Welcome to this post series! If you’re unsure what this is or where I’m going with it, I’ll refer you back to this post for all the intro stuff. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s jump right in!
So your ebook cover is complete and ready to knock the socks off of readers. It’s possible you’ll decide to stop there, but… why? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest time and money in editing and cover design if you’re going to ignore the huge segment of the literarily-inclined population that EXCLUSIVELY read print books. If you want to see a return on your investment in this endeavor, you want to make your novel available in as many formats as possible. So how do you go from ebook cover to print spread?
Like my last post, this segment is not going to be a step-by-step walkthrough of the process. Consider this your foundation and build from here.
The very first thing you must do before you can attempt a print cover is to format the interior. In order to create a cover the correct size, you have to know several pieces of information. Typically, this includes trim size (the height and width the book will be trimmed to after printing), the finalized, formatted page count, and the paper color. There may be other specs you need to know in advance, but those are the major 3 across the board. Why?
All three of these elements determine the measurements of the spine. Generally speaking, the front and back portions will be the same size regardless of how long or short the book is if the trim size is the same. Meaning, the front cover of a 6×9 cozy mystery will be the same size as a 6×9 high fantasy. But if they have different page counts and paper colors, the spines will be different sizes entirely. The measurement difference between white and cream paper might seem negligible, but when you stack 200+ of them together, that small difference adds up. So, interior layout must ALWAYS come before print cover, or you may find yourself redoing all your work because your estimate was a mere two pages off.
I’m not covering interior layout in my series of posts, as I outsource that work to someone else. I’ll submit another request to the in-house IT Department to see about getting a post or two on the subject put up here, though.
So here’s something to know as you go forward with the print cover. That snazzy ebook cover you created? That was in RGB mode. This mode, meaning Red, Green, Blue (monitor pixel colors), is optimized for digital display so it looks all bright and shiny and colorful on a phone or computer screen. For print, that image will be converted to CMYK. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK are the base colors for inks used in printing presses, which probably won’t give you the same highly-saturated colors you’ll see on a screen. This is generally the most noticeable with super-bright colors that lean towards neon. Special inks are required to produce metallic and dayglow effects, so it’s something to keep in mind to avoid disappointment. Now, if you yourself are contracting a printer directly to produce your books, you can probably do this (for a price). That’s not generally what indie authors do, however, and especially not if they’re working on a tight or nonexistent budget, or don’t have the storage space to keep hundreds of print copies on hand.
The most commonly used print-on-demand service is, of course, Amazon’s KDP (formerly their Createspace division). It’s the easiest and cheapest way to get physical copies of books onto a large distribution platform as well as have access to lower-cost author copies to sell at in-person events. KDP also offers a free Amazon-associated ISBN if you choose to publish on this platform, which is a big bonus if you’ve got zero budget. You certainly can purchase your own ISBN, but if you’re a new author… eh. There’s arguments for and against it, so I’d suggest doing your research and coming to your own conclusions about it. Draft2Digital says don’t bother unless you’re a well-established name with lots of sales. This post states the facts and pros and cons of free options. And this article says “yes, but only if…”, so it really is a call each author has to make for themselves. Publishing is always changing and shifting, so what’s true and working now, might be false and failing a year later.
If you’re going with KDP, this link is where you’ll go once your interior is laid out. You’ll note that the three items I said it was most important to know are the ONLY things you’ll need to know to get the template for your print cover here. (Updated edit: I’ve had issues being able to download any templates from KDP the past few months, so I’ve switched to getting my templates from this site instead, which, so far, has been even more accurate to page count than KDP’s generator. My googling says my issue may be browser-related, so YMMV. You can still use the KDP link to see the trim size options, so I’m leaving it in the post.)
If you go with KDP, yes, it’s free and fairly easy to use. However, you have far fewer options for size and format. KDP only offers paperback printing, and in a limited number of sizes. For years I’ve wished they’d offer a mass market paperback option, but, alas, they do not. I’d love to get my books in that size, but I’m personally unwilling to part with the cash it would cost to get that.
Once you submit the requested information on that site, KDP spits out a zip file containing a PDF and a PNG of the template (updated edit: the bookow.com generator give you the choice of PDF, PNG, InDesign, Scribus, and OpenOffice templates). Here’s what the PDF template looks like when opened in Photoshop:
Those cyan lines running across the image are NOT included with the template. After opening the PDF in Photoshop, I click and drag from the rulers along the top and left side and place them along the edges of the orange areas, yellow barcode space, and centered on the dotted black lines. These mark out areas that will be trimmed, printed over (Amazon adds the barcode for you in that designated space), or folded, so these guide lines remain visible even if I cover up the template with cover imagery. They can be toggled off and on as you need, just be sure to turn them off before you save the final version as a PDF. Most of the time Photoshop doesn’t export them if I forget and leave them on, but once or twice it has, so, to be safe, shut them off.
KDP is far and away the most common print cover requested by my clients, but a few choose not to use it, or use it in addition to another POD service. There are several other services out there, but the only other service I’ve had to work with in… at least five or six years… is IngramSpark.
Both platforms have their pros and cons, but a big one in the pro column for IngramSpark is the larger variety of options for printing a physical book. If you take a look at their cover template generator, you’ll see exactly what I mean. From the small mass market size, to the canvas-like cloth cover with dust jacket hardcover, it’d be really hard to beat what IngramSpark makes accessible to the independent publisher. But with those bells and whistles comes a premium price. IngramSpark requires the purchase of an ISBN, has a $49 setup fee, and any time you need to make a revision, that’ll run you $25 every time. So, say you order a proof copy and need to shift the spine text a millimetre or two to center it, or maybe the color needs adjusting because it didn’t print as expected. Any time you need to fix something, it’ll cost you. But the end result could be prettier than KDP, so there’s that.
Be sure to double check the option you choose for file type here. This generator defaults to an InDesign template, so you’ll want a PDF if you’re working in another program. The file they send you looks like this when opened and the guides placed, a little different than the KDP layout:
If you need an ISBN, IngramSpark offers these at a discounted rate of $85 per book if purchased through them. If you’d rather buy it directly, US folks will go to Bowker. For a single ISBN it’s $125, or you can purchase a block of ten for $295 (prices as of 22 May 2020), which is a significant discount and useful if you intend to publish several books or in different editions/formats (ebook and print require individual ISBN numbers). For other countries, there are different registration numbers, so if you’re reading this from another part of the world, your process with this issue is something I can’t speak to.
After your template is opened and your guides set up, you’ll begin importing the artwork you created for the ebook. This is going to be tricky if you chose to use something like Canva for that portion, as you’ll have no way to adjust the individual elements on the print layout. If you’ve used Affinity Photo, Photoshop, or another piece of software along those lines, you’re likely working with layers and can tweak the various bits and pieces so they fall in the safe areas of the template.
Here are a few quick tips for this section.
One. Be wary of the trim sections. That template might say you’re safe if your text is a quarter inch from the dotted line, but once it’s printed it’ll look WAY too close to the edge. I recommend going about half an inch in from the edge of the template with any elements you for sure want to keep on the cover. Not leaving enough space there will take some of the polish off of that cover for sure. Just give the elements room to breathe, and it’ll be fine.
Two. Mind your aspect ratios. That means if you stretch something vertically, also stretch it horizontally the same amount. Constrained proportions will keep humans looking human, rather than distorted reflections in a funhouse mirror. The most common place I see this problem crop up is in audiobook covers. You can’t just stretch your cover horizontally to fit a square and call it a day. Doing that is a giant, flashing neon sign advertising amateur hour. Don’t do it.
Three. If your background image isn’t big enough to fully wrap around the cover, you’ll probably need to use something else for the back and/or spine. Sometimes a band of solid color works perfectly well for the spine (place such an element between the two dotted black lines on the template). Also bear in mind the back cover will have a lot of smaller text, so be sure your image isn’t too busy, too detailed, and doesn’t have too much contrast. It’ll be a nightmare to get the book description to show up and be readable if your background isn’t subtle enough. Use the same fonts for the back and spine as you did on the front cover to keep it consistent and cohesive. And definitely take a look at other books to see what’s been done if you’re not sure where all the stuff goes.
Four. KDP has a tendency to print things on the dark side, so be mindful of that. If I’m doing a cover with a lot of darker tones, I typically add an adjustment layer to brighten the whole thing just a little bit. After having to make those adjustments after the fact once or twice, it’s something I do automatically now, rather than my clients having to scream into the void of KDP customer service later.
Five. The last thing I do before exporting the finished cover as a PDF has saved me hours of grief. My final step is to duplicate all of the text layers, turn off the originals (do NOT delete them), and then rasterize the type. This converts the text into images, essentially, so I don’t have to worry about print services kicking back the covers because of embedded or missing fonts. It’s not always necessary, but I’d rather err on the side of caution and have things sail through the first time.
There’s one final thing I’m going to add to all of this, which I could’ve added at the end of the last post, but, oh well. If you’d like to enhance the interior of your book beyond the simple look of a default font thrown on the page, something relatively simple and easy to add is the text treatment from the cover on the title page. This has become an element I provide to my clients by default now. If you’re working in a design program that uses layers, it’s fairly simple to generate a PNG image file with a transparent background. Save the cover as a new file, delete everything except the title, subtitle, and author name, move the elements closer as they’d appear on a title page, then save as a PNG file. You may have to get rid of some effects like glow or shadows, but that’s basically all there is to it. As a bonus, you can also use this PNG file to create graphics for marketing purposes… but we’ll get to that later. For now, you can pop that PNG onto the title page of your print book interior. Be aware that if you use it for the ebook, it will show up surrounded by white box when reading on a black background, such as when the device is set to night mode.
Does all of this seem like a lot to learn? Just because you COULD do it yourself, doesn’t mean you should. A lot of thought goes into successful cover creation, and an experienced designer brings skills and an eye for aesthetics to the table.
But that’s another topic entirely. Next time, I’m going to talk a bit about outsourcing the cover, and what I have to say might not be exactly what you expect.