Formatting a TP Cover

Mirror-posted over at Amazing Stories Magazine

Over the last couple of weeks I have been working on launching my second novel, Pixie Noir. As I did with the first, I released the book through my imprint in both print and e-formats. It’s a lot of work, but very rewarding indeed to be able to hold your creation at the end of it. I do most of my reading on an e-reader or my phone, these days, but there is something about that fat trade paperback that makes it real.

Createspace had just rolled out their new matte finish covers when I pressed the ‘go’ button on Pixie, and I pounced on that opportunity. For my cover, designed as it is to hark back to pulp covers like the ones that graced Hammett, Spillane, and Chandler, it is ideal. If you are designing your own cover, take a long, hard look at covers in your genre before you finalize it. You need to evoke that genre to fully satisfy your reader. I think I managed to do that with Pixie, blending fantasy and gritty noir into an interesting cover.

Once I had that art in my hands, I was ready to take a look at the rest of the spread.

I chose to create a standard-sized trade paperback, at 6”x9” and the spine width was dictated by Createspace. They have a convenient calculator, all you will need is to input your page count (from the formatted file, which I will cover in detail next week), and they will give you the spine width. Expect this to still be inaccurate, but fortunately, Createspace is very helpful in the end review at adjusting the spine.

Layout on the back cover starts with making sure that nothing obscures the area where the barcode and ISBN will be printed. Createspace conveniently provides a template, customized to your spine width, and I recommend that you use it for starting off, just don’t forget to delete it when you’re done. Even though they say not to worry about the areas outside the bleed zone, they will reject the file if their guides still show at all.  Before I started on my layout, I took a look at the backs of several trad-published trade paperbacks I had on my shelves. Because I had blurbs from other authors I included them below a blurb intended to generate interest in the story. Think of that blurb as the information you would find on the inner cover of a hardback.

I opted to make my blurbs and text complementary colors to the cover, and to italicize the quotes. I did not use more than one font because of this. Likely I would not have used more than one in any case, multiple fonts can create a cluttered and very amateur look when combined. Also, when I received my print proof, I decided to increase the font size to a more readable level. Making your readers squint is not nice, and again, a sign of an amateur. If you aren’t sure what font sizes look like what, try printing out a sample sheet of varying sizes to keep on hand for reference.

For promotional purposes I included the link to my blog in qr-code form, the web address, and a headshot. Again, these are things you might find on the inner back cover of a hardback book. A trade paperback must make do with the more limited area of the back material. If you do decide to use a headshot, make sure it is at least 300 dpi, so it is print-ready resolution. Otherwise it will appear blurry and sloppy. Do not use one with a cluttered background. My snapshot is well-lit, attractive, and has gotten good feedback from trusted sources, don’t be afraid to ask for outside opinions of yours. Do not use a picture obviously decades old with dated clothing, one that has been scanned, or a cell phone picture. If you cannot get a professional headshot or high-quality snapshot, skip this step. Do not use a photo of a pet, unless you are writing from the point of view of said pet.

Finally, I chose to place the ISBN and price on the spine, for convenience of bookstore stocking. Again, this was imitation of what the traditionally published books had. Make sure the lettering on your spine is correctly rotated and oriented. If you aren’t sure what to do, look at your reference books you are using to see how others have done it.

Next week: Formatting for Createspace, the Interior File.