Createspace spine width error message (and how to fix it)

If you’re designing a full print book cover for Createspace, the spine width needs to be calculated based on the final page count. Here’s the formula.
For a 6″x9″ book, the height will always be 9.25″ and the width will be 12.25″ plus the spine.

For black and white-interior books:
White paper: multiply page count by 0.002252
Cream paper: multiply page count by 0.0025

Example calculation at 6″ x 9″ cover with 60 B&W pages on white paper: 0.125″ + 6″ + 0.135″ + 6″ + .125″ = 12.385″
The problem with this is Createspace’s automatic checking system is overzealous. All the text on the spine has to have extra padding, or you’ll get this message:
“The spine content was too large for the page count so we reduced the size and centered it, ensuring that there is at least 0.0625″ of room on either side to prevent the content from wrapping onto the front or back cover when printed.”
And in January of 2014, suddenly all my clients were getting this message, even though I used Createspace’s formula and did everything right. I already knew that for very thick books, over 500 pages, the spine is often going to be off because of slight variances in the paper.
But for smaller books, there’s not reason for Createspace to automatically be resizing my spine without permission.
For a few projects, we got in touch with customer support to figure out what was happening (and to ask them not to mess with our cover design) and the service rep said that actually, the “fixed” file was the same as our original file.
Which sounds like a Createspace autovetter problem, such as they immediately flag every project as “wrong” and then “fix it” even if the difference is infinitesimal.
The problem can be avoided, a little, if you use wraparound art so there isn’t a clear break on each side of the spine, and by making all the spine text extra small.
This isn’t a great solution, however, because “normal” or traditionally published books often have large spine text that extends to the very edge of the spine (or even wraps around the spine a little).
Createspace’s system is a pain in the ass if you have lovely, large, script fonts with long loops or tails – you have to squish them together or cut the ends of the fonts off so they don’t go out of bonds.
I understand Createspace is trying to protect non-designers from screwing up their books on accident, but their design constraints make it difficult for cover designers to make beautiful covers – and then they send out arbitrarily error messages that needlessly worry clients (I almost always have to tell them, contact customer support, or just order a copy and check the real version).
This isn’t to say I’m flawless; I make mistakes sometimes, and it’s nice of Createspace to warn us if something has gone wrong. But I don’t think I’m so entirely off my game this month that I’m repeatedly screwing everybody’s spine width up, over and over, through multiple corrections.
Something has gone haywire with Createspace’s spine-checking system.

 

What does a bestselling book cover look like? (And would you know it if you saw it?)

Today I deleted some images out of my portfolio.

I had over 300 cover samples, which make my site run slowly, so I wanted to get it down to around 200. Choosing which images not to display was very difficult.

I have my own favorite covers, but I can’t account for what authors are going to like.

Consistently, I have people tell me that their favorite covers in my portfolio are the quick samples I made 3 years ago when I started this business. I think they’re shoddy and amateurish. But if they are the samples that convince people to hire me, I don’t want to delete them.

On the other hand, as a respected and well-known book cover designer, I see it as part of my job to educate authors about what a “good” book cover should look like. Because it’s very possible that the covers they like won’t sell well.

The covers that they appreciate may be poorly designed. And I shouldn’t have any poorly designed covers in my portfolio. And of course I’m always getting better – so the covers I made 2 years ago aren’t as good as the ones I’m making now; but they may still be much better than many other book cover designers.

I left some of them in anyway, but I’ll probably cave and take them out sometime soon.

I need to be the one broadcasting which cover designs I like and recommend, rather than showing covers I think authors will like. Because my job as a designers isn’t to make authors happy.

My job is to help authors get their books read.

My job is to make their books stick to the top of the bestseller lists.

I can do that, by making choices, and being firm about using the kind of design that works, and avoiding designs that people like. There is a big difference.

PS) if you cover was removed, it doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t like the design, I also aimed to balance things out by only keeping so many books per genre/color/style.

Why book cover design is the best job in the world

I get stressed and busy sometimes, but some nights (like tonight) my job rocks.

I’m working on one cover, the author wants a sketch of pre-1757 London in black and white, with a color photo of a girl, dressed as a boy, wearing a tricorn hat.

Another cover, I need an ancient Persian tent in the desert with beautiful stars (I was having trouble, but I just got in touch with a group that does desert tours in Dubai and they have the perfect image, which they said I could use).

I also need a fantasy dragon type of cover, which is tricky because there isn’t much good “dragon” art, and of course there aren’t any stock photos, but I’ve got it mapped out pretty well in my mind: ancient castle door, sweeping view of mountaintops, a stream of fire burning down from the sky… mostly it’s just searching the internet until I find enough material to start putting things together.

How book cover design works

I think most authors think that book cover design is just like art: you just tell the artist what you want and they can make it, like magic, from the end of their pencil. But that’s not how it works.

Unless you’re illustrating everything – which I don’t recommend unless you are doing children or very young adult books – nice photomanipulated covers work better.

But we have to have the raw materials to work with.

I can blend and change colors, I can crop and paste, I can move and rearrange – and after it’s all done I can get things to look pretty awesome together by applying some filters over the whole piece.

But for example, if we use a model with strong shadows and the light is coming from one direction, everything we add to the picture that doesn’t have the same lighting will look funny (especially if there are several models put together). We can fake it, but changing shadows isn’t something you can do easily (this isn’t 3D graphics, just 2D images).

We never really know how things will work out until I’ve found a bunch of images and tried them out. Often they come together and look brilliant. (Of course they do, I’m awesome). But they weren’t exactly what we “had in mind” when we started.

Anyway, I usually blog over on my main site, www.creativindie.com, but I haven’t posted for awhile here and thought I would.

Why I’m so expensive (how much should you pay for book cover design revisited)

When I started designing book covers a couple years ago, I remember looking at designers who were charging over $700 for a print cover and thinking they were charging way too much money. How could they possibly justify such high prices when there were cheaper options? I can make a full print cover in a few hours; why does anyone deserve to earn that much money?

Now I’m in a very different position.

I’ve kept raising my prices to keep up with the demand. Every time I raise my prices I’m surprised when I get my first few orders – surprised people are willing to spend so much on book cover design. And sometimes I think I’m not worth it – that authors could (and maybe should) buy a cheaper cover elsewhere.

But when I look around at other book cover designers charging less money… I can see why people keep coming back to me.

Though they have glossy and stylish websites, they only have a few dozen samples and most are boring, average or are heavy on stock photography (I also use stock, but I try not to use those photos I know other people are going to use… or I try to photoshop enough that it won’t be so obvious… still, stock happens).

The difference between a mediocre, not bad, pretty good book cover and an amazing piece of art that makes your soul dance, is potentially huge. It’s hard to measure two covers side by side and say why one is better than the other. It’s something you feel. The design just works. The art is moving. The text layout feels clean and well spaced. You can’t see it, but you feel it instinctively.

Here’s something I worked on recently – after reading “WormWood” I wanted to help the author by redesigning the cover. A lot of the story takes place in high places, and I had this painting by Friedrich (1818, “Traveler above a Sea of Clouds”) in mind as I worked on the art.

(Mine is the one with the crossbow).

book cover art

I love the art for this cover. I want to print a poster just to put it on my wall. But I made a few options, including this close up.

The close up (in the middle) is more powerful and immediate. It does a great job of enticing the right readers who like the genre (paranormal/angel romance), and is simple enough to let them know what the story is about. It would probably sell a ton of books. But the scene with the mountains is more distinctive, more memorable, more touching somehow – there’s so much emotion in that space, so much tension and conflict and longing.

 

wormwoodmakeover2

Compared to the original (simple black cover, using William Blake’s renders of Paradise Lost) I expect either of the new covers to easily double or triple the author’s sales – we’ll have sales data in a few months.

High prices improve the quality

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the last few years.

1. When I charge lower prices, I have a ton of work. I’m stressed and busy. I can’t finish everything. I don’t remember things. I don’t enjoy it so much.

As of June 2014, I’m still getting enough work but maybe half of what I got a year ago. I feel more relaxed. I still have a lot to do, and I still have trouble getting everything done and staying organized, but all my clients are happy and the quality of my covers are improving. I have more time to reflect and improvise. If we don’t get things right the first time, I’ll come up with new ideas.

2. The second thing I’ve learned, is that entering a relationship with a client is personal, and long-lasting. I have some clients that took a full year to decide what they wanted. Sometimes, after rejecting all of my samples, they want me to try a lot of other stuff, and sometimes we end up with something better. Other times, in the end I convince them that my earlier samples were the best and will perform the best for their book, and we use what I had made originally.

Then they need help with their marketing plan, uploading files, preparing their ebooks and POD formatting, navigating distribution services, editing their sales copy. After the interior is finished we’ll rework the print cover – then there are problems, or the page count changes, or they want to start over and use a different picture. I’m not just describing a few needy clients – this is a pretty typical client/designer relationship for me.

Some people tell me I need to say no more often, or charge for revisions, or stop giving away so much free help and advice… but I’m not going to do that. I like helping and I love designing books. My high prices are kind of like a retainer; I become an always available publishing consultant.

(And damn, really when you compare my covers to Createspace or Selfpublishing.com or the other “big” author services offering cover design, I’m still charging less! Maybe next year I’ll be charging double.)

When not to pay for a cover

A cover is really important, and can make a huge difference, but it won’t make a mediocre book successful. If you’ve written a book with no audience, in an unpopular genre, and the book isn’t amazing but just ho-hum, or the writing isn’t great… investing in a cover isn’t a good idea. Fix the writing. Hire and editor. Write another book. The story matters more than the cover, ultimately.

If you’re unsure, get a cheap cover, publish the ebook, and advertise enough that you get 100 buys or downloads… then watch the reviews. If you start getting glowing reviews from genuine readers, it’s time to double down and invest more.

If you need a cheap, DIY book cover solution, check out www.diybookcovers.com.

Right now, there are MS Word templates, but I’m building the WORLD’S BEST online book cover designing software, it’s going to blow you away.

Another long (but satisfying) book cover design process

I’ve been working on Brian Smith’s thriller “Purified” for a couple of months. Like most challenging projects, we reached a few dead-ends before pushing through and finding something that really works.

There’s a sci-fi element – a new being of humans is being created, and they have wings and four arms and legs (kind of). I thought I could pull it off, but these are two literal and the author didn’t like them.

purify7purify8

So we focused more on the subtitle (and changed the title name to fit)… “Imagine waking up Purified.”

We focused on a top secret bloody hospital bed….

purifiednew2purifiednew8purifiednew11purifiednew15purifiednew16purifiednewA

Brian wanted to mix a couple covers and add this guy:

purifiednewH

For awhile it was our final choice, but I thought it lacked action (he’s just sitting there) and was a little boring.

I tried a few more and really like the strong contrast in the first one below.

creep9 creep12 creepnew3

I told him if he wasn’t going to use it, I would – because I’m confident it would outsell the others. I probably still like my version, with the lighter text (stands out more) and the syringe replacing the “I”, but with compromise we ended with this – a little darker, a little more subtle:

BRIANfinalF

More about the book:

I would call Purify a thriller.  There’s some sci-fi, crime, fantasy, love; but above all of that, it’s a thriller.  As far as target audience goes, it’s adult fiction, but I think it would mostly appeal to non-skilled, non-professional earners who aspire for something better.  Mason was a factory worker who only wants his old life back, but he arches into someone who is ready to deal with being better physically than anyone else.

Purify is the name of the drug–the protocol that is being developed in an unauthorized, underground experiment.  It takes a living body into a sub-coma state, then repairs it, totally purifying the immune system to create a body that will never become infected with any disease again.  That’s the theory behind the drug, but the story is really about a man’s struggle to deal with the effects of the drug after being forced into the program when he thought he died.  Purify also relates to the theme which is “forget the past; live for the future.”  All Mason really wants from being alive again is to get his old life back, but Purify is not about that.  It’s about a new start with a new, purified body that will change mankind.

Oh the difficulties in choosing a final book cover design!

A problem I often face with authors is paralysis of having too many options. 3 options to choose from is good. But I usually make at least 10 samples, in each round. So we are always selecting and dismissing different versions of the cover. And sometimes, what we end up with is unexpected.

Here’s an example from a rather challenging cover I did for Isabel Burt’s Toxics.

The book itself is a YA fantasy/adventure, with sapient plants and talking animals (sort of, I’m really not doing it justice). Mystical, fantasy, and romance. Based on a beautiful world – very raw and natural. Female teenage heroine. Lots mystical energy and light.

This was my first batch. Some are not great.

toxics4   toxics20  toxics15   toxics8      toxics13 toxics10

My favorite are the last two: in fact I’ll save one and write the book for it later, because I’m sure the cover would sell like crazy.

But Isabel didn’t like them, so I made some more:

toxicsnew9  toxicsnew11 toxicsnew12 toxicsnew2 toxicsnew3  toxicsnew5 toxicsnew6 toxicsnew7 toxicsnew8

It was hard to choose between these too. The solid yellow with the bold title is appealing. So is the pink forest. Isabel really loved the green forest path (with yellow text), but after checking with the artist, it wasn’t available to use, so we hired him to make something custom for us. First he made this one, with a dark river valley and sunrise; he hadn’t finished all the lighting yet, it would have been pretty cool, but Isabel didn’t like it (too manga/cartoon). He made another one that I quite like (still my wife’s favorite):

toxicsnewA

But neither were right for the author, who wanted to go back to an earlier version which had tested well in a group of children.

And so now we’re just playing with font and text choices for the title.

In the end it’ll be really hard to choose – the title text and color matters and will attract different kinds of readers, but it’s hard to guess which will sell better or which matches the book the best.

toxicsfinalB toxicsfinalC toxicsfinalA

I love these final covers. I think we made good choices and the evolution was continuously towards improvement (often authors will go the other way, and direct changes that lead away from good design and towards something less than ideal).

But some readers will have preferred the earlier illustrated version, or different layouts. Side by side, everybody will have different opinions about what’s the “best” cover. But between several very different but equally well-designed covers, choosing is very difficult. Get a ton of feedback. Run one for a couple weeks and then try another one to see if sales pick up. Little differences can impact sales, and cover art matters, so choosing can be difficult.

What you don’t want to do is obsess over little details and keep changing and changing based on your own preferences. Don’t trust your gut or mood. Get the best designer, let them do their best, then get a lot of feedback (from hundreds of people, not just your friends and family).

 

SYNOPSIS OF TOXICS

Felicity Penfold, a girl of 14, finds herself mysteriously deposited into an alternative world. In the misty opening scene she links up with Reuben, an ‘Orion’ embarking upon a quest in which it seems Felicity is prophetically implicated.

This ‘Old World’ is in a state of impending crisis. Its entire ethos was one of balance; this has been irrevocably altered by the illegal birth of a new species, called ‘Toxics’. Each plant or beast has an ‘enharmonic’ which is its counter-species balance. The Toxics had none. Their exclusion over the years has led to them becoming bitter and by the time of Felicity’s arrival, very dangerous. Their leader, Arrass, seeks the destruction of the traditions of the Old World which he feels has betrayed them. His final destination: the Sacred Caves.

These caves contain the roots of all knowledge, and they are guarded by the ‘Taureau’.

The story follows Reuben and Felicity as they are joined by other key troupe members who seek to save their precious world by joining Reuben’s quest to protect the Roots, and shift the Old Ways to include the Toxics; thereby restoring its balance. The salvation of the Old World and ultimately of the Toxics becomes a race between the gathering of the quest troupe and the gathering of the Toxics.

How long does book cover design take? Until it’s DONE: lessons from a challenging cover design case study

Most of my covers take a few weeks. This one took almost a year.

The author paid in November of 2012.

The title is “The Oppressor’s Toolkit” so I started with these:

tools10tools8tools7tools6tools5

 

Karim wanted to focus more on a toolbox, so I made these:

toolsnew4toolsnew1toolsnew9toolsnew9

 

But he thought the toolboxes looked out of place and would be better on a road, maybe with blood, set against a background of ruins.

toolsnewBtoolsnewA

 

I really liked these, but he didn’t.

I made some more:

tools719Btools712Ftools712Dtools712Btools712A

My favorite was the purple one with the T’s as hammers.

He liked the shadow hammer and wanted to focus on that:

 

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I thought those were pretty good. He wanted the shadow hammer to be coming from a microphone – more symbolic.

tools831Htools831Gtools831Dtools831Ctools831Btools831A

 

But neither of us really liked those either.

At this point we were stumped. I offered him a refund so he could try some other designers; we were also thinking about putting the project on 99designs.com to see what they came up with.

But then, freed from the responsibility of producing a cover based on Karim’s suggestions, looking back over the project with fresh eyes and a deeper understanding of what the author was looking for, I made these.

 

tools916Btools916E tools916Dtools916C

 

 

These are much nicer covers  than anything I’d come up with before, and Karim agreed (although he requested the silhouettes be specific historical figures).

The final will probably be something like this…

toolsfinal3

How to make an ugly book cover: a guide for the visually impaired

The temptation to make your own book cover and saving money is strong. And it can be done.

There are no inherent drawbacks to doing it yourself; but without the experience you are likely to make amateur mistakes that scream “self-published!” to would-be readers.

Actually, the truth is, nobody cares about that anymore, so instead you’re announcing, “I’m too cheap to invest in producing a quality product!”

Most readers will assume that, if the cover is ugly, the rest of the book isn’t very polished also.

But how do you know if your homemade, DIY book cover is ugly? This simple how-to guide for making ugly book covers should steer you in the right direction (if you’re doing any of these things, you’re on the wrong path).

1) Use a personal photo, not a professional one

Even though you can get cheap, high quality professional pictures on 123rf.com, bigstockphoto, and dozens of other places, you should take one yourself of your backyard.

The image doesn’t have to say anything about the book, content, plot or characters. Bonus points if it’s washed out, unclear, boring or blurry.

images-backyard

 

2) The picture doesn’t have to cover the whole thing

If the picture isn’t the right shape or size, it’s fine to just leave a big chunk of white space. White is clean and easy on the eyes. Lots of space is good, so it’s not too crowded.

3) Make a long, rambling title with no meaning

Avoid any keywords that people would actually search for. It should be a bit pretentious and try to be poetic and literary. It still doesn’t need to say anything about what’s in the book or what the book is about (readers love surprises!)

4) Make your author name really small

It shows your humility. Besides the author isn’t that important, and you’re not famous… and it makes you feel safer somehow. So make it little and unnoticeable. You can even change the color so it doesn’t stand out so much.

uglycover2

5) Use the basic fonts already installed on your computer

It’s looking good, but let’s change it up with some fun, fresh fonts! You are drawn to Mistral and Rage Italic. Or maybe Comic Sans.

6) Add some text effects to make the text stand out more

You can use bevel, drop shadow or add a stroke/outline to make the text “pop.” In fact, do everything you can to make the cover “pop.” Poppiness is good!

 

ugly3

 

7) Add “Bestseller” because you  know it’s going to be one…

People are going to love this book, and it’s going to sell a million copies. Soon. Plus you’ve chosen an obscure Amazon category and got 10 of your friends to buy it at the same time, and it was #1 for 5 minutes. So why not just write “Bestseller” now? It’ll save you work later. Make sure to use all-caps and a heavy drop shadow to make it “pop.” And use a lot of exclamation points, because you’re awesome.

8) Add all your book award seals

You know, the ones for those book contests that you paid to get into. Use anything, even “runner-up” or “finalist” or “7th place.”

Don’t be choosy, they’ll all fit.

ugly4

9) Super! Now email it to everybody!

You’re ready! Your book isn’t finished yet, you’re about halfway done, not sure if you want to get editing. But that’s no reason you can’t start to market your book and raise awareness. Plus you need to find beta readers. So start emailing your cover to everyone you know, add it as your Facebook profile pic, and Retweet it every 4 hours with a few catchy excerpts or links to your “coming-soon” page on your unfinished website.

 

PS) #8 isn’t a slur against book awards contests, although they can be scammy and are definitely for profit, and I don’t think they have much business on a book cover. Some are respectable. Feedback can be valuable. Some readers like to see them, even if they don’t know the organization. In my opinion they are part of the cerebral/rational buyer response and should go on the back of the cover, rather than the instant/emotional response you need to make with the front.

Why I disagree with Amazon’s recommended book cover dimensions

star-new      porn-newdimensions

An author I work with recently asked me to modify her book cover to comply with Amazon’s size and ratio recommendations. I was happy to do so, and I’ve faced this issue in the past, but I’d like to share why I don’t just make all my book covers at Amazon’s recommended book cover dimensions.

Consider the two book covers above.

The one on the left is Amazon’s recommended height and width dimensions; it’s a ratio of 1.6 with 2500pixels on the long side.

1.6 is the same ratio as a 5″x8″ book, so if you designed a cover for 5″x8″, you’d be done – just use the same front cover. But most of my authors are choosing 6″x9″ books, which is a 1.5 ratio (the one on the right).

Personally, I think Amazon’s preferred ratio is too tall and thin, and a ratio of 1.5 looks more like a traditional book to me. My guess is Amazon wants books to look good on smartphones, especially iPhones, and the deviously tricky iPhone5, which has a very tall, narrow screen.

Maybe Amazon is expecting all digital devices to copy the iPhone 5, but that’s probably not going to happen. Maybe they are pushing to get people reading on their smartphones instead of Kindles devices, because millions and millions of people use only their smartphone and will not buy a digital book reader.

iPhone-5-Guide-300x288

But for the people who do have Kindles and other e-reading devices, Amazon’s preferred 1.6 ratio is an ill-fit, leaving too much space on the sides. And even on cell phones, where the display size is already pretty small, the 1.6 ratio has drawbacks: to fit in the extra height, the book cover displays even smaller, making the text more difficult to read.

This is probably why most traditional publishers and major bestsellers ignore Amazon’s recommended ratio.

1.5, or even wider, almost square-shaped covers, are far more common.

Interestingly it seems self-published and indie books are more likely to use Amazon’s 1.6 standards, because they are concerned with doing everything just right, and have less confidence to ignore recommendations.

This paradoxically means self-publishing authors are making their books appear self-published by following rather than flouting Amazon’s advice.

And it really doesn’t matter!

Amazon’s recommended book cover ratio doesn’t really matter at all, because Amazon is not the only player in the ebook publishing wars. This means that all devices need to be able to handle all different kinds of books. So what you actually see on ebook readers is that they automatically adjust to display covers of a variety of sizes and ratios.

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In this picture, the 2nd book “Trust the Process” which is one of the thinnest book on my Kindle, is still not quite as thin as a 1.6 ratio. “The Business of Belief” is probably 1.5, and most of the others look even more box-shaped, and may be 1.4 or so.

On the bottom row, “Amazon Secrets Exposed” and “Fortune Cookie Principle” are 1.6.

And actually, they all look fine. I don’t think you can argue that one dimension ratio looks better and will sell more books.

IMG_7921

Does the book cover matter?

I’d like to say, “absolutely!” but my actions disagree. I bought Michael Thomas’ book (above) even though the cover is unattractive, because it has a bold, compelling title and subtitle. The next two books (Websites that Sell and the Fortune Cookie Principle), I bought for the content, not the covers. (Even though the covers are nice, I didn’t buy them for the covers, but for what I hoped to learn).

On the other hand, I rarely buy a fiction book that has an ugly cover.

I think the reason is: a non-fiction book can provide useful material even if the writing isn’t great or there are typos. But a fiction book is all about the writing. There is nothing else. And a book with a great cover is probably more likely to have been carefully written and professionally edited (although I would still read the reviews before buying).

What’s all this mean for you?

If you’re a fiction writer, get a great cover and excellent reviews. A  nice cover alone can drastically improve sales.

If you’re a non-fiction writer, focus on the title and subtitle by promising benefits. Do the best you can with the cover, but recognize that the title and subtitle are probably more powerful than a beautiful cover design.

In both cases, focus on designing a great cover for the book size you plan to print at (8×5.25, 6×9, 5×5 or whatever) and just use the same ratio for your Kindle book. Don’t worry about the ratio and specifications, because it totally doesn’t matter: what matters is a strong, clean cover design (and of course a great book, excellent reviews, and high-conversion book description.)