Ebook Covers New Smashwords Standards

Smashwords will soon require ebook covers to have a minimum length of 1,400 pixels and a recommended width of 1,600 pixels with a recommended height of 2,400 pixels. Why? Couple of reasons: Apple’s bumping their previous minimum from 600 to 1,400 to display covers better on those lovely iPad screens, and because there seems to be a magic formula for hot sellers in the 2-3 ratio of width to height as in a 6×9 book.

If you’re already selling ebooks in Apple via Smashwords, have no fear—no change needed even if yours has less than 1,400 pixels. It’s only for new ebooks or authors who make updates to their ebooks where the needed length will come into play for Premium Status and distribution to those coveted retailers.

Read all about it from Mark Coker, the CEO of Smashwords in his blog below.

New Ebook Cover Image Requirements Coming to Satisfy Higher Resolution E-Reading Devices

Heads up.  Effective on or about July 15, Smashwords will begin requiring higher pixel counts on ebook cover images. Why the change?  Starting in August, Apple will require that all new ebook cover images be at least 1,400 pixels wide.  Their previous minimum was 600 pixels. Since Smashwords requires vertical rectangle (height greater than width) images, a new recommended ebook cover might be around 1,600 pixels wide by 2,400 pixels tall.  Why 2,400?  2,400 is 1.5 times 1,600. (…keep reading)

Thoughts, comments?

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Pixlr Photo Editor for Ebook Covers

Galaxy Girls vs The Evil Publishing House 1An Indie author friend suggested playing around with pixlr photo editor as a nice tool for working with images and perhaps making book covers. It’s a browser-based editor similar to Photoshop that requires no download, yet it can do many things to alter images and even create them from scratch. In fact, Pixlr can be used entirely for self-publishers who want to design their own covers. For me, a total newbie to this program, my immediate impression was that it had some nice features and also some real drags.

Since I’m a big fan of free images from Flickr’s Creative Commons, I somehow gravitated to this photo from Matthew Mendoza since it seems like a fun image for a mock book cover. These ladies have a great Halloween theme, perfect models for our example ebook. What shall we call it? How about, Indie Galaxy Girls vs The Evil Publishing House. (Remember to only use photos, videos or articles with permission and proper crediting.)

Galaxy Girls vs The Evil Publishing House 2Okay, so we have our lovely models dressed in galaxy garb. The background doesn’t feel very galaxy-ish so let’s find out how well Pixlr deals with this first issue: we don’t need the mall in the background. Using either the lasso or eraser tool, the undesirable mall elements are fairly easily removed giving us a white background, which we can alter later. Next idea that comes to me since guys will be guys–even though our Galaxy Girls are universally attractive, we know that sex can sell ebooks so the cover editor (moi) has decided to give them a  boost for sexier crime-fighting power with 6 well-placed clicks of the mouse using Pixlr’s bloat tool. The following changes now render our cover at this stage on the right, leaving us with our heavily endowed Galactic crime fighting ladies sans mall background. Have to admit in a juvenile way, that was fun. Since an alteration was made, the need exists to double-check with the permission owner that it’s okay, but since we’re not selling Indie Galaxy Girls, this shouldn’t be a problem.

galaxies girls 3Next we can add a background that’s more appropriate for our heroines, something like a space scene. That was easy, as it should have been.

Then comes the hard part. I tried and tried for what seemed like hours to get some text in there that looked half decent. True, book cover text font is not my specialty, and this last and very important task just didn’t work at all.

In the end, had to admit defeat. Just couldn’t come up with any text that looked respectable to accompany my Pixlr mock book cover. Perhaps some of you reading this are wizards with this program, but this author was not and didn’t have the time to become one. And so Pixlr was abandoned as a method for ebook cover design, or at least it was deemed good for some things but not others.

Give me Inkscape or Gimp any day. Also free, far more powerful, and (in my opinion) a heck of a lot more intuitive. And if you want to hire some affordable help, email list@smashwords.com for cover design and interior formatting. Or you can read the PC World article by David Daw below for more info on choices.

How to Edit Images for Free

Want to do some serious image editing without spending a lot of cash? Here are a few of the better image editors that you can download for free on your Windows, Linux, or Mac system. (…keep reading)

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Indie Authors Home-Made Book Covers part 1

Indie authors wear many hatsWhen self-publishing, the average Indie author wears many hats while transforming the words of a manuscript into an ebook or paperback. This means handling multiple jobs of the publishing biz that would normally be done by specialized pros: editing, interior formatting, cover design, marketing, etc. The Indie dilemma–you can’t just write unless you have deep enough pockets to hire out for many professionals.

Enter discussions in forums and you’ll likely hear energized opinions of what authors should or should not do for themselves. Editing probably stands out the most, but another heated debate is on cover design. Should an Indie author design her/his own cover? Well, the tools exist online to do it for free, so is that reason enough to give it a try?

It was for me. I’ve done it 7 times, and although my covers haven’t been nominated for awards (nor will they), I do sell books. Ultimately the reviews and referrals sell more than the covers, but let’s not get off track. This post is not intended to be an argument for or against doing it yourself; it’s just to give examples from authors I’ve met in cyberspace who made their own covers and are willing to share experiences. This is not a contest nor is it meant to be in any order, and for those who still insist on hiring out… at the bottom are affordable solutions.

Before judging these books by their covers it’s important to recognize that plenty of Amazon best-sellers have less-than-stellar front faces. http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/ is a list of top 100 paper-books, not ebooks, and it may surprise you to find many simple designs (basic photo or graphics with text) on best-selling books. Seems about 20% of the books on this top 100 list are simple enough to be reproduced by the average Indie.

Here are some covers made by Indie authors using (mostly) free resources.

Love of My Life Memoirs of a Love Lost cover by Angie Russell

Title: Love of My Life: Memoirs of a Love Lost

Author: Angie Russell

Description from author:  Cover was made using Adobe Photoshop CS2.  Basic elements were applied like text, cropping of photograph, soft glow, etc.  I’m a novice in Photoshop but was still able to make a cover I was proud of.  Took me about 2 weeks and 8 drafts.

Author’s blog: www.angienrussell.wordpress.com

Amazon Kindle page: www.amazon.com/dp/B004YQDPR6

***

Baba's Kitchen Cover by Reisa Mary StoneTitle: Baba’s Kitchen: Ukrainian Soul Food with Stories From the Village

Author: Raisa Marika Stohyn

Description from author: I used a Kodak digital. I brewed a pot of traditional borshch, with hand cut vegetables. As I have no experience in food photography, it took ten days to get the shot! Days 1-9 were frustrating. I got complicated, adding a head of garlic, a lemon slice and bread. I soon discovered that cold borshch looks unappetizing; I heated and washed utensils daily. Lighting, props, even spoon angle had to be precise. Once I was happy, I used Picasa’s free photo editing program to fine tune and add text.

Author’s website: www.ukrainiansoulfood.ca

Amazon Kindle page: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006WPZE6M

***

Severance by Shawn Cannon cover

Title: Severance

Author: Shawn Cannon

Description from author: I created my book cover for free. I used an open source program called GIMP. It is very similar to Photoshop, without any cost. Google was a terrific resource to find royalty free images. There was one photo, that I did ask for permission to use. Custom fonts were found online for free as well. After that, it was just trial and error. By no means am I an artist. I was just dedicated to playing around with GIMP until I found some looks and features that I was ultimately pleased with. I did not want a cover that looked like it was created by an amateur, and I was determined to keep my costs down in the process. I probably spent ten hours in all from start to finish.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/shawntheauthor

***

Will Love for Crumbs cover Jonna IvinTitle: Will Love For Crumbs

Author: Jonna Ivin

Description from author: I knew what I wanted for the picture, so I asked a friend to pose and another friend with a good camera to take the shot. The rest I did in photoshop. Found the text on line and downloaded it for free. Painted her sign myself. All free!

Author’s website: http://www.jonnaivin.com/ (Still working on website. I don’t know much about them.)

Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Will-Love-Crumbs-Memoir-ebook/dp/B006V1KQLU

***

Red Poppy cover by Phil Davis

Title: The Red Poppy

Author: P. Alan Davis

Description from author: The making of this cover was very simple. I used a photo of a Maui Poppy I took last year. Because I needed a more vertical image for a book, I rotated the image 90 degrees. I posterized it using Nero and adjusted the color from lavender to more of a red hue using the same software. The image was inserted into a MS Publisher file and the title and by-line were added. I saved it as a PDF then converted it to JPG. I did two separate covers–one for Kindle and one for paperback using the same image but different layouts and text.

Author’s blog: http://padaarch.blogspot.com/

Amazon Kindle page: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00652M1G8/

From Interview to You're Hired cover by Dr. Angela Massey***

Title: From Interviewed to…YOU’RE HIRED! A Short Guide to Interview Success Strategies

Author: Dr. Angela Massey

Description from author: First, I studied some of the book covers on Amazon to get a feel for what’s selling and would probably work. Second, I paid for the cover picture from iStock.com. Third, I created the cover in myeCovermaker.com. Since I’m not a graphic artist, I wanted something easy to use, yet sophisticated enough to provide a nice looking cover. I went through four revisions before settling on the current cover, and I’ll probably change it again! All in all, creating the book cover was the most demanding part of my book writing process.

Author’s website: www.lifeonpurposellc.com redirects to www.drangelamassey.com

Amazon Kindle page: http://www.amazon.com/Interviewed-YOURE-Interview-Strategies-ebook/dp/B006UXUVUK/

***

Neverdark cover by C. S. Einfeld

Title: Neverdark

Author: C. S. Einfeld

Illustrator: Aaron Einfeld

Description from author: Aaron designed it originally in pencil, then using CGI, primarily DAZ studio and a bit of Bryce.

Author’s blog: www.authorcseinfeld.blogspot.com

Amazon Kindle page: http://www.amazon.com/Neverdark-ebook/dp/B0069TD5AI/

***

Desert Harvest cover by Wando Wande

Title: Desert Harvest

Author: Wando Wande

Description from author: I used open source software, Gimp. The painting is a public domain image by Federick Remington.

Author’s blog: omnifish.wordpress.com

Amazon Kindle page: http://www.amazon.com/Desert-Harvest-ebook/dp/B006OEVPB4/

***

twilight of the bald and other stories by Robert Challis

Title: Twilight of the Bald and other stories

Author: Robert Challis

Description from author: I wanted a striking image featuring a smooth cranium, for which I was the ideal model. After taking a digital photo and adding the text, I experimented with photoshop effects rather randomly. The effect I used is from filters/stylize/glowing edges, then adjusting the fine controls to the degree of brightness I wanted. A self photo removes any copyright issue as well as being satisfying to the vanity!

Smashwords book page: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/75022

***

Extreme Skiing and Psychedelic Mushrooms cover by Jason MatthewsTitle: Extreme Skiing and Psychedelic Mushrooms: The Art Of Chasing Fear

Author: Jason Matthews

Description from author: Mostly proud of this because I made it in 20 minutes. The photos are freely available from Flickr’s Creative Commons. I used Inkscape for everything including the photo transparency and text graphics. This cover is from a free short story, and it’s the example in my video class teaching e-publishing with free resources.

Author’s website: http://ebooksuccess4free.webs.com/

Amazon Kindle page: http://www.amazon.com/Extreme-Skiing-Psychedelic-Mushrooms-ebook/dp/B005OZJ1JC/

***

Now for those who really want some affordable professional solutions, here are some ideas:

  • If you email list@smashwords.com, you can get a list of cover designers as well as ebook formatters–experienced, inexpensive and approved by Smashwords.
  • Contact Bradley Wind via his Flickr page – http://www.flickr.com/photos/bwind3/sets/72157617997470513/ and see about an affordable cover.
  • oDesk.com specializes in hiring out for small jobs with people from all over the world.
  • 99desings can have multiple artists competing for your job, though expect to pay more for it.
  • Some of my favorite free online programs useful for making book covers include: Inkscape for graphics editing, Flickr Creative Commons for photos, and Picasa for simple photo editing.
  • In the comments sections, feel free to either offer your services or recommend a cover designer.

I titled this post part 1 because I believe many other Indies might show up in the near future with covers and stories of their own to feature. Look for an update here if it’s out.

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oDesk, Online Indie Author Assistance and more

odeskFor Indie authors who could use help with cover design, interior formatting, marketing or a variety of related aspects to the e-publishing business, oDesk is one place to look. While this blog generally focuses on doing everything possible for free to sell ebooks and paperbacks, there is an epilogue called Cheating With Money for certain authors and times where it makes sense to hire out. Although the Cheating With Money chapter could easily morph into an entire book all its own, oDesk will be added to the next updated version (January 2012) of How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free.

What is oDesk? It’s a free to join, online community of business owners and subcontractors who can connect and work together. Jobs can be large or small, full-time or just an hour. Professionals in web development, software, multi-media, mobile web, sales & marketing, translation, administrative support, general office and much more can be listed for both job opportunities and employment wanted. oDesk takes a 10% cut on every job, so factor that into the equation if you’re looking for work.

Business owners seeking help can post jobs and receive contacts from perspective workers with resumes, examples, references, etc. There are tons of people out there so don’t be surprised to receive dozens of replies in little time. Many of the candidates who do the work are not from the US, which often keeps the prices extremely competitive (low). Pay can be hourly or fixed price. There are feedback ratings similar to eBay for both parties and even a screenshot of the people working every 10 minutes on your project to keep things on the up and up.

Here are some keywords many writers might use to find help at the site: editor, illustrator, designer, photoshop, graphic artist, e-book, copywriter, marketer, book cover design, logos, e-commerce, internet marketing, SEO and more. I personally haven’t used oDesk, but my wife got some complex photo graphics assistance for an ebook cover for $20, which she was very happy with. (Notice she didn’t even ask me first, but that’s another story.) Tips from customers include things like this:

  • hire people with more experience and reviews when possible, though some newbies can be great
  • have the details very specific before making an agreement
  • good English speaking skills are a plus (assuming you speak English)
  • if time-frames are limited, working with someone in a similar time-zone helps
  • using Skype can help bunches
  • don’t work with people with multiple accounts, who might give you a runaround
  • stick with good workers and move on from bad ones (this is kinda obvious)

For people who are looking for work, simply sign up through the Find Work page and fill out the forms. Answers to several dozen questions can be found at their FAQ’s page.

This oDesk looks like a pretty smart place for certain jobs. The main ones Indie authors often inquire about are cover design and formatting. My guess is oDesk will have plenty of specialists in those fields. Smashwords also has a list of cover designers and formatting help that can be had by emailing list@smashwords.com.

If any readers have experience using oDesk, we’d love to hear about it in the comments section.

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Ebook Covers, do People still Judge them?

People judge a book by its cover, so it logically follows that people judge an ebook by its cover too. Because that’s true to a degree, many Indie authors prefer to hire out for this even though costs can range anywhere from $50 to thousands. However, it’s also true that effective ebook covers can be designed for free. It’s also a bonus to be able to make changes yourself anytime and to save money, especially if you have multiple titles.

Take a minute to check out the top selling books on Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/. These are paper books, not ebooks, and it may surprise you to see how simple many of the covers are. It should also inspire you knowing that books with average covers can still sell in large quantities.

My theory is that the ultimate success of a book is determined by what’s inside. Over time, reviews and referrals sell ebooks. Would you rather have a 5-star cover and a bunch of 1-star reviews warning others to stay away, or the opposite?

Besides, ebook covers are seen as fairly small pictures. People don’t inspect them up close as when browsing in a bookstore. For simple yet effective designs, there are many things you can do for free. Here are a few methods for obtaining and working with images online.

Take photos yourself.

The Little Universe cover artist's arm with paintbrushUse a digital camera and take photos either of yourself or things that are in line with the themes in your book. Many cover images include the author or background landscapes that are simple pictures with appropriate text around them. With image/graphic editing software you can create additions to complement the photo. Or you can take photos of something related to your ebook. This worked for my first novel, The Little Universe. My artistic friend held out her arm with a paintbrush in hand. She stood in front of a black background, and the resulting photo worked great. Her arm and paintbrush were cut out with a free editing program and pasted over another image, a public domain one.

Public domain images.

The Little Universe cover spiral galaxyPublic domain means anything that is not owned by someone with copyright restrictions. Like the term open source, it’s free to use so long as you’re not selling the image itself. For a book cover, public domain pictures are fair game. This is a public domain image for The Little Universe. It’s a photo of a spiral galaxy taken by the Hubble Space telescope. Since NASA is a government outfit paid for by our tax dollars, the American people collectively own those images. If you like amazing astronomy pictures then definitely see the collection at http://www.hubblesite.org/gallery/. However, most of your ebooks probably won’t have much to do with astronomy. Here’s a list of websites that offer tens of thousands of free, public domain images:

The Little Universe front coverhttp://www.photos8.com/

http://www.public-domain-photos.com/

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/

http://www.pdphoto.org/

http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Graphics.shtml

Jim's Life cover imageIf you want a better selection, you can buy royalty free images for about a couple of bucks apiece. This worked for my second novel, Jim’s Life, where it cost just two dollars for the rights to use an image of a young man’s hands with colorful light energy all around them. It was perfectly in line with the theme of my novel. The image was found by searching Google for royalty free images. There are dozens of places where you can browse millions of images and pictures for book covers and buy them for about one to four dollars apiece. You can also search the stock photos by keywords to narrow the results.

There are plenty, but here are two great sites for royalty free images:

http://www.bigstockphoto.com/ – where the image was found for Jim’s Life.

http://www.istockphoto.com/ – another good place and very affordable.

Photo and Image Editing software.

Jim's Life front coverSimple photo editing might be all you need for creating a simple yet pleasing book cover. With Picasa 3 it’s easy to manipulate the images and add some text, although Picasa is severely limited in what it can do compared to graphic editors. But even if using more complex software, Picasa or Flickr are good to have. People argue over which one is better, but for the purposes of creating an ebook cover, Picasa is great. It’s free, managed by Google and super user-friendly. Simply download Picasa 3 and follow the prompts.

Here’s the short list of photo/image editing software, and more are available through a search:

http://www.picasa.google.com/ – perfect for simple things like image enhancement, cropping, resizing and text additions.

http://www.flickr.com/ – similar to Picasa, owned by Yahoo, preferred by people who want to share their photos with potentially large communities and by many avid WordPress bloggers.

Open Source Image and Graphic Editors.

These are more complicated and capable than Picasa, but if you’re familiar with the original Macintosh Paint program or Microsoft Paint, then you can learn to use these types of software. These programs can alter images in every way imaginable, plus they can create outstanding images from scratch. Remember to watch tutorials and follow along with video lessons.

How to Make Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free front coverUsing one of these graphic editors is what made the cover of this ebook, How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks – All for Free. The cover design probably won’t win any awards, but it’s perhaps as good as some of the best-selling books on Amazon. Remember, books are ultimately judged by the value within, and people mostly read books that are recommended to them.

Here’s a partial list of sites with free editing software:

http://www.inkscape.org/ – makes vector images, much higher quality than pixels. Inkscape was used for this cover, which is fairly simple but gets the job done. However, art isn’t my specialty, so many of you might be able to use Inkscape to come up with incredible designs from scratch.

These are also recommended image and graphic editors:

http://www.gimp.org/Jim's Life

http://www.getpaint.net/ – works with Windows only.

http://www.seashore.sourceforge.net/ – works with Mac only.

Now, you should spend some quality time here and come up with a cover design that makes you happy. Remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect, but you want it as good as you think it can be. No need to rush through this one.

What are your thoughts?


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