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Book Designer & Self Publishing coach

Book Cover Early Planning

Groundwork

November 30, 2020

Five things to avoid common production delays

Usually, I design the book cover last, but that does not mean that I am not planning it early. Here are five things that will help you to be prepared and have everything you need when it is time to design the cover. Your book cover is critical in getting people to look at your book. Even if you are not hiring a designer to format your text-only book’s interior pages, I recommend hiring a professional to design the cover. But before you enroll a designer to design your book cover, start your planning early and consider these five things:

1. Take some time to look at other successful books in your genre

There may be a size and style commonly used within your book’s genre. It’s valuable to recognize the similarities. People who buy books gravitate to the familiar…what they have liked in the past. I am not saying copy, but learn from their success and consider what elements you may want to adopt. A good way to look at what others are doing is to take a Fact-finding Mission to gather information about your genre’s common practices. 

2. Consider the spine size early when planning your book cover

Spine size is crucial since the spine is all you see on a bookshelf. But the spine can be tricky. Obviously, the fewer pages you have, the smaller the spine.  Small spines can make it difficult, if not impossible, to fit your content and still have the spine readable at a distance. If your book is of modest size, I encourage you to consider a smaller trim size to add bulk to the spine. 

How does your book’s size affect your spine’s dimensions? Well, let’s say you have used my page count formula to determine that your manuscript formatted as an 8 x 10” book will be under 200 pages. At 200 pages, your printer tells you that the spine will be under a ½ inch. At this point, you may want to consider (if it is not too far astray from other books in your genre) reducing your trim size to 5.5 x 8.5”. Just by making this adjustment, you can increase your page count by around 40 pages.

Other ways to bulk up your page count is to have ample margins, right hand only chapter starts, ample space between lines (also called leading), and flush-left rag-right text. The nice thing about all these options is that they almost universally make your book more reader-friendly.

3. The 3 R’s of cover images: rights • resolution • readability

Be sure you have the right to use the image on your cover, that the image file is large enough for print, and that it fits or can be cropped to fit and makes sense visually and in context. If you can, using your own art or photography is your best bet. That way, you own the rights and have an image no one else is using. Digital stock photography can also be an excellent place to find art for your cover, but with stock photography, you can run the risk of picking an image that someone else has used.  You also want to review the image licensing agreement to ensure the image is permitted for use on a book cover.  Be wary of free image sites—sometimes, those sites are not licensed to offer the images they offer.

Low-resolution images are also a common problem. A picture can look good on the computer screen but print very poorly. That is because the resolution required for a computer screen is much lower than the resolution needed for print. Once a photo is initially taken at a low resolution, you cannot make it higher.  The data is just not there. So if you are shooting art with your camera or phone, make sure the resolution is at a high setting.

Looking at the number of pixels an image has is probably the simplest way to see if your image can work in print.  Print images need to be at 300 PPI.

To find out your image’s maximum print size:

  1. Look up your image’s PPI (width x depth)
  2. divide the number of pixels by 300.

For example, let’s say your image is 1,200 by 900 pixels.
900 divided by 300 = 3
1,200 divided by 300 = 4
So the largest your uncropped image can be printed at is 3″ x 4″.
That is not very large for a book cover.

Selecting an image that reads well, proportionally fits, and accommodates the title is also essential. Simpler images, images that can be cropped to your book’s proportion, are usually best.

4. Back cover content

Think about what you want on your back cover. Quotes and reviews are a great great way to generate interest.  Hopefully, early on, while you were preparing your manuscript, you sent copies out to gather reviews. If you did not, it is not too late. Get that manuscript out there for some early buzz.  A brief description of your book is also valuable to help readers decide to take that additional leap to purchase. And finally, a short author bio and a picture can also help the potential reader gain respect for or identify with you, further gaining trust that the book is right for them.

5. Typography

Well, you don’t necessarily need to consider type early. Still, you may want to, again, look at what other publishers in your genre are doing with type—remembering that people gravitate toward the familiar.  It is wise to consider your genre before choosing your cover typeface.  There are a lot of folks online that say your cover typeface should match your interior.  I don’t think that’s necessary, but it can aid in an overall unity. Always choose a face that is not so decorative that it is difficult to read. Script faces are notorious for being illegible—especially capital letterforms. If a script face is appropriate for your genre, be careful to consider its legibility.  Typically less ornate, more casual script faces are more readable.  Avoid using thin letterforms, especially if you are reversing the words out of a background. Remember, readability is key. Besides being recognizable from a distance, you want your title to be readable as a thumbnail online.

Planning your book cover early, not helps you avoid time-delays in your book’s production, but also forms the groundwork for an effective cover. A cover that will stand out on a shelf and also as a thumbnail on a website. A cover that sparks that familiarity you want from readers of your genre and presents enough information on the back cover to intrigue the reader to look further.

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