Do-It-Yourself eBook Cover Design

In an experiment today, I found that, in a pinch, I could design my own eBook covers for upload on the Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and Smashwords.com publishing sites, using Microsoft PowerPoint.

It is no big deal. If I can do it, anybody can do it! Here is how:

On your start menu, click on Microsoft Works. On the MS Works Menu, click on PowerPoint 2007.

When you get to MS PowerPoint 2007, click on the design tab. On the Design menu, click on Slide Orientation, then on Portrait icon.

Next, click on the Insert tab, then on on the Picture icon. Then, in the Pictures Library, locate and upload the .jpg image for your cover.

In the Picture Tools mode that opens when you upload the image, you can “bleed” the photo off the edge of the cover by dragging the boxes on each side of the photo to the edges. When you click on the image, PowerPoint goes into Picture Tools mode.

When you click the Format tab in the Picture Tools mode, it offers many other tools to help you to work with your photo. If you want it to be background for your book title and author name, click on “Send to Back” in the Arrange section of the Format tab. Then text boxes will appear to let you format your title, author name and subtitle text. The text boxes are movable.

At this point, click on the Design tab to choose your text Theme.

For the fonts, I chose the Office Classics theme, which features Arial heads and New Times Roman text styles, after clicking the “Fonts” button to the far right of the Themes section. I chose to use New Times Roman all caps for my title and subtitle, and New Times Roman, caps and lower case for my author name.

To make them stand out against the busy background, in the Home tab, I chose the white color for the title and subtitle font, then superimposed the bright yellow over it. In the lower text box for my author name, I chose again the white color, then superimposed a bright red color over it.

To convert the MS PowerPoint slide into a .jpg image, after saving my slide as a PowerPoint file, I clicked the file orb in the top left-hand corner and selected “Save As”. When the “Save As” box opened, I move down the menu to the last choice, “Other Formats”, and when it opened, I clicked the downward arrowhead to the far right of the “Save as Type” box, and changed it from “PowerPoint Presentation” by scrolling down to “JPEG File Interchange Format”. Then I clicked on the “Save” button, and when asked if I wanted to save this slide or all slides, I clicked on “Save this Slide”. My cover art now was saved as a .jpg image.

Here’s how it turned out:

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Preparing to Publish My Third eBook

I am in the last stages of publishing my third eBook in the Religion and Spirituality category: There Are No Molecules in God, Book One: God is One.

Right now, I am separating my source document into three, individually formatted editions, the Kindle edition, the Nook edition and the Smashwords edition. This is a new approach for me, since, in the past, I published the first two eBooks as a single formatted edition on all three sites — okay, so I’m a slow learner.

After seeing how poorly this method worked on different eReader devices, I decided to play to the strengths of the individual publishing systems by dropping the one-size-fits-all approach, and formatting each edition exactly as each publishing system recommends. It takes a lot longer, but I’m betting that the last products will be far more satisfying for all concerned.

I formatted the first edition for Smashwords since their requirements were far more demanding because they were working to meet the formatting needs of a host of different eReaders, especially Apple’s iPad tablet and the Sony line. I’m still not sure of how effectively the Smashwords “Meatgrinder” technology accomplishes all this.

Consequently, Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide, designed to create an eBook worthy of inclusion in the Smashwords Premium Catalog, distributed to all the major eBook retailers, worldwide, makes many demands of the would-be author/self-publisher.  There are the specified paragraph indents, the precise number of hard paragraph returns, the proper way to separate paragraphs, the rigid font size and style specifications, the particular requirements for the copyright page, and so on, and so on. All told, more than thirty tips on how to format my book to meet all the requirements of all Smashwords’ retailer partners.

Once I’ve exhausted every effort to follow each Smashwords instruction to the letter, I move on to formatting the Kindle edition, which requires a substantial overhaul of the Smashwords format. Both require saving the book’s content in the MS Word .doc format; both allow paragraph indentations, bold characters, italics and headings; both recommend avoiding bullet points and page headers and footers.

Kindle suggests a page break at the end of each chapter; Smashwords forbids it, suggesting instead, no more than four hard paragraph returns. Both recommend a manual proofreading after a preliminary automatic spellcheck and grammar sweep to ensure a professional manuscript, free of typos.

Regarding the front matter (Title page, Copyright page, Dedication page, Acknowledgments page and Preface, Introduction or Prologue), the Title page should be centered, with title on top and the author name underneath. Kindle then requires a page break before moving on to the Copyright page. On the Copyright page, I center-align my copyright information, then block paragraph the copyright data about my source for scriptural quotations in my book. Finally, I center the cover art copyright and design credit before applying the page break and moving on to the Dedication page. (If the book needs an Acknowledgments page, I place it before the Dedication page and separate both with a page break.) After adding a page break at the end of the Dedication page, I begin my Introduction to this book, instead of a Preface or Prologue, because the nature of this book’s contents begs a longer, more detailed explanation.

Prior to all of this, of course, I’ve formatted the text in the source document; but, even so, I’ll have to go back over the contents to re-configure it to meet certain Kindle requirements. (For example, Smashwords wanted “single” line spacing; Kindle prefers 1.5 line spacing.)

With regard to creation of the back matter (Appendices, Bibliography, About the Author, etc.), I pick this up from the source document, instituting a page break after each.

After I accomplish all of this, I’ll save the document in the manner prescribed by Kindle, then use the suggested MobiPocket Creator software according to the step-by-step instructions provided to convert my file into the eBook Kindle wants.

After previewing the results to see how it will look on the various Kindle devices, I will upload the .prc file, and, if all goes well, the book will go on sale at the Kindle Store 24 to 48 hours later.

After that, on to my Nook Edition.

The Importance of an eBook Cover Design

The old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” never rang truer than when applied to a professional cover design for an eBook.

The visual effect of a stunning graphic, enhanced by skillful placment of attractive, legible typography for the book title, subtitle, byline and descriptive text on the book’s imaginary front cover speaks volumes about the quality and professionalism of the book’s contents. In the mind of the potential buyer, it goes a long way toward closing the sale by making the book worth every penny of its retail price — a bargain, in fact.

With all three of my eBooks, the two that have been published and the third, which is about to be submitted to all three publishers, I have been extremely fortunate to have our daughter Meghan, as my art director and graphic designer. Each time, I would e-mail to her the chosen graphic, the text for the cover and the cover image specifications of Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and Smashwords.com; each time she would return to me the finished .jpg image, ready to upload to the conversion process. I am equally fortunate that Meghan majored in graphic design at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, after which she has served as graphic designer and/or art director for St. Louis Business Journal,The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rochester Magazine, The Hamptons Magazine, Gotham Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine. She now raises our first grandson, while she freelances from home for two of her former employers to design special projects. Thumbnails of her cover designs for my three books are shown above.

If, unlike me, you have the talent and skill to design your own book covers, you are very fortunate indeed. If, however, you are like me, why not shop around for a talented, but affordable graphic designer in your area, who has the documented training and experience to put a sense of what lurks in your manuscripts into pleasing visuals on your product covers. Perhaps there are colleges, universities or graphic arts schools in your area. Contact their human resources departments in your search for an affordable, talented graphic designer for your covers. Otherwise, check your local or regional Yellow Pages under the headings “Advertising Agencies and Counselors” or “Graphic Designers”.

OR, if you are handy with Microsoft PowerPoint, you might try this experiment I just did per an article by Danny Pollard published at http://www.suite101.com/content/using-microsoft-powerpoint-to-create-book-covers-a343117

Here is how my experiment turned out:  

Regardless of who is designing and producing the product cover, there are certain requirements for the finished product that I submit to my three publishers: Kindle, Nook (PubIt!) and Smashwords. Here are the specs for each:

Amazon Kindle Specs: 

Must be .tiff or .jpg image, ideally 500 pixels wide x 1200 pixels high to be displayed digitally on the various sizes of Kindle screens at 72 dpi (dots per inch), using the  RGB (Red-Green-Blue) color mode.

Barnes and Noble (PubIt!):

The maximum viewing size of the nook screen is 600 x 730 pixels. Images should be optimized for web delivery and can either be .png, .jpg or .gif. The choice of format is optional and should be based on a compromise of image quality and file size. Typically, .gif supports a maximum of 256 colors while .jpg supports 16.7 million; .png supports 24-bit color. Cover images typically range between 500 pixels x 600 pixels to 600 pixels x 730 pixels.

Smashwords:

A product inage is absolutely necessary for inclusion in the Smashwords Premium Catalog. It must be a .jpg or .png image file, ideally 500 pixels wide x 800 pixels high, to be displayed digitally at 72 dpi, using the RGB color mode. The cover should include the book title and author’s name (a descriptive subtitle and refernce to one or two previously published titles by the author, may also be useful). Since the lonline bookstores use your cover to merchandise your book, it should be a book-like cover, the shape of a vertical rectangle, approximately 500 pixels wide by 700 pixels high. Images cannot be square (e.g., for CDs or DVDs) or three-dimensional.

Author’s Note: If your designer is unfamiliar with the size of these digital specs at 72 dots per inch, there are online conversion sources that will translate the digital dimensions, say, 500 pixels wide by 700 pixels high at 72 dpi into inches on the computer or eReader screen.

Using Press Releases to Promote Your eBooks

When you are an eBook author, there is no book publisher publicity department to handle this promotional effort for you. You have two options: handle your own press releases, or have professionals do it for you. If you choose the latter, be sure to shop around for a good publicity service that meets your needs, but is eminently affordable. Unless one or more of your books go viral, you may wind up losing a lot of money on the deal.

If, however, you, a member of your family, or a good friend are ready, willing and blessed with the experience, knowledge and skills necessary to write and circulate press releases to the right markets, you have a definite head start on the task. Since you know your book better than any publisher’s publicist, you may also may be able better to publicize your books effectively.

As part of my e-mail campaign to publicize my first-published eBook, I created a list of editors of 131 Catholic newspapers, local diocesan and independent national editions, to reach the millions of American Catholics who subscribed to their print or online editions. Each editor received an attached copy of a single-page press release and a thumbnail of a color image of the book’s front cover.

I wrote twelve versions of the press release: eleven for those dioceses, where I had lived and one generic version for all those places where I had not lived. In the first eleven, I mentioned the specific parishes in which we had been members and the Catholic elementary and/or high schools, in which I or our children had gone to school. In the generic version, I eliminated that paragraph.

Below is a copy of the generic version:

INSPIRED COMMUNICATIONS PRESS RELEASE

New eBook Urges Catholics to Help Jesus’ Less Fortunate

For Immediate Release:

INNSBROOK, MO — These times of disastrous economic conditions and events spawned by global geological and climactic changes call for more Catholics to do something for those unfortunate ones who suffer most their consequences.

So says John O’Neill, who has published his first eBook, Jesus’ Six Keys to a More Perfect You. In the book, he classifies Jesus’ instructions to His disciples into six keys designed to transform ordinary Catholics into extraordinary people, dedicated to imitating Christ by serving others, especially the poor and suffering, whom Jesus called His “least ones”. The book also suggests practical ways in which the reader can do these corporal and spiritual works of mercy through various charitable organizations in his or her community.

The electronic book is available on amazon.com (Kindle), Barnes and Noble (Nook) and Smashwords.com, publishers and distributors of eBooks in all formats. “I chose these three publishers for their retailing success,” said Mr. O’Neill, “and for their ability to format and download books for PC and Mac computers and Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Sony eReaders, as well as on such mobile devices as Blackberry, iPad, Android, iPod touch and netbook, a valuable aid in spreading Jesus’ teachings to the large market of Millennial and Post-Vatican II generations of Catholics nationwide.”

John, a seminary-educated Catholic layman, with a degree in Thomistic philosophy and a year of post-graduate theological studies at Catholic University of America, continues to write manuscripts which he hopes will become future eBooks in the Catholic religion and spirituality or self-help genres.

Copies for sale at $4.99; you can find a free preview sample of Jesus’ Six Keys to a More Perfect You,  at the publishers’ websites listed below:

http://www.amazon.com/Kindle-eBooks/ [Search on title name]
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ebooks/index.asp [Search on title name]
http://www.smashwords.com/books/byauthor [Search on John O’Neill]

For more information or for a book review copy:

Contact John O’Neill at johnoneill1021@gmail.com, or by phone at 636-295-0449 or 636-745-7861.

###

The E-Mail Campaign for an eBook

One of the best publicity resources for any author’s book marketing campaign is his/her email address book. Currently, I maintain a gmail address book of more than 270 names, grouped into fifteen different categories, including immediate and extended family members, Catholic magazine editors, Catholic newspaper editors, friends and acquaintances at our church, friends and neighbors within our community, friends in former parishes and communities, previous eBook buyers, etc. These categories enable me to segment my list in order to tailor my e-mail message according to our particular releationship or their particular function (e.g., as editors of or bloggers in Catholic media or reviewers of Catholic books).

The specific type of eBook genre that I write (Catholic/Christian religious books) dictates the make-up of my target market segment. If I later switch to writing in another genre, I’ll have to gather and add new e-mail address groups related to that particular genre interest.

An important promotional tool of each e-mail message in each campaign is the author’s unique signature, which includes my name, my occupation (eBook author/publisher) and the links to my various e-Book pages and my pertinent blogs. Here is an example:

John O’Neill
eBook Author/Publisher

My Author/Book Pages

Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/John-ONeill/e/B004K9F2CS/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004V9F6KU

BarnesandNoble.com:

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Jesus-Six-Keys-to-a-More-Perfect-You/John-ONeill/e/2940012093547/?itm=10

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/A-Sign-Contradicted/John-ONeill/e/2940012295958/?itm=3

Smashwords.com:

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/38209

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/51424

http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/john937

My Blog:

http://catholicebookauthor.wordpress.com

https://trialsofanebookauthor.wordpress.com/

https://trialsofanebookauthor.wordpress.com/about/

REMEMBER: your email message to any of your groups should always be a soft-sell invitation to read, review or publicize your eBook. No hard-sell. No unwanted spam.

Obviously, I’ve included examples taken from my personal experiences in my particular genre market. Based on the types of eBooks that you are, or will be, writing, your market segments might be altogether different. If so, be sure that you have researched your book market thoroughly, and have built your e-mail address book accordingly.

Know the print and online media in your target market. Research the influential newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites and social media reaching your target readership. Categorize them into groups within your e-mail address book. Then, as you publish each new eBook invite them to read and review your book.

In the case of potential book reviewers, offer them a free review copy of your book. If you publish on amazon.com (Kindle) and barnesandnoble.com (Nook), they will permit you to lend potential reviewers a copy of your eBook for a 14-day period. Smashwords.com has a coupon program, which enables you to send to selected reviewers a coupon code that will allow them to acquire a review copy of your book at no cost.

The object of all publicity and promotion is to get people to seek more information about each of your eBooks so that they’ll want to buy, read and/or review them and recommend them to others.

Your e-mail address book and e-mail signature can be very valuable tools for achieving those goals.

Promoting eBooks on My Blogs

In September, 2008, I began my first and primary blog, Catholic Writer’s Notebook, as a testing ground for some of the topics I planned to include in my manuscripts for publication. When, in January,2011, I actually published one of my manuscripts as an eBook on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and smashwords.com, the experience was so exhilarating that I decided to share it with fellow or aspiring eBook authors on the weblog which you now are reading.

Becoming a blogger, like becoming an author, is fraught with challenges. The blogosphere is a very crowded place. Even in my niche of Catholic life and spirituality, there are, at least, close to 2,400 active blogs; many of which posted by 194 Catholic dioceses and archdioceses, 126 of their Catholic newspapers, well-known Catholic authors, Catholic magazines and major publishers or retailers of Catholic books —all with a built-in following. How can some poor schlemiel with nothing but a penchant for writing religious books in the Roman Catholic tradition compete for their attention?

There are many competitive blogs, developed by pros who know the ins and outs of HTML, traffic-building search engine optimization (SEO), source code validation, Technorati ratings, etc. In order to compete with them, I have to concentrate on learning these things, too, if I want to make my blogs effective selling tools for my eBooks, and vice versa. After all, if I want the Holy Spirit to drive web traffic to my blogs and eBooks, it might be helpful if I gave Him something to work with. (Not that He needs it, but I’m sure that He expects me to do my part.)

Registering for placement in Catholic blog directories (e.g., CatholicBlog.com and StBlogsParish.com) is an important first step for spreading the word in my niche. For those who search for Catholic topics on these sites, they are a great opportunity to present my posts every time they search for a topic covered on one of my blogs. So, also, is registering for indexing on the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.).

Right now, I’m getting back into reading about blogging. I’ve dusted off the covers of such books in my library as Problogger by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett, Getting Noticed on Google by Ben Norman, Blogging for Dummies by Susannah Garner and Shane Birley and, of course, WordPress for Dummies by Lisa Sabin-Wilson, with a view to making my blogs better traffic builders to my ebook pages on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and smashwords.com.

I’ll update you with progress reports as I go along. In the meantime, keep watching on my two sites:

http://catholicwritersnotebook.blogspot.com
https://trialsofanebookauthor.wordpress.com

Developing Your eBook Platform

“Platform” is the publishing buzzword for a plan that you have developed to promote your eBook once you’ve published it. Your platform consolidates a number of tools to spread the word about you new or latest eBook. Since the responsibility for promoting your book is largely your own, you are not only the author; you are your own publisher, too. As such, you are totally in charge of getting the word out to anyone you want to buy and read your book.

I publish with three eBook publishers/distributors: all three of these offer a number of services to help me promote my eBooks to my chosen market segments.

Since mine is an eBook, published electronically for a potential readership who will acquire it, store it and read it in an electronic format, it stands to reason that I can reach that potential readership by electronic means. Here are some of the things I have used to publicize my first two eBooks:

Review Copies

Amazon and Barnes and Noble both enable me to offer a two-week loan of my book to a target list of potential book reviewers associated with Catholic newspapers, magazines and blogs, who might help me to spread the word about my book. Smashwords goes one better: through their unique couponing program, they allow me to send online coupons to this same target market, who might publish an unbiased review of my book for their specific readership. My combined target market reviewers reach a potential readership of millions of Catholic book readers nationwide.

Press Releases

In order to carry out my plan for book reviewer and book buyer recruitment, I develop several press releases tailored to each specific demographic or geographic segment. For example, in writing to the editors of Catholic newspapers or magazines in diocese or archdiocese in which I have lived over the years, I mention in the release the name of the parish or parishes in which I was active, or the parish elementary school which I or our children attended.

Author and Book Pages

Each of my chosen publishers supplies me with a free author page and a separate promotion page for each of my eBooks, which enable me to give relevant information about my eBooks and my pertinent background, as well as links to my pertinent blogs and an opportunity to sample and (hopefully) sell my book.

My Pertinent Blogs

I use two of my weblogs, Catholic Writer’s Notebook, and, of course, the blog you’re now reading, to publicize any new developments about my eBooks. If you’re a writer and/or an author, I strongly urge you to take up blogging. It’s a great way to express yourself on a regular basis, and it’s not as difficult as you might think. In fact, WordPress.com makes it very easy with step-by-step tutorials and ready-made, neat and clean templates that take all the techy part out of it. Also, WordPress blogs tend to have very few W3C Validation errors, which helps to maximize search engine optimization.

Social Networks

This is an arena that I am beginning to develop for my marketing strategy. Right now, I am limiting myself to Facebook and LinkedIn. With Facebook, I’m getting better results, and I am developing more of a fan base of family and friends, and of friends of friends. Facebook enables me to publish news about my publishing exploits, replete with images and direct hyperlinks to specific posts on my WordPress blog.

E-Mail Promotion

In preparation for publicizing my eBooks, I developed an extensive list of e-mail contacts, categorized into a number of groups: family, friends, fellow parishioners, Catholic newspaper editors, Catholic magazine editors, Catholic bloggers, Catholic book reviewers, etc. When I first published Jesus’ Six Keys to a More Perfect You, these sub-lists enabled me to tailor my promotional messages appropriately to each group.

Publish More Than One Book  

Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords emphasizes in his Smashwords Book Marketing Guide that a very powerful tool to multiplying your eBook sales is to publish more than one book, and to publish a list of each of your earlier book titles on the title page of each succeeding book that you publish. I’m about to publish my third eBook, and I will be listing the title of my first two eBook prominently on both the front cover art and on the book’s title page.

Use a Professional Front Cover Designer

It is axiomatic that, especially in the eBook publishing business, your front cover image sells your book. I am extremely fortunate to have a daughter who is a very talented and experienced magazine graphic designer, trained in her craft at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. When I asked if she might be able to design a digital front cover for my first two books, she did not disappoint. They were things of beauty! And now that I’m getting ready to launch eBook #3, she is doing it again. Even if you’re not so fortunate, I urge you to do whatever it takes to get a professional digital front cover image for your book. You will need it if you want to publish on iPad and some of the other major eReader formats. Shop for graphic designers in your community or region; compare samples of their work and what they charge. Then make the best informed decision that you can.

Upcoming posts will detail more specifically how I implement each of the strategies mentioned in this post.