Okay, authors are advised not to do this — design your own cover images, especially for the printed versions of your books. But I did it. Maybe it was the allure of the forbidden. Or maybe it was inevitable, because this whole writing and publishing adventure started with me telling myself, “Think of it as an exercise, not a commitment. Try it and see what happens.”
When I published my first ebooks, almost a decade ago, my home made cover images were indeed lame. After a couple of years I commissioned excellent professionally designed images, which still grace the four books of my Herbert West Series. They were not inexpensive. (“Good, fast, cheap — pick two!”)
A couple of years ago, I started using Canva, just to see whether it was as easy as some said. After some experimentation, I designed cover images for the four short spinoff stories from my main series, published in 2016. Since I intended to make them perma-free, it didn’t make any sense to pay for cover images, and I was happy with the results, although compared to the professional designs, their amateur origin is evident.
By the time my latest novel, She Who Comes Forth, was ready to come forth, I had designed more than half a dozen images for it. Fooling around with Canva is fun, and was a great way to do something related to my (then) work in progress when I didn’t feel like actually writing. After I finalized my final design, part of me could hardly wait to start on the challenge of incorporating it into a cover for the print version of the novel. This was while I was still waffling about publishing in print at all, and a bit apprehensive at the prospect of formatting the Word doc for POD.
So here we are, a couple of months later, and the print version of SWCF exists. I have ten copies right here, nine of which are still in the box with the Amazon smile. And all in all, I’m pleased with it. (I still have all my hair, too.)
The print book may be purchased at your preferred Amazon outlet. This one, for example. The ebook version of She Who Comes Forth will be available on November 7th, and may be pre-ordered now at a special price.
For those who might be
foolhardy bold enough to attempt a similar project, here are a few things I learned that others may find helpful. One thing I’ve noticed about documentation, instructions and “help” pages — sometimes they omit tiny but crucial details. I don’t pretend to be an expert, and many of you may know all that stuff already, or have no desire to get into this type of project, so this is for the rest of you. FYI on DYI.
Word Document Formatting:
Amazon KDP provides a pretty good basic formatting guide. And you can usually find good help pages on the internet for most Word issues. This one, for example, tells you how to set up different headers and footers on odd and even pages.
Here are a few of my own personal tips:
First, find a trad-pubbed (or for that matter, indie-pubbed) book you like the looks of and use it as a model for interior design, preliminary pages, presence/absence of headers and page numbers, etc. Then all you have to do is figure out how to get those effects in your Word document.
Second, make sure your text is perfect (or as close as you can get) before you start formatting. Adding or deleting more than a character or two can mess things up once you’ve inserted Section Breaks, Headers, and Footers.
Third, add your preliminary pages (half-title, title page, epigraph and or dedication pages) and any “extras,” such as the moon glyphs I added to every one of the chapter titles. (They actually represent the moon phases in Luxor, Egypt in 1962 as the story progresses.) Decide on the trim size for your book (6×9 inches, for example), specify the paper size and set the margins. KDP’s “Build Your Book” guide has instructions for these steps, and even little videos you can view as many times as you need to.
Now for the ultimate challenge — Section Breaks, Headers, and Footers. Use the magic of “Save As” before you start, so you have a pristine copy of your document up to that point. If things go wrong, you can scrap the mess and start again without having to go through the process of adding the preliminary pages, setting margins, etc.
Really, once you’ve set up the headers and footers for Chapter 1 (or Prologue, if you have one), it’s a matter of selecting the right type of Section Break between chapters and breaking the link with the Header in the previous section when you want to do something different, like omitting the odd page header from the first page of the new chapter. (See why this can involve hair-tearing and profuse cursing?)
Actually, it seemed to me that the latest version of Word makes the process easier than previous versions. Or maybe it was just because I’d struggled through all this stuff before. Whatever the reason, I found I could rely on a specific sequence of checks and choices as I paged through the document, like a little mental flow chart. It was encouraging to be able to reproduce the desired pattern reliably as I went along.
The title page. I used Canva to create the picture in the middle (a separate little project). Then I inserted it into my Word doc.
Again, do NOT fiddle with anything that affects the space taken up by your text after you insert your Section Breaks, Headers, and Footers. That would be trim size, margins, font size, line spacing, adding or deleting more than a tiny amount of text. Get all that stuff finalized before you start on Section Breaks. If you really need to make any of those changes, return to your “before Section Breaks” document and make the changes there. Once you’re done, Save As, and start over. (Trust me, “Save As” is your friend.)
Finally, before you upload your document to KDP, save a copy in PDF form. That will show you exactly what your printed pages will look like. If there are problems (usually with headers and/or footers), you’ll spot them immediately and can return to your Word doc to fix them. Once everything looks good, you can actually upload your final, perfect PDF to KDP.
For a really thorough how-to guide on the entire print publishing process, I recommend How to Print Your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing: a step-by-step guide for absolute beginners, by ACFlory. It takes you through the formatting process in detail, with screenshots. This ebook is available on Amazon.
Anyone who’s comfortable with Canva (and designing images) can create a credible print book cover. You probably wouldn’t want to make this your first experience of Canva (unless you’re a really quick study). Experiment first, getting used to layering images, using transparency, adding text, and moving stuff around. Create some ebook cover images. If you don’t actually have an ebook that needs a cover image, make some for books you mean to write. (The exercise might inspire you.) Once you know you can construct attractive images with the degree of complexity you need, you’re ready to tackle a print book cover.
Before starting, you need an interior book file that’s complete, perfectly formatted, and ready to upload, so you know how many pages your book will have. That determines the width of the spine. Once you know that and have selected a trim size, download a print cover template from Amazon KDP. Go to Canva and start a new project, with customized dimensions exactly right for your cover. I found these instructions by Katherine Roberts very helpful, especially the calculations to set the custom size for your Canva project.
One of the cool things about Canva is that you can upload your own images to use in your designs. This is also where you upload your print cover template from KDP. By incorporating it into your design (temporarily), you can make sure to adhere to KDP’s specs for bleed and barcode placement.
If you use free images from a site like Pixabay for your cover design, remember to download the highest resolution versions. Images that don’t meet Amazon KDP’s fabled 300 dpi standard may cause your cover to be rejected. (This didn’t happen to me, I’m happy to say).
Select a background, and then layer the cover template over it. (My background is that textured ochre colour on the spine.) Then proceed as usual, adding whatever elements you need for your front and back covers. Set the transparency so you can see the cover template and its all-important red border lines. For my cover, the spine was the only place where the cover template was the topmost layer (well, just below the spine text). This was important, because after I was finished adding all the elements, including text, and was certain nothing important was on or outside the red lines, I easily deleted the template. Don’t forget to do that, and do NOT move any text or important image elements once the template is gone. You can change filters, transparency, or colours, but don’t change fonts at this point, because that might change the size of text areas. When you’re done, download the image as a printable PDF, and upload both it and your text PDF to Amazon KDP. And rejoice.