Many self-published authors want to create their own book covers. It can certainly add to the satisfaction to see a cover you’ve designed wrapped around a book you’ve written. But most of the skills and knowledge that it requires aren’t from the same toolbox as those needed for writing your book. Many writers I’ve spoken to about cover design are apologetic about not being conversant in the language and requirements of the design and the production processes. I certainly don’t expect them to be, unless, like me, they come from an extensive graphics background. Many of the concepts are ones that must be learned hands-on. The art of effective cover design requires a lot of trial and error and learning to use specific tools. I won’t cover the mysteries of the design process here, except to say that the cover is a critical component of your book’s marketing and needs to be as effectively produced as possible within budget considerations.
Producing an effective cover is more than just choosing the best photographic image or illustration, and putting the titling and author’s name on top of it. There are conflicting technologies at play, so to that end, I’ve assembled a check-list and primer for do-it-yourself-ers to improve their chances of producing a cover to be proud of.
Images selected, now what?
Copyright: Be sure that you own a working copyright release for the use of the image you have chosen. Be aware that when a stock photography or illustration dealers says an image is royalty-free, that it isn’t the same as a creative-commons, public use free license. Royalty-Free means that you pay only once for the use of the image, not each time the image is seen or re-used in your marketing, etc. Some images will release only if such royalties are paid, in addition to the fee for the initial use of the image. Make sure you know exactly which kind of image you will be using and if there is a fee to use it. Don’t try to cut corners by not paying the fee. Infringement lawsuits are no fun at all and are very costly. Even when using Creative Commons (CC) images, or an image you found online, make absolutely sure that the use you have in mind is allowed in the image licensing.
Many CC images don’t allow commercial uses, and a book cover is certainly a commercial use. In cases of original images, contact the artist or photographer and ask them if you can use it. Sometimes, if you offer to publicize their name and work along with the book, they may be willing to release the image to you without hitting you for a fee. Always ask, though.
If you are the photographer, try to obtain releases from any people in the image or the owners of any recognizable properties. While news photos generally don’t require releases for journalistic uses, a book cover is a different kind of use, so it makes sense to protect yourself and get the releases.
Bitmap Resolution: Resolution in a bitmapped* image (a jpeg, gif, tiff or png file) is expressed in dots per inch (dpi). The highest resolution an image viewed on a screen or monitor requires is 96 dpi. Often, 72 dpi will work for thumbnail images in online booksellers listings or reviews, but I prefer 96 dpi for the better detail retention. Resolution and size are different concepts. If you take a 96 dpi image and resize it to a larger print size, it probably won’t look good. It will become jaggy, fuzzy and look worse in print than it did on screen. That’s because a higher resolution is required for print use.
Today most color process book cover printing requires 300 dpi resolution . When I do a book cover design, I always produce it first as a print cover, unless the book is only being published as an eBook. The reason is that an image of high resolution (300 dpi) can easily be scaled down in size without losing detail too much, but if you up-size a low resolution image, the results will be a disaster in print. Most stock photography houses offer images on a sliding scale of fees depending upon factors including size and resolution. They are always expressed separately. If you try to save money by buying a 72 dpi image for use in print, you will end up with a mess (unless that was the style and appearance you wanted. My rule of thumb is to purchase the highest resolution image is as close to the actual printed page width as possible.
Color Model: An image viewed on a screen makes use of a different kind of color technology than one produced for print on paper. The screen image uses transmitted light and requires the RGB (Red Green Blue) color model. Print uses reflected light and requires the CMYK (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-blacK, named after the inks used in process — full color — printing) color model. A CMYK image will not look the same on a screen as it will printed, and an RGB image will not look the same in print as it does on a screen. For that reason it is very important to use the proper kind of color image and to print a color proof of your print cover, to adjust the colors to your satisfaction. I use a Canon Photo printer for my own proofing. A lot of tweaking can be done to the way colors will print, and it pays to take the extra step so that you’re not disappointed later on. CMYK files are also larger than RGB files as they have more color depth and more information in them.
Size: a good size to work with for eBook covers is 5.5 x 8.5 inches (or 14cm x 21.65cm). Be sure to lock in the proportion when re-sizing the images so that the resolution won’t get screwed up in the process, say 96 dpi in width, but 135 dpi in height. This proportion approximates a “portrait” printer format. Thumbnails can provide a lot of extra annoyance. When you plan your cover design, be sure to consider the smallest version of the cover art that will appear online say, in a review post or an online bookseller’s listing page. Make sure your design isn’t so “busy” and cluttered that it plugs up into a muddy mess at small sizes. The tile and author’s name should be legible all the way down to thumbnail size. Plan your typography for good contrast with the background areas and remember that the less detail behind the type, the easier to read it will be.
Print covers, require a larger size. In print, a book cover is printed on a sheet that wraps around the book. It includes a back cover and a spine, as well as an extra 1/8″ (3mm) in both height and width, to allow the cover image to be trimmed off all four sides. You’ll need to know your exact page count to get the actual width of pages the spine has to wrap. Thus, the 5.5 x 8.5 inch cover on a 314 page book has become 12.0625 inches wide and 8.75 inches high. The spine width is 0.8125 inches when CreateSpace does the production, but other Print on Demand producers may use different paper stock, so it’s important to get the exact spin width for the exact number of pages from your specific producer. Once you can print a proof copy it’s not wasted effort to take your cover, trim it, glue it to a book of the same page count, and see how it looks on a shelf with other books in your genre, in a real bookstore. Be sure to ask first, so the bookseller won’t get annoyed with you.
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Here is my basic completion check list for book cover artwork:
• Copyright protection & Model/Property releases
• Color Model
If you double check these before sending up an image file, you’ll be able to relax a bit, knowing that when you get your proof, it will look the way you expect it to. Usually. Except… stuff happens, so always be prepared for tweaks and finesses before you finalize and sign-off on your book proof. Leaving a little time in the planning for contingencies is always the best idea. If you employ a designer to produce your covers, make sure they provide you with a selection of sizes, models (think: bookmarks, etc. ) and resolutions for your own marketing needs. Now get back to work! Your readers deserve the best you can provide, and they’ll appreciate the extra effort you put in.
*Bitmapped image — there are two kinds of images used in computer-generated design. Bit mapped images and Vector images. To envision a bitmapped image, remember the first time you looked at a newspaper photograph with a lens. The photograph was actually made of tiny dots of black ink. Bitmapped images are made of dots of varying tone (greyscale – 8bit) or color (RGB – 24bit, CMYK 32bit) depending upon their color model. Any given “bit” or dot in a photographic image or illustration will carry a color, tone of grey or black or white. They are collections of actual dots made to order for the size, color model and resolution to be viewed or printed.
Vector images are not size dependent for clarity as bitmaps are. They are expressed not as “map” of dots, but as specific lists of mathematical formulas that describe an object in terms of space occupied, line weights, lengths, angles and shapes filled by specific tones or colors. They are most used for typography and logos or any other non-continuous tone image (not photography), but images that might be re-scaled and must hold their detail with no loss. Vector software is especially useful in building up a design in layers that can be moved independently of each other for the best contrast relationships, layout, etc., then exported combined, as a bitmapped image in exactly the best resolution for the intended use. Vector typography is especially clean for book covers in varying sizes.
Your questions and comments are always welcome…
Spoiler Alert! Don’t read this until you’ve seen the Series Finale. Click on Don Draper above to link with the episode streams at AMC…
The seven-year miracle of 60s nostalgia that was AMC’s Mad Men ended Sunday night, on a song and a dream of redemption. Having worked in that biz myself during most of the 1970s and 1980s, I enjoyed immersing myself each week. I recognized people I’d worked with, people whose company I dreaded and those who I listened to intently, trying to improve my art and make a better living. The unfocused bull-pen sessions as depicted in the Art Department coven of Sterling Cooper actually took place and in my own experience became the resource we’d all turn to when our creative juices were ebbing. Sometimes it worked beautifully. Effectively. Sometimes it led us into alleys with no room to turn around once you hit the big dumpster.
While the “pitch” remains ever-present in all our lives, somehow the improved efficiency of multi-level barrage pitching through every medium in play carries less grace, less hand-crafted elegance than it did back in the day. I applaud and lift my beverage of choice towards the creators, writers, cast and crew of Mad Men for the entertainment they’ve given us of course but also for reminding us that many of the values we hold dear as American consumers, came out of the fingers of creative human beings. As richly decorated or magically transporting they might have been, they were at their heart, always about dollars and reducing the number of them in the wallets of those that were targeted.
The last frame showing Don Draper radiating a beatific smile while meditating in a half-lotus high above the Pacific, surprised me, at first. I instantly responded to the idea of Don having found some peace in his constantly reinvented life… but think again. Instead of the smile of Nirvana, maybe Don’s smile had more to do with his figuring out the next angle. Always the consummate pitch man, he always had an eye for trends, didn’t he? He also usually recognized a ready mark. The series writers have led us into a masterpiece ending that began spinning new questions, for me at least, as soon as the strains of the ending music flowed over me. Their consistently high level of quality in both scripting and production deserves several drinks on us all. As do the actors for their performances and ability to commit to a long-term project.
I’ve read lots of comments that refer to Don Draper as a con man. I can’t argue with that, but we love a good con, don’t we? A well crafted game, that keeps participants engaged yet surprised when the expected outcome is reached, is nothing to sneeze at. It has an amazing symmetry all its own. Of course, in the world we’ve built, it’s imperative that we retain awareness of the pitching we are subject to, even if we still kindle a grudging respect for those who can get a message to resonate the way the Greats of Advertising did. Ending the series with the definitive Coca-Cola commercial soundtrack from 1970 was the icing on the cake. Only those of us who remember those days of turmoil, moral upheaval and anger can recall how that entire campaign felt like medicine for the soul… exactly the way it was supposed to.
After several days of slow loading, incomplete upgrades and a few other illnesses, Saille Tales much-needed housekeeping is complete. Please accept our apologies for the delays and the general annoyance of how the site had been running.
We have several systems now in place to prevent future problems. We all worked up a solid sweat and wore out the knees of our jeans, but it’s finished. Whew! Thanks for your patience.
This morning, I sat in the sunshine, surrounded by our oaks and watched as the very industrious squirrels climbed high in the neighboring Maple branches to nibble the tender green flower clusters. A number of birds were dipping in and out of my field of vision, hopping along branches, dropping down once they knew it was safe enough, to find something tasty on the ground. It’s Earth Day, today, but as my wife reminded me over our breakfast, it should be every day. She added, “it’s the only place we’ve got!”
It is. More than our home, it’s where our lives began. Where, in the narrow range of our current knowledge, it may well be where all life began. From its icy peaks to the depths of its seas, living things have made their homes and livelihoods, raising their families under it’s skies. Many ancient cultures of our peripatetic species refer to the earth as our Mother. Of course, our more advanced civilizations, being in possession of documented evidence of our species ascendancy in the form of religious dogma and tradition, feel that we are the end-point recipients. Owners of all of creation. It’s a terrible, self-serving mistake that will continue to be very costly to our own survival.
While worldwide commerce and technical progress continues to be linked to the exploitation of natural resources, individuals can make a difference on a daily basis. It can begin as simply as spending a few moments every day, just being aware of the natural world. Get outside, and if it doesn’t come on its own, clear your thoughts of the day’s obstacles and activities then focus your mind to assume a feeling of thankfulness for life itself. It’s easy. Over time, if practiced regularly, it will become your natural, base-level attitude towards our planet. It’s a simple way to tell our Mother that you love her, and soon, you’ll feel a closer connection to the rest of life.
The Lakota have a phrase they use in ceremony to send prayer, “Mitakuye oyasin.” It translates in a simplistic way, to “All my relations”, but the full meaning is a widening spiral taking in your blood family, then spinning outwards until it encompasses all living things. All your relations. We share the same mother, whether we are aware of it or not, and she needs to feel our love in return for all we’ve been given.
Once. There was a verdant planet which held living things in every possible wrinkle and fold. As many different kinds of life as there were colors for the living to see. One of them, a particularly capable species who liked to cover distance, also enjoyed observing the world around them. They found joy in both the sunrise and the rising of the moon. Both the warmth of the sun on their faces and the feeling of the rain on their backs. They shared their lives with each other and respected what had come before and what lay ahead equally. Life around them unfolded in glory and wild profusion. The power and beauty of all Creation surrounded them and they were in awe. They recognized other living things as their partners. While they watched, they learned. They found patterns and cycles they could use. They held their knowledge in memory and gave thanks with each breath. There was knowledge and joy and reverence.
Then someone came up with the idea of religion, and it all went to hell.
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I wanted to add a few more comments to this post.
While I’m not a fan of organized religion, I am not an atheist in the sense of the definition of the word. I believe very strongly in the existence of some abiding, overarching spark of the creative presence, or God, for want of a better word. There just is no ready name for my own belief system, and I don’t think that trying to define that presence in terms beyond the visible, engaging evidence of creation itself, is part of my job description as a human. I also recognize that while we’re one big family of homo sapiens, we are all very individual.
Depending upon our location and bloodlines, we all have very different needs and ways of living. This means that each of us will have their own, personal method of finding a connection with that presence — something larger than themselves. Making that connection is a good thing, as it expands our consciousness and makes us generally better people. If we treat each other with fairness, love and concern, it doesn’t matter how we came to that place. Because of that, I find the need many atheists seem to have, to bash other people’s religious beliefs and systems, useless and mean-spirited. It comes from exactly the same place in our rather limited mental framework, as seeing other people and needing to convert them to our own systems of belief. Of course, adhering to similar stated values relieves members within a group from some of the need to truly strive to understand each other and keep an open mind. It’s much simpler than having to deal honestly with everyone at face value and limits your exposure to the unknown.
All religious beliefs were created by people in the attempt to make a better spiritual connection with God, no matter the name they choose to give it. That alone deserves respect, but throughout our history, there has been so much divisive, evil done in the name of faith, that each system of belief, on its own, has little to recommend it as a single, one-size fits all solution to our suffering. Since each of us has different paths to tread, I can respect those who actually are trying to reach that destination of connection peacefully, no matter the means they use to get there. I also have nothing but disdain for those who take on the mantle of faith for purposes of personal gain, political power or amassing wealth and whose expressions of religious truth are hypocrisy. These actions have been historically-proven to be very dangerous to the survival of specific communities and destructive to our entire species.
I also respect the need for ritual and even magic. Religious ritual has been devised to give us a taste of the raw beauty and power inherent in creation. It helps focus the mind along the pathways that help us connect with those things greater than our ability to understand. Of course, I realize that the actual value of the ritual is not in the prescribed actions, but rather in the spiritual state of the person engaging in the process. I think that’s also worthy of respect. We all need to learn to respect each other on the most basic level, recognizing that we all share a common origin. Our paths may vary, but they will all lead along similar byways. If we can learn to extend that respect and love to all living things, we will have managed to return to what has been called Eden. The garden we all were born into. We lost track somehow, of how to return there, but the signs are all around us if we choose to read them.
Thanks for indulging my occasional need to get all preachy and philosophical. Your comments and ideas are always welcome…
In the mid-1970s, when I worked in the ad game as a graphic artist and packaging/identity designer, we brought illustrators in on projects from time to time. Most of our projects required photography, as we were doing a lot of corporate work and consumer packaging, but there were always specific areas where illustration was the better solution. Of course, we always had to weigh the realities of the cost of original illustrative materials in both turn-around time and in art fees, against the budget the client agreed to. If the budget could not be tweaked to afford it, we would instead search out stock material or flat color illustration, as opposed to full-color for process printing.
There were always lots of variables, just as there are now, but those days were long before the advent of video gaming and CGI graphics. Those two sea-shifts in technology and the resulting consumer awareness have made it a Golden Age for original illustrators. Still, some similarities to the earlier industry remain and those are the reason for this letter. Illustrators now have more opportunity than ever before, especially in the publishing industry. There are quite a few, high-sales genres that almost require illustrated covers, so between the needs of self-published authors and small presses, who normally use outside talent for illustration, there are lots of ways to keep busy. For the purposes of this letter, we’ll assume that you are familiar enough with your own creative process that you can safely estimate the amount of time you’ll need to develop a project, but also an acceptable amount of time spent in tweaking the results, which is inevitable. So, moving forward from the point where you can ethically offer your professional services, there are a few things that need to be addressed, at least in this old marker-jockey’s mind.
Book cover illustration is a collaboration between the images and emotions a writer creates in words and the images that proceed from an artist’s process. However, unlike art created for purely personal reasons, book cover illustration has one more silent collaborator — the reader who is the target of everything that emerges from the mix. There may only be one or two opportunities to engage the reader, so in cover design and illustration, there is little room for haphazard thinking or accidental solutions. The goal should always be motivating the reader to want to read/buy the book. To that end, the post-creative production processes involved, should be players from the beginning and that should include an idea of what the target reader will respond to.
Back in the day, the illustrators we always preferred working with were those that kept the actual needs of production, as opposed to the vagaries of the creative process, in the forefront of the entire process. We always provided extreme detail in speccing out a project to provide all the working knowledge the illustrator would need, but also to elicit possible discussion if the illustrator had additional ideas that might affect cost or the final work, based upon what the client’s needs were and the illustrator’s prior experience. Thirty years ago, in only rare cases when a package was going to be shot for TV advertising, did how it appeared on a monitor even enter into the discussion. Those were the days of expensive full-color ink proofs and small runs on sheet-fed presses to tweak color and coverage.
Today, of course, the monitor is where the work is created and viewed, until it’s ready to proof if it’s going to be produced in print. But color on a screen doesn’t look the same as color on a reflected surface — then or now. Today, I would hope that an illustrator working on a book cover which will appear in eFormats as well as print, would take the extra step of proofing their work in the CMYK color model, on paper, to their own satisfaction as well as in RGB on screen. Final files should be submitted in both RGB and CMYK full resolution versions, adjusted for the best appearance. For print use, the resolution at the trim size, plus bleed should be 300 dpi. For screen use only, a smaller file in RGB is adequate, but the 300 dpi resolution will give maximum flexibility for a series of optimized cover files for various online uses from thumbnail to large size listing art.
The fact that there may be substantial variations in size should also be a key element to the composition of your illustration itself. Too much detail, especially in low-contrast situations will provide plugged-up, muddy results in small sizes. Use enough detail to hold the reader’s eye, but not so much it destroys the effectiveness of the subject. Keep it interesting and fresh. It’s a tough balancing act, but part of the illustrator’s job.
Another important consideration is a book covers’ typography. In fact, the title and author name blocks are often important selling points on their own. Your illustration is actually there to support the title and hold the reader’s eye long enough to inspire some response and a specific behavior — to find out more, and click the buy button. Your illustration, therefore, needs to be conceived to allow room for that typography during the conception, not as an after-thought.
Of course, the type will “float” above the artwork, but what lies beneath is critical to how legible the results are. If the type — especially a somewhat busy typeface — floats over a complex, detailed background, it will fight with the typography for the reader’s eye, which is not a result anyone wants. In small cover sizes, it may make the typography illegible or hard to read, so think of the type block areas from the beginning and keep the illustration behind where the type will go as simple as you can. Consider also the relative brightness of these areas. If the mood of the cover will be bright, then the typography selected to superimpose over the background should be dark enough to create contrast, “popping” the typography out into the foreground. The reverse holds true if the mood is dark.
One technique that I especially appreciate is when an illustrator plans for the typography from the beginning, allowing some interaction, visually between the illustration subject and the type. Especially effective in Fantasy and SciFi illustration, where a portion of detail can actually fly out, into or above the type to suggest some extreme motion and further engage the reader. It may take the form of a composition that holds the eye on a circular pattern, for example, working with both the type and the subject to suggest eye movement folding back in upon itself. In any case, the longer a reader’s eye and interest is held, the more opportunity for emotional response and reaction.
Which brings me to my first request. Learn how to work with typography. Know the names of fonts, and where they can be purchased. Understand the difference between a font designed for the screen and one designed for the page and a range of display and text families. Learn how to make a title effective with the right line breaks and the right size. Learn the tricks that can highlight type against an active background. Too often, I’ve seen a perfectly good illustration ruined when the typography is applied in an amateurish manner. Keep in mind what the “picture” you’re rendering is for. It’s not to be hung in a gallery (although it may indeed be fine enough for that) or used as a screen-saver. It’s packaging for a book, and it should be designed to engage readers, give them pertinent information, hold them long enough to suggest reactions and sell books. If you prefer working with a designer for typography, make sure your client knows that. If adding the typography after the fact is an option you can hand-off to the client, make sure they know that as well. Finding out, after the fact that the illustration is not proportioned to fit the print format with typography added is an expensive discovery that should have been taken care of when you began to conceive the overall composition.
For the best results when I’m working on a cover, I generally import an illustration into a vector-based program for the final design, adding of typography, etc., because bitmap-based paint programs do not handle typography as well as a vector program with its layers can. They always provide clear, sharp edges in any needed size, that can easily be seen once exported as a bitmapped image again. If you’ve never used a vector program for page composition and design, my second request would recommend that you learn to do so to offer your clients a more professional range of services.
Finally, ask questions. There will be many things that an initial meeting may not cover, that will need to be nailed down in order for you to work most effectively. Try to familiarize yourself with the kinds of illustration styles, tones and moods are working in the genre this cover will be used in before you begin. The client, may or may not be fully aware of all the variables, but you should be able to add to the discussion based upon your own process, and how much information you need to move confidently before you commit stylus to pad. This will minimize the do-overs that can turn a profitable project into a disaster. Remember, your client may not be conversant in the area of graphic arts, so part of the entire project will be to educate them as much as to absorb what they need and what they want. Several productive meetings will always be well worth the time as when conversations flow, ideas do, too. Time spent before the creative part of the project begins is never wasted, and much less expensive than going back to plug the holes. Keeping that in mind leads to my third request. Please don’t underestimate the time this all will require in order to get a job. Rush jobs are never a good way to begin any relationship.
In the circumstances that you have an edge for a particular project that will allow you to pare off some of the time required, you will need to consider carefully if you will pass this along to the client or if you will be a hero and come in faster than you initially estimated. Every client wants the work tomorrow. Agreeing to a severely limited period of time to produce a project almost always guarantees that it will not either be what the client has in mind, or your best work. Neither of those will instill confidence for future consideration. Many self-published and small-press writers write in series. That means they will be establishing (if at all possible) a product brand with some recognizable level of uniformity in cover style and design. It is in everyone’s best interest for the initial project to be beyond the client’s expectations and within budget. Don’t make the mistake of low-balling a project to get your foot in the door only to find you don’t want that door open. This is a business of referrals, and a disappointed client won’t recall whose fault the whole mess was, only that the project failed.
Finally, I’d like to thank you for the fine work that you are doing. The new reality as self-publishing establishes more choices for every reader, will mean more projects for accomplished illustrators. Sure, those at the top will find video and gaming applications much more profitable than book cover illustration, but for those who enjoy collaborating with writers and expressing stories in a single frame in shorter-term commitments, opportunities will be there for you. Know your gifts as well as your limitations and go forward into the security of a career doing what you love. I am still quite moved, after all these years later, when I see my own work on a shelf in a bookstore, or in an online listing I didn’t set up. Books endure, and with some focus, ongoing learning and applied business considerations, so will your contributions.
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Your comments and questions are always welcome…
My friend Michael Barry is the originator of Holistic Marketing. It’s a more organic approach to getting the word out and his monthly newsletter from Princeton Creative Marketing is always sure to include very useful points. This month, he discusses the concept of branding. While this is primarily directed towards service and small consumer businesses, many of his concepts can be easily adopted by Indie Authors and small press publishers…
Branding: It’s Not Something
You Do to Cattle…
You know how important the quality of your product or service is to your customer. Your customers judge their experience of your business through the product or service they receive from you. But there are many other indirect and subtle ways in which customers interact with a business. Businesses can foster positive impressions from their target markets through applying smart branding strategies.
Successful and cohesive branding can tell your audience immediately who you are and how you want to be perceived. For example, do you want your audience to see you as a cutting-edge innovator or as experienced and reliable?
One critical aspect of successful brand messaging is consistency. You want your target audience to readily recognize you based on a logo or tagline or certain color combinations. The audience associates an impression or feeling based on your branding. If your message is not consistent, your audience will keep changing what they think and feel about you. You may be perceived as confused or even dishonest and lose your audience.
So how do you create successful and cohesive branding? It all starts with some essential components:
Name – The name of your business can, of course, have a strong influence on impressions. You want your business name to reflect your uniqueness and value. This is likely the first brand asset that you created for your business.
Logo – A great logo can be a powerful asset for fostering brand recognition. Once you have a great logo, you can place it everywhere. You want to make sure you have several versions and formats of your logo available for different uses: color, black and white, on a white background, on a black background, JPEG, PNG, EPS. It is also helpful to have a printed reference sheet to show how the logos should look.
Color Scheme – In addition to your logo, you can use consistent colors in your materials to help support or reinforce the look and feel of your brand. Make sure to select colors that complement and do not clash with your logo colors. Once you have determined a color scheme, use it on your website and on printed items such as postcards, newsletters, business cards, etc. Again, you will want to be consistent in using your chosen color scheme to help strengthen your brand message. Make sure you know the exact values of all the colors you are using in both RGB and CMYK models. (If you are not familiar with RGB and CMYK color models, speak with a designer or someone who can explain this or obtain the correct color values for you.)
Font – The consistent use of chosen or specified fonts helps reinforce your branding message. Fonts and typefaces can actually have a significant impact on how customers relate to and perceive your brand. Make sure you utilize font faces on your website that are easy to read online and align with the impression you want communicate about your brand.
Usage Guidelines – In case this concept has not been repeated enough, the key to successful branding is consistency! Creating and adhering to a set of Usage Guidelines will help ensure you and your staff are absolutely clear about how to use all the branding assets listed above. Your Guidelines can contain specific instructions on how to use your logo such as where and how often your logo can appear on a page, minimum and maximum size boundaries, etc. You can also create instructions on how colors in your color scheme are to be used, how text should be formatted for different uses (e.g., bold, underline and color for headlines), and include formatting templates for standard documents.
Photos – Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words so make sure you have a good digital photo library that can help support the story you want to tell. Make sure you have different available formats too. For example, high res for print, low res for web, color versions, black and white, and different sizes. But please make sure your photos are good quality, preferably taken by a professional photographer. And, once again, it is important that the quality of all your photos is consistent. The one terrible and blurry photo among a dozen great ones will stand out in the customer’s mind!
Boilerplate –This is the short blurb or key message you want to communicate about your brand. This should be similar or identical to your short-form value proposition and every employee should be familiar with it. Keep your boilerplate statement in a Word or text file so it is ready to send instantly to anyone (e.g., designers, media) who might need a quick description of your brand. Don’t leave it to an outsider to create this statement for you!
Digital Document Library – Keep a digital library of all your printed materials including newsletters, white papers, articles, marketing collateral. It is always a good practice to keep all your materials organized in an easily searchable and retrievable format.
The proper – and consistent – use of brand messaging is essential to establishing your business identity and differentiating you from your competitors. Good branding strategies help your customers take the guesswork out of figuring out who you are and what unique value you offer.
Creating your branding strategy and setting up the key branding assets listed above can seem a complex task. A designer or marketing expert can help guide you through some of the initial setup. But once your assets have been established and organized, it is up to you and your business to regularly apply these strategies to clearly communicate who you are.
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Science writer and author Andrew May set out to create a smartly linked collection of short stories with a delightful, retro flair. He succeeded, brilliantly. My five star review on Amazon, follows…
If a reader can approach a thought-provoking novel as they might an epicurean meal, they would see, as I did, that Andrew May’s wonderfully-retro collection of short stories would be the dessert. Actually, more than one. One of the best things about collections of stories is that they can be entertaining and absorbing in smaller doses, when you don’t have the time or focus for a more lengthy read. Besides, how could I resist a collection that offers glimpses of both H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. In one story, no less.
I especially enjoyed the almost transparent thematic thread of individuals’ perceptions of reality which winds its way through these quirky tales. They exhibit a rare combination of both macabre subjects, considerable science (real and not) and exactly the right sprinkle of humor. I enjoyed each one in its own right as time and space were bent and broken repeatedly; but there… right in the middle… lay a jewel of particular sparkle, that so moved me I had to read it aloud. (it is titled The Collector)
Andrew May is a uniquely gifted writer that readers of SciFi, Spec Fiction and Fantasy should acquaint themselves with. His Author’s Notes in the endpages are a distinct revelation rarely seen in this new century, that gave me a great deal of what-ifs and wherefores to carry me into the evening. We are a mercurial species, who engage in many odd pursuits. Our on-going opinion of the fruits of our own labors often leads us down questionable alleyways of perception and belief. If reading, and then re-thinking stories of such strange excursions delights you as it does me, then don’t miss this excellent journey.
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I meant to add that this is a great book to leave laying about where it can be easily picked up when the mood strikes. Open it to any page and begin reading…
It’s also available on Barnes & Noble
Rubbing rosin into your grip, you tighten it and choke up a bit more, just in case. And wait.
Our world is often expressed in terms of sports analogies. Oddly enough, they seem to hold up well across cultures and languages. Just change the name and a few particulars of the sport used, chances are you’ll find a sizeable group able to relate. We can momentarily drop away from life’s real distractions to savor a tiny immersion into a game. With life more complex than ever, requiring more active engagement; we’re all looking for that momentary release of the pressure. Ready and more than willing.
Up to a point. I’m noticing that online, the pitching doesn’t abate much whether in conversation, mid-message or doing a search. As the social mediums that have so completely won us over amass the user data to finally make the transition to Full Revenue Sources, we can hardly dodge the pitches. They come from every direction in lots of different styles, angles and disguises.
Not that we don’t all enjoy the entertainment that comes with a well-conceived pitch, but being sold, non-stop, gets tiresome, doesn’t it? Having been in the business of crafting targeted marketing messages for most of my adult life (and to be honest, quite a bit of my childhood), I can see a pitch coming pretty easily. Lately, though my reaction times seem to be slowing and it’s getting harder to always keep my guard up. If you see someone knee-deep while cleaning out a well-used stable for example; offering them a wider, deeper shovel might not really be the best way to be of help.
Writers seeking publication and readers, seem to be well-past knee deep in all these kinds of offers of help. There’s almost no place you can hide from the pitch-men, without cutting yourself off completely. If you want to discuss book marketing for example, whether you find yourself online in a safe chatroom or writers’ group, you’re almost certainly being pitched in some way or another. One of the refinements of search engines and discussion forums is the ease with which pitch-men of all stripes can sugar coat their message with all kinds of pertinent information and even embraced opinion. Winning you over, post by post. It’s the nature of the game and when done well is a remarkable achievement. I don’t object to the fact of the pitching itself. It’s been one of my primary livelihoods for a long time. What I’m finding more annoying than the sheer volume of it though, is the stealth pitching being done in the guise of offering honest opinion or advice from personal experience to those who may be unaware of exactly how the game is played.
There was a time that some of us remember, when discussing writing took place either in a college classroom, or in a booth at a local watering hole. In either case, those engaged were mostly protected from public scrutiny or being set up as a potential sales lead. This all changed with the advent of social media online. While we used to “know” our classmates or drinking buddies, our online groups are made up of people we get to know from an arm’s length, depending upon those things they share. Their identity and backgrounds are often carefully hidden. Of course, there are also lots of folks just hoping to engage with other folks with similar interests in order to learn more about the craft of writing. But not all discussion agendas are clearly stated. Smart pitch-men reveal only what is useful for them to reveal, which can disguise their intent pretty well. Simple trolls are easy enough to dismiss, but not all that troll are necessarily trolls. Fortunately, there are caution signs nearing sharp turns on rough sections of the road we’re on. With a little practice we can learn to see them even when they are behind those pesky bushes.
An example of this are hungry freelance book editors that might provide less than stellar reviews online, making sure it’s not too hard for the bruised author to make contact after the fact. Or people working for book cover mills disparaging self-published authors’ posted cover designs while making suggestions of who the author should approach. Since most writers tend towards insecure, we make perfect targets for stealth pitches like this. Whenever I visit a discussion site, I always like to check out the profile of the user who has begun any thread I have an interest in. Chances are, if there’s a professional service shingle hanging out there, the discussion thread is a roundabout service pitch. I’ve found useful information in such discussions, by keeping my skeptical eyes wide open and skimming off the information I can use. Remember, there are writers who offer helpful advice from their own journey to other writers that need a hand up, with no motive beyond the good feeling of being able to give someone a hand. I’ve been helped myself, several times, by these wonderful human beings. But the pitch-men often wear the same outfits, so it’s always a good idea to remain a bit skeptical.
We also can be easily fooled by sock-puppets supporting someone’s amazing claims of results through the use of (insert program, consultant, distribution or software name here). Back in the day, when medicine shows traveled about from town to town, the pitch-man wasn’t the only one working the crowd. Agents would have gone into those towns ahead of time to secure the services of folks known as “shills” who were paid to provide support for the pitch. They would faint away at exactly the right time during the presentation to be miraculously revived, or would shout out supporting encouragement. It was a recognized profession at the time, and it endures today.
Another caution sign pops up for me with high visibility, well-advertised ( read: well-funded) “groups” of writers banding together to market their books at a grassroots level or to improve their work through mutual editing and popularity-based writing contests. More often than I like to see, these groups turn out to be prospect mines for a marketing, advertising, consulting or vanity publishing company. One component of the growing crop of online book advertising venues is that they rarely provide accurate circulation/impression figures. Print advertising mediums have been regulated for years now and required to share circulation figures to give prospective advertisers some numerical basis for the fees they charge and the results that can be expected. No such regulation exists for online advertisers, who may make their fees appear more attractive by breaking down the cost per impression, or the smaller figure, click-through. Independent Authors that want to advertise their books are at a distinct disadvantage compared to publishers’ media departments that know exactly who is seeing the print ads and exactly what the response return should be for the money spent.
Not to be confused with P.O.D. Production companies, Vanity Publishers still exist and deserve their own comments here. The self-publishing explosion along with high-quality Print on Demand production has not forced them completely into the shadows. Instead, they are now gobbled up and added as new divisions of respected mainstream publishers. They show “interest” in new authors and active writers in emails, tweets and online contact through forums. The attention makes a writer feel good, resulting in a response to the initial pitches. But the bottom line hasn’t changed much. If it is going to cost you money out of pocket to bring your work to market, run. Run fast. I have never paid a publisher beyond the cost of proof copies, to put a title out for me. I have never had to purchase a large quantity of books to get them to market, and unless your garage needs filling with heavy boxes, I’d advise you to do likewise. Producing a quality book in a readable design with a well-conceived cover isn’t free unless you have the skillset handy, but then having to cough up again when your publisher bills you for publishing your book, is just wrong.
Another seemingly new pitch comes from “Marketing Platform Consultants”. All authors need to create a brand, don’t they? Well, platform consultants sometimes operate by suggesting such a huge, endless pile of activities a writer “must do” to build their brand, the writer at some point, has no time left to write. So, rather than lose all that valuable effort, the consultant invariably offers publicity services or a software package that will do it all while leaving the writer free to do their best work. Right. Back in the day, when print book sales were humming along and publishers actually had budget to promote their authors’ work, the idea that a writer was somehow responsible to create a platform from which to launch their brand was unheard of. All of that was handled in-house by a staff of professionals on salary. When the tech sea-change began, many of these same professionals found themselves laid off despite having useful skills, so they had to become pitch-men to survive. Fortunately for those in the biz, the market is always changing, often even faster than the technology shifts. Just trying to figure out your exposure goals can be daunting, as the numbers that signify you’re making progress change depending upon who’s doing to pronouncing.
An example for me hit home when two years ago, reading a respected lit agent’s blog, authors were advised to try and amass at least 400 followers on Twitter as that was the number below which an agent wouldn’t think the writer had done much to connect with their market. When I reached 500 followers, I felt momentarily self-satisfied… until in another forum, a different marketing professional suggested that you shouldn’t listen to anyone who hasn’t got at least 1500 followers. So, according to the numbers, I was less than halfway there after two years. I began to look up writers I knew on Twitter to find that many have followers well in excess of 2K! It seems, that on Twitter at least, it really has become a numbers game. Keeping up with your particular reader niche is not the kind of work you can do in your spare time if you intend to also perfect your writing skills. Finding help is a good idea, just keep in mind that real professional help comes with a price.
Of course, everyone offering a service has to get the word out to prospective customers, but I believe it’s always best that the customer knows up front, that there’s an invoice waiting at the end of the rainbow. I don’t want to suggest that promotion should not have associated costs, just that you should know when you’re entering into a commercial relationship or activity, especially through the back door.
Legitimate writing forums and author groups without hidden agendas do exist. There are many, but it’s getting harder and harder to find them as the bandwidth of social media is more full of advertising than ever before. It’s showing no sign of even leveling off. This means that in order for a writer to actually find some honest peer support out there, they’ll have to take some time making their choices. Spending some time observing on any site before jumping in can save you from having to grab a shovel to clear the exit. Same thing goes for blindly accepting the earnest advice you read in discussion posts. Listen carefully. Learn first. Make your decision when you know what the game actually is.
Think before you swing. Look for the pitch. Wait… wait… here it comes. If you decide to connect, step into it and be sure to follow through with the full twist. If you don’t, it’s easy enough to just stand there and let it fly past. Remember, it’s still sometimes possible to get on base without swinging at anything. Might even save you some money.
Suggested Further Reading:
- David Gaughran’s Blog: Avoiding Publishing Predators (he skewers some of the most egregious scams directed at authors regularly in his posts)
- Absolute Write Water Cooler: Bewares, Recommendations and Background Checks Like Wikipedia, be careful what you take as Gospel, but still a good resource.
- Trollologist: the troll catalogue. Forewarned is also pretty funny!
- The Behler Blog: Publishing from my side of the desk by publisher/ editor Lynn Price Behler. Truly priceless advice.
- LitReactor: The Single Biggest Mistake Indie Authors Make column by Rob Hart. Be sure to read the comments.
For the fun that’s in it, and possibly some retro-learning for design and print geeks, I’m introducing a regular contest on Saille Tales — Design Cents.
This will involve in my posting an image of a group of design and/or production tools from the mist-shrouded days of pre-digital artwork, and print production. Readers will have the opportunity for one month, to leave their guesses as to what these are/were (actual industry names, please) and what they were used for in the graphics business.
If you can name all three, and explain their uses, you will win your choice of any of my book titles in your choice of eBook format.
Let the guessing… or the erudite, informed commentary begin…
We’ve had no winning guesses, so I’d better let everyone off the hook. Here are the names and descriptions:
- “Oil Can” named for it’s shape alone, it was actually used to keep the volatile Rubber Cement thinner handy atop a production desk. The conical shape kept it more stable on sloped surfaces and the top nozzle can be shut off to prevent evaporation. Rubber cement was used to adhere elements such as type galleys, images and photostat prints of line art to a backing board when producing “mechanical art” for creating film to then burn offset printing plates from.
- “Linen Tester” a magnifier with a set-focus and marked graduations, it could be folded flat and carried in a pocket. While originally used in the weaving trade to check thread counts, it was adopted by prepress “strippers” and camera men to check the consistency of dot-shape in halftone film before burning a plate, or to check the density of specific color halftone areas when making up the individual plates for process color printing. I used this one, mostly for checking to make sure that small-sized type galleys were clean, than the letterforms didn’t have broken sections in the thins especially, and also to check newsprint-level (55, 65 or 85 dots per inch) halftones for camera artifacts or too-dense backgrounds.
- “Ruling Pen” In the days before the German Engineers at Pelikan, perfected the nested tube style of India Ink ruling pens (mostly called Rapidographs, after one of the leading brands),fineline ruling in black ink was handled using one of these pens. Ruled forms, crop marks and division ruling used the kinds of lines these pens produced. I even owned on that did two-line rules with two attached heads independently adjusted. Ruling Pens were infinitely adjustable for width of line using a small, graduated wheel which squeezed the points closer or further apart, the dipped into a bottle of India ink, tapped on the edge, to drain off a bit, or quickly blotted to remove the pesky drop at the bottom. Most of us who did production artwork would have splatters of ink all over our hands and even our faces by day’s end. The small knob at the end of the pen’s handle was shaped to allow an artist to hold the pen between their teeth for situations when you needed both hands free.
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This was a hard one. Everyone’s been such a good sport with this, I’ll continue the series every few months. In the mean time, anyone who commented either here or on Facebook, can contact me if they would like a free copy of any of my titles in eBook format of their choice!