EBook cover design – difficult, difficult, lemon difficult

I’ve spent bits of this week designing a cover for the e-version of The Judge of the Dead. This was – to borrow one of the funniest lines ever to grace British TV comedy, from The Thick of It – not easy peasy lemon squeezy but “difficult, difficult, lemon difficult”.

I decided to use Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, which sounded simple enough, but due to incorrect advice about which versions my MacBook could handle, I wasted time trying to work out how I could download older ‘CS6’ releases when my machine handled the much newer ‘CC’, despite warnings to the contrary. That wasn’t all though. The download process messed up on a number of occasions, requiring online chat to Adobe’s helpdesk in India. Finally, after about 6 hours and half a dozen chat sessions, one of the staff offered to remote my machine and do it for me. And that was that: one frazzled day.

I had a look at some Adobe tutorials but none was quite what I was after so I went online to look for those handy little YouTube (and the like) videos that people put up.

The first useful one I came across was the following (published by Lynda.com):

That process relates to building the cover of a physical book though, so while I need to do this at some point, first I needed to produce a flat image for an ebook cover that would simply show as a thumbnail-sized (almost literally) image on Amazon.

Later I came across the following webpage, which was mostly incredibly helpful in producing a draft ebook cover (or two):


Obviously I needed to ignore some sections and adapt others but I did eventually get there in the end. The big problem I had was that I did/do not even have the basics of InDesign, so I had no idea how to re-find text boxes once I’d created them. This is achieved via the select tool, and very simple, once you know it exists. More hours wasted and hair torn out, and I’m pretty IT-intuitive as it goes.

I’ve missed out Terry White. Terry fronted up a video explaining how to do something or other, and while I’ve now forgotten what it was (always, always, bookmark!), I was impressed with his presentation skills and delivery so worth checking his name for anything to do with InDesign. He seems to front up some ‘how to’ vids for Adobe themselves, which is as good an endorsement as any.

I didn’t find Photoshop very useful. My first draft was achieved largely by messing about in iPhoto and then InDesign, in fact I may have bypassed Photoshop altogether. Same goes for the second draft using a different background.

My original wish was to use an image of a blastocyst, an embryonic stage organism (careful Sean, you may actually be in danger of talking about the story for a change), but I could not obtain rights to use the image I wanted without paying over £100. This would likely mean I would have to sell 100 books just to pay for the image, something I’m not prepared to embrace, so I resorted to a free one. This though was square and had too little background around the image, such that when I used the function that (ah, yes, I must have used Photoshop) attempts to recreate the background in a newly created area extending to a now book-shaped rectangular border, it worked but the result was quite blocky; something that is not really noticeable at thumbnail level but defo doesn’t work at life-sized 8in*5in.

Here is the first draft, included here for a laugh, basically (size near enough how it would appear if perusing Amazon):

JOTD cover scrnprt

The blastocyst image looks like a planet or asteroid or something, suggesting a Sci-Fi story; not what I want to achieve. I love the AppleGothic font for reading, and will use it for the text of the physical book if it is available through CreateSpace, but the font doesn’t translate well to book cover level so I knew I had to have a rethink.

Having trawled through loads of rubbish images connected to the two keywords in the title, ‘judge’ and ‘dead’, I decided to abandon theming my background, and to keep the design nice and neat and simple (the essence of good design?). But I still needed a background of some sort.

The obvious alternative to theming the title was to theme the author, so I zoomed up my dear old corduroy hat (now 18 years old, I’ll have to give it a copy of the key to the house and have the difficult ‘birds and bees’ conversation) as worn on my gravatar, and cropped a bit out, 8*5 dimension. This was to come back to haunt me in InDesign, when I tried to place it on my book cover template. The template has a bleed around the outside, so my 8*5 dim didn’t work. Eventually, after more hair pulled out (I’ve started on my armpits now) I realised I needed to go back to iPhoto/Photoshop and change the dimensions in there to take account of the bleed, before re-placing in InDesign. This worked.

Then it was time to revisit adding the title and author name. This had been simple enough first time around, but now I faced a new deadly foe: I typed in text, it was there for about a second, and then vanished. I spent hours trying to resolve this, to no avail, even after consulting Adobe gurus on the web. Eventually I deleted the ‘layer’ I was working on, built a new layer and the problem vanished, which is just as well as I had used up my vast array of expletives by that point and would have had to start inventing new ones.

The result, which I’m likely to go with, is attached (piping added by screenshot so won’t appear on Amazon):

hat cover jpg scrnsht

No it’s not fancy, but it’ll do. Really no idea why I should have to sell several hundred books just to pay a graphic designer’s bill, providing him/her with a fair chance of making more money from the book in a few hours than the author who has spent 3 or 4 years writing it. There is a lot of opinion out there insisting that a cover is really important. I never really paid much attention to opinion. I’m approaching this from the music angle. Most of the records I buy come in plain black or white sleeves; it doesn’t detract from the quality of the sound the producer has slaved over in the studio. I have never ever looked at a book cover and thought: Hey, maybe I’ll buy that. I can’t picture in my mind a single cover for any of the books on my bookshelf; that is how memorable covers are to me. The blurb though is another story. That is going to have to grab someone’s attention and make them reach for their credit card.

Really looking forward to publication being over and done with now, especially the cover(s) design stuff, which is going to get worse before it gets better as now I need to translate my thumbnail image into a front cover, back cover, and spine. Gonna be a fun-packed week ahead then. I’m running out of hair to pull out; trying to avoid getting down to the ones on top of my toes. That’s gotta hurt…