The cover is one of the most important elements of your book. Because almost all book covers are 4-color, you need to use a professional-level graphic program to create it. It’s a mistake to try and do any type of 4-color design work using a word processing program, so please don’t even try.
In this article I explain how I create the covers of my books in Adobe InDesign, however, many of the issues apply whether you are using Quark XPress, a vector program like Corel Draw or Illustrator, or even an image editing program like Adobe Photoshop. As noted, whatever software you use must support 4-color process printing.
To create a book cover, you need to follow these steps.
1. Get the requirements from your printer and read them.
If you thought I was going to jump right into talking about software, you’d be wrong. The most important key to getting your book cover printed correctly is to talk to the printer first. You want to understand their requirements before you start laying out your book. In my case, our books are printed by Lightning Source (LSI), which is a digital printer that prints books only when they are ordered (a process that is called “print-on-demand” in the publishing world). Because they use digital printing technology, their cover artwork requirements are somewhat different than printers that are printing using offset technology. A visit to LSI’s site yields a tremendous amount of documentation on what they need to successfully print your book. Check out the options under File Creation.
2. Create frames for the front, back and spine.
Once you have thoroughly absorbed the printer’s requirements for your book, it’s time to start laying it out. A book cover is actually a big rectangle made up of three panels: the back cover, the spine, and the front cover.
When you design the art, you need to take “bleed” settings into account. A bleed means that the ink runs right to the edge and “bleeds” off the page. The way most printers make a bleed happen is by printing the cover artwork on a larger piece of paper and trim off the excess. Many printers want a 1/8-inch bleed, so your frames will need to extend .125 beyond the edge of the page in your layout. That extra 1/8-inch is trimmed off, so the color goes to the edge of your cover.
3. Calculate the spine width.
The frames for the front and back cover are pretty obvious. If you have a 6 x 9 book, you create frames that are 6×9 and take bleed settings into account. But the spine width varies depending on the length of your book and the type of paper that is used to print it. Your printer can give you the calculations you need to determine the spine width. In the case of Lightning Source, they actually have an online spine width calculator. Or you can use their cover generator to get a complete layout template based on your book’s specifications.
4. Consider where the book will be sold.
As you design your cover, don’t forget to consider where it will be sold. If you sell your books mostly online, you will want to make sure that your cover artwork (and particularly your title) can withstand being reduced to a tiny thumbnail on sites like Amazon.com.
If your book will be sold in staggered display racks face out with other books in front of it, you may want to consider having the title at the top of the book cover, instead of in the middle.
5. Use high-resolution images.
Unfortunately, image resolution is often a problem in book cover design. Virtually all book printers require that you use images that are at least 300 dpi at their final size. So if you have a 6 x 9 book cover and want the image to bleed off all sides, you do not want to “scale up” a 4×5 image to make it fit.
Using software like Adobe Photoshop, you can decrease an image without a loss of quality, but you can’t increase it. Please don’t even try to use images that you have used on your Web site. They are only 72 or 96 dpi, which is not a high enough resolution for print. Your graphics will be fuzzy, which makes your book cover look extremely unprofessional.
6. Proofread, proofread, proofread
Amid the excitement of the images and design, don’t forget about the text. Back cover copy is important, so make extremely sure that you and many other people have proofread every word many times.
There’s no substitute for printing out hard copy proofs. When you’ve been staring at a screen for a long time, you may think, “oh I don’t need that last printout; I know what it looks like.” Unfortunately, that’s how mistakes happen. Colors look far different on paper than they do on screen. Plus, with a printout you can turn it upside-down and sideways to look for problems. This trick is surprisingly effective for finding last-minute typos, and you really want to make sure that you have found every typo before you upload your final book cover artwork to the printer.
7. Do a preflight check
Run InDesign’s “preflight” checks, which checks for simple (but all-too-common) mistakes, such as making sure all the fonts are available, that you’ve converted RGB images to CMYK, and so forth. If you are giving the printer PDF files of your book cover, also make sure all your fonts have been embedded in the PDF. Open the PDF in Acrobat and choose Document Properties. In the Fonts tab, every font should say “embedded” next to it.
If you opt to provide application files and your cover has linked images, don’t forget to provide the files. Use InDesign’s command to gather everything you need in one place. If you have created illustrations in a vector program like Illustrator, don’t forget about the fonts in your linked images. You can use commands like “convert to outlines” to change any problematic fonts to vector artwork.
And there you have it! When you’re done, you’ll have a book cover that you can be proud to say you created!
If you are laying out a book in InDesign, check out these articles: