March 9, 2017

How to Design Your Own Book Cover FOR FREE

I made the cover above in about an hour (maybe less).  It's properly formatted and proportioned for a 6' x 9' CreateSpace cover (for a roughly 250 page book).

Before you start making your own cover, make sure you know the dimensions that your printing services require. The cover above is entirely make believe, but I made it as an example of what your end product should look like (if you don't mind a minimalist cover).

I began by visiting CreateSpace and downloading their template for a book which seemed like a reasonable size for commercial fiction. Don't worry. You don't need a template to do this, but it did make everything a heck of a lot easier. If you're using a template you'll want that to be your background image (or to at least use the same pixel size and insert it as a layer for reference). If you're not using a pre-made template, be sure to measure carefully and don't forget to leave some margins.

I don't have Photoshop so I use Pixlr  but you could also use something like Gimp or SumoPaint  if you prefer. While SumoPaint offers more features than Pixlr, I can never seem to get it to work for me without crashing mid-project.

I put the CreateSpace template as the background image and built a solid black Layer 1 over it (my true background). Make sure that your background is a separate layer from the template so that you can refer back to it throughout the process.

You'll probably want to start with adding an image (Layer 2) and blending it or erasing around the edges with a large, soft circular brush. I was going for a minimalist approach so I only added an image to the front but if you prefer, you can find one that wraps all the way around. You can pay modest fees and royalties for photos or (if you're thrifty and patient) you can search through Free Stock Images (or browse Deviant Art and ask the artists' permission for commercial use. Please be responsible and make sure they have proper release forms from anyone featured in the image). Or ... if you or a friend have a high end camera, feel free to use your own images. They'll be original and you won't need to worry about copyright issues (or duplicate covers).

Another quick note about the image and placement that I used - I purposely chose this image because I felt that it would draw attention to our "Dramatic Title". Studies have proven time and time again that when you see somebody, it's a natural reaction to follow their line of sight. Thus, if you choose an image with a person's face (or at least their eyes) I would recommend that they are either facing in a direction that interacts with the overall design (in this case looking up at the title) or an image that looks directly at the viewer (forcing them to make eye contact with the product). One of the only exceptions I can think of for this would be perhaps where you have multiple people in the image (hopefully interacting with one another). This is more characteristic of books in the Romance and Erotica genres.

For Layer 3 I added a soft charcoal gradient that fades in diagonally from the upper right hand corner towards the man's face. It might be difficult to see on the image above, but at full size the effect is more apparent. Take note of the perspective and direction of the lights and keep it consistent throughout the cover. Adding a soft texture (in this case it probably wouldn't be visible) or a soft gradient is a tiny, super easy step that tricks the eye into seeing it as a single image, rather than a face randomly planted on top of a black background.

Click on Layer 1 and adjust the transparency until you can see your template underneath. Place a white shape over the ISBN box. (This is Layer 4.) It doesn't need to end up on the end product but this will keep you from entering that space with the rest of the text on the back.

If you have an "About the Author" section with a high quality, professional looking photo of yourself or a very small emblem to place on the spine, go ahead and add them now. (Potentially Layer 5 - 6)

If you're using Pixlr, you'll probably find that the font sizes are adequate for use on the back of the cover, but they're nowhere near large enough for the front. I believe the only text not added on Pixlr was the title and author name on both the front and the spine. Though I did it here, I would hesitate before recommending this since it's difficult to ensure that the same fonts will be available on different programs (and unless you're using black and white, finding the same color is nearly impossible as well).

Be pragmatic. Save it as a layered file then flatten your image (don't forget to readjust Layer 1's transparency) and save it as either JPEG or PNG [if you're still not sure which one is better for your project see here]. Like I said, I really don't like using Pixlr for text. You can try using ipiccy but my personal favorite is still Canva. You're limited in options but the accessibility of the site is outstanding. It might not work if you want more stylish or personalized text, but I always prefer to stick with more standard text anyway (though they do have quite a bit to choose from).

I'd love to see the covers you come up with. Let me know how everything works for you below.   

March 1, 2017

Developing Deeper Characters: The Best Friend / Confidante

I hate to admit it, but as much as I love a lone-wolf MC, something spectacular happens when you introduce a close friend or confidante into the mix. Suddenly, there's another voice that can almost act as the conscience or alter ego of the MC.

The presence of a friend allows the reader to see a more vulnerable (or even a braver) side to the MC. As long as they're moderately likable, they can be blunt, tacky, or forward in a way that the MC rarely can. So if writing SIFs ("strong independent female" characters) aren't your thing, or if you're looking to round out your character and give them more complexity, the Best Friend/Confidante may be just the thing. Friends can give your character much needed confidence, or a kick in the pants (whichever they need more at that moment).

A good example of why friends in fiction work well can be found in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The character's personalities balance one another and it's probably not just to reach a diversity quota. A sensual, outgoing friend can be balanced by her timid, commitment-phobic pal (and vice-versa) until each girl is left as the best version of herself. If you ask me, it just works.

In the world of creative fiction, we're often told that the MC needs to make the vast majority of conscious decisions in order to move the plot forward. While this is often the case, not every story calls for that. Not every character needs to be a "man of action". In fact, as a Phlegmatic personality myself, I find it the notion that every character ought to behave this way to just be silly. But, if the MC isn't moving the plot forward, who is? The best friend.

Don't believe me? Go watch Finding Nemo and pay close attention to the relationship between Dory and Marlin (Nemo's father). While Marlin does eventually learn to be a more active character, it is often Dory that pushes him to venture outside of his comfort zone and try new things. She gets the plot rolling and pushes him forward until he's ready to take the torch and cross the finish line.

Obviously, film is going to function a bit differently from the written word, but the concept still applies. In an interview with Sam Jones, Judy Greer explains this beautifully. Check it out.

For more on character development, check out Developing Deeper Characters: Backstory and Fear.
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