I had to deal with layers, so I could superimpose the title, byline, and the short descriptor "A Shapechanger Tales Novel" over my image. Layers let you move the text around and change its colors and sizes quickly, and see the results instantly. For that I had to understand the WHY as well as the HOW of my task. For that The Missing Manual worked for me.

    As a result within a week of 10-12 hour days I had a result I'm close to pleased with. The final result I'll show here Real Soon Now.
    .
    .​
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2011
  5. CMTheAuthor

    CMTheAuthor Life is fantastic, yes?

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    Well, there are different kinds of tech savvy. For example, I know very little about programming, but I'm very good at working out the nuts and bolts of software. I have given practical advice to other people who also work as computer programmers, so I guess I'll take what you said as a compliment.

    Regarding layers, that was a big element of doing my cover art too. The main trick was learning what the different coloring effects were with stacked layers, and which one worked best. That said, it only took me a few hours to figure out which options I needed, and then I didn't have to worry about the rest. After that, I was just putting it together layer by layer.

    It took me about 3-4 hours every day for a week, with most of that spent on refining the image rather than learning the technical aspects of the program. I did have the advantage of only having to work on one book at a time, hence why I didn't have to put in the full day like you, Laer.

    If need be, I could give a step-by-step of the process involved. I figure at this point we may be talking over some people's heads, so that might help bring it down to earth for everyone else.
     
  6. N. E. White

    N. E. White tmso Staff Member

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    Okay, well, here's my current book cover for my very first novel. Here's what I would like to know:
    1. Would you be embarrassed to carry around a book with a cover like this?
    2. Does it make you at all interested in the contents?
    3. Is it readable?
    4. Would it also work for an ebook cover/image/thumb print/thingy?

    Also, keep in mind, the following:
    • I'm not very visually creative
    • I don't know any graphic software but CorelDraw and that's what I used
    • Because I don't want to waste money on a good cover for a book whose content will not live up to a paid cover, I've decided to do it myself knowing the above - which means I want to KISS.

    Thanks for any feedback you can offer...

    Full spread; back (with filler blurb - I'm working on that), spine, and front:
    [​IMG]

    Front only:
    [​IMG]
     
  7. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    A little more contrast on the line drawings with the black cover would be good, though that may just be my computer. I would suggest making the title a bit bigger because it's hard to see the moon clearly. Some people might miss it and it's kind of tiny compared to the large map. Love the bat on the back -- is this print you're doing?

    Big thing for me is being able to see whatever art is there. Black covers can be great, but it needs to work with contrast. You are doing something kind of subtle there, so you need to make sure it doesn't get washed out.
     
  8. N. E. White

    N. E. White tmso Staff Member

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    Yes, I do want to go subtle. I don't want folks to realize there is anything there unless they look closely. But, of course, I don't want them to have to look too closely.

    I will make the title and moon bigger.

    Thanks!

    Yes, this is for print and ebook versions.
     
  9. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    Covers nowadays must work as both Web and print versions. Amazon uses images 300, 160, and 100 pixels on the vertical side. Here is my cover.

    [​IMG]____[​IMG]____[​IMG]

    For my print edition I will use the following but apply a photorealistic skin.

    [​IMG]

    The background is from a photo I took in Kilrush, Ireland, one morning on the edge of the Shannon River, where my protagonist spent the first two years after she returned from the dead a shapechanger.
     
  10. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    That's better, I think, Laer. I'm tempted to say get rid of the bench because now it's blocking that nice landscape from the photo. You can see more of her facial features, which I think works better.
     
  11. CMTheAuthor

    CMTheAuthor Life is fantastic, yes?

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    I think that the byline might be a bit of a problem. With it just being "Shapechanger Tales" rather than the earlier "A Shapechanger Tales novel" or some alternative, it could make people think that it's a collection of short stories, rather than a novel. I think we can agree that would not be good, particularly for getting new readers.

    I still think you could also stand to left-shift the word "Birth" on the cover, but that's just me being my nit-picky self.
     
  12. sullivan_riyria

    sullivan_riyria Creator of Worlds

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    I don't think red text on black background works well - too little contrast and in small thumbnail format will be difficult to ready.

    Personally I would take the moon out of the text and make it a major graphic. I agree with Kat on the contrast of the book.


    Here are some covers I did for a series of thriller novels that featured "moon" - now granted its a different audience but I think these "show well".

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    And yes I realize one is red text on a very dark background but that was a color choice of the author and I made my case and he still wanted it so there you have it.
     
  13. CMTheAuthor

    CMTheAuthor Life is fantastic, yes?

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    Contrast tends to stem more from brightness versus darkness than specific colors. Red against black works just fine, as long as you make it bright red. (And since you'll ask, I did the same, although I had the advantage of a fairly large blue-colored image amidst the black.)

    Anyway, I went ahead and used Paint.NET to look at a shrunken version of Tmso's (let me know if I should call you something else) cover. While it looked pretty good, there are two issues. The first issue, as Kat pointed out, is that the maps become nearly invisible. If you want them seen, you've got to modify them. I don't think this is that big a deal, but it's your call, being your book.

    The second, and more important, is that the byline (running vertical on the left side) also becomes unreadable. You'll have to figure out how to handle that yourself, but that is a problem if you're trying to promote it as part of a series. (Judging from reading the byline, you are.)
     
  14. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    Shapechanger's Birth just showed up on the Barnes & Noble site. I discovered that they display covers in two sizes. The small size is for pages containing several cover images.

    [​IMG]____[​IMG]____[​IMG]

    The large size is for pages for a specific book, which has just one cover image.

    [​IMG]__[​IMG]__[​IMG]

    These are actually created by B&N from the larger JPG image you give them. Its horizontal dimension must be no smaller than 750 pixels, the vertical no larger than 2000 pixels.

    So ask yourself: does your image look good in both sizes?
     
  15. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    A consistent look across all or most of your books helps readers recognize your work.

    Here are covers for the five books I've published or plan to publish on Amazon and B&N in the coming year or so. Some are minimal, but all show the typography and general image structure. The blue background on some is like the TV/film "green screen" (Chroma Key) process, which is used to put up virtual backgrounds behind actors.

    [​IMG]___[​IMG]___[​IMG]___[​IMG]___[​IMG]
    The title colors of the first three covers are the same because they are all part of a trilogy. Notice the parallelism of the titles: Shapechanger's Birth/Progress/Destiny. The colors of the last two will NOT be red and green, but they will be different from each other and the first three.

    The next book to go online is this one. It is symbolic. Sasha Canaro goes to the Olympics to support a friend Judo Olympian, not to compete. (Sasha is superhuman.) That friend and a couple dozen others are kidnapped by terrorists, the friend badly hurt. Feel sorry for the terrorists when Sasha catches up to them.

    [​IMG]
    I could not come up with a good face for my were-seamonster, who is a sort of sexy female Creature from the Black Lagoon. So I show her from the back. Nude. With noticeable curving claws. Up to her knees (and over my byline) in water.

    [​IMG]
    Some tricks of the trade which you might use. Some were suggested to me by two acquaintances who are commercial artists.
     
  16. N. E. White

    N. E. White tmso Staff Member

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    Cool beans, everyone. Thanks for taking the time to offer feedback. I will modify accordingly. (Starting from scratch. The landscape idea is a good one...)

    Laer, I do like the consistent look across your books, but I feel the images of the girls need to be more...complex. Maybe it's the lighting?

    Other than that, I think they work well. What background image were you thinking of using for Progess?

    Good luck and congrats on getting the first one out! :)
     
  17. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    Background for the second Mary McCarthy book? Maybe a photo I took during my few weeks in Ireland and England, but more likely a commercially available photo. Something with a chandelier? To echo the lamp-light in Mary #1?

    I can put photorealistic skin on people, give them complex facial expressions, use realistic lighting, and so on. But it's a question of how much time do I spend on those activities. It might be worth it for a printed book cover. But online images are small and the detail disappears.

    Look at the book covers at Amazon and B&N and see what professional artists are doing. Almost none of them bother. For that matter, look at professional book covers in the bookstore. Few of them bother, either. And when they do, their online images don't show the detail, or it becomes blurred and muddy. Embossed text on print is a good example. Good for print. Bad for online.

    Best I spend more of my time on content. That is what sells a book, and attracts readers to authors, and gets word of mouth. Which is still the biggest source of sales.

    Speaking of which, I've now got to do one final polish of THE SUPER OLYMPIAN before I convert it to Kindle and Nook formats and put it online. In the YA category?
     
  18. N. E. White

    N. E. White tmso Staff Member

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    Yeah, you are right about the amount of time spent on these things. Plus, in the end, you just have to go with something.

    Content is key, as you said.

    I like the idea of echoing the lamplight.

    Can't answer your last question. What's Sasha's age in the book? Does she experience some sort of coming of age?
     
  19. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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  20. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    In another thread:
    No one owns a thread. We can only start them. Everyone who posts comments shares ownership. They can trash the thread or keep to the topic or expand the topic or change the direction.

    In this one I wanted to get some specific help on a line of covers, and some general help on all future covers we might create. That worked out well. LOTS of good advice, with examples.

    This latest example is for the next book I'll put on Amazon and B&N. In creating this cover I learned several lessons. Some of them may be useful to you.

    [​IMG]

    The first lesson was that you can re-use previous covers and save a lot of time. This was true in DAZ 3D Studio, which I use for the figure, its wardrobe, props, poses, lighting, and viewpoint through a virtual camera. I just copied the very complex work file for Shapechanger's birth, and changed it.

    Ditto Photoshop Elements, which I use for the background, titles, and additional images like the jet aircraft flying over the parking lot where my heroine is crouched. Several terrorists at the Olympics have had the bad luck to meet Sasha on her way to a Judo competition. Now they are dead or dying, and she has their weapons and is ready to deal with more terrorists as needed.

    One of the many good features of Photoshop is that all images can be put into different layers. Each "higher" layer overlays the ones before. So I could (for instance) put in the aircraft and move it around and try out different locations. (Oh, and there are lots of good books on how to use Photoshop, and magazines devoted to art and SFFH art with advice from world-class artists.)

    Didn't like that aircraft? Choose another (non-proprietary) image taken from Google Image search. I used Windows Paint a lot for cropping, resizing, and rotating the JPG images before inputting them into Photoshop. PS has those abilities too, but I found Paint to be a lot simpler and easier to use. (For those on Apple computers, there are several great image editors already on your Mac or freely available.)

    A very general and useful lesson I learned by accident. The best background may not be the most dramatic and complex one. I did a Google search on "clouds" and got 144 MILION images. I skipped through the first few hundred, copying terrific (non-proprietary!) images to my computer. I tried several out as backgrounds and none suited. They hid or washed out the aircraft image which I felt important to my cover.

    Then I decided to look through photos I'd taken. I found a simple somewhat blah photo I'd taken in Galway two years ago while checking the accuracy of details in my Mary McCarthy trilogy. (Online research is wonderful, but sometimes being where your story takes place will tell you all sorts of subliminal detail that research cannot.)

    I used my photo and found its simplicity a plus. The blah sky allowed the aircraft to jump out of the picture. Ditto my main character. And the plain and photorealistic ground and parking lot gives a bit of realism to balance the somewhat fantastic nature of my main character.