Wednesday, 21 September 2011

How Can I Design my Book Cover for Free?

Completing a kindle novel is only part of self-publishing. The indie writer may wonder how to conceive a great book jacket design for the novel or ebook for nothing.

A Great Book Jacket Design for Ebooks

An array of book cover designs can be found to bewilder the indie writer on how such effects can be attained. Book cover design services are at hand to assist the author who knows little about the visual elements of a book cover. However, an effective book cover can be created at little or no cost with just a little time and knowledge. Not only does this offer the writer full control over what the cover looks like, but also saves money. In simple terms a book cover simply consist of
  • The image
  • Text
  • Special effects (if any)
Book Cover Design
So without a designer, how does the writer dream up the perfect book design for a thriller, horror or crime novel? Firstly, take a look at what’s out there. Horror or thrillers feature a lot of black with a splash of colour, crime a lot of moody shades; historical, props of the age.

Browse from the viewpoint of the potential customer. Bear in mind that all book covers are thumbnail sized and so not everything stands out. What catches the eye, what themes are prevalent on your chosen genre? It is important to convey the feel and mood of your book to the consumer, yet also to make it stand out from the crowd. It is true that many judge a book by its cover, and a good one could potentially generate sales.

Do’s and Don’ts of Book Jacket Design

The following tips when conceiving a book design may help:
  • Keep it simple. Avoid needless clutter and too much detail in your design. Close-ups, oblique lighting or something punchy will make the book cover more eye-catching.
  • Ensure the quality of the photograph is top-notch. This means high resolution, good lighting and a carefully-arranged composition.
  • Keep in mind that the thumbnail view of the book’s cover as seen on Amazon is quite small, and detail will not be perceived well.
  • Ensure the image is in keeping with the book’s content and feel. It would be misleading to feature an idyllic village scene if the plot centres upon secret agents at work in the inner-city.
  • Allow large area of a particular tonal area to dominate where the text will be. A fade-out effect, mist, sky or shadow can be used. Patchy colours will render parts of the text invisible.
Free Book Cover Designer

Copyright-free images and stock photos can be found on the net, such as Amazon’s Createspace or Creative Commons, but I prefer to create my own cover image. Any good digital camera will serve well. I use the highest resolution setting (usually portrait). Consider the following when creating the visual design.
  • Take time to set up the scene, be it a landscape view, a figure or a still life setting. This can often be more time consuming than the shots themselves. Of course, a painting can similarly be photographed or scanned, if the cover image consists of this medium.
  • Take several photos rather than just one – there will always be dud photos which can be deleted. Camera-shake, poor lighting or blurred focusing are demons to be avoided. I took around 30 photos for my cover design of Domestic Bliss. I wanted just the right lighting and viewpoint. This meant shifting the binoculars around and tilting the eyepiece at different angles.
  • Lighting is crucial for mood. You don’t need lots of lighting equipment. In fact, I prefer natural daylight, (unless you are after a candlelit scene). I wanted a moonlit shot for my cover A Hard Lesson, and of course, dim light requires tripods and lots of luck. So I took some shots in bright sunlight. In Pictures Programme, I increased the tonal contrast, muted the colours and shifted the overall hue to blue. The scene looked moonlit.
The Book Cover Creator for Books

Allow plenty of background area. This superfluous area will be trimmed off when uploading onto Amazon’s print on demand division, Createspace. Incidentally, Createspace offer ‘Cover Creator,’ which enables you to design your cover from scratch for free. Templates, fonts and images can be used. I use ‘the Palm’ for my novels, a blank template, as this gives the author complete control over the appearance of the book cover. The feature enables you to view your book cover and fix any issues, such as elements cropped off or off-centre.

Best Fonts for Publishing

Paintshop or Photoshop enable you to play around with different fonts and effects. You can adjust the transparency of the font, fade from one colour to another or stretch them out. Choose your fonts carefully; avoid anything too fancy or indecipherable. Is the title of the book readable in thumbnail? Try different sizes. Simple and bold are often best, although elegant can be good for historical or romantic novels, impact suitable for thrillers.

Design Software for Book Cover Designs

There is an array of software out there, but all I use are Paintshop Pro, Pictures and Paint. You can do a surprising amount with just a few simple features. Lots of special effects are really unnecessary, but worth experimenting with, such as art media effects, distortion and aged effect. I always save a copy of the original photo before playing around in case something goes wrong.

Tips for a Great Book Jacket Design

The writer does not have to shell out a lot of money to create a great book jacket. The elements of a book cover are really only an image and text. Conceive an image that is in keeping with mood and genre of the book. Take a look at like-books out there. Make yours stand out. Make the image memorable, moody or punchy.
  • A good digital camera is often all that is required to take photos. Use high resolution. Take the time to compose the image and take plenty of photographs.
  • Experiment with different effects as can be found on Paintshop Pro but keep a copy of the original image in case something goes wrong.
  • Try out different fonts but ensure the title of the book can be made out when viewed as a thumbnail.
  • Retain superfluous background area for trimming areas, as will be found when uploading the image onto Createspace.
  • Uploading the image onto the Kindle platform is easy. Simply browse and select the relevant image. I would insert an image of the cover design within the first page of your Kindle ebook, as this image will be in view in the customer’s kindle library.
Other helpful articles

Experiment in book cover design to increase sales
Advice on novel writing
Formatting your kindle ebook

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

My Kindle Ebook Keeps Showing Formatting Errors

You may have completed your enovel, uploaded it onto Amazon or Smashwords, and yet formatting errors appear out of nowhere. How does the writer rid of invisible ebook bugs for good? Here is a step by step guide, with images to help ewriters get to grips with formatting the ebook.
How Not to Upload a Kindle Ebook

I have encountered all sorts of bugs and formatting problems during my epublishing experience. Firstly, here is a list of what not to include in your ebook.
  • Tables.
  • Bullet points.
  • Indents using the tab bar.
  • Fancy fonts.
  • Page numbers.
  • Fancy graphics
Step by Step Demonstration on Debugging your Kindle Ebook.

Once you have completed your (perfect) novel minus the elements just mentioned, save a copy before debugging in case things go wrong on the original file. Purge the copy file of your novel by selecting all (ctrl + A) and then copying it into Notepad. Notepad can be found under ‘accessories’ after clicking ‘all programmes on the bottom right of your screen. Notepad will strip the file into the barest elements, getting rid of hidden tables and codes you don’t realise are there.

Select all again and then copy into a new Word document (not XML as this more modern version of Word is not supported by some epub viewers, but Word 1997-2003) This can be found by clicking on the graphic on the top left and then ‘save as.’ Paste the file onto this Word file.

Now select ‘change styles, as can be seen on the screenshot. This is not the same as ‘save as,’, as the style of the document is being changed, not the file type. I have found that using the style of ‘Word 2003’ causes my paragraphs to misbehave in previewers, so I use the style of ‘Word 2007 (remember, this is not altering the file type, only the look of the document.)

Next, get rid of hidden codes, such as superfluous spaces. Hidden codes can be made visible by pressing the ‘show/hide’ icon at the top of the Word screen. Back space superfluous spaces and tabs and never keep spacing to the bottom of the page to get a page break. Allow one line at the end of each chapter and then insert a page break in the proper way.

The Perfect Format for Ebooks

Select all again and then select ‘normal’ formatting as shown on the screenshot. This will ensure fonts will not change size erratically on the kindle previewer. The book’s fonts and spaces etc, will change. Select all and change the whole book to a commonly-used font and size (I use point 12, Times New Roman). Select ‘page layout’ and select 0pt before and after paragraphs.

See screenshot below to see how to indent all paragraphs by 0.3pt, usual for fiction books. Some fine tuning will obviously be necessary to ensure the book reaches the desired look.

Formatting Ebooks Made Simple

A more in depth guide to formatting Ebooks can be found in Mark Coker’s excellent book, ‘Smashwords Style Guide’ which is free. It is very detailed and requires a little taking in, but once read from cover to cover, your kindle Ebooks will format as required and minus the headaches.

See my other article which explains how files become corrupted if using the wrong Word document.

Once formatting errors have been eradicated, you can convert your book into the desired format (Epub or Mobi) by using Callibre, a free software that is great for book conversion.

Monday, 19 September 2011

I keep Getting Bad Reviews for my Novel

What does the writer do if the novel gets slated repeatedly by different reviewers?

Dealing with Bad Reviews, Advice for Authors

An isolated case of a one star review for a novel is a different matter to receiving a series of bad reviews. In the case of the latter, the writer may have to take notice. The bigger picture might be that the bad reviews form a small fraction of the overall feedback, perhaps representing one in ten or less. I have written a separate article to dealing with an isolated bad review. But if the negatives begin to outweigh the positives, the writer may take an objective view from the following:

Are the reviews addressing the novel itself, or an unrelated issue, such as customer service, a technical problem or a few typos? If the review relates to formatting problems on the kindle book, take a look at my article on how to format an ebook properly and take steps to have the review removed, for it could give a misleading impression of the novel’s quality. Furthermore, punctuation and spelling issues can be easily fixed with a good proofreader or a simple double-check.

Making Negative Book Reviews into a Positive

No author likes to get negative reviews. An isolated case can be put down to someone’s personal opinion or a minority view, but when the bad reviews keep coming, it is time to take notice. The following steps may be taken:

Read each bad review once, once only. Differentiate between unhelpful/non-objective/subjective views from meaningful critique. This might be: ‘the novel is too wordy,’ or ‘the characters are not authentic’ or ‘nothing ever happens for pages.’ Look for common themes. Is a particular issue mentioned more than once?

Don’t copy each review verbatim, record the issue raised in your own words, reflecting what has been said, but make it more palatable, such as ‘review 1 suggests I need to tighten the plot in the centre of the novel,’ or ‘review 2 suggests I need to do more research into the background history of my novel.’

Remember only take note of reviews that offer a meaningful critique, not ranting, offensive or rambling disparagement. Even then, not everything someone says need be taken as gospel. A trusted friend or literary consultant may be called upon to gain an objective view, failing that, the author may step back before considering the issues with a clear mind. Even constructive criticism served tactfully can be hard to receive, but such a critique can prove invaluable to the writer.

How to Get Rid of Bad Book Reviews

The option to unpublish might be considered if the novel has proved to have serious issues. A redraft may be necessary. My website giving clear advice on all matters of novel-writing from conceiving characters to writing dialogue as well as drafting the novel may help improve the story.

A reworked novel might benefit from a fresh start rather than republishing under the same ASIN/ISBN. This might entail giving the novel a new title, cover design and reworded synopsis. The novel can be published from scratch, where in the case of Kindle, a new ASIN is given, and in Createspace, a new ISBN. The novel cannot help but undergo improvement if the plot has been tightened, the background more fastidiously researched or the characters fleshed out. More positive reviews are (likely) to result. This is part of developing as a writer.

When to Ignore Bad Book Reviews

However, do not change the book if the negative reviews are plainly a subjective opinion. For instance:
  • Too much bad language or violence (if this is integral to the plot or a sign of the times, such elements might be vital to the story).
  • If the very thing complained about is the effect the author had intended.
  • The moral of the story does not accord with someone’s belief system (eg, crime does pay).
  • The fiction genre. For example, complaining a novel is too luvvv-duvvy if it is supposed to be romantic fiction.
  • A complaint about the writing style. Each author has a different writing style. So long as the author has good command of English and avoids typos and grammos, clich├ęs and lazy prose the writing style, is what defines the writer and is a matter of taste; another reader may love it.
  • The characters are all horrible (if unsavoury characters are the point)
Advice for Novelists who get Bad Book Reviews

Never give up writing. Many respected writers get lots of bad reviews and the books keep selling. Never engage with those that gave the bad reviews, it would be unprofessional. Quality and passion will (in time) often win through. With improvements made, as suggested, good reviews are more likely in the future.

Helpful Links on Novel Writing

I’ve had my first bad review
Articles on novel writing.
Vital preparation for a book talk

How to Deal with Bad Reviews of your Book

How does the author deal with a bad book review? Every writer’s dread, spotting a one star review for a novel that took years to craft can be a stab in the heart. Before taking any action, the following advice might help.

What to do with Bad Book Reviews

Otherwise known as a ‘torpedo,’ a bad review may cause the writer to question whether all the hard work has been worth the effort. The following will hurt. Read the review (once is enough). Be objective. Firstly is the bad review valid? It is not if the following apply.

Establish whether the bad review is for the novel itself. I have seen countless bad reviews given for unsatisfactory Kindle service, for instance delay in delivery or damage to the book; text-to-speech perhaps doesn’t work properly. Bad formatting of the Ebook is another common issue. If the complaint is not directed at the quality of the story itself, the author may request that the review is removed for it could be misleading to potential readers.

Similarly, if the bad review is overtly slanderous, offensive, exhibits racist (or similar offensive views) or is a personal attack, the author may request the review be removed. This can be done by clicking on ‘report abuse’ next to the review. Such a review will be picked up by other readers and reported to Amazon, and if the complaint is persistent, Amazon will remove the review without any action from you.

Perhaps the reviewer does not like the genre of the book (it happens). No matter how well the book is written, a romantic story will not be received well by a hard-boiled crime buff. In such instances, the writer may take stock and consider whether the synopsis or book cover design represents the genre of the story. Similarly, the review is simply a personal opinion. Perhaps the reader does not like the political views implied within the book rather than the writing style itself.

Dealing with a Bad Book Review

Bad book reviews come in all shapes and sizes. I have taken a look. Some are one-liners, some rant on and on. Some are unclear as to what is wrong with the book. Such feedback as ‘thin plot, ‘cheesy romantic story,’ ‘unconvincing dialogue’ or simply ‘badly written’ might be the sort of phraseology found. Some reviews are succinct and to the point, others are vague, still others do not accord with the one star review, giving positive comments.

What to do With a Bad Book Review

The author’s initial reaction at the sight of a one star might be indignation, despair or try to ‘brush it off.’ The last one is hard to do as most writers care if their work is appreciated or not. Some bad reviews can be very helpful, giving constructive comments in a tactful way. More about this can be found on my next article, using feedback to improve your novel.

Sadly, too many bad reviews are simply unkind or unwarranted. But regardless of how harsh or unfair the review may be, never engage with the reviewer or try to make him/her change the rating. The result could merely be a sparring match which will only make the writer look very unprofessional.

A Good Book Reviewer

Check the reviewer’s feedback score. This is the voting system found on Amazon that states whether the review was helpful to other customers or not. By clicking on the reviewer’s name, his/her other reviews will be displayed as well as the reviewer’s rank. If few people find the reviewer helpful, a low rank will be given. An unhelpful reviewer is likely to be disregarded.

In time, a bad, ill-conceived or overtly ‘nasty’ review will show itself up for what it is. Fortunately, Amazon’s ‘look inside’ feature enables the potential reader to sample the book and make independent judgments. Smashwords enable the reader to sample up to 20% of the book free. A well-written sample and story synopsis will sell itself.

Customers have been known to upload a book based on controversial or bad reviews to see if it was really that bad. Differing opinions are likely to spur a discussion and even raise the profile of your book.

Fair and Impartial Reviews of Your Book

There is a culture of people giving glowing reviews to a friend or relative’s novel on Amazon. This can be spotted if reams of five starred reviews followed by similarly-worded reviews are given for a book. This is because a genuine review is hard to come by. Readers by and large, simply want to read and not give feedback. Personally the sight of a book with a mish-mash of reviews appears more authentic than a book with lots of five-starred reviews. For this reason, a one star review will tell the customer that the writer does not vet his/her reviewers.

Advice for the Writer who has a Bad Book Review

I myself have had a ‘torpedo’ and was glad to find people still purchasing my book afterwards. Hard as this might be to do, try to rise above it. You are in good company. King, Rowling and Straub have all received one-starred reviews. Sometimes, the bad review is simply someone’s opinion. Read the review once only. Decide if it has anything of value (a separate article is dedicated to this, see below) and then move on. But never give up writing.

What to do if the negative reviews keep coming in.
Advice on improving your novel