Designing a book cover and fighting perfectionism

I’m working on a cover design today. I’m really not good at managing my time when I do this so I’m experimenting today in the hopes of keeping the time down to something reasonable.

Usually I just dig in and start playing with backgrounds, trying to come up with a composite I like. Today, I’m setting my timers up to work for me.

I’m going to design in half hour blocks. I’ve picked that length for the blocks because six of them make three hours, and each one is short enough that if I’ve let myself fall into a black hole of perfectionism, I can stop it before it consumes my entire day.

I really don’t want this cover to take all day. I have a headache, I’m tired and maybe a little sick, and I want to feel productive today.

I don’t feel productive when I get stuck in a loop of tweaks that almost invariably takes me back to where I started. :-)

I’m going record what I did during each half hour block so I can see if there’s something I can learn from this experiment.

Now, to be frank, my last few covers have taken significantly longer than three hours to create, so I’m not cutting myself off at three hours, just seeing how close I can get to done in that amount of time.

It’s not a lie that constraints and boundaries can boost creativity. I’ve experienced it firsthand many times. I’m hoping it will help today. ;-)

I’ll be using GIMP today. Version 2.8.22. It’s open source and free. I generally use stock photography, which I’ll most definitely be using today, and most of it comes from Dreamstime, all properly licensed. (I keep the license information, and if you use stock, you should too, because sometimes the stock disappears from the site and it can be challenging to find the license information after that—speaking from experience!)

First, I’m starting from the base of my last cover, which already has the fonts I need and the alignments for the typography in it.

Second, I’m going to start looking for a background I like.

Third, I’ll do whatever I have to do to blend some stuff together and make it unique and pretty and (hopefully) pop off the screen without being garish.

Fourth, I’ll try to get the type to look nice.

Fifth, I’ll crop and save the sizes I need.

I’m not allotting any of these tasks to any particular time slot, just laying them out so I can see what I need to do. :-)

Now. Time for that first timer.

 

CreateSpace cover template generator at Bookow

I meant to publish this a few days ago when I was in the midst of working on my paperbacks. I tested the Bookow CreateSpace cover template generator and I really like it.

The templates are similar to the CreateSpace templates, but they’re an exact fit for CreateSpace book covers. CreateSpace itself doesn’t generate templates that are an exact fit, so I have a spreadsheet that does it for me. CreateSpace’s own templates are done in batches of 10 pages, so they’re close, but not exact.

My spreadsheet came up with 3268.5 x 2475 as the dimensions I need for my cover. Rounded, that’s 3269 x 2475 at 300 ppi.

Bookow generated a template sized 3269 x 2475 for my book.

Spot on. :D

That was for the PNG file. The PDF file when opened in GIMP came up short after setting it to 300 ppi. However, that might be a quirk I just don’t know how to deal with, and I never use the PDF anyway, only the PNG, even from the CreateSpace generated templates. So there you go.

The Bookow page also has a few other resources on that page that are useful, including the ISBN-13 hyphenator, which I had fun with.

Book cover mockup: Made with GIMP

So, since I’m still anti-reveal about my pen names (and if you figure them out, don’t tell me!), I just wanted to post something that shows a little of what a DIY author can create with GIMP, which is an open source alternative to using Adobe Photoshop, and free to use.

I also wanted to show off a bit of the stuff I’ve learned, since I talk a lot about studying cover design.

For my mockup, I didn’t worry about much other than mood, and I did this very quickly.

Misty Mockup

Here are the stock photos I used (all properly licensed from Dreamstime). :)

Misty Composite

I still don’t have an eye for design. But I have learned a lot and do think I can make a decent cover these days. Which is a good thing, because I decided a while back that I can’t do the hiring out thing. I wasn’t satisfied with either experience (not the quality of the covers—the experience).

I am not an expert designer, by any means, and no one is going to mistake that looking at this cover, but I really just wanted to show that you don’t have to use Photoshop to make decent DIY book covers if you’re a self-publisher. And if you practice your skills, you can make covers that are more than good enough to put on your books.

Also, who knows, but maybe I’ll start another new pen name someday soon and use this cover! :D

Follow up for several ongoing experiments

I’ve stuck to the new food rules and avoided sweets entirely, with the exception of a teaspoon of honey each day (in some yogurt and orange spice tea). Weight is going down, if I can trust the scale after only two days.

The schedule is working well. Sort of. I worked all day yesterday during my work time and during some make up time for the day before. HOWEVER, almost none of that time was writing. What time I did spend writing was spent editing a few bits of the story that weren’t going right and all I did was lose words.

Today I need to prioritize writing over other work.

I did come to a decision on one of my series book cover redesigns. I’ve been unable to make a commitment to a style for the typography—every time I do, I second guess myself. This has taught me one thing: writing isn’t the only place where I let perfectionism hold me back. So yesterday, after an entire day of trying changes that just didn’t work, I decided to stick with what I have and move forward with it.

Because of that decision, I now have two covers complete, one almost complete, and a draft version of two more. I’m going to load the covers as soon as possible, to stop myself from more of this waffling.

Until the covers and files are done and loaded everywhere, I’m making this my focus for the “after writing” time I’m hoping to have soon.

Anyway, I started writing this post with a 15 minute timer running and I’m down to less than two minutes. Time to get writing some fiction. :)

Not enough writing; obsessing over covers

Yesterday I did too much obsessing over covers and not enough writing.

I tried to come up with a new style for my series that I’m having a cover designed for (really nervous about the possible outcome of that—I thought it would be a much more hands-off experience, but other than the art itself, I don’t love the cover I’ve seen—I haven’t liked the typography at all so far and I’m disappointed about that). I wish I could say I have faith in the designer, but the truth is, I’m just not sure. I like the designer’s portfolio but after a quick review last night to remind myself of that, I started to notice a distinct pattern to typography placement that does not fit what I have in mind for my series. In the end, I didn’t succeed in coming up with an alternate design I liked, and considering how hard it’s been for me to make these particular covers, it’s probably unrealistic to expect myself to do so without an excessive amount of obsessing over them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally in the mood to obsess over my covers right now, but I also have a book that is getting really close to the end and I need it done three months ago. :D

So today I will write, at least for the morning hours.

Yesterday, I finished only two 40 minute sessions.

Yesterday’s session log

Block #1
Scheduled: 7:30–8:55 (40m, 40m)
Actual: 9:49–10:29 (40m)

Block #2
Scheduled: 10:30–11:55 (40m, 40m)
Actual: 10:30–11:34 (40m)

Block #3
Scheduled: 1:30–2:55 (40m, 40m)
Actual: none

I didn’t keep my table of word counts for some reason, so all I can say is I wrote 823 words in 80 minutes total for a pace of 617 WPH yesterday.

I also started reading another book—not one of my own. :)

Which brings up a point. I’m a bit worried about that. I usually love reading my own books and I’ve done anything I can lately to avoid them. :o And especially the first in the series of the one I’m writing now, and I really need to read that book again! I’m sure I’ve got stuff that I’m going to have to fix because I put it off and this book has taken so long to write that I’ve forgotten so much about the world.

I just don’t know what’s going on. :(

Zero day yesterday but today is looking up; more cover talk

I had zero words yesterday. I’m not surprised. I did get a few things done though! I made a cover for the pen name book 2.

Unfortunately, the new cover for book 2 means revisiting the cover for pen name book 1, because my skill level is such that I can’t count on matching up the covers when I hit on a design the works with my stock art choices (I’m really bad at choosing good images!). I thought I’d be able to match the design easily when I came up with it for book 1, but when I started working on the next one, nothing I came up with worked. I’ve been playing around with it a little here and there for months with no luck. So, a new series design was the answer.

On the fortunate side, the pen name book is still sitting in KU doing much of nothing so a new cover for it before I put it out everywhere is the best time to do it. :D I’m going to be sad, though, because I really like the cover. It’s especially pretty on the paperback. :(

So, onward with today. I had the same schedule as usual, but started too late this morning to keep to it, and now I’m about to start my second block of writing. (At 1,248 for the day so far.) I’ll talk about that later though. I have writing to do!

About yesterday, book covers, a sleepless night, and work

I started working on some book cover practice yesterday and got sucked in so I missed my last writing block.

I did a lot of thinking yesterday about some decisions I needed to make about covers. I’ve hired out the latest cover for one of my series. I’m so ambivalent about having done that that it’s driving me crazy. I committed, though, and I’m going to see it through.

The plan was to get the one cover, decide if I was ready to use it, then order the entire series redesigned. But the cover didn’t fit the book. It did, however, seem well-suited to the next one. So I had to decide if I wanted to commit to double the cost for two covers. In the end, I decided to go ahead. So I’ve actually commissioned two covers in that series at this point.

I probably shouldn’t have, because I’m still not sure I’m actually going to use the covers. But I want to use them. And how does that make sense, huh?

I think it’s because: (1) I like being in complete control of my publishing schedule. I can’t quite do that if I have someone else responsible for the covers; (2) I have certain expectations for how all of my covers work together and getting something from the designer means either I have to be very specific about my wants (maybe too specific to be easy to work with) or I’ll have to redo all my other covers to consolidate the branding. I’ve already run into a few issues, changed my mind about something, and now am not sure the designer is going to deliver something I’m going to be satisfied with.

In the end, I’ll just consider it a learning expense if that happens and I’ll use my own covers. (Let me be clear: the cover draft I’ve seen from the designer is great. That’s not the kind of satisfaction I’m talking about above.)

Just last night I was reminded of something I’ve said I believed (but maybe didn’t really believe, because I actually found myself surprised). I asked for and received some feedback on a few of my own covers (all variations for the same book) and surprise, surprise, it wasn’t the one that looked the most professional to me that got called the most eye-catching. That surprised me, to be honest. I thought one cover in particular was much stronger than the others, and one was much weaker, and yet the comments didn’t bear out my expectations.

And then I asked myself: why not?

I’ve said several times that once you get a certain level of decent with a cover, it doesn’t usually pay to keep trying to make it better, because it won’t really make much of a difference. I mean, yes, I do believe there are certain covers that just have something special that can attract a large quantity of people, but those are kind of like books: they happen by chance, they have a certain spark that can’t really be analyzed and recreated except on superficial levels. Then you hope for the best.

The only thing important after reaching “good enough to catch someone’s eye” is to signal to the right readers what’s waiting for them in the book.

So now I need to remember that—and use it to get past this horrible perfectionism that still ties me up when I’m working on a cover.

Finally, yes, I’m still off coffee and tea. But something’s got my brain working overtime, because I woke up at 2 am and couldn’t go back to sleep because of too much brain activity. Or maybe it’s the time change still screwing with me. Who knows? The end result is that I’m exhausted today and have a headache from a sleepless night, and I don’t really care why. I was miserable from 2 to 6.

Tuesday’s session log

Minutes Words Session WPH
40 515 515 773
40 766 251 377
40 1,157 391 587
40 1,654 497 746
160 Total minutes
1,654 Total words
620 Total WPH

My pace was down and I can’t really explain why, but I’m hoping I’ll do a bit better today. It’s 12:04 pm, though, and I haven’t even looked at my book this morning, so we’ll see.

Believe it or not, I’m making fewer typos than usual, despite the lack of sleep, and my words are flowing nice and fast.

It might be a good day to write, in spite of everything. :D

So much to do! More on book covers

No restart on the writing streak last night. Today I will definitely be writing. Even though I have plans to do some other stuff too.

I stayed up way too late making those cover adjustments, but I feel like I’m starting to get somewhere with the covers. I can see a huge evolution in my skill level between the first covers I did and these last few.

I’m toying with the idea of playing with my earlier covers and not outright changing/rebranding them, just cleaning them up. That right there might be enough to make me happy with them for the time being, while I fight with myself over hiring a designer who can create something I love for them. :D

But hiring it out means less practice, and lots of practice is exactly what I need. I like designing the art for the covers, if I don’t put pressure on myself: if I needed to release this book I just finished the cover for in the next week, I’d be in a whole different frame of mind, and it wouldn’t be good for my stress levels.

Anyway, I have a lot to do and I need to get started. I want to write a lot of words today and I need to do so much other stuff too. Busy day ahead and I’m exhausted already. 4.5 hours of sleep last night isn’t going to do me any favors today!

Cover design frustrates me, but I do it anyway

Have I mentioned before that designing covers for my books frustrates me? Yes? I thought so.

I’ve been trying to learn more about all of it, but I still can’t visualize what I want and then translate that into something that makes sense. I usually have to have a really good piece of stock art to get what I want quickly. Doesn’t usually happen. I’m not good at picking stock art, because I’m not good at visualizing what I can do with it once I have it. I seem to buy licenses for all the wrong stuff and then have to try again. And again. ;)

Today, I seem to have come up with an okay design for my next release, although something’s still off about it. Still, it will be a record-breaking achievement if I only make a few tweaks to this and consider it done.* It came together so much quicker than I’m used to stuff coming together. Or maybe it just feels that way because my new “publishing days” workflow gives me an entire day for cover design and nothing else! That my dear has turned out to be a genius move for me. I feel a distinct lack of stress about this cover. Also, I have finally accepted that covers just have to be good enough not to suck and they’ll get the job done; I’m sure that attitude is helping too.**

Finally, I do want to devote some more time to tutorials, but I’ve been so focused on increasing my daily word counts that I just haven’t had the energy left for it. Nor to spend on practicing cover design.

I have no interest in doing nothing but writing; I like having hobbies, and designing my own covers would be a great one to have. But I’ve had to focus on priorities right now, which is learning how to get more words written each day without it taking me all day to do it. :D I’ll get there, and then I’ll turn my attention to become a better cover designer for myself.

I want to redo a lot of my covers, and tbh, I would like to hire it out, but every time I consider it, I think about how that will bottleneck my publishing workflow and I really can’t stand the idea. If I had unlimited money where I could get anyone at any price to do the work on my timetable and do it exactly the way I wanted, then I think it would be easier to let go. But there’s also the fact that I want to be a good cover designer. Because of these things, I always keep coming back to the idea that I just need to suck it up and keep trying. If I don’t give up, eventually I’ll learn how to design great covers myself.

*I redid the cover and then redid it again and then again. In the end, I spent three entire days on this particular cover. :o

**Apparently that attitude didn’t help after all. See note * above. :D

Addendum: I tried hiring it out and I learned a valuable lesson: hiring out doesn’t work for me, at all.

An experiment with my next cover, GIMP, and Photoshop

Okay, so in only a little over a week or so, I really have to begin work on a cover image for an upcoming book. I thought I would run an experiment. I’m going to try to create the same cover in both GIMP and Photoshop and see which one I work best in. Despite being almost certain Photoshop is going to win, I’m not ready to commit to the subscription service if I don’t actually find it easier to create a cover in Photoshop. The proof will be in the real world application and not in that place in my head where I think I know something is true without having put it into practice.

I’m only as good a cover designer as I’ve needed to be, so this should be fun! :)