Saturday, September 28, 2013

What size should I make my cover? 1 - Paperback

Probably one of the more common questions asked about eBook production is, what size should I make my cover? Like most things, if you ask this of three people, you'll get three different answers! I make no pretense to having a definitive but here are my thoughts on the subject which might help to put things into perspective.
The first thing to consider in any creative endeavor is to ask, what do you want to do, what is your aim, your end result, what are the design considerations? What do you want it for? For me, I want a single graphic (I'm late! I'm late!) that can serve a number of purposes...
  1. As a cover that could potentially be printed out for a physical, "dead-tree" "A" format mass market paperback book
  2. As a cover for a pdf paperback
  3. As a cover for an ebook in ePub and mobi format
  4. As promotional artwork, both full-sized and as a thumbnail
Each of these has different design considerations but I have a template that I'm confident can cover all of them! In the next four blogs I'll step you through the design requirements for each of these end products. (NB all dimensions are shown width x height)


  • According to Wikipedia an "A" format mass-market paperback (MMP) is 110mm x 178mm (4.33" x 7.01")
  • Allowing "bleed" of 5mm all round, this comes to 120mm x 188mm (4.72" x 7.40") for just a cover page.
  • This is only part of the story though! If you want a wrap-around cover for your book, you need to allow for "bleed" on the top, bottom and outside edge *plus* the width of the spine which depends on the number of pages and weight of paper used!
    • Take for example Lulu, one of the highest profile Print On Demand (POD) publisher. They don't have a book size that exactly matches the MMP standard size, but their "Pocketbook" perfect bound book at 107.9mm x 174.6mm (4.25" x 6.87") is virtually identical, checkout HERE for the dimensions and HERE for a templates. They advertise that their Pocketbook can go up to 740 pages which, according to their spine calculator would be 35.46mm wide (1.40") using publisher grade paper. Sooo... if you want to make a wrap-around cover for your book, you need to know how many pages it is, what weight paper you are going to have it published on, plug this information into the spine calculator and it will give you the spine width, cover size and even where the spine begins!
  • For my purposes a wrap-around cover is not a design consideration for three reasons...
    • You'll notice I said that this was for "a cover that could potentially be printed out"? I've given up on the idea of approaching a printer to publish, say, a dozen copies of a fan fiction novel. Realistically, the loss of revenue to a copyright owner from this would be so small as to be incalculable but I still get vents about how it is illegal, immoral and an attack on the very foundations of the western economy. No worries. If you don't want my business it's not my loss, it's just for personal satisfaction anyway.
    • Without knowing what paper weight I'd publish on or the number of pages of my potential book, I can't make a realistic estimate of the width of the spine for a specific book, and thus can't say how wide my wrap-around cover should be.
    • Since I want to design a template that can be used for all the books I publish, I am currently working on simply generating a front cover only which will have bleed on all four sides. If I were to get it published, I'd create a separate back cover and a spine that bridges between the front & back.
Next: The pdf paperback!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pdf Publishing: Options! Give me options!

Pdf Publishing: so you have a great looking book you want everyone to read, how do you put it online? Most people just have it as a link to a downloadable file. That works - its simple and it gets the job done - but it doesn't let people browse your work before they download it.

This is what we have been using to date, that's an example embedded above, is Issuu, however they are putting a lot more weight behind their paid service and limiting their free features...
July 2015: Limited free service but they've added a rather good Facebook app.

Scribd is a long-running social publishing site for sharing original writings and documents in various formats, for private or public viewing, in four Languages along with a commercial store. I note that S&S are using Scribd for advance copy.
July 2015: Scribd is no longer free for readers which creates a problem for fan fiction

DeviantArt, the bastion of amateur art, has a pdf publishing plugin 'scroller' much the same as the one in Scribd. The major value of using DeviantArt is the community, you have a captive, supportive audience here! TrekUnited Publishing has a group here at...
July 2015: Still a good solid performer

Yumpu is closest in looks to Issuu with flipping documents that they say you can create in only 2 minutes, one click Facebook integration along with Twitter, Linked In, Google+ and Pinterest. German focus but international distribution...
July 2015: Still seems good value

SlideShare is the world's largest community for sharing presentations but also also supports documents, PDFs, videos and webinars. With 60 million monthly visitors and 130 million pageviews, it is amongst the most visited 200 websites in the world. Focused more on the real world than fiction!
July 2015: Still free but of little use for publishing fiction

Joomag sounds like it has a number of features that Issuu doesn't such as Video & Audio (Issuu actually does support audio), a Photo Gallery, Popups and an iPad app. This one bears looking into!
July 2015: the free option seems to be unlimited and ad sponsored 

Zyyne is an online platform that boosts your publications : they are more vivid, easier to disseminate and can be read on any medium. A powerful analysis tool allows you to see who has read them and how.
July 2015: The fact that they offer a thirty day trial suggests this is a commercial platform

MegaZine3, a powerful, userfriendly, open source ActionScript3 based page flip engine.
July 2015: They seem to be morphing into a commercial platform

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Notebooks for modern writers

How do you write? I mean how do you turn the fevered imaginings that are the seeds of your work into the digital file that you can then release on an unsuspecting world? Most people use a keyboard but, to steal a classic quote from our esteemed opposition, "There is another!" It uses pen and paper and has been around since... before they had pens and paper!

Without a doubt, it's more efficient to create your work electronically (the subject of a future article) because there is no conversion needed or further transcription however there is much to be said for handwriting you first draft. Many find writing more intuitive, perhaps from memories of filling school notebooks with fantasies, and there's nothing easier than pulling out a notebook and pen and scrawling out your plot-bunnies.

You remember notebooks, right? They don't take batteries nor need charging, they don't take a month's salary to buy, they do graphics as well as text in 'true to life colour' and I've even spilled coffee on them without them dying on me and taking all my work with them to electronic heaven! I still use one occasionally, usually one of a pair of Moleskines, but you are always faced with the problem of keeping them, carrying them, losing them, finding them, storing them, searching them and, ultimately, transferring the information in them to an electronic form that you can build on! This is an outline of a scene in a prospective flash fiction series which I dashed off to show how I use my own notebooks...

First of all I don't attempt to get a finished product. What I'm putting down is a snapshot, stream-of-consciousness outline. I know I'm going to have to type this out later and it is at that point that I will check for grammar, spelling and style (how many times have I used that word in the last two pages?) I don't struggle to make up names for people or places, it is peppered with corrections and notes and it is quite likely to end in mid-sentence because I have had to stop writing to get off the bus!

The first thing to do is to get an image of the page. Now, obviously, this what scanners were made for but, with very few exceptions, scanners are not made to carry around in your pocket so, to use one, you have to be either at home or in a library, etc which severely limits your option.

Luckily most of us have the next best thing, a mobile phone with a camera, which is quite sufficient for text. The snap on the left is one I took of my example page, basically I just put it on the floor and took the photo. Its reasonably good, you can read it if you play around with it, but I've downloaded a neat little Ap that can smarten it up with a few clicks! Called Snapseed, it is a matter of a couple of minutes to rotate, crop and automatically correct the brightness and contrast so that I end up with the graphic below. Remember, all this is done on my mobile phone, so I can do this anywhere - on a train platform, at work during lunch - giving me something useful to do with the phone besides play Angry Birds.

So we have our notebook text recorded for posterity - they'll have it 22nd century textbooks when we our genius is finally recognised! If you use your notebook for artwork - and I've seen some stunning work! - you'll want to take high resolution scans but for a working author's notebook this does me admirably. When you come to transcribe your work, probably on your desktop computer just open up the enhanced graphic and your word processor and off you go! I can do this on the run with my netbook, MiniMe, but if you feel the urge to get a head start on your phone you can do so direct from your notebook.

I have done this on Evernote, another phone ap I have which links my phone, netbook and any desktop via 'the cloud'. At this point canny Evernote users will jump in and shout, "but you can take your scanning shot direct from Evernote!" Yes, I know this, but can you open the image and the text window at the same time so that you can read what is on the image and type it into the text window? I know that you can annotate Skitch but can you save those annotations as text? I'd appreciate some feedback on this. If you have the money, the most viable option of using a notebook with Evernote looks like being the Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Baen Books: End of a dream or Start of a new era?

It was one of those classic facepalm moments last week when I read in Dark Matter fanzine that English author Terry Deary had called for the closure of libraries. I thought it was a glaring example of someone who could not accept that sometimes giving something away for free can actually make more money for you than watching every farthing. I immediately thought of Baen Books, the SF & F publishing house that was famous (or infamous depending on your viewpoint) for giving away books in their Baen Free Library. It has always been a showpiece of the mindset that free distribution of prequels is the best way of authors attracting new sales. One of the originators of the free library concept, Eric Flint, proved with hard figures that this had improved sales!

Imagine my dismay when I found that it had been gutted!

The Free library still exists but they have ... 
... had to remove some titles. Others are undergoing alteration and will be brought back into the Library over the next few months. The Second Editions with new material will be available for sale at all venues; the original editions will be restored to the Free Library. We are trying to keep as many titles here as possible. We will also be adding new titles soon, including ones by Larry Correia, and Sharon Lee & Steve Miller.

Has Baen Books jumped the shark by trading many of the things that made them unique for the ability to sell their books on Amazon? Amanda S. Green jumps to their defence and paints it as a win for Baen authors and has many valid points.

Personally I think that we need to remember that Baen Books is a commercial enterprise and not a charitable organisation. We, as readers, have no rights to the free ebooks they made available to us however they, in turn, need to realise that they are in danger of  losing the gains that it brought them.

The operative question here is, will the gain be worth the loss? Is the increased exposure that Amazon listing will give them worth the loss of the sales boost that Eric Flint espoused? Just what is the Amazon market share of the ebook market and will they keep it?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Trek fanfic of the week - Star Trek: Frontiers

This Virtual Series is something totally different from traditional book/zine-based fiction. It is an iconic, long-running, ground-breaking production that will give you the closest thing to a cinematic experience in the printed word!

Their long journey started in 2004 but their popularity caused them to become one of the founding members of the following year. This was their heyday which they shared with ST: Renaissance, ST: Star’s End and later ST: Avalon and Knights Haven lasting until 2008 when a downturn in interest caused them to move to MZP-TV, which at the time was an active hub for fan-based virtual seasons from many fandoms.

Their storyline had drawn critical acclaim amongst fans as holding true to the spirit of Star Trek but their move to MZP-TV was not popular because of the lack of new material and their focus on re-releasing edited and rewritten episodes of their previous seasons. Their tenure at MZPtv (as they rebranded themselves) came to an amicable end in May 2012 when their host changed their focus to Indie Virtual Series and since then Frontiers have been re-establishing a presence on the web, with facebook as their major fan interface and an striking new website, designed by Cador Davis, housing their resources.

What impresses me the most about this is the innovative way that the story has been presented! Unlike traditional fan fiction which is book/zine-based, Frontiers and the Virtual Seasons that followed have been made available as movie format scripts. Whilst this might take some getting used to, like audio dramas, the combination of dialog, stage/transition directions and scenery descriptions make the story come alive as a movie in the cinema of the mind!

Frontiers and the other Virtual Seasons have worked hard to build on the idea of their work as a cinematic production. In Mar 2011 they released their much anticipated Season 1 vDVD (virtual DVD) set. Containing all 17 episodes, many edited and rewritten, it also had special production podcasts, the popular video trailer by Paul Weaver and a gallery of digital images. Perhaps the neatest feature of the vDVD set its groundbreaking menu interface, designed by Paul, that authentically portrayed a "real" DVD set on your computer screen! As with all prototypes it had its teething problems and the season 2 vDVD released in Dec 2012 worked much better! Download the vDVDs and all their other episodes from their website, HERE.

Conceptual art for the vDVD
Now is the perfect time to start following this series since, in Oct last year, they announced the lineup of their 3rd and final season. If they can build on the amazing body of work that they have created over the last nine years this is going to be an epic ride!

Production Blog
Youtube Channel

NOTE: All graphics on this post came from Star Trek: Frontiers

Sunday, February 17, 2013

DIY eBooks 101

It is no great secret that I'm in the process of teaching myself how to create ebooks - starting with ePubs - of the pdf paperbacks that we've published for TrekUnited Publishing. What have been my major influences so far?


A massive forum of eBook readers and creators plus an informative and relatively non-partisan Wiki. One example thread you really must at least skim is this thread which, for the past three years, has gathered advice & links to resources which are an invaluable resource for the beginner and journeyman creator alike. How and Where to Publish Your Ebooks 

Catherine Ryan Howard

Her blogging on self publishing is exhaustive and exceptionally accessible to the average person! You can support her by buying her book from her website HERE - I did, it cost less than my daily industrial strength size coffee!

Steven Saus

Many of the posts that he later made into his book on self publishing are still on his personal blog which is also a mine of commentary & information on the subject in general. You can thank Steven for his help by buying his book from his website HERE.

What draws me to these two particular authors rather than the dozens that Google ads throw at me all day long, offering to show me how self publish your own eBooks? They offer most of the information in their books on their websites *for free*, trusting that their readers, as aspiring fellow authors (even fan authors who cannot make any money from their work!) will show their thanks with a little support.

I did! For the cost of a couple of magazines I did my bit to make sure that these two authors (who on face value espouse diametrically opposed methods) will continue to contribute to the self publishing community.