If you want your book to be a contender, don’t underestimate the importance of your cover—more than any other single factor, it determines whether or not your book sells. The average consumer spends just eight seconds looking at a front cover; consider that your book's "standing eight count." Printing technology gives a cover a potent visual punch. Read on to find out how you can use special effects in sharp, non-tacky ways that will make consumers see stars all the way to the cash register:
Embossing is the process by which a die is used to raise an area of paper to create letterforms, shapes, and textures. There are several types of embossing, including sculptured, multilevel, chiseled, platform, and dome.
- Lightweight Use: Use embossing to emphasize the title.
- Welterweight Use: Emboss images to give them dimension. Or try embossing the edges of faux stickers for a more realistic look.
- Combination Punch: Combine embossing with foil stamping to give a more "finished" look to the foil. (Using foil stamping and embossing together is called “stamp and bump” in printer jargon.)
- Don’t emboss spines or back covers. Embossing really only packs a punch on the front cover.
- If possible, only emboss areas that are close together. This reduces the size of the embossing dye and consequently reduces the printing cost.
Hall of Fame: The Loch by Steve Alten (the title, monster, paddle and boat are embossed)
The foil stamping process covers paper with a super thin, flexible sheet of metal. The foil comes in a range of colors and levels of sheen. Mirror foils are the most reflective, while dusted foils are more subdued, and nonmetallic foils offer shiny solid colors that look a little like plastic. The foil is carried on a plastic sheet and during the printing process, stamping separates the foil from the plastic and makes it adhere to the paper.
- Lightweight Use: Use it to emphasize the title. Foil can also be used in decorative elements.
- Welterweight Use: Printing ink over foil is a very dramatic effect. "Ink on foil" can be done on a small area or over the entire cover. For more information about ink on foil, check out Cutting Edge Technology Guaranteed to Make Your Book Cover Pop.
- Heavyweight Use: Foil stamp the entire cover and print on top of the ink.
- When using foil over the entire cover, use opaque white ink to cover the foil in specific areas where you don't want the foil to show (for example the area for the ISBN barcode).
- Foil stamping is the most effective way to achieve a metallic look on uncoated paper. Do not use metallic inks on uncoated paper stocks. The rough texture of the paper absorbs the ink and eliminates the metallic look.
Holographic (or diffraction) foils have a "rainbow" or patterned light reflection.
- Heavyweight Use Only: Use holographic foils with caution. Holographic foils can overwhelm a design and look tacky fast! However, used in the right way, they can be show-stoppers.
Uncoated Specialty Stocks
Uncoated paper is usually rough to the touch and is manufactured in a great variety of finishes, colors, and weights.
- Use uncoated papers to create eco-friendly, historical, literary, journalistic, or nostalgic looks.
- Use a photographic texture that mimics a textured or antiqued paper to get the specialty paper look without the cost (example: Season of the Snake by Claire Davis).
- Due to its rough and absorbent surface, uncoated paper becomes dirty more easily than a coated paper. If you opt for a white or light-colored cover design on uncoated paper, be prepared for more damaged/returned books. (Note: That didn’t stop Blink!)
- Remember, metallic inks on uncoated paper lose a lot of their sheen. Opt for foil stamping instead.
Follow these guidelines and your contender will have more than just a fighting chance.
For more information about printing technology, see Cutting Edge Technology Guaranteed to Make Your Book Cover Pop.
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Yo’ Mama Earth. It’s true: the publishing biz is hard on the planet. But there are ways to make it easier on her. One of the best ways is to work with earth-friendly partners. So, how do you tell if a publisher, printer, or paper mill is environmentally conscious? Score them based on these three criteria:
1. Materials. Recycled paper and biodegradable glue are both widely available earth-friendly options. Most of the glues used in book binding today are biodegradable. Some are solvent-free and labeled as nonhazardous—even better! As for paper, due to increasing demand for earth-friendly products, many book printers now offer some recycled papers among their house stocks. However, make sure to ask how much recycled material is actually used in the paper. Recycled paper can also be significantly more expensive than a standard house stock, and a higher recycled content percentage translates into a higher price. Some printers only choose house stocks that have some recycled content. Usually the percentage is relatively low, but the papers are more affordable.
There are environmentally superior options for other materials, too. Many printers also use recycled binding boards, or boards with a percentage of corrugated material, which cuts down on paper consumption. Check out Green Press Initiative for updates on particular publishers, printers, and papers and a good look at the deforestation rate.
2. Tree harvesting. Because of the incredible amount of trees consumed every year for paper production (400 billion per year, according to Ecology.com), deforestation is a legitimate concern for printers, publishers, authors, and even readers. To watch out for all those falling trees, cooperative organizations, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), have been founded, with measurable success. SFI plants more than a million trees per day, and its members include book printers and paper mills. Find out how your favorite printer is getting involved. You can also contact paper mills and find out which ones use sustainable sources for their paper.
3. Energy use. Paper mills are huge consumers of energy. But many of them use creative methods to boost energy production and decrease consumption. Some mills accumulate the unusable scraps from trees, such as bark and knots, to be burned for fuel. Others have found alternative fuel sources such as used tires, which can provide a great deal of energy. A resourceful average-size paper mill is capable of producing enough surplus energy to power a city of thirty thousand. Though some of these alternative fuel sources can contribute to air pollution, they save on natural resources and space in the world’s landfills.
These three categories represent some of the best ways for printers and publishers to lessen their toll on Mama Earth. Although some of these options are less cost-effective than the tree-hater alternatives, increased demand and increased attention to publishing’s effect on the environment will make them cheaper and more widely available. Doing business with innovative, environmentally friendly printers, publishers, and paper mills will help encourage their practices. It’s one way to make Earth happy, and as everybody knows—if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
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A good fisherman knows that the way to catch a fish is with the right bait, and a good author knows the way to catch a reader is with a great cover. When reviewing concepts with your book designer, be sure to consider my TOP 4 tips that will have your book reeling in readers by the boatload. But first, make sure you’re fishing in the right pond.
When I start a new project I almost always take a trip to the bookstore and spend some time browsing whatever genre I’m designing for. A good cover design needs to fit in and stand out. I make a point to study the new releases. This keeps me on the forefront of trends in the genre, but I also make sure to browse the entire section, to see what trends have lasted over time. Identifying lasting trends is important because it helps me understand what readers expect on a cover. For example, in the mystery/thriller section, some trends include: typography (big and bold), imagery (often a simple object, or a blurred person or scene), color palette (bold, often dark), technology (lots of embossing and ink on foil). Once I identify trends in the genre I think, “How can I create a cover that fits in this group, but stands out as the best?”
Typography is a huge contributor to the overall look and tone of a design. The style, color, and size of typeface you use to communicate the title of your book influences how the reader interprets it. Spend some time exploring type combinations until you achieve the tone you wish to get across to readers. For flap copy, make sure the font is very legible. Remember, you want it to be easy for this fish to bite. If you choose a typeface that is too serifed, too condensed, too scripty, or too screamy, you are preventing your reader from learning about your product—a definite no-no.
In the interest of good flow and balance, I try to keep it down to three typefaces on a cover. There are always exceptions to good rules, but generally a cover using more than three varieties of type can be chaotic and disconnected. For my projects I need a good serif, a sans serif, and sometimes a display font. When choosing a typeface, study the shape of the letters and think about the colors used on the cover. What emotions do they evoke? How do the shapes relate to the content? Is your chosen typeface too masculine or too feminine? Do the edges of the letters taper or are they bold and blocky? All of these factors can affect the tone and mood for readers. I love the new design for Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The typography is soft but strong, and works well with the image. This new design makes me want to chuck my old, beat-up copy and buy the classic all over again.
Finding the perfect image is rarely easy. If an original photo shoot is not an option, stock photography is a great resource for designers. Stock image research works best after you have an idea, but sometimes browsing stock sites helps you explore your concept even further by tossing an image into your search results that makes you see your subject in an entirely new way. Some of my favorite stock sites are gettyimages.com for traditional rights-managed and royalty-free stock photography and illustrations, veer.com for trendier and eclectic images, and istockphoto.com for super low-priced, royalty-free photography and illustrations. Many of istock’s images need work before they are cover-ready, but they are a good start and you can’t beat the price.
3. Spine Design
The spine is an often forgotten part of the book cover, but for most books on the shelf it is the only way to lure in potential readers. The spine should be clearly readable from several feet away. It should also be interesting. When a spine contains an intriguing image, color combination, or type treatment, it is more likely to hook a reader into picking your book off the shelf: the first step to victory. I especially like spines that are a continuation of an image from the cover. I always want to know what the rest of the image looks like, so I pick up the book. One way to discern whether your spine makes the cut is to fold your cover and look at it on a bookshelf. James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, despite all the bad press, has an artful spine design. Everyone remembers the sprinkle-covered hand reaching out across the cover, but when only the spine is visible, the image is sliced beyond recognition, luring the reader into picking it up. The title could be more legible, but the memorable image communicates the designer’s intent, ties the front and back covers together, and is colorful enough to catch a reader’s eye.
Printing technology is that extra pop that attracts your catch. Some common technologies are specialty papers, embossing, using a combination of matte and glossy areas on your cover, and foil stamping. My favorite new technology is printing ink on top of a foil stamp. The foil adds a metallic appeal that is much more dramatic than metallic ink, and the technology allows designers to manipulate the look by printing ink on top of the metallic parts of the cover. Using technologies in fun and innovative ways can really light up your design and communicate your message more clearly.
Don’t let your potential reader be the one that got away. Follow these design tips, and your sales numbers won’t be fish stories.
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Some fonts scream TACKY and others whisper amateur, but if you’re not a designer you probably have no idea if you’re committing a font felony. To protect yourself from snotty judgments about your taste and experience level, follow these two simple rules in all typed work: manuscripts, emails, proposals, and, of course, books.
RULE #1: Avoid the following five fonts at ALL costs,
1. Comic Sans. Unless you are writing a comic book or materials for a film adapted from a comic book (i.e., Sin City—great design) don’t use it.
2. Sand. Never. Ever.
3. Times. Very few books have body text set in Times. This is a dead giveaway of an amateur design.
4. Papyrus. Even for cookbooks. This font is overused to the point of exhaustion. Pay attention to restaurant menus and you’ll see what I mean.
5. Lucida Calligraphy. This common script font is very recognizable, but rarely appropriate.
RULE #2: Use the following three fonts at your own risk.
Copperplate, Eurostile, and Courier are great fonts—if you know how to use them. These typefaces are easily recognizable and have uncommon letterform shapes—a recipe for poor design if you’re not careful. Use these fonts sparingly, or leave them to a professional.
TIP: For really unique fonts and fresh ideas, check out http://www.dafont.com/. They add new fonts on a regular basis, and their prices are hard to beat.
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Most small publishers understand how important cover design is to the success of their books. But often, interior design is either overlooked or created without knowledge of industry standards and what ultimately makes a book readable.Most small publishers understand how important cover design is to the success of their books. But often, interior design is either overlooked or created without knowledge of industry standards and what ultimately makes a book readable. A bookstore buyer can tell when a book has been designed by an amateur and may label the book self-published if it doesn’t meet industry standards. Following are five keys to professional interior book design.
Keep it simple, silly. This is probably the most important bit of advice we can offer. Overly designed books that use lots of different fonts and have lots of different design elements within the text are hard to read and often look amateurish. The best book designs are relatively simple, allowing the reader to work through the material at a steady pace without a lot of distractions. Consistency of design is the key to professional looking books, and it’s easiest to keep the design consistent if it is simple.
#2: Don’t Be Foolish With Fonts
When choosing the fonts you will use in your interior design, choose carefully. Don’t use crazy specialized display fonts that many readers will quickly be able to identify because they come standard with many types of software. For instance Brush Script, Comic Sans, and Curlz are all fonts that many people will quickly recognize. Easily recognizable fonts, particularly if they are unusual, will distract the reader and diminish his/her experience with your book.
It is also important to limit the number of fonts used in a single design. For instance, you may use one font for chapter titles and numbers and another font for the primary text, and that might be it. You may also use variations of a particular font for the headings within the text, and that font may be the same font that was used for the chapter title. In general, if you stick to two or three fonts, you’re probably safe.
#3: Guidelines for Font Size and Leading
Appropriate font size and presentation is critical to the readability of a book. The industry standard for the primary text font in trade books is 10.5 to 11 pt. font on leading that is about 3 pts. larger. Leading is the amount of space from baseline to baseline, meaning that if a font is 10.5 pts. on 13.5 pt. leading, there are 3 pts. of extra space between lines of text. If you use 11 pt. font, you should use a minimum of 14 pt. leading. The leading is critical to readability, and not having enough can quickly tag your design as amateur.
#4: Tips for Running Heads and Folios
A running head is the text that is usually placed at the top of a book page near the page number, which is also called the folio. Running heads and folios should be unobtrusive and should not distract the reader. They are typically set in a font that matches the primary text font or the display font used for headings or chapter titles. The font size should be a point or two smaller than the primary text font. The folios should be set in the same font and the same size. The folios can be bold to set them apart from the running heads. The running heads can be italic to differentiate them.
Occasionally, you will see a book that breaks lots of rules with the placement and design of running heads and folios. That type of design work should be left to the professionals. It is very difficult to be creative with running heads and folios and still end up with a design that is attractive and not distracting.
Deciding what text to use in a running head is also part of the design process. Common information to use in the running heads is author name on the left-hand pages and book title on the right-hand pages, book title on the left-hand pages and chapter title on the right-hand pages, or part title on the left-hand pages (if the book is divided into parts) and chapter titles on the right-hand pages. Whatever you decide, be sure that it is consistent throughout the book.
#5: Final Word on Margins
There are four margins to consider on a book page: top, bottom, inside, outside. The margins of facing pages (a spread, or a left-hand page and a right-hand page) should mirror each other. Therefore, we don’t talk about left and right margins, we talk about inside and outside margins.
The top and bottom margins should be a minimum of half an inch. For instance, if the top margin is half an inch, then the running head/folio would butt up against that margin and the actual text on the page would start at about one inch from the top of the page. It is best if the bottom margin is between .5 and .75 inches.
The inside margin, also called the gutter, should usually be at least .75 inches. If your book is longer than 304 pages, you might consider using 1 inch as an inside margin. Note that this is 1 inch on each side of the spread (a 1 inch right margin on the left page and a 1 inch left margin on the right page).
The outside margin should be at least .5 inches, and generally should be .75 inches for aesthetics. You can use a measurement between those two points, also.
If you follow these general guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to designing and producing a book that will be readable, clean, and professional.
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Going back to press? You may find your printing costs to be higher than you expected. Typically, reprinting is more cost-effective than first print runs, but as many publishers are finding out, rising printing costs have been outweighing the discounts. Why is this?
Several market changes have affected the printing industry this year. The first change has to do with basic supply and demand. The demand for book printing has increased, taking printing costs with it. In fact, 2005 was the best year for U.S. printers in a long while. The lower demand for book printing in preceding years kept competition fierce and margins small among U.S. printers. Now that demand has increased, the phenomena of a “buyer’s market” has diminished for publishers going to press. As long as demand remains high, the costs associated with book printing will probably be a little higher than they were a couple of years ago.
Additionally, gasoline and postal service rate increases have drastically affected freight costs. Meanwhile, several major domestic paper mills have been on strike in recent months, lowering inventory levels at many presses and driving up prices for some of the most sought-after papers. The industry sector most affected by the strikes is uncoated offset paper, commonly used for standard hardcover and trade paperback books. The weakened U.S. dollar has made paper imports unfeasible for printers, meaning that the publishing industry will need to tough it out until domestic conditions change.
Higher printing prices shouldn’t necessarily keep you from going back to press, however. As it turns out, consumer spending is on the rise as well. You may be able to sell more books than usual in upcoming months. Don’t miss out on increased sales just to hold out for better printing prices. As always, make sure you have enough books in the warehouse to meet consumer demand. It may be the right time to go back to press after all.
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Special technologies can be used on dust jackets and covers to make books stand out to consumers and national retail buyers. Two such technologies are Elkote (also called JagKote, depending on the vendor) and ink on foil, which only recently appeared in bookstores. Because they are newly developed, not all printers can produce books with these technologies, but several vendors are starting to leverage Elkote and ink on foil to create brilliant covers designed to attract buyers.
What do the new technologies offer you? Simply put, Elkote and ink on foil make your book stand out on the shelf. The Elkote process blends superb special effects with practical resilience. It is an alternative to matte lamination coatings, where books are run through laminators that apply a coating to the cover. Elkote applies a liquid coating to paper similar to the application of ink. The coating is printed onto the surface with pinpoint precision. It stands up against scuffing far better than matte lamination and offers new aesthetic possibilities. Elkote makes it possible to produce a gradient from gloss to dull, when desired.
For a sleek metallic appearance to be added to your cover, take a look at ink on foil. This breakthrough technology applies foil to paper and allows for inks to be printed on top of the foil. Most book covers currently using this new process are covered completely with foil before being printed, but it is also possible to apply foil only to select areas on the cover. Less costly alternatives to ink on foil are available, such as foil with no ink overprint and metallic ink instead of foil.
Before starting your next cover design, give some thought to the impressive new technologies, Elkote and ink on foil, and make sure to hire a designer who is familiar with cutting edge materials and technologies. With the right design, they could help you get noticed by the big buyers.
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Not all fonts are created equal, and not all fonts are appropriate for all uses. The following three fonts are perfect for text-dense interior pages. These typefaces have great legibility and also include multiple weights and styles and extended ligature sets, which allow you to use them in many different ways and situations.
2. Adobe Caslon Pro
3. Minion Pro
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I don't know about you, but gasoline prices have been on the forefront of my mind these days. So I've decided to take a look at books currently on the shelves about the coming oil shortage.
My favorite in this category is The Party's Over by Richard Heinberg.
This is a perfect marriage of title and image. The dark humor is shocking yet completely appropriate for the dire subject matter. The type is well-placed and does not deter from the powerful image.
Now, compare the revised and updated cover to the original:
It is clear why this cover needed a redesign. The typography used is almost identical, but the image is so much less effective. It took me several minutes to even realize that the illustration is a tipped over wine glass. This is not a horrible idea, but it is undeveloped.
Now, compare these two covers:
The photographs used are very similar, an oilfield during sunset. But in Twilight in the Desert, the image is reduced to its bare essentials: a single tower and the setting sun. The Twilight in the Desert cover succeeds where Hubbert's Peak fails because Twilight's title and the image on the cover work together and all the design elements are clean and simple.
I have two final covers:
Both of these covers work. The words of the titles are reinforced visually, and the type is handled well. For example, on The Bottomless Well’s cover, the title is slightly obscured by the gasoline and the pump. This overlap serves to marry the image and the type. In Out of Gas, the subtitle visually completes the trajectory of the drop of oil. If I had to choose, I prefer the more contemporary approach of The Bottomless Well, but both designs are truly well executed.