Category Archives: Print books

The Basics of Cover Design

A good cover is vital to your book’s success because it’s the first thing your potential readers see.  If you have a good eye for design, the right software and the experience to use it, there’s no reason why you can’t try to create your own cover.

If you haven’t got the right skills or you find the task too hard, it’s best to pay an experienced designer to help you. Don’t penny pinch and use an amateurish cover because that will suggest that the contents of your book are amateurish too. But even if you are using a designer, it’s still worth learning the basics of cover design so you understand what they are doing. Continue reading

Working with Pictures


Black cat in a coal hole taken at midnight

The picture on the left should open in a twinkling while the one on the right might take a some time to appear. (Actually, this will probably only be the case the first time you look.  Thereafter both pictures are likely to be cached in your PC and will appear immediately.)

My fairly ordinary camera takes pictures that are 4000 dots (pixels) wide and 3000 high. That’s 12 million dots altogether making it a 12 Megapixel camera. These dots get saved in a computer file where the colour of every dot is defined by 3 bytes. So, for the full unblemished definition, my pictures needs 36 Megabytes.

That’s the file that gives the right hand picture (it’s in png format). It’s an awfully big file to send to your screen just to provide a small black rectangle! The one on the left comes from a more sensible 1 kilobyte file (in jpg format) but I defy you to see the difference even though the left hand file size is 3600 times smaller.

You’d probably guess that my camera takes bigger pictures than this tiny image, but how big was the original?  The important answer is that it doesn’t a have physical size (or resolution)! It depends on the screen or printer you use to look at it.  If the dots on the device are big, so is the picture, if they’re small, so is the picture.    Older screens have resolutions of around 70-100 pixels per inch so my black cat picture would need a screen about 4 feet wide to show every pixel in the original.

However, I’ve set the width of both the pictures on this page to 3cm.  On an old style screen this would be about 100 dots wide and 75 high – 7500 in total.  Even the best iPad with its amazing 326dpi retina display would only use about 111 thousand  pixels.  So, what happens to rest the of the 36 million that were supplied for the right hand picture?   Some sort of averaging of pixel colours has to be done by your computer and detail will be lost – even though you can’t see it.  If you do this averaging before sending the file there are big gains to be made in speed.

Reducing the number of pixels to match the expected display device is sensible, but there are even more gains to be made by lumping together adjacent pixels of the same colour.  Both Jpeg and png formats do this, but jpgs use a technique that also allows close colours to be merged depending on a quality factor. At 100% the data is compressed as much as possible but nothing is lost.  At values lower than about 80% you can begin to see some deterioration of fine detail.

Neither of my pictures is absolutely black – otherwise both the left hand jpg and the right hand png would have been compressed to give very small files.  Instead there’s a random selection of almost black pixels.  The left hand jpg has been set to 200x150px with a quality of 70% making it a uniform very, very dark grey.  The png (4000X3000px with every pixel defined)  also shows up as a very very dark grey but the work to reduce it and average the colours was done by your computer after it received the file.

Be careful when you are changing the size of pictures. Increasing size will automatically drop the quality because your computer can’t add detail that isn’t there. Reducing the size is less likely to cause problems, but some software may drop the resolution at the same time without you realising. It may also drop the resolution when you export the file unless you have set it correctly.

So what resolution should you use?
Download speed is vital for websites and screen resolution is fairly poor so there is no point in using high definition pictures. 96dpi is usually fine and you should compress jpgs by the maximum amount possible without losing detail on the picture.

Print requires higher resolution so pictures that look fine on screen may appear fuzzy or blocky on paper and the curves may have jagged edges. 300dpi works well for print books, ebooks and covers but double-check your printing company’s requirements before you create your book. Higher resolutions are usually fine, although they may increase the file size of the ebook enough to push up the delivery cost on Amazon for books with a large number of pictures.

However much effort you put into getting the resolution right for your print book, you can still run into problems if your pdf creation software compresses the pictures. It’s sensible to check the settings before you create the file to make sure nothing is compressed lower than 300dpi. 

There’s another little hassle with files intended for print rather than screen – colour definition. In the camera and on screen, colours are defined in terms of the proportion of red, blue and green light (RGB).  Having all three together at 100% gives white.  But if you print all three colours together you get a muddy grey.  To get white you just need white paper – you don’t have to print anything!

Printing companies use Cyan, Magenta. Yellow and Black ink (CMYK) and yours may insist that pictures are defined in that system.  Don’t panic if your picture is in RGB.  There’s an equivalent CMYK setting for every RGB one so, if you set it correctly,  good pdf software can change the RGB colours to CMYK when it creates your file.

As the technology of inks is not quite the same as the science of colours, there may be some difference between what you see on screen and the printed result.  That’s why the printers ask for the definition in their own terms – it takes away any uncertainty.

Public Lending Right

When a library buys a print book, it can lend it to as many people it likes. The only restriction is the physical strength of the book – lending ends automatically when the pages fall out. To compensate for any resulting loss in sales, the UK government puts aside a chunk of money each year which is divided up amongst the authors whose print books have been borrowed.

This is called Public Lending Right (PLR) and the  system works like this:

  1. Authors register their books with the Public Lending Right office.
  2. The PLR office collects data on loans from a selection of libraries around the country.
  3. The PLR office extrapolates from that data to work out an estimate of how many times each book has been borrowed in the whole country.
  4. They calculate how much they can afford to pay per loan and pay that to every author in the scheme. To stop the most successful authors taking nearly all the money, no one can be paid more than a set maximum. (£6,600 in 2014). There’s also a minimum threshold of £1.

PLR is a great system for authors. It works extremely well and provides a welcome income boost. It’s also very gratifying to see how many times your books have been borrowed, especially those that are long out of print. So make sure you register each edition of your book that’s available in the UK.

The UK isn’t the only country with a PLR system. The Irish system works in a very similar way and is administered by the UK PLR people so you can opt to join that when you register your books in the UK.  Other countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, pay out their PLR money to UK authors through the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS).

Diana Kimpton


Resources for publishing print books

When I first decided to do a print edition of There Must Be Horses, I intended to pay someone to lay out the book for me. But most designers use Adobe Indesign so I wouldn’t be able to make any last minute edits myself unless I bought the same software. At £650, that was seriously expensive and way outside my budget.

Thankfully an internet search showed up a viable alternative that was much, much cheaper: Serif Page Plus. At around the same time, I met an author at the Winchester Writers’ Conference who had used PagePlus to create his book. The end result looked so professional that I decided to give the software a try, and I’m really glad I did. (I used PagePlusX6 but this has now been replaced by PagePlusX7.)

Tackling a task I had never done before with software I had never used was a pretty ambitious project involving a huge learning curve. I initially felt very daunted, but I soon found there is plenty of useful information on the web as well as Serif’s own tutorials. There’s even a phone helpline where an extremely helpful man patiently talked me through something I was finding extra tricky. Once I’d learned how to use master pages for internal design and layers for cover design, I was able to experiment and discover the full power of this excellent software package.

Page Plus produces high quality pdf files ready for sending to the printer. But before I was ready to do that, I needed to understand the conventions of book layout and learn how to make professional decisions about fonts. For this, I turned to several other resources.

  1. The books on my bookshelves.
    Looking at these helped me see that the odd numbered pages are always on the right and that new chapters start further down the page than the rest of the book does. They showed me the most common size for books like mine, the usual number of lines per page and the way copyright information is usually laid out.
    An excellent site full of advice on book layout and cover design.
  3. Createspace
    Amazon’s user friendly POD system offers helpful advice and templates to help you lay out your book. I found its article on creating pdf files particularly useful.
    A useful source of free fonts.
  5. The Non-Designer’s Design and Type Books
    I love this book by Robin Williams (which is actually two books in one). It’s an excellent introduction to design and type for beginners, packed full of visual examples that demonstrate the difference even small changes in layout can make. I found it invaluable for understanding which fonts to choose and how to decide about leading (the technical term for line spacing). It’s also useful for designing information sheets, bookmarks and other publicity material.

Many people have commented that the print edition of There Must Be Horses looks very professional so these resources worked for me. Why not give them a try?

Diana Kimpton


What is print-on-demand?

Traditional publishing involves printing a large quantity of books at once (called a print run), storing them in a warehouse and sending them out in response to orders from bookshops and wholesalers. For years, this was the way the book business worked and self-publishing involved either finding a distributor for your books or, more likely, storing boxes of books in the garage or under your bed and queuing at the post office to send them out in ones or twos.

The arrival of digital printing made shorter print runs more feasible, which meant you didn’t have quite as many books to store, and  it also introduced a completely new alternative: print-on-demand (POD). Under this system, the files that make up your book are stored on a computer. When an order comes in, a copy of your book is printed and sent out direct to the customer.Print-on-demand is brilliant for self-publishers. There are no books to store, no money tied up in stock and no more queuing at the Post Office. Even if you are mainly expecting to sell ebooks, POD allows you to offer a paperback as well at minimal cost so you have physical books available for reviewers and for the gift market. (Ebooks are great, but you can’t wrap them up.)

Createspace is Amazon’s own POD system and well worth considering because it is user-friendly and produces good quality books that are automatically listed as in stock on Amazon. As long as you provide your own pdf files for the cover and the interior (made by you or someone you’ve hired), Createspace charges you nothing for putting the book on their system. There is also no charge for changing the file later when you’ve spotted the inevitable typo that slipped through the net. You will have to pay for a printed proof, but that’s a good investment to make sure everything is okay before you put the book on sale.

There are plenty of other POD suppliers and one of the biggest is Ingram Spark: the self publishing arm of Lightning Source. They charge set-up fees, but they sell to wholesalers and retailers worldwide so they provide you with the ability to say “available from all good bookshops”. Using Createspace for Amazon sales and Ingram Spark for everything else is a popular choice for indie authors because it gives you wide distribution plus “in stock” availability with Amazon. However, that’s only possible if you use your own ISBN – not one supplied by Createspace.

Diana Kimpton