I’m no cover designer, but I might give it a shot…

I’m no cover designer, but I might give it a shot…

With Volume II of my Draymere Hall Series published, and the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) *Select enrollment period on Volume I about to end, I’ve decided to experiment with a two-book box-set (this is despite the preconceived wisdom on blogs I follow that box-sets should consist of three or more books!)

The box-set will consist of both ebooks. It was pain-free and straightforward combining the two volumes (which have already been edited, proofread and formatted, of course) into one great big document (200,200 words! I impressed myself with the weight of my saga).

Selling them as a pair feels like a no-brainer, giving readers the chance to buy both books for slightly less than the cost of buying them separately (if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about marketing, it’s that everyone loves a bargain) and at no additional cost to me.

Ah, but I will need a cover for my box-set.

The beautiful covers for my books were created by Jane Dixon-Smith of JD Smith Designs. She did a wonderful job and I love them (plus, I got some of those zany  3D images to show off.)

But this stops being an experiment if it costs me more money. I’d like to know that a box set will sell first. Which means I’m going it alone, and I’m no cover designer.

My first port of call was KDP, Amazon’s self-publishing platform, which has its own ‘Cover Creator’ (with guidelines to assist). It’s simple to navigate. You can upload your own images or use one of their backgrounds, and there are options to change colours, layout and font. But the choices are limited and mine were limited further by the amount of text I needed on the front cover to make it clear that this was a box-set and to name the separate titles (my titles are quite long!) I didn’t love any of their fonts or backgrounds and I couldn’t control the alignment of wording (or vary the font colour) within their layout parameters.

I’m trying to convey rural setting, romance and passion, and catch the eye of readers. This was my best effort on KDP’s Cover Creator. (The background image was downloaded from Pixabay for the voluntary price of a cup of coffee.)

box set DIGITAL_BOOK_THUMBNAIL

I don’t like it. It doesn’t catch the eye, it doesn’t shout ROMANCE and you can’t read the white font on the pink sky background. But the biggest snag is that this cover would only function on Kindle, so alternative platforms would have a different cover, which I’d still have to make.

So I hopped over to Canva (tagline: Amazingly simple graphic design software!) and their ebook cover template. You could play forever on Canva, adding your own images and superimposing other pictures on top of the background, but I’m not clever enough. I made a right dog’s dinner of my efforts.

Luckily there are multiple, pre-designed ‘Canva Layouts’, so I selected them, because I’m not a designer, and I’d worked out by now that real designers are better than me at pairing up fonts with layouts and backgrounds. Snag number two is that whilst some of the layouts are free, all the ones that caught my eye cost money. Not much money, true, but then none of them were perfect either. So I changed my remit to something simple which just tells you what’s in the box(set).

draymere HallVolumes I & II

Yuk, right? And remember that when you’re looking at these on Amazon or other sales platforms the image might be even smaller. Ask yourself, would you bother buying that?

I may go back to Canva, when I’ve come to terms with the fact that spending a little money could be essential and, with that thought in mind, I headed over to The Book Cover Designer to find out what premade covers are going for.

There are benefits to buying a premade cover. Obviously, it’s cheaper than using your own designer, there are options for paperbacks as well as ebooks, the designs are one-offs (so there won’t be another book appearing with the same cover, which is a risk with KDP and Canva) and some of the designers include extras like 3D images or a choice of alternative fonts. You can search for covers by genre. Those I looked at under the romance tag ranged in price from $29 (£25) to $200 (£165). Needless to say, the one I liked was $200. I jumped off there quick-smart before I could be tempted.

I haven’t designed my cover yet, but I have worked out that I’m both fussy and tight-fisted.  For a little more effort (and possibly investment) in Canva, or more specific images I might find the solution I’m looking for. Pixabay couldn’t help with my search for red-headed heroines or English manor houses. Shutterstock had some images which piqued my interest…

… but they wanted £32, for five downloads, and I only need one picture (and the skills to turn in into a cover would be handy).

This is why cover designers are worth their money, but I haven’t given up. Back to the drawing board for me. All suggestions welcomed!

*enrollment in KDP Select grants Kindle exclusive sales of the enrolled ebook. I would therefore be unable to sell the box-set on other platforms whilst volume I was enrolled in the Select programme, and unable to enrol the box-set in the Select programme whilst Volume II is available on other platforms. Yes, it is confusing!

A pat on the back for me

A pat on the back for me

I’m patting myself on the back this week, and CreateSpace is my new best friend. When I first first blogged about CreateSpace (Setting my manuscript free) just ten short months ago, visiting their website felt like arriving on an alien planet. The language was new and foreign, the terminology beyond confusing. Mercy, have I learnt a lot since then.  You know how London cabbies get an over-developed hippocampus from learning ‘The Knowledge’, well I think I’m developing one of my own. It might throb and give me a headache when I use it, but the great thing is that even a fusty, middle aged brain can rise to a new problem when you push it. So now I love CreateSpace. We’re communicating, and everyone knows the importance of that. It’s all a lot easier when you’ve learnt the language.

A Bed of Barley Straw, Edition 2 is about to hit the shelves (don’t get that confused with the sequel which won’t be released until early next year) This is an updated version of the original book, with a gorgeous new cover, courtesy of Jane (my other new best friend) at JD Smith Design

Draymere Hall Volume I

Edition two has been reformatted into a slightly smaller book by me, myself and I (hence the perpetually throbbing hippocampus). Published via CreateSpace with their easy to follow (this time around) step-by-step guide to publishing your novel, and their brilliant interior reviewer which shows you what the inside of your book will look like. I have fallen out with Microsoft Word a few times during the process. It’s a devil for deciding it knows better than I do and rearranging the entire manuscript because I added a full stop. But we got there, apart from this…

Screenshot_2015-11-06-20-58-49 (2)

…can you spot the amazing vanishing page number? Try as I might I can’t seem to resolve it (hippocampus pulsing). Next book – Scrivener here I come (when the brain has recovered, I don’t want that hippocampus exploding).

And talking of messy, the sequel – A Bed of Brambles – is still with my editor, and boy has she got her work cut out. I tell a great story, but I’m raw and lack finesse so a bloody good edit is essential. I love my editor, despite and because of her honesty. Her words may smart, but she is the one who will turn my masterpiece into a work of art. Here’s a visual to demonstrate. This is where I work, where my creative juices run free (a chaotic scene which I wouldn’t usually chose to share with you)

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and here’s what I’d like you to see…

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The edited version, you get me?

Judge a book by it’s cover

We all do, of course. I may have bypassed many good books because they didn’t look like ‘something I would read’. And that is a shame. It seems indie publishing has a reputation for amateurish book coverings, and, having now gone through this process myself, I can understand why.

My ‘vision’ for my book was a distant back view of a beautiful couple (heroine flame haired if possible) gazing out over a misty English valley. The book is set on a country estate in the Cotswolds. The story develops amidst horses, the countryside and dogs. In my mind’s eye, my cover resembled a modern day Jane Austen book. I described my vision in detail, on the telephone, to the USA (with the customary time delay throughout our discussion).

The concept I received depicted a decidedly middle aged couple. Now, I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to write that book. In fact I have given myself the giggles, planning in my head the words of a passionate mid-life scene:

“She knew he thought he was caressing her breast, as his fingers gently fondled her spare tyre and continued to search for a nipple.”

Or;

“A low groan escaped him as his back gave out.”

But this time, my book is about the beautiful people (I will write the other story if I ever get a following big enough to stand it). Not only were the couple depicted on my book nothing like my characters, the misty English scene was by definition colourless and uninteresting. Dull, dull, dull. I wouldn’t have bought the book with that cover. At the moment that is the only yardstick I have to measure success by.

My excitement at receiving the message from CreateSpace: “Your action is required to move forward with your project”, was soundly deflated when I viewed the concepts. The second concept (designed by them) showed a younger couple (better) galloping on horses (good idea)…wearing cowboy hats and traversing an American prairie. Oh dear.

I’m not knocking CreateSpace here. They listened to my ideas and tried very hard to interpret them without any visual stimulus and only spoken guidance from me. My fault, I panicked a bit. I had only paid for two rounds of editing on the concepts and had to decide which of those featured I would be going ahead with. To be honest I hated them both. I asked the design team to book a telephone conversation. Again they were efficient, encouraging and helpful. Editing changes could include a change of image. I could supply my own image, or search for one I liked from their library. Big sigh of relief.

Better late than never, I started doing some research. Searched thousands of images (bouncing them past my daughters for feedback) and found a picture I liked. I emailed the design team with images of covers I admired and would like to emulate. And I just managed to carry out all of the required changes within my pre-paid budget.

My cover is not perfect, there are a couple of details I would still change. I could have added another round of edits for $75. But I do not know if my book will even sell, so there has to be a cut-off point. Next time, if I use CreateSpace again, I will start the process by sending them an image of what I want the cover to look like, and move forward from there.

And I’m not a book designer or marketing expert. I do not know what the market is looking for. My ideas might still be awful!

Have a look, and see what you think (at the partial image which was all I could fit into ‘featured images’!). Just don’t tell me to change anything.

No one said there would be questions…

No one said there would be questions…

I don’t know what it is about questionnaires, but they strike me illiterate. Maybe it’s because they resemble an exam paper (I have never been good at exams). Or job applications, where you have to answer hypothetical questions, and list your strengths and weaknesses.  Real questions are fine – like who was Prime Minister in 1973? That’s easy, you either know it or you don’t. And if you don’t you can look it up.

Question: “What aspects of your writing are unique and define you as an author?” Well, hell, I don’t know. You tell me (please).

Question: “Who do you envision purchasing and reading your book?” Honest answer? “No one really” or “I would”. I haven’t got that far with my ‘envisioning’. A few friends and family? A couple of other people if I’m lucky. “All women who like romance.” (CreateSpace example of the wrong answer: “All women who like cooking” – well it isn’t quite the same).

“Describe your target audience by factors such as age group, interest, education, gender, etc.” Sorry, I’m way out of my depth now. Is ‘education’ relevant to chick-lit romance? (That’s a question I’m asking – not one of theirs). I really don’t know the answer, maybe you do. Gender! Yes I know the answer to that (I can’t think of any men who read romances.) But the questions keep getting harder: “Describe the specific tone, themes, and mood you would like your book to convey.”

Surely, if I was able to write the book, I can come up with answers to these? Apparently not. Everything I’m typing in the answer boxes reads like hyperbole. I haven’t thought this through. I simply had a story I wanted to tell, so I wrote it down.

I am a typical, self-depreciating English woman. It goes against my nature to laud my own skills or blow my own trumpet. It has dawned on me that I will have to learn these traits if I do want to sell the book.

To the question “Describe any specific design ideas for the interior of your book.” I actually answered “None really. Clear and simple.” (I was getting weary by then). But I worked out later when I looked at examples, that I actually had quite a lot of opinions on the interior of my book. I possibly should have done more research. And viewed the examples before I wrote the answer. It’s that impatience thing again.

Similar problem with the cover for the book, and questions for the editor. My ideas for the cover were completely rubbish. But I didn’t know that until I saw it mocked up; and then I started looking at covers I liked and worked out what I wanted to achieve. Three steps forwards and two steps back. Every time.

I asked the editor for feedback on the title of the book. Working title “Circle of Trust”, alternative options “Mistrust” and “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”. Having already asked the six friends who had proof read the book, I received two votes for each. Which wasn’t very helpful. By the time I received my editor’s feedback the cover had been signed off and approved. I will get this process right, next time. (Ps. the book is called ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’)

One last comment about the dreaded questionnaire. When CreateSpace say “this page times out after 30 minutes” and “you may want to type and save your answers elsewhere”, it is good advice. The final question asks for a synopsis of your book, with as much detail as you can muster. Needless to say I couldn’t run that off in the 4 minutes I had remaining. Back to the drawing board. And learn some patience!