Designing the cover

"But I don't know anything about cover design!"

No worries. If you are computer savvy and have Photoshop, or a similar complex drawing program (Corel PaintShop, the open-source but quirky GIMP, etc), you should be able to do it. Here's what I did:

  • First I looked at the front and back of several books
  • I realized the components are all pretty similar and placement was not so critical
  • Then I picked out a few elements and dropped them into my Photoshop doc
  • All done!

Okay, it wasn't exactly that simple. But at least you can figure out every element you need just by looking at other books on your shelf! One note: everything I'm doing is for a paperback book, color cover and black & white interior. Probably you have minor mods for a hardcover with dust jacket, or for a color interior, which you could learn about on the Lightning Source homepage (which is really quite good).

Lightning Source has specific requirements for the color cover of a paperback book. For example,

  • 0.125" bleed on all sides [this is the portion that gets cut off by the press around the edges]
  • 300dpi in CMYK format [not RGB like most files are!]
  • At least 0.0625" tolerance around text on the spine. [so that it really remains on the spine!]
  • Use "rich" black instead of "registration" black. CMYK percent: 60% Cyan, 40% Magenta,
    40% Yellow, and 100% Black. CMYK total value should NOT exceed 240%. [The reason for this is that they apply four inks; and if you have 100% of four inks it's more expensive, and probably not a darker black.]
  • The barcode should be built in 100% Black only. [Note, if you screw up the barcode, they will supposedly replace it with a proper one, according to the documentation.]
  • Cover should be submitted in PDF/X1a:2001 format, created with Adobe Distiller. [If you try the Acrobat Online method, please let me know if it works well!]
  • There are other requirements, which you can read in the LS documentation, but these are the big ones.

"My head is about to explode."

No, it isn't, trust me! If mine didn't, yours won't. Here are the steps you have to go through:

  1. Know what trim size and type of book you want. Actually, this is a prerequisite for doing your typesetting. See here for available sizes. You may want to look into the pricing before you choose; it's fixed across many of the small-medium sizes. I chose 6"x9" as the largest reasonable page size. Thus I get more words per page than a tiny trade paperback (equals less pages, equals lower cost book). But I also get the benefit of a larger, more professional-feeling book at the same time. I like creme paper as opposed to plain, stark white.
  2. Do the typesetting as described in the previous article, and finalize it, because you'll need to know how many pages are in your book for the next step. Take into account that the last full page must be blank on both sides (they print a barcode on the back of that page for internal use), and the total number of pages should ideally be divisible by 4. And don't forget about "front matter," all the pages at the beginning of the book with copyright, dedication, etc!
  3. Use the LS spine calculator to calculate the width of the spine, based on how many pages are in your book.
  4. Calculate the size of your file in inches and pixels. For example: for exactly 300 creme pages, the spine is 0.674". Overall cover file is:
    • Width: 2x 6" (book width) + 2x 0.125" (bleed on both sides) + 0.674" (spine)
    • Height: 2x 9" (book height) + 2x 0.125" (bleed on top and bottom)
    • Final: 12.924" x 9.25"
    • Pixels: at the required 300dpi, it comes to 3878px x 2775px.
  5. Make a Photoshop file of this size, and give it your desired background color, just remember - not over 240% when you add up the percentage of CMYK inks.
  6. To make it easier, I recommend to set up "rulers" of some kind so you can see where the bleed is (the part that will be cut off), as well as the spine. As a non-Photoshop expert I just drew lines, then made the layer "invisible" before printing the final cover so they wouldn't be there on the actual book.
  7. Start adding components! I recommend to group the layers: front cover, spine, back cover, rulers, etc. Ideas for what components to add:
    • Cover: title, graphic, author
    • Spine: author, title, and your own publisher name or logo
    • Back: photo, title, blurb about the plot, publisher, barcode, price, website address
    • I recommend at least 3/8" between components and the edge of the physical book size, unless you have them going all the way to the edge and being cropped off (e.g. perhaps the cover illustration)
  8. The barcode is tricky. You shouldn't need to buy it from Bowker (the US ISBN company). If you download templates from Lightning Source the barcode will already be there. As I didn't use their template, I needed the barcode from somewhere... as I remember, I copied it from their template and pasted into my PSD file. But you have to be careful, because it can be screwed up by antialiasing or other such features. If you zoom into the full 300dpi, it should look clean and have straight lines. Now, if you're brave, you can rely on their claim that incorrect barcodes will be replaced by LS automatically.

Finally, here's my cover: I've left in the lines showing where the bleed and spine would be, just for demonstration.

Demon's Bane Full Cover

"What if I can't draw?"

The main concern you might have if you're not an artist is where to get cover art. You can use stock photo sites or other drawing sites, where you can get a royalty-free file for around $20 or less. As I understand it, royalty-free means once you buy it, you can use it without paying a percentage per item sold. Check out the photos and illustrations at iStockPhoto.

I was fortunate to have a friend that volunteered to do an illustration for the cover. However, I picked a complex and not-very-appealing layout that I asked him to draw. So the front cover is really not all that I'd hoped, due to my choice. Pick something simple and stunning.

That's all for this section! As I mentioned I'm not a Photoshop expert, so if you have some tips, just let me know with a comment. Now, get ready for creating PDF files.

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