Sunday, July 2, 2017

DIY E-Book Covers: Design Principles for Non-Designers by Roz Marshall

DIY E-Book CoversDIY E-Book Covers: Design Principles for Non-Designers by Roz Marshall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a step-by-step, click-this-and-drag-that book on how to create your own e-book cover. Rather, this is an overview of what a good cover should look like, with discussions of different design elements and techniques. The nitty-gritty of how to execute depends on what tool(s) you're using. Marshall stuck with generalities, likely as opposed to writing a book ten times as long with sections for the popular tools.

The design factor is where many people have trouble, though, which makes this book useful. Marshall also discusses how to put what you learn here to use if you decide to hire an artist to do your cover for you, or to choose a pre-made cover that'll work for your book.

Table of Contents:

1 -- Introduction
2 -- Covers matter
3 -- Tools
4 -- Genre
5 -- Content
6 -- Layout
7 -- Imagery
8 -- Color
9 -- Typography
10 -- Branding
11 -- Buying a cover: What to look for
12 -- Pulling it all together

"Don't judge a book by its cover" is a great saying to use with small children if the lesson you're trying to teach is not to judge people by how they look. When it comes to actual books, though, most of us do judge books by their covers, and any indie pubbing writer who wants to give their books the best possible chance of selling needs to put the best possible cover on their books. Figuring out what "best" means for your particular book is the trick, though, and that's what Marshall focuses on here.

Chapter One is basically intro.

In Chapter Two, she points out how many new books are published every month, every day, and how a good cover will help your book stand out. And that it has to stand out in thumbnail size, not full size.

Chapter Three talks about tools you can use, and skills you need to develop when learning to use your chosen tool, and things like file types, resolution and dimensions. Again, this isn't a book on how to use specific tools, but having a list of skills to learn tells you what to Google when you're looking for lessons, YouTube videos, etc.

The overall look and design of your cover depends largely on the genre of the book, and she talks about that in Chapter Four. She gives a few style elements to use for particular genres, but be wary -- specific styles and fads for a given genre change over time. You're better off looking at what the top selling books in your genre look like before you design your cover. As Marshall says, "Genres are developing all the time." Consider what the Harry Potter book covers looked like when the books were first being published, and what they look like now. They're very different, because the style elements that say "fantasy book" have changed. Make sure you do up-to-date research before you design your cover.

She also offers a cool trick I hadn't thought of before -- pasting your thumbnail cover over a cover in an array of bestselling books in its genre, to see whether it blends in, or whether it sticks out and looks amateurish, or maybe looks like a good example of a different genre.

After talking about some of the things you should put on your cover, Chapter Five talks about what not to put on it. Simple and uncluttered is good. Too many newbie cover designers try to put too much on their covers.

You may know what your book is about, but your reader doesn't -- until they've finished the book. So any symbols, clues or elements of the story that you show on the cover are meaningless to them until they've read it.

Rather than showing every element of your story, or faithfully recreating a particular scene, you should instead focus on representing the essence of your book; on generating emotion and desire (to read) rather than creating a photographic record of wwhat's inside.

This chapter also focuses on what text elements should (and possibly should not) be on your cover. There are more than most indie authors think.

Once we have some idea of what should go on the cover, Chapter Six discusses how to put it all together. Marshall gives design principles like a focal point, the rule of thirds, symmetry, balance (including balancing the text with the image), negative space, and margins. She also talks about how and why to group similar text items together. The last chunk of this chapter describes how to set up a cover template, which will make laying out all your covers a lot easier.

Chapter Seven talks about what kinds of images to use and where to get them, including cheap and free (but still legal) image sources. She also discusses the incredibly important issue of legality and rights -- even if you're purchasing rights to an image from a stock image site, you might not be buying the correct rights that'll allow you to use an image on a commercial book cover. Once you've got your image, she discusses things like resizing, cropping, and masking. Separate sections within the chapter deal with lighting and color "temperature" -- warm versus cool colors and how to blend colors.

Chapter Eight focuses more on color, how to choose colors, put different colors together, and how to use color to make sure your text is readable, even at thumbnail size.

Speaking of text, Chapter Nine is about typography -- choosing fonts, blending fonts. Marshall gives examples of different types of fonts, and explains why certain fonts work well with particular genres. A section describes font hierarchy, which means how to lead the reader's eye from one text item to the next, with the most important first, working their way down, using text size and color and contrast to lead the reader through the text in the order you want.

Next is kerning, layout, readability, and different font effects. Again, this isn't a point-here-click-this kind of book, but she explains the principles and they'll apply to whatever tools you choose to use. This is the longest chapters, and there's a lot of good info here. It rewards a read-through, and then another going-over once you've booted up Photoshop or InDesign or whatever you're using to actually do your covers, so you can try things for yourself.

Chapter Ten is a short discussion of branding, which in this context means choosing elements to be the same or very similar from one cover to the next, to signal the customer that this particular book is part of a series, or to help the readers easily recognize a book as yours when they see the cover in a bookstore.

If you've decided that doing it yourself isn't your best choice, Chapter Eleven is about what to look for when shopping for either a designer to do a custom cover for you, or for a pre-made cover that'll fit your book. She talks about how to examine an artist's portfolio, and what information the artist will need to have before they start working on your cover.

Chapter Twelve is a summary of all the above, which is handy for a quick once-over to refresh your memory if you read the book a while back. There's also a link to sign up for her newsletter; doing so will get you a free additional chapter which discusses wrap-around covers needed for print books, which could come in handy since everything in this book talks about the front cover only, the one you need for an e-book.

All in all, I think this is a good first book for someone thinking about doing their own e-book cover. It explains a lot of rules and elements of design, and gives you a good foundation for further learning, or so you can talk to a cover artist if you decide to purchase instead of make, without a lot of flailing and roundabout explanations. Just knowing the vocabulary is a huge help when dealing with a pro.

I took off one star because there are a number of weird little formatting glitches, including three "Pro Tip" boxes that don't have tips in them. These are minor, though, and the info included in the book is very much worth the purchase price in my opinion. (I do wonder what the tips were supposed to be, though. :) )

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