Novel number 2 at last, and how not to Design a Cover

Self-publishing a novel is a complex, time consuming and potentially expensive process. Paying for a designer to create a book cover for you is one expense you can avoid; if you have some basic design skills, and the confidence to do the job yourself.

You’ll need some design software. I used Adobe Elements, a cut-down version of Photoshop, with most of the functionality, but at a fraction of the price (I had this software already, so it cost me nothing). There’s probably some free software out there that would do the job. Or you could download a free trial version, but you’ll need to be quick, as you only get 7 days free with Photoshop, or 15 free with Corel Draw. If you’re not familiar with the software there’s a lot to learn in a short time.

There are really only two approaches. The easy way is to find a photograph you like, and which evokes the spirit and subject matter of your book. There are a huge range of professional photos available on the wibbly-wobbly-web. Sources such as Unsplash allow you to use images from their archive for free, for both non-commercial and  commercial purposes.  Having downloaded a photo, you can copy it into your cover file. You can just have it on the front cover, leaving the back cover and spine a solid colour. Or you can have it wrap around the spine and onto the back cover (but make sure it isn’t too dark/light so that the small text won’t show up). Then you just need to position and format the text (Title, author name, blurb, price and ISBN) and leave a space for the barcode. It’s an easy way to get a serviceable, professional looking cover.

And then there’s the hard way. Instead of using a stock photograph (which won’t be unique to you by the way, so it could potentially turn up elsewhere; maybe even on the cover of another book) you could use one of your own photographs. You could then start adding other effects, such as an opaque panel overlay. The author name could straddle this panel, with the first name above it, in the same colour (and opaque) and the surname cut out of the panel, in negative. You could draw the outline of a figure, shade it and blur it, to create a shadowy profile. And then, while you’re at it, why not teach yourself Aboriginal-style dot painting, so you can create some interesting dot-painted shapes to swirl around the figure, then wind their way round and across the back cover. I’m rarely one to take the easy option.

Creating the cover for my latest novel took me a long time, but I am pleased with the result. I think it looks professional, but distinctive. It looks as if it’s been individuality designed, as if some thought’s gone into it (which it has), which I hope will make it stand out, in a good way, from the generic, photo-based covers that are more usual for a self-published book. I’m hoping, in fact, that it doesn’t look like a self-published book. But you can be the judge of that. Next time…

 

 

Text and images ©Graham Wright 2019

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Typsetting

You may have noticed I’ve been a bit quiet recently. It’s because I’ve had my head in a book – my book. I’ve been typesetting.
When I decided to self-publish my latest novel, I knew there would be some work involved. I hadn’t realised just how much. The research is on-going. Researching all the things that need to be done, and how to do them, including:

  • find an appropriate printer (or third-party provider),
  • get an ISBN (in fact you need more than one),
  • design a cover,
  • write a short, snappy description for the back cover. This is known as a ‘blurb’  (silly name!)
  • furnish your cover with all of the relevant info (including your blurb, your publishing name, your ISBN & barcode),
  • prepare your manuscript for printing…

That’s where the typesetting comes in. How difficult can it be? Well, there’s more to it than you might think, and some aspects are more obvious than others.

Chapter Headings
Of course you need to ensure your chapter headings are all the same style and font size. You need to make sure each chapter ends with a page break, so that the next chapter starts on a new page.

Paragraph indents
The first line of each paragraph has to be indented, and by the same amount (around 0.5cm will match most novels), except for the first paragraph of each chapter, and the first paragraph immediately after a time break (which needs a blank line after it).

Justification
You don’t need to justify yourself, but you probably do need to justify your text (if you don’t want your pages to look too different to other novels). The justification option in MS Word (and, most probably, all other word processing applications) spreads lines out tight to the left and right margins. That tends to mess up the spacings between words. And that’s where your troubles really begin…

Kerning
Having justified the text, the words will get stretched apart. The last word in each line is pushed tight up to the right margin. That means the space that was between that word and the margin before justification has to be ‘lost’ elsewhere within the line. Depending on the number of words and characters in a particular line, this can be a lot of extra space to fit in. Some lines can look as though they contain double, or even triple spaces between words.What can you do about this? Theoretically, you should consider kerning (that’s ‘kerning’, not ‘gurning’ – though it’s enough to make you pull a face). Kerning is to do with character spacing. Word has a kerning option, but though the text shifts a bit when you switch it on, the change is slight, and I can’t particularly see that it’s any better. So what can you do? I’ll come back to that later.

Widows & Orphans
This is where the last line of a paragraph ends up isolated at the top of the next page, or where the first line of a paragraph is on its own at the end of the previous page. The good news is that Word has an option for automatic widows and orphans control. The bad news is you can’t use it! Why? Because of…

Blocking
Have a flick through any of your novels and you’ll see that the last lines of facing pages are always adjacent (except at the end of a chapter of course). I guess there’s no reason why you absolutely have to follow this convention (it’s your book, after all) but if you don’t, it will be one more thing that doesn’t look quite right, and it might just be enough to put off independent bookshops from stocking your book. MS Word fixes widows and orphans by moving them onto the next or previous page, with the rest of the paragraph. Which completely messes up the blocking!

So how do you fix:

  • kerning,
  • widows and orphans, and,
  • blocking?

In MS Word, at least, the only way I can see to do it is by manually editing the text. I’m not exactly happy about this, partly because of the time involved, but also because I want to word my sentences to convey meaning, not so that they look good on the page.

There’s more. ‘Stacking’ is where the same word happens to appear in the same position in two or more adjacent lines. Where the same is true for dashes, the effect is known as ‘ladders’.

There are, apparently, software programs that are good for typesetting (Word isn’t one of them) but they tend to be both expensive and difficult to learn. That, I suppose, is evidence of why typesetting is a career of its own.

Going through the manuscript page by page, adjusting and editing the text to fix all of those quirks, takes almost as long as writing the book in the first place. And the changes are dependant on the page size and margins being fixed – change them, and you have to start again. So I only hope I’ve got them right! The good news is that typesetting isn’t so critical for a novel as it would be for a non-fiction book with illustrations, or an art book.

The other good news is that I’ve finished typesetting my novel! It’s done, but it was emotional. In future, I will definitely pay to have my novels professionally typeset. But only if I’m earning a lot more than I do now!

So now I’ve turned my attention back to the cover design. Finalising the design is dependant on the number of pages (which allows the spine width to be calculated) which I didn’t know until the typesetting was done. I’m almost there; the cover design is almost finished. I just need to buy the ISBNs (the price of which I notice increased well above the rate of inflation this year). I’ve got a reasonable quote from a printer (and seen examples of their work). All I need to do is save my two files (cover design and book manuscript) as pdf files, and send them off. I have to admit to being a bit nervous now – do I really want to go through with it?

Watch out for my next post, in which I’ll show you my cover, and explain how I designed it.

Oh, by the way; I can’t now look at any kind of text – books, magazines, blogs, websites, or TV and film credits – without paying attention to the way it’s been typeset. So; there’s another albatross round my neck for the foreseeable future…

 

Text ©Graham Wright 2019

Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

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Queen’s speech an insult to most Britains

It seems a strange choice for the queen to use the few minutes she gets to speak to ‘her people’ each year to promote a minority religion. I wonder what the people thought today, when they tuned in to hear what their head of state wanted to say to them? Did Muslims wonder why she should choose to talk to them about a minor prophet? Were Jews insulted to have her tell them that a charlatan preacher is actually a god? Did Hindus wonder why they bothered, when she chose to promote a religion that contradicts their own? And were atheists annoyed to have wasted their time listening to a nonagenarian monarch blathering on about her imaginary friend?

Xmas may be a Christian festival, but only nominally so – for most people in the UK, the holiday period is, as it has always been, all about socialising. Just as it was in the time before it was hijacked by Christians – Saturnalia in the roman era, or winter solstice, going back into pre-history.  In Britain, for the first time in history, those with no religion outnumber the religious. And even among the religious, Christianity is in decline.

The head of state should represent the state – that means everyone, not just the few. So when she chooses to preach to us, the people; to make the clumsy assumption that we all believe in her religion (when in fact most of us see it as a fiction), shows not only how out of touch she is with the general population, but also how much contempt she holds for us. Ditto the establishment generally. We have a parliament that in its religious makeup is unrepresentative of the people, and which consistently forces its religious sensibilities on an unwilling public (for instance, by handing over the education of our children to the churches).

Britain today is a divided nation. It would have been a good idea for the queen to have found a way to begin the process of bringing us together again. Instead, we got the usual party political broadcast on behalf of the C of E establishment.

 

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

text © Graham Wright

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – Book Review


With so many books being published, it’s no surprise that publishers are always on the lookout  for something new – something that will make a book stand out. It’s true now, and it will have been true in 2007, when Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was first released.

Paul Torday’s debut novel has not one but two characteristics that differentiate it from most other novels. The first is the bizarre subject matter (salmon fishing in the Yemen?!) The second is that there’s no conventional narrative – the story is told through letters, emails, interviews and excerpts from Hansard. Two USPs in one novel can’t be bad. Although, at first glance, neither of these conceits sound particularly exciting. For me, one of them was more successful than the other.
The story is based around a Yemeni sheik who loves salmon fishing, and enlists the (initially rather unwilling) help of a British fisheries expert to bring salmon to a river in the Yemen.  A river that is dry for much of the year, in a desert climate. It could have been a very short story, but in fact it made for a rather engaging novel. I had empathy with the main character, even if he is a bit dense at times. I followed the story as it progressed, and I wanted to know how it would end. The story is slightly ridiculous at times, but that’s because the book is a comedy, and the story is played for comedy value (I’ll come back to that later). I’m quite sure that if Paul Torday had wanted, he could have written it as a fully credible serious piece.
What didn’t work so well for me was the conceit of telling the story from the perspective of the main characters through their letters and emails, through their responses to questions while being interviewed, and in the case of the protagonist, through his diary entries. Had this been followed faithfully it could have either made for an impossibly dry, tedious novel, or would have required a considerably higher and more sustained level of comedy than the book actually has (did I say I’ll come back to that later?)

To avoid the book being either dull, or a prolonged stand-up routine, the author had a cunning plan. He cheated. Diary entries, correspondence and answers to interview questions are all just thinly disguised narrative. Amusing, engaging, interesting narrative, but narrative all the same. I don’t know, maybe I’m too uptight, but if an author tells me they’re giving me a piece of business correspondence, I kind of expect it to read like a piece of business correspondence. If it launches into an explanation of how the writer’s marriage is going wrong, complete with real-time dialogue exchanges, then I can’t help noticing that’s just not how business correspondence works.

Likewise with interview responses. I’ve seen extracts from the kind of interviews that are portrayed in the book. I’ve seen high-profile characters being grilled by commons select committees. They often have something to hide. They’re generally guarded, cautious, nervous, indignant, untrusting. I’ve never seen them chatty. I’ve never seen them go off on a ‘by-the-way’ tangent, relate a conversation (with complete word-for-word dialogue), give away personal secrets of the people they’re being asked about, tell a story they don’t absolutely have to tell, with all the descriptive ephemera of a novel. All of this did what for me is a cardinal sin for a writer of fiction – it disturbed my willingness to suspend my disbelief.
I managed to put my difficulty with the format to the back of my mind, and I did enjoy the book, although there were a few times when it became  bit tedious (such as the extracts from the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary’s unpublished memoirs). The reading group notes emphasise the contrast portrayed in the story between the secular west, and the faith-based societies of the middle east. They ask; ‘Which world comes out with most credit, do you think?’ There is a growing strand of mysticism as the book progresses, but though the conflict between different outlooks and lifestyles is addressed, it isn’t pushed too hard – the author leaves the reader to think about it themselves.

Coming back (eventually) to the comedy value; I would say the book is rather more mildly amusing than full-on comedy. But then, I’ve read so-called ‘comedy novels’ in the past without realising what I was reading was intended to be comedy until I’d almost finished. I don’t know if that’s because my sense of comedy is lacking, or a damning indictment of the quality of comedy in so-called comedy novels. A lot of them do seem to read like the screenplay of a very weak sit-com. In my defence, I have read some genuinely funny novels (I would recommend anything by Douglas Adams or Ben Elton). Perhaps my taste in comedy is somewhat unusual.
Anyway, back to SFINTY. For me, the vehicle of the story (letters, emails, interviews, etc) doesn’t really work.  More and more I see authors shackling themselves (or are they having it forced upon them by publishers?) by attempting to write within some narrow, quirky gimmick. Like telling their story through one day – the same day – of every year in the lives of their characters (that one didn’t work for me either). I can’t see what the problem is with telling a story straight, without gimmicks. And I wonder whether authors (and readers) aren’t having this foisted upon them by publishers’ misguided craving for anything different, however ridiculous it might be.

That said, I did enjoy SFINTY, even if the author did cheat with the format. And I have to admit that wrapping up the story with a summary of the conclusions of a House of Commons Foreign Affairs select committee is rather cool. So if you haven’t already read it, I would recommend the book.

Final Note: The book is published by Phoenix, who are (and I quote) ‘An Hachette Livre UK Company’ The fact that a publisher thinks it’s correct to put ‘an’ before a word beginning with ‘H’ tells you everything there is to know about what’s wrong with the publishing industry today!

Text and photos © Graham Wright 2018

Copyright for the cover of ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’, in the absence of a credit within the book, presumably belongs to the publisher.

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Idiot’s Guide to Self-Publishing… Part Three

The range of services that self-publishing companies offer writers varies greatly. Some are straightforward printers, who will produce copies of your book from the cover image and manuscript you provide them with. Some offer everything you might need, from editing and cover design, to formatting and typesetting, to distribution and marketing. So how do you choose the right company to self-publish with?

The first thing is to know what you want. There’s no point paying for services you don’t need.


So, you need to find a company that provides the right services for you. Good places to start are the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book, and the Alliance of Independent Authors. My tips for ensuring you find the right company are: Continue reading

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Idiots Guide to Self-Publishing… Part Two

In Part One, I explained what I wanted to achieve – to self-publish my second novel – why and how I was going to go about it.  I talked about why, for most unpublished authors, paying a freelance editor to edit your manuscript is likely to be a waste of money, and how, with limited design skills, and the use of free guidance and software, you can design a passable cover yourself (again, saving money most of us can ill afford to spend).  In this post, I’ll go through the next stages and the various options that are available.

It’s been over two months since I posted Part One. I’m ashamed. Why has it taken so long? There are a number of reasons. Life, as ever, has got in the way. I said in Part One that I was going to save some money by designing the cover myself. As usual, rather than making it simple, I’ve been working on something a bit more elaborate. I’m confident it will turn out well eventually, but it’s taking some time.
A rough mood board for my cover design

I said there was a great deal of work involved in self-publishing. There are an enormous number of companies offering self-publishing services, from straight forward book printers, to those that will do pretty much everything (except write the book for you). The process (or rather, processes – there are various stages to go through) is quite complicated.
Continue reading

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An Idiot’s Guide to Self-Publishing… Part One

The idiot in question being yours truly! Having researched the subject, I’ve discovered that self-publishing takes a lot of work, time, effort, and can involve spending what to most of us is a significant amount of money. And all with no guarantee of actually selling any copies of your book, and generating some income. So am I an idiot?
Continue reading

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