Monday, June 6, 2011

The Bandwagon

I’ll be going to Bouchercon in September.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Bouchercon is the world’s biggest gathering of writers and lovers of crime fiction:
It’s the place we all go to discuss the genre.
Or, rather the place we used to go to discuss the genre.
Because, as Dan pointed out in his latest post, about all most authors discuss these days is ebooks.

The most read, most discussed, authors’ website on the planet is Joe Konrath’s, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing:
And what does he post about?
Day after day.
To the tune of “The Times They Are A-changin’”
Okay, I’m kidding about that.
But you’ve got to admit that Dylan might have been prescient when he wrote this one:

The times have truly changed for those who compose and perform music.
Everything's gone digital.

And now it’s happening all over again in the world of books.
Ebooks are here to stay – and they’re the great leveler.
You who have never published a book, never thought of publishing anything, can now get on the bandwagon.
Those who’ve been publishing for years and years are welcome too, particularly for your out-of-print backlists.
And those of you who have a whole bunch of rejected manuscripts should certainly hop on and find a place in the crowd.
One wagon fits all.
And what a crowd it is.
A real mixed bag.

Here’s what you have to do to join us:
Dan has already pointed out how important it is to hire an editor and a proof reader.
In addition, you’re going to need someone really good to do your conversions for the Kindle, the Nook and all the other devices.
I use Rob Siders, the same fellow Joe uses:
He’s terrific.

Last, but certainly not least, you’re going to need a cover designer.
Of course, you can do both the conversion and the cover design yourself.
If you are a multitalented, technically-savvy genius.
To highlight the challenges in the design area, I asked my cover guy, Peter Ratcliffe, to write a few words about what is required.
Here’s Peter:

My experience, working in advertising agencies as an Art Director/Designer, gave me a lot of knowledge in the print process. It can be extremely hard designing for print. For starters, you really need good, quality, high resolution photos and if the budget doesn’t allow you to hire a photographer, your options are to ask a colleague for a favor – which I hate to do – or do it yourself.
Personally, I took up photography lessons and bought a quality camera.

Once you have the proper images, you need a pretty decent Mac that can handle heavy Photoshop manipulation. A psd (layered photoshop file) can take up a lot memory space. I have files with over 200 layers that weigh up to 2GB. That is only one file I’m talking about. After 10 years you can imagine how much used memory I’ve gone through.

Designing for digital purposes, the web, is a lot easier and quicker – graphically speaking – no programming involved.
The outcome, the final file, is a 567 x 850 pixel, 72 dots per inch canvas (highest resolution a computer monitor can display Vs High res. = 300 dpi), and that makes finding a suitable image a whole lot easier.

But you have to watch out for legality issues.
We designers have ways to go around them.
For example, we can turn a photo into an illustration by photo manipulation or simply by tracing the outline and filling it with different textures and colors.

Technical issues aside, the most important thing is communication.
And, in that, ebooks are no different from print books
It is the visual that draws a potential reader in, makes her/him want to take a closer look.
But don’t forget that someone’s initial exposure to your e-book cover is likely to be in thumbnail size.
So a challenge that you have with ebooks, but don’t have in print, is to make sure it has high-impact even when it’s tiny.
Check out the Kindle store, and you’ll see how many authors have covers that violate this simple rule.
And lose sales as a result.
You should always evaluate any work that is proposed to you in thumbnail size first.
If it doesn’t work there, then it simply doesn’t work.

Dialogue in the writer/designer relationship is also fundamental.
If you can’t communicate with your designer, exchange ideas, let the cover grow and take form between you, you probably have the wrong designer.

If you have any specific questions about ebook cover design that I have failed to address here, please write me though my website:

I’ll be happy to get back to you with an answer.
I love working with authors!

One thing I’d like to add to what Peter has said.
Tastes vary.
You have to like what the designer does for you.
Don’t ever choose a designer whose work you don’t appreciate no matter how many prizes he might have won.
If you go to Peter’s website, you can click on the word “Work” to see some of his
Always ask to see some samples from any designer you are contemplating commissioning.

And, oh yeah, there’s the money thing. Peter charges $350 for an e-book cover.
Believe me, he’s worth every cent.

Something else he didn’t mention: his wife is a terrific editor. If you commission a cover with Peter, she’ll give you a discount.

Leighton - Monday


  1. In teaching writing, in a newsletter on writing called BookMarc, and in my book, Easy Reading Writing, I advise against using italics for long paragraphs and whenever unnecessary because of the difficulty in reading and eye stress. May I suggest you consider dropping the italics in your blog in what is otherwise a service to writers.

    Peter E. Abresch, Author of The Faltese Malcom, Capitol Coven, If They Ask for a Hand at: : the Elderhostel mysteries at:
    and Easy Reading Writing and BookMarc at::

  2. Thanks, Peter, for your input.
    Words of wisdom to us all.
    And I, personally, promise to sin no more.

    Thing is, I didn't know any other way to format it, to set my comments off from Peter's.
    Maybe I should have given the post to him to do.

    I'm sure he would have found a better solution than mine.

  3. Most important thing first: What is THE ESSENTIAL SILVA Volume I and when will it be available?

    Please don't use a different color font to set off differences in the blog. Italics are far easier to read than different colors, at least for these old eyes.

    The covers Peter had done for your books are stunning but I don't know if I pay much attention to the covers on the ebooks when I troll through Amazon. I tend to look for books by authors with whose names I am familiar. I may not have read any of their books but I know that they have built a following.

    The real issue with ebooks, as you mentioned, are the number of self-published books that were rejected by publishing houses, some for good reasons. Reading the reviews often make it all too clear that the blurb and even a review has been written by the author and they have not used the services of an editor.

    Unfortunately, there still doesn't seem to be a reliable method for getting publicity for books that deserve to be read. There must be any number of clever and creative people who read this blog who could think about the puzzle and offer suggestions.

    It is the mixed bag aspect that is the problem for the ebooks.

  4. I'm slightly concerned by this italics business. Those who have read my novels will know I have whole chapters written in them. Then again, I thought I saw a few people squinting at my last signing...

    Interesting to hear the designer's view Leighton. You're right. A cover is important for an ebook, as important it seems as for a printed copy. Like Beth, I rarely judge a book by its cover, though it seems many do.

  5. Interesting post on on ebooks. As a graphic designer, I thought I'd throw in my two cents. While many people may not feel that they judge a book by its cover, there's definitely something within us (even if we're not conscious of it) that steers us toward a well-designed cover. If you've invested months – if not years – in the writing of your book, it just make sense to have a decent looking cover.

    I would like to mention one comment that Peter made about legality issues with with images for covers. Taking a photo and manipulating it in the ways he mentioned can still get you in hot water if you don't have permission to use the image. Shepard Fairey designed the red and blue HOPE poster of Obama. He used an Associated Press photo as the basis of the image and the AP sued him and will likely win. It's always a good idea to make sure that your designer uses an image with permission or purchases a royalty-free image. There are many places online to purchase photography as well as illustrations and it's quite possible to find images that are not very expensive.

  6. As a book cover artist myself (I charge $125 for an eBook cover and am worth far more pennies....LOL), I have to agree that the best way to stay free of problems for image usage is to get your images at the royalty free sites. There are tons of them. You can purchase the rights for use of photos. I am a photo collage artist and use elements such as texture, color, blending and Photoshop tools to paint or manipulate a cover art piece. I do have samples of my work at:

    Patty Henderson
    Boulevard Photografica

  7. Let's hope those at Bouchercon talk about a little more than e-books, as among the reasons so many e-books are so bad is writers worry more about getting their e-book to market than they worry about making it good.

    I'm looking forward to meeting you in St. Louis.

  8. Beth -
    "The Essential Silva - Volume 1" is a compendium of the first three books in the series.
    It isn't available in the United States, Canada and a number of other places because of copyright restrictions.
    But it's a bargain for folks who live in places where they can get it.
    And it assures me of additional "virtual shelf space" in the Kindle store.
    I also did it because it makes it more likely that readers new to the series will tackle "Buried Strangers" before "Dying Gasp".
    There is (as well you know, but lots of other folks don't) an evil character in the former who returns in the latter.
    And I think it enhances reader enjoyment to be introduced to that character early on.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Sorry about the preceding error. I was trying to paste a link, but it doesn't always work.

    So here I go again.
    The poster than anonymous is talking about can be found here:

    (Sorry, you'll just have to copy and paste it into your browser.)

    Fairey's creation doesn't come down to much more than adding contrast and colorizing the original image.

    If I was Mannie Garcia, the freelance AP photographer who shot it, I would have sued him myself.

    The trick Peter was referring to is quite different. It involves taking an image and so altering it that even its original creator wouldn't recognize it.

    And that's entirely different.

  11. Hi Patty -

    Thanks for chiming in.
    And for giving us a chance to admire your work.
    I agree with you 100%.
    You ARE worth more than you charge.

    But I have to add this:
    Peter, as he explained to me once, is aware of all of those sites. And he uses them, when appropriate.

    He also belongs to several paid sites, where he shells out yearly fees to get limited (or unlimited) use, on behalf of his clients, of the images that he finds there.

    And he also will, occasionally, give a client the option to purchase the rights to more expensive preexisting art.

    Or commission it from a third-party photographer when the budget will bear it.

    Or shoot it himself when it won't.

    The objective, as he says, should always be to get the highest possible impact for the lowest possible cost.

    And, sometimes, the free stuff just doesn't hack it.

  12. Dana -
    Oh, gosh, I hope so.
    I'm getting so fed up with the subject.
    Konrath can say all he wants about the gatekeepers, and we can complain all we want about our "legacy" publishers, but there's certainly this to be said for them: they keep us on our toes.
    I have yet to see a bad book come out of Soho Press.
    But there are tens of thousands of them in the Kindle Store.

  13. I posted about the legality issue and just wanted to say that I mentioned that so that writers can protect themselves from litigation.

    It's a fine line to draw when a photo is no longer recognizable by its original creator. While it's not doubt possible to do this, the fact remains that if you don't have permission to use the image you could get in some legal trouble.

    With our ability to easily do Google image searches, it's tempting to use an image found on the web. And, with programs such as Photoshop and others becoming more common for even non-designers, someone might think that they're avoiding copyright infringement by adjusting the colors or applying a special filter to it (making it look like a watercolor print, etc.). I just wanted to make writers aware that it's better to be safe than sorry.


  14. Thanks, Danielle, for checking in by name.
    I have a special weakness for your name.
    You share it with one of my daughters, the one who has four kids, my grandchidren.

    I agree with you, of course.

    And thank you for adding your web site.
    I checked it out and encourage others to do so.
    Very nice work!

  15. Thanks Leighton!

    – Danielle

  16. Leighton, I will be traveling in Europe and can't make it to Bouchercon this year. The best thing about going would be the chance to meet you face to face.

  17. Annamaria -
    All is not lost.
    Not yet, anyway.
    I seem to recall that you have an affinity for Italy.
    I'll be in Rome in September, after Bouchercon.
    Then in Finland for a few days.
    Then in the Netherlands for a week or so.
    Then back in Rome, down to Palermo, back to Rome.
    Any chance we could meet somewhere?