Self-Publishing Part 4: Covers and Other Nightmares

Welcome to the latest installment of my magnificent series- not to be too pretentious. In case you need to get caught up:

It has come at last- the time to make covers. Ellyana asks about my cover for Alen’s War:

Where do you find the picture of the ship? (I’m assuming you didn’t create it, about which I could be wrong.) The background I assume is resulting from a Picmonkey background? I know that the cover makes a huge impression on the reader– despite the old-time saying, “Never judge a book by its cover.”

Exactly right! Cliched sayings are useless here- people always judge a book by its cover. First, a little background on how you can get a cover. Like most self-publishing printers, CreateSpace gives you three options for cover design: pay a professional to design a custom cover, use a template and public domain images to make your own in Cover Creator, or do the whole thing yourself.

At this point, all other bloggers (and cover designers) will stop and yell at you in all caps that IF YOU DON’T HAVE A DEGREE IN GRAPHIC DESIGN, KEEP YOUR STICKY PAWS OFF YOUR OWN COVER.

And they are terribly wrong. I’ve never taken a Photoshop course in my life, but I design my own covers, which usually do the trick. I don’t obey what the other “professionals” tell meI do what I want.

However… if you are terrible at using or hate art, you will only give yourself a headache trying to make a cover, and the result may not be as clean as what you’d get with a professional artist or with Cover Creator. Think critically and decide upon the best investment for you.

But, to answer your other questions, Elly, today we’ll go through the process of how I design covers. Better buckle up; this could be a long ride.

Step 1: Concept Art

Make lists, scribble lines, ask your sister for ideas… whatever gets you thinking. I admit that drawing your own art can be scary. I draw lots of pictures, make lots of mistakes, and design lots of prototypes that end up being utterly worthless. But, as my own darling Turomar says, “That is planning- discarding enough ideas until you find a good one.” Here are some preliminary concepts for Alen’s War (and Son of Ren for the purpose of illustration).


Case in point.


Hint: I draw concept art in pencil first!

Honestly, people, if I’m brave enough to put some of my scribblings on the internet, you should be brave enough to draw your own ideas for yourself. Just keep drawing whatever comes to mind. Even if you do end up hiring someone else to make the cover, you can at least have some ideas to show them.

Be sure to save and scan a copy of all of your final drawings for the next step.

Step 2: The Elements

I sounded like Heraclitus there, didn’t I? But when I say elements, I’m talking about the individual pictures on the cover. For Alen’s War, this means drawing a ship and a map; for Son of Ren, a shield.

Don’t worry about text just yet. For now, focus on making the elements as clean and uniform as possible, and again, save the new versions separately from the old concept art. If all else fails, find some public domain images that you can use instead.


I drew the colored part by hand, then I traced the dark lines and added text on the computer.


I just traced my own concept art and filled in the lines with a brush tool on my editing program.

Step 3: Get a Template

Advance apologies for all the links.

Amazon has a lot of wordy specificationsOne thing to notice here is that Amazon KDP is talking about this kind of cover, but CreateSpace needs this kind. To figure out the dimensions, you can use this handy little tool, which gives you the template you’ll need in step 4. 

Or if you, like me, find it easier to do algebra than to use that beast they call a PDF template, you can do the math yourself. (The calculation isn’t blog-post-friendly, but if you want the equation, email me through this page and I’ll send you some numbers.) Once you have the relevant numbers, simply create an image with those dimensions. At this point, I also add some lines to mark where the spine starts and stops- as shown here– which can be erased later.

Once I have done that, the worst is behind us. From here on out it is nothing but a good deal of fun.

Step 4: Picmonkey (and some

First, in (the free version of Photoshop), I add the ship image to the blank template- it basically looks like this– and save it as a flat (.jpg) file. Then it’s over to Picmonkey. Oh, yes, you could arguably use to do the whole cover. But where would be the fun in that, eh? Picmonkey is more user-friendly.

So I take my newly-created cover and add the text (that Tt icon in the screenshot) on the back, front, and spine, rotating the spine text 90°, and then paint over my guidelines; we won’t need them anymore. (Save as a flat image.)

Next I upload my own texture (the cross-stitch icon); in this case, the map. Picmonkey allows me to decide exactly how much of the map I want to show and to what degree, and I usually make my backgrounds just barely visible. I do a few more touch-ups to make sure everything is in the right place and save an updated copy of the cover.

Finally, I play with the different Picmonkey textures and colors. Being a fantasy writer, I’m partial to Smudge and Paint, but all of the textures are useful for one purpose or another. Feel free to save different versions of the cover (in high-def!) and be sure to get feedback from your beta-readers and other artistic friends.

Step 5: Review and Repeat

You heard me right. Inevitably, someone will have last-minute opinions or improvements, or maybe CreateSpace is being a little bit particular about DPI and other trite. Anyway, if you saved a copy of your cover at every stage, it shouldn’t be too hard to fix.

That’s it!

Congratulations to you all who made it this far- not only have you read one of my longest posts ever written, but you also are brave enough at least to try your hand at designing your own cover.

Do you have any questions about self-publishing a book? Marketing, blogging, cover design details? Share in the comments!

Want to know more?

Cover guidelines: KDP’s rules for covers

CreateSpace’s options for cover design

Guide to DIY covers

Hire an artist: Professional design pricing

Cover Creator: CreateSpace’s guide

DIY covers: Picmonkey’s website

Cover design tips from Rob Nightingale

Roger Colby on designing his own cover

Patrick Samphire’s cover design tips


Self-Publishing Part 3: How Long Now?

This is the third week of the self-publishing series! Read the first two posts if you haven’t yet: 

Now it’s time to get into the gritty details about how self-publishing actually goes. Caity asks:

I’m just wondering how long the self-publishing process takes, roughly?

Good question- by which I mean that the answer is a tricky thing. The time can vary hugely, depending on the length of your book, how much work you do as opposed to outsourcing, what kind of self-publishing you choose, etc.

Fortunately, I can help you form a fair estimate by giving you a fairly typical picture of the process in ten not-so-easy steps. For the sake of demonstration, I’ll estimate longer rather than shorter as far as time is concerned.

1: Write a book.

Maybe it goes without saying.

This step can take any amount of time: something between one NaNo competition to a lifetime of edits. However, for the student or working adult who writes for a few hours every day, it usually takes no more than a few years.

Estimated time: 3 years.

2: Decide which way to publish.

We covered this one last week. Choose whether you will use true self-publishing, print-on-demand, ebook, online, or a combination of them. You know, this is one of the hardest step, at least for us perfectionists; making a final decision is never quite easy. Taking a few months to research and consider is a good idea.

Estimated time: 2 months.

3: Get a cover.

We’ll talk about this all-important component next week. However, you ought to start thinking about covers as soon as possible, preferably while you’re editing your novel. Covers take no less than three or four weeks in most cases, and probably longer, even if you don’t want to make changes to the first version.

Estimated time: 2 months.

4: Learn about the publishing process.

Read articles and tutorials, seek out insider tips, learn about possible problems and solutions… in short, become an expert on self-publishing. And hey, you’re already off to a good start. The best advice? Don’t ever stop researching until you are ready to stop publishing books. The more you know, the better.

Estimated time: 2 weeks.

5: Format your manuscript according to the guidelines.

This is another easy step- unless, of course, Google Drive is giving you trouble about italics and headings. I underwent this nightmare with Alen’s War and… well, I got very good at italicizing things. But, all formatting nightmares aside, it only takes a few weeks at most to search out the guidelines for your publishing house or printer and make your manuscript fit (see my collection of links at the bottom).

Estimated time: 2 weeks.

6: Set up your title information, get an ISBN, etc.

This one is pretty easy, at least with CreateSpace. You only need an ISBN if you want your book to be sold in regular bookstores or purchased by libraries, therefore online publishing and Kindle don’t require ISBNs. This only takes as long as you need to click a few buttons or make phone calls (see the links for more ISBN help).

Estimated time: 1 day if you’re lazy.

7: Upload or submit your files.

Pretty straightforward in most cases. CreateSpace, for example, requires a Word (.docx) file or something like it, and most other publishers stick to straightforward formats. This takes just a few minutes for online upload, a few days for package mailing (if your publisher even does that).

Estimated time: the rest of aforementioned 1 day.

8: Proofread, final review, proofread again, approve for publishing.

This is the craziest part. You proofread your document and get other people to help you. In CreateSpace’s case, you have to submit your files for them to review for potential issues. Once you are satisfied, you approve the book for publishing/printing. I’ve found that a few weeks to a month is an ideal slot of time for proofing.

Estimated time: 3 weeks for a print book; a day or so for an ebook.

9: Go a little loco.

Comedian Tim Hawkins expressed this step pretty well.

Estimated time: 2 weeks.

10: Enjoy your book.

Estimated time: a lifetime of satisfaction in your creation.

So how long does self-publishing take? As I said, it’s a hard thing to estimate, and some people take more or less time than the average. For example, Alen’s War took me less than a year, plus pre-writing development. Son of Ren was longer; that little thing was in idea development for at least three years before I actually wrote anything.

That said, though, according to my rough estimate, the time it takes a non-vocational writer to produce a novel is approximately 3 years and 6 months.

And there you have it, Caity.

What self-publishing questions do you have left? I want to help you answer them, so ask away in the comments!

Want to know more?

WritersServices gives some details on how long publishing takes

Hubspot’s guide to making an ebook. It’s not a writing curriculum by any means, but it has good formatting tips and templates.

CreateSpace’s cryptic formatting rules

General guidelines to formatting manuscripts. Self-publishers usually follow the same rules, except that they don’t put their name on every single page.

Publishing on CreateSpace, step-by-step

Lulu: should you get an ISBN?

Self-Publishing Part 2: Which Way to Go?

Hail and welcome to the second installment of the self-publishing Q&A series! Read Week 1’s post if you haven’t already. This week we are talking about that most formidable of challenges- deciding how exactly you will deliver books to readers once you’ve turned down traditional publishing (or vice versa).

Indie writer Ellyana asks:

Through talking with you I know you work through Createspace Amazon. (Please correct me if something has changed.)

This may be my most-asked publishing question: how exactly do you publish your books? Elly probably remembers asking it some months ago when she was just starting to publish her novel. Yes, I do use CreateSpace (I’ll explain that in a minute), but we have a variety of self-publishing options open to us, and we will look at all of them presently.

But have you ever considered using a Literary Agent for advertisement and the like? And if you know anything about Literary Agents that would be of assistance.

Ooh, here it is- the Agent Question. I confess that I have never been interested in working with one. I did some research and learned that most of them at least are experts who have done wonders for some people, but I also heard that other people have hired agents and regretted it. I decided that, since my goal was to get better at publishing my own books and not necessarily to make lots of money, I preferred to remain my own boss. So I will direct you to indie author Roger Colby: he knows a thing or two about literary agents. (Also check out the links at the bottom.)

Anyway, I happen to have a list of self-publishing options (which, of course, I certainly did not put together just for the sake of this post). We will go through that today and dive into the details next week. Get it? Got it? Good.

First, normal or “true” self-publishing requires you to do your own set-up work, including buying (or making) your own cover, formatting the book, paying for it to be printed, and promoting it yourself. At the same time, you retain all autonomy and control over the process. This, by the way, is what Christopher Paolini did with Eragon. True self-publishers hire a publishing company to print many copies of their book, and then they go around promoting and selling the book themselves. It’s hard and often quite expensive, but I know of some people who swear by this approach. 

Then there’s Print-On-Demand (POD) publishing. POD is a technology that allows the publisher to print books one at a time, as customers order them. This is what Amazon’s CreateSpace does. It’s less expensive than printing hundreds of books at once, but in most services the author has less control over the more detailed processes- after all, the POD company has to keep your files around to print them when necessary. 

Image result for self-publishingThen you have various eBook publishers, Amazon Kindle being the obvious one. Lots of indie authors love this approach. Ebooks eliminate the cost of paper and production entirely, only requiring you to get a book cover and upload your files. Lower production costs result in lower prices and no shipping fees, which means some people are more inclined to buy them. The downsides: Kindle books are cheaper, and while you may sell more of them, you earn less royalty money. And is it worth mentioning that you risk being rejected by a handful of book extremists like this guy?

Finally, some authors publish their works on writing networks like Wattpad or Figment. Even though a lot of people are inclined to overlook it, these networks are a legitimate option if you want to get the word out about your book. They’re basically online magazines crossed with forums. Writing networks allow writers to upload stories or chapters of books that they’re writing and get feedback on their plot structure, characterization, etc. from other authors and readers. And the best part? You can hear from a real audience and make changes even after publishing the story.

While we’re on the subject of options, though, beware of vanity publishers. They will buy the actual rights to your book, meaning that you retain little or no autonomy, and they will publish any book, so they are generally considered less credible. And some of them are downright sleazy, stealing your intellectual property for their own- which is very much illegal. If you do opt to publish with a vanity publisher (which may be fine), do some careful research, and be aware that you may not make as much money.

So… how do you pick just one option? When it comes down to it, you just have to set some goals for yourself. Are you trying to share a good book with other fantasy lovers? Build a following for your business? Become famous?  Once you know what you want to achieve, you can read up on the options and decide what works best for you. Read and research, read and research. My list of resources below should get you started.

Oh, and have fun. Because learning about how writers can speak to the world, increasing the number of wrinkles in your brain, gaining some business smarts, and maybe making new connections along the way isn’t exactly torture.

Do you have a self-publishing question? We all would like to hear it, no matter whether you’re about to publish a book or are simply curious about how your favorite authors do it. Share in the comments!

Want to know more?

AgentQuery. Not just for finding an agent; these professionals have all sorts of good advice on publishing.

A helpful article on all manner of self-publishing 

Costs: How much do you need to pay to self-publish?

Print-On-Demand: CreateSpace’s website, forums and all

Ebooks: Good stuff on the variety of eBook companies

Ebooks: Amazon Kindle’s official site, complete with tutorials and FAQs

Vanity publishing: Get the lowdown on vanity/subsidy publishing

ISBN: Are you buying your own ISBN?