You know what the problem is with ebooks? They’re spineless, that’s what. Nothing to look at on the shelf, they just disappear when they aren’t wanted into the Kindle or what-have-you until they are summoned again. But some people like a spine, and others judge books by the size of their spine. For them we want to create a paper book, and it’s a different creature to create a print cover than to set up an ebook cover. For one thing, you need a much higher resolution image than you can get away with for an ebook. Minimum of 300 dpi for print. I know I’ve talked about spending a little more and buying a higher-quality image for this reason, and this is why. Createspace, which is the place I work with to get print copies of my book, will not approve an image that is less than 300 dpi (dots per inch, it’s a resolution thing. Lower dpi means a fuzzy, pixelated image. You don’t want that) for print.
The first stage to setting up a print cover is to get the template from Createspace. You will use this to lay out the cover so it fits the necessary guidelines. The size of your spine is dictated by the number of pages, and your paper choices, and other factors, so I can’t say what it will be. There is a formula for figuring it out, but it is so much easier to plug the information in and download the custom template.
Once you have the template, you can begin laying out elements on it. I will often work with the background layer set to a transparency that allows me to see the guidelines for the spine, bleed, and barcode. You want to be very aware of these. Live elements, which include any text, cannot go closer to a bleed guideline than 0.25 inches, or it will not pass review and will come back to be fixed.
In the screengrab of the Dragon noir cover, you will see pink lines, those are part of the template, and you cannot have text over them. As you can see, with the art background transparent, it’s easy to avoid them.
Now let’s talk about what you will find on a spine.
I used Baen trade paperbacks as a model for my later spines, when I had learned some things. And then I had books thick enough to put all the stuff on them. Vulcan’s Kittens and God’s Wolfling (which is on sale right now for a mere $0.99 shameless plug here) look thinner than they could for two reasons. I used bright white paper – cream is thicker, and easier to read on. I learned that much later, though. Also, had I gone with the 5×8 size you see on the Eternity Symbiote, they would have been as thick as it is. Ah, well, you can learn from my mistakes.
Book spines can carry a lot of information. After all, they are usually the first thing a shopper sees. I have been known to scan a shelf looking for the distinctive Baen Rocket logo. You can see it in a couple of places in the picture below.
On the other hand, you don’t want to try and put too much on there, and make fonts so tiny they can’t be read, or give it a cluttered look.
If you don’t have a clever logo for your publishing imprint, no worries. You can get away without it, although it’s a good thing to think about, as you can use it to tie many promotional materials together. But for now, you will want to have your name, and the title. Make sure they pop off the background art you are using. I don’t usually do the tricks I do on the cover to make the typography look raised, but I do drop shadows and gradient colors to create some life to the flat text.
I also put the name of my publishing company – Stonycroft Publishing – on the spine, at horizontal layout as you see on traditionally published formats. I started putting the price and ISBN on there, too. The idea is to make your book look like the other books so if and when a bookstore or library stocks it, then it doesn’t stand out in a bad way. Eye-catching is one thing, looking like something is missing is another, and not good. Now, I also put the broad genre of my books on the spine, but that’s just me.
Next week we’ll talk more about what goes on the back cover, and I will answer any questions in comments, or save the big ones for next week’s post.
Don’t forget to pick up a copy of The God’s Wolfling while it’s on sale. It’s less than a dollar today, and then tomorrow it goes up to $2.99 before returning to a pre-sale price on Monday. If you already have a copy, pass the word on to other people that they can get a good book for a bargain price (unless you didn’t like it…)