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Posts tagged ‘promotional material’

About those Kindle categories

A week ago I finished the first draft of what I’m provisionally calling A Trail of Dragon Scales, and this time I’m doing something a little bit different after that. The first couple of days went as usual: a euphoric sense of accomplishment, slight mystification about why nobody is having a parade for such a fine fellow as I am, the dawning realization that we don’t actually have any champagne… After a few days of trying not to break an arm patting myself on the back, usually I pull up my socks and get started on the next book.

But if you count Dragon Scales – and I do, because it doesn’t appear to need any structural editing, just the usual reading and re-reading for minor fixes – I currently have four completed books in the publication queue. Even I can’t create a sense of urgency about finishing another one in the next couple of months. And the next book isn’t helping out with that, either: there’s this one major theme and resolution floating around in my head, surrounded by huge gaping bubbles of nothing where the rest of the plot ought to be.

And, you know, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Cookies to bake, grandchildren to spoil, all that good stuff.

So I made an Executive Decision: any time I’ve got four books waiting for proofreading and covers and formatting, I’m taking a month off.

That worked fine for the week of babbling idiocy that frequently follows a prolonged writing push, but I started getting twitchy yesterday and revised the plan. Okay, for the rest of the month I will spend half an hour each day fishing around in my subconscious for the rest of that missing plot, and I will do… something… about marketing and promotion every day. Follow up on some of those programs that are recommended for tracking sales or picking keywords or whatever, evaluate some promotion sites, learn how to do Amazon ads. Whatever. I’m just trying to tame the general topic, which right now looks to me like a writhing mass of tentacles straight out of Cthulhu, into… well, at least into a collection of subtopics that can be addressed one at a time. Each of which will, most likely, also look like a writhing mass of tentacles, but you have to start somewhere, right? Read more

The Art of Design

I took a design course over the winter term, and there were some points we covered which I knew would be useful to the readers here. Design is not just for Graphic Designers, artists, and engineers. Indie authors can use the knowledge of what works (and what doesn’t) to better plan and approve ideas for book covers, promotional material, and ad design. I’m not going to replicate the entire course here, but I can recommend the textbook (which was surprisingly affordable) and hit some high points that I think are useful.

universal principles of design

The first one I wanted to talk about is the aesthetic usability effect. In a nutshell, people like pretty things. the books says that ‘designs that look easier to use have a higher probability of being used, whether or not they actually are easier to use.’ This may not seem applicable to a book – most people know how to use one, even ebooks. But the reactions of people to a book cover – that is where aesthetics comes in for the indie author. A beautiful cover will promote more positive reactions from the reader. So will a well laid out ad, or attractive art on promotional products. Striving for a more appealing overall look on your blog or website is worth the time and effort because the relationship browsers and readers have with you will be more positive. Here’s a very short video with some graphic examples.

Alignment, the placement of elements to line up their edges along a common (and usually imaginary) line, or their bodies around a center, is a somewhat intuitive thing for most of us. Alignment helps the eye connect related elements and speeds the comprehension when used with written elements. Area alignment is similar, but related more to images. When you are working with an asymmetric object, it’s better to line them up by the body of the shape rather than the edges.

click on image for more information.

click on image for more information.

Ever wonder why all the images you see on book covers are beautiful people? That’s because we humans perceive attractiveness as being related to intelligence, competence, morality, and sociability. There is actually a known waist-to-hip ratio (0.70 for women, 0.90 for men) that is ideal for the perception of attractiveness. Also, women with exaggerated lips, and men in expensive clothing… I’m not making this up! A related principle, and one that is easier to see immediate applications for book covers, is the Face-ism Ratio. The ration of face to body showing in the image determines how the person is perceived. A high face-ism ratio with just the face showing rates as being more intelligent, dominant, and ambitious. A lower face-ism ratio, where the face takes up perhaps 25% of the image, is perceived as focusing more on the sensuality and physical attractiveness of the person.

Image from Universal Principles of Design

Image from Universal Principles of Design

Let me show you why this applies to your headshots, also. Something to keep in mind – as an author, you’re not just marketing your books, you are marketing you. Choosing the right headshot for book or website use, for public appearance announcements, is important. Never use a headshot that is too old, especially if you do public appearances, as it will deceive the viewers and leave a bad impression.

A low face-ism ratio, combined with the costume, makes the perception of this image very different than the one next to it.

A low face-ism ratio, combined with the costume, makes the perception of this image very different than the one next to it. (photo taken by Leon Jester)

This has a very high face-ism ratio, and it is the headshot I am currently using in most places. Photo taken by Oleg Volk

This has a very high face-ism ratio, and it is the headshot I am currently using in most places. Photo taken by Oleg Volk

Moving away from imagery back into text, we should talk about Chunking, or why you shouldn’t swamp your readers with lots of text on promotional materials or the book covers. By using a limited amount of text and breaking it into smaller units, your reader will better remember vital information like your name, book titles, or website. Simplifying the design does not mean eliminating text elements, but rather keeping them short and tightly written – don’t waste a word of them. Consider the signal to noise ratio in your design. More signal, less noise, makes the message much clearer to the reader.

When it comes to catching the eye of the viewer, there are some techniques that you can use like Classical Conditioning, which provokes a response in the viewer based on the stimulus given. Kittens make people smile, an image with a badly scarred or wounded person makes them wince. I’m not saying kittens belong on the cover of your space opera. I’m saying that space ships, planets, and humanoids in space suits provoke a response to stimulus: oh, this must be science fiction! This is why we talk so much about cuing properly with the art on your cover, people are conditioned to react to elements they may not conciously recognize. If they pick up that cover with a spaceship and read about magic and fairies and… WTH? They are experiencing cognitive dissonance. While it can be used as an attention-getter, the design needs to alleviate the dissonance (say, in the blurb on the back) if the reader is going to be comfortable with it.

Which brings me to the von Restorff Effect. This is a phenomenon where things that are very different are more likely to be remembered that something commonly seen. A short video here explains it graphically, but you can easily picture in your head the effect. If you are driving down the road, you are surrounded by vehicles. Sedans, trucks, semis, but the one you will remember when you get home and tell people about, is being passed by the Oscar Meyer Weiner driving down the interstate. The thing that is different is highlighted (another important principle of design) in your memory.

Finally, we come to the Entry Point. Your book’s cover is the entry point. “The initial impression of a system or environment greatly influences subsequent perceptions and attitudes, which then affects the quality of subsequent interactions.” Yes, people do judge a book by it’s cover. A bad cover means that they are negatively influenced before they even begin to read the story you’ve worked so hard on.

Now, I’ve only lightly touched on the concepts you can use to make your output better. Do you want more? Let me know in comments and I will finish this up next week.

Oh, and Vulcan’s Kittens is free this weekend! If you’ve already read it, would you do me the favor of sharing a link for others to find?

Vulcan's Kittens

And due to yesterday’s giveways with no promotional push – I had that scheduled for today – the rankings are already:

I will update as I get insight from the promos I am running through Betty Book Freak and Ebooksoda.

Getting Graphic with your Work

And I’m not talking about describing the gory bits in gruesome detail. No, I had planned to do a walk-through tutorial today about creating a logo for your writing business. I hadn’t anticipated two things. One, to do a proper logo you need to create a vector file rather than image or illustration. I’ll get into what that means when I do the post – for today it matters because a week ago I ended my subscription to the full Adobe Creative Cloud, dropping back to Photoshop and Lightroom, and that means I don’t have Adobe Illustrator for showing how to do a logo. Which isn’t a bad thing, because most of you don’t have that, either, or you wouldn’t be asking me to show you how to do this. I did a little research, and downloaded Inkscape, the cousin of my favorite freeware graphic program, Gimp. Then I ran into the second thing I hadn’t planned on. You see, I’m getting married next week. I’m also traveling for several days attendant to that. I am afraid I ran out of time this week to teach myself Inkscape and create a tutorial. So! I put together some odds and ends of graphic design projects that can be useful to you all, and one that I was specifically asked for. I will be around to chat in comments, so feel free to ask questions. Oh, and Amanda wanted me to point out that things I discuss in this post, like guides and flattening layers, are pertinent to those of you working on print covers. So pay attention!

Postcards and Bookmarks

Having something to hand to someone who is interested in your book is a great thing. You can, of course, default to a standard business card, nothing wrong with that. You can do a lot with those. But today I’m going to talk specifically about the layout and requirements of the bigger, more art-heavy promo material. I take them with me to conventions to sign for people who own my ebooks but want a signature. I hand them out to… anyone who remotely looks interested when I say that I am an author. I give my local libraries packets of 50 bookmarks to keep with all the others on their counter. I can mail the postcards to libraries, schools, and other venues and promote myself and my books (I rarely actually do that, but it’s a possibility).

While you are shopping for a printer, you will discover that there are a lot of variations in size available. I’m using a 4×6 inch postcard, the standard size, for this batch. I may switch it up with the next one. Book marks can be laid out in the same way, so I won’t cover them individually now.

In Gimp, open a new file. Set the size to 4 inches by 6 inches (or what your printer requires), and then drop the Advanced Menu down, and set the dpi to 300 or 400. Do not leave it at 72 dpi, the default, as this will be rejected by any reputable printer and will look terrible if printed. Now that you have your new file open, pay attention to the print requirements for bleed. You will want there to be no live elements (important text or graphics) within 0.25 inches of the edges. You can click on the rulers at the left side and top and drag what is called a ‘guide’ to mark  your bleed area so you don’t put something there by accident.

I chose to lay out this postcard with three covers and represent my Pixie trilogy. I would not put more than four covers on a card, you don’t want it to appear cluttered. postcard layout

Open as Layers (found in the File menu dropdown) the covers or art you want to use. I generally use a jpg or png version of the covers so I don’t have to manage umpteen zillion layers in GIMP. Scale the covers to the desired size, you can do this easily with a right-click on the image and selecting Scale Layer. Using the move tool, place the art where you think you want it. Keep in mind you may have to move it again. This card was designed to have text on the front and a blank back, but you will note there is not a lot of text. This is a tool to interest them in what you have to offer, enough that they will take the next step. In the highlighted box, I have my website address. In the other corner, I have a QR code. These are scannable with a smartphone or tablet: this particular code will take them to Pixie Noir’s Amazon sales page, where they can look inside and read the sample. I want them there so they can buy as soon as I hook them.

When you’re ready to print, you will save this file as a pdf, just as you did for the cover for print. Make sure when you do so that you first merge all the layers, but save your work before you start this process. If you look closely at the screenshot above, you will see several layers of images, text, and other elements. All of those need to be flattened, or bad things can happen in the printing process. Right click on each layer thumbnail and select ‘merge down’ from the menu. DO NOT SAVE your xcf file at this point! You want to preserve all your xcf (Gimp) files for later. I’ll show you why in a minute. Now that you have everything smooshed, drop down the File Menu and select Export. Export your file as a pdf. Close your file and click discard changes.

Batch-Editing Art and Covers

This last week I had a chance to help out a friend who was in a bind. He had commissioned art for the covers of several stories, but they lacked a unifying element to tie the series together, and he wasn’t sure what to do to further signal his specific genre with the typography. This is not something many of you will ever have to do, most of us deal with one book at a time, but there are occasions when it’s a useful task, such as aligning covers for a series. And I told Dave I’d show how I did it, so he can tackle it himself if it happens again.

What I did was to open the first layer of artwork and lay the text out on it, along with the graphic unifying element (tentacles, to signal Lovecraftian cthuloid elements in the stories).

I’ll explain how I added the tentacles. After poring through the Dollar Photo Club for something suitable, I came up with the illustration below.

 

This is an illustration rather than a vector, which is better, but it will work.

This is an illustration rather than a vector, which is better, but it will work.

The first thing you need to do is right-click the layer thumbnail in the righthand window, and look at the bottom of the menu, where you will choose ‘add alpha channel’ which allows you to have a transparency rather than white (default) background. Then I chose the ‘select’ menu, and then ‘select by color’ and clicked on the black around the octopus. Then I clicked on delete and eliminated all the black, leaving a suitable graphic.

The graphic element, I can now manpulate it without overlying it's background on the art.

The graphic element, I can now manipulate it without overlying it’s background on the art.

Finally, I had one cover laid out with title, author name, and graphic unifying element (hereafter GUE).

Note all the layers in the righthand window.

Note all the layers in the righthand window.

Choose ‘Save as” from the file menu and name the file appropriately. Save it as an XCF file for now, you may need to manipulate it again. You will note the GUE is seen in the upper left and lower right corners. I had put just a little bit showing, and changed the mode (see top of righthand window, above opacity) of the layer to make it look like I wanted. Experiment with this, dodge, burn, lighten… powerful effects here.

Now that I’m happy with the fonts, layout, and this cover, I can move onto the next one. I simply click the little eye next to the layer thumbnail and make the art disappear. Eventually I will delete the unused layers, but I want all of them right now in case I need to make changes.

Layers

Layers

The art isn’t gone, it’s just not showing on the work area any longer.

I've already altered the title, and the GUE, the author's name I don't touch.

I’ve already altered the title, and the GUE, the author’s name I don’t touch.

Now I go up and open the art for this cover from the File>Open as Layers menu. You may need to drag the art layer thumbnail in the righthand window down, until it is under the other elements. You may also need to scale it so it is the same size as the background you see above. Play around with your GUE layer some more, until it looks right on the art.

What the final product of another cover in the same series looks like

What the final product of another cover in the same series looks like

Using Save As, name and save this file, then repeat with changing the title and the art for each cover you are doing. Dave had six, but it took very little time once I had every thing set up to manipulate the art and GUE under the layers of the text and modifying elements (drop shadows and that sort of thing).

I’m probably missing something, but ask in the comments and I’ll explain.