Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary Cover

Jumping back a book, since I don’t have anything really like a cover design for the current book yet.

I’ve never done a book cover before, and again (like the interior design) I’m not competent to do one. I feel like I got lucky this time, and will probably never make another cover this good.

Here’s what I ended up with:

Click through to see larger. There’s a lot of detail in the house not visible in the thumbnail.

This is a wraparound cover for a trade paperback. The light rectangle on the back near the spine is an approximation of where the ISBN barcode block will be put in by the POD provider. (I have to take that out before actually sending it to the POD provider, but I needed to know roughly where it was to avoid it blocking anything important).

What’s a cover for? Well, depends on how your book is being sold.

I think this one is going to be sold mostly to people who have heard of it, or at least have heard of Pamela, and that a lot of them will be specifically looking for the book after having heard it’s in print again. For those people, the cover is rarely important, and is more likely to be a negative influence than a positive (“I heard this book is good but look at that cover! Ewwww!”). Furthermore, I think the vast majority of sales will be online, and the cover is much less important there than when people have the book in their hands.

On the other hand, major publishers often sell most of the copies of their big sellers through airport news stands, Walmart, and so forth, and mostly to people who had no special intention of buying that book at the time. The requirements for this kind of cover are completely different (and I know even less about them).

The one thing it’s definitely not is an illustration of the story. It’s purpose is to grab attention. The cover is entirely a marketing piece, and it’s bad if it attracts people to the book who won’t like it (because they put out a stream of bad word-of-mouth).

What do covers have to have? Not much, really; it’s not about meeting requirements, but about successful design.

It’s generally thought important, at least by the author, to name the author of the book both on the cover and on the spine. (Okay, seriously, most dedicated readers buy by author a lot, so it is important.)

The book title is widely thought to be desirable information, both on the cover and on the spine.

If a book will be sold retail (direct by you, at convention dealers room tables, in bookstores, or whatever) a lot of people will look for the price somewhere on the cover.

If a book will be sold in retail settings with modern inventory setups (even independent bookstores are often so equipped, these days), they really want a bar code that their inventory system can work with (standard ISBN or UPC bar code).

Note that not one single one of those things was a requirement without caveats; nothing is absolutely required.

Being a photographer and familiar with Photoshop helped a lot. Being utterly unable to draw is a problem I had to work around.

Like oh-so-many self-published SF books, I started with a public-domain NASA image. Pamela found me this one, it’s Ophiuchus. Since Gentian is an astronomer, and does observe Ophiuchus in the book, it’s actually somewhat relevant.

It’s mentioned in the book, with little detail, that the original owners of the house had put an observatory dome on it. That makes the house itself, with the dome, a prime candidate for the cover. There are a very few houses around with observatory domes, but I didn’t find one I wanted to use as-is, or a local one that I could go photograph to my own satisfaction (I remember seeing one locally, but haven’t been able to find it again). The book doesn’t say much about exactly where the dome is on the house, and Pamela doesn’t even know; no constraints there!

So, time to invoke the modern meaning of the verb “to Photoshop”! I decided I’d graft the dome on in place of a pointed tower roof; lots of old big houses have a circular tower with a pointed roof, and that’s an easy place to put a circular dome.  Furthermore, since we’re using the sky shot and emphasizing the astronomy, let’s render the house in silhouette.

So, now the hunt for houses. I ended up using a range of different source material, as models for different parts, and combine them fairly cleanly, with some modifications by me. I did quickly realize I had to somehow indicate window locations and such; a pure silhouette looked really stupid. So those got drawn in in 60 or so vector layers (so I could edit them to look semi-decent; I can’t draw well enough to get even straight lines right the first time). Luckily there are lots of observatory domes on record; easy to trace the outline and adjust the perspective to match the house.

Layer structure of house
Layer structure of house

I’m a fairly sophisticated Photoshop user, so the house image you see is constructed from a lot of pieces. Those pieces are kept separate so far as possible; this makes it possible to experiment, refine only the ideas that work, and often change my mind later without having to throw out too much work (the actual work of the idea that didn’t work, yes; but often I don’t have to throw out the bits of associated work that interact with it but don’t depend on it). In particular I’m a huge fan of layer masks, both on actual bitmap image layers and on adjustment layers.

Closeup of tower windows showing Saturn
Closeup of tower windows showing Saturn

Late in the process, I realized it would be amusing to have a couple of windows show the view through the house to the sky; so I did that. (And, later, change it to showing a different astronomical view; I think it may be too small for people to even notice that, though; but those windows in the tower show through to a Cassini view of Saturn—an angle entirely impossible from Earth.)

I also decided to pinch in the waist of the house a little, to make it just slightly a caricature of a house rather than a “real” house.

Ground reference -- built of 3 image layers and one adjustment layer
Ground reference — built of 3 image layers and one adjustment layer

Now we’ve got a house floating in space over an astronomical photo. That’s not really very sensible-looking, even for a fantasy novel, so I decided to provide a ground reference.  That’s easy to draw in in silhouette; but on examination, it looked pretty fake. Photoshop to the rescue again—Filter – Render – Tree! Yes, Photoshop has built-in fake trees now. That’s an ash to the left, and a spruce to the right.

There, done. Oh, no, wait; couple of things still needed. The title and author name were at least already decided, but I had to pick font, color, location, and so forth.

The colors came from one of my favorite tricks, picking colors out of the photo. I then adjusted the brightness (“B”) in HSB color-space to make sure it showed up against the background, but without altering the hue. This frequently gets me colors I would never have picked myself, but which go well with the photo and with each other (if the photo is any good to begin with…).

I have no theory for cover fonts (being a duffer and all). I just scrolled through until I found things that looked decent and didn’t seem to me to clash with the rest of the cover. On the front it’s Adobe Caslon Pro Semi-Bold, a classic font with nice clean lines, I thought. There’s a drop-shadow on the title to help separate it from the background a little. On professional covers I frequently see the title and author in different fonts; but that didn’t seem necessary here.

Spines are both hard and easy (spines are only relevant to printed books; for ebooks  you only need the one face of the cover, but for printed books you frequently need a “wraparound”, one image that will be the front cover, spine, and back cover). The graphics hardly matter, and the text is very much set: title and author.  (Often publisher too, but that’s not important for self-publishing usually; your salesmen won’t be scanning the shelves quickly and trying to see how many of the books from your publisher are shelved in a store.) Used the same font and colors here, though a less bold version. And on the spine it’s nearly always right to make the title and author as big as possible.

To get this cover right, I first had to know how many pages were in the book. This told me that the spine needed to be .7882 inches thick. Then they warned me that I shouldn’t count on the spine folds being really exact, and that I should keep vital content at least 1/16″ away from the spine edges. Be sure to read and follow the restrictions given by your printer!

Fill list of layers
Full list of layers

So, in the end this is a 1.06GB Photoshop file with a lot of layers—beyond the ones shown here, there really are 60 buried in the “vector lines” group. Because of how much adjustment I’m doing  I started with 16-bit (per channel) color, which doubles the file size, plus I’m doing it double size at printing resolution; so in fact the file is 8 times as big as a final copy needs to be. But it’s useful to have slack when working!

It’s common to use some space on the front or back cover for a “blurb” about the book, or to reproduce reviews. I’m not doing that here, because I expect our sales channels will be nearly entirely online, and that the sales in bookstores will be in specialty stores where people looking for this specific book come by. Hence, the promotional material doesn’t really help much. I think. You may disagree, or may just be selling your book in a different environment.

Starting From a Book

(Continuing the story of self-publishing a new edition of Pamela’s The Dubious Hills from here.)

This book was written on a computer to begin with, so in the ideal situation we’d still have access to the files with the canonical text. However, this frequently doesn’t work out in cases like this where the book was first published more than 20 years ago.

There are at least three ways this doesn’t work out:

The files may simply be lost.

The files may not be readable with any software we currently have (this could possibly happen even if you’re using the same brand-name word processing program, possibly).

And finally, there may never have been files reflecting the final state of the book.  In fact, this is a near-certainty for anything first published in 1994, because at that time the copy-editing process depended entirely on marks on paper.  So, unless the author bothered to update the files to reflect changes made at that stage, there never were files with what we really want in them.

Hence the title of this article; we’re going to recover the text for our edition of the book from a printed copy.

There are at least two ways to approach this, but I’ve only ever used one because it’s so obviously best.  We could simply retype from the printed copy into some word processor (or dictate it into a voice-typing package).  But I actually use the other approach, scanning the pages and then using OCR software on them. I’ve done this more than half a dozen times over the years, and it’s surprisingly easy (I mean, compared to retyping; it still takes a number of hours).

The particular way I did this one bothers some people, I know; it involves destroying the physical copy of the book I scan to save some time and effort (though not as spectacularly as Vernor Vinge does in Rainbow’s End). I’m going to show pictures below the cut; you have been warned!

Yes, I myself do suffer from the delusion that physical books are nearly sacred objects.  However, books issued in the modern era in many thousands of copies are very rarely in really short supply; I’m willing to sacrifice one copy of such a book in the service of producing a good e-text, especially since that will contribute to making the book available to a modern generation of readers. If the book were rare or valuable, I’d handle things differently; I’d take the extra time and effort to get a scan (and correct the scan; a good chunk of the benefit comes from a better scan leading to better OCR leading to fewer hours of correction) without destroying the book.

(There are fancy scanners that will scan a book, turning the pages themselves, without even breaking the spine. However, we do not own one. We’re doing this on our own, with outlay of time but only the absolute minimum outlay of money, since we have more time than money at the moment.)

Okay; that cut with the pictures below it coming up now….

Continue reading Starting From a Book


I’m working on getting our edition of Pamela’s The Dubious Hills together, and I thought I’d blog about it.

Deciding whether, or when, to go to self-publishing is a big complicated issued and I think it’s very heavily dependent on details about the particular situation, yours, that book, and the current state of the market. I’m not going to try to write about that, it’s really not my area of expertise. John Scalzi has written about it at various times on his blog Whatever, go find those posts over there.

Since this is a previously published book (Tor books, 1994), the first thing of course is making sure we have the rights back. That’s long settled, but it’s important. It was close to being reissued by a publisher, in connection with the next book, but that fell apart (as industry conditions changed, I guess), and the rights are back with us.

The next thing we do is decide how to publish and distribute.  We thought a number of goals were obvious: make both paper and ebook versions available, try not to be too dependent on a single distribution channel, and try to keep open the possibility of bookstore sales and library orders. This requires some extra effort.

(For somebody self-publishing a first novel, bookstore and library sales probably aren’t important, or perhaps what I mean is “possible”; luckily, it’s easy enough to add those distribution channels later if you get prominent enough to make it likely that you’d actually get sales from them. One of the important things to remember is that most of the deals you set up in the digital eco-system are short term and easily terminated, very different from traditional publishing.)

The really easy thing to do is to publish a paper version through CreateSpace and click the button to also send an ebook version to Amazon (Amazon owns CreateSpace), but that leaves us completely dependent on one company. It also means the book isn’t available on the various non-Kindle e-reader devices (except to people who know how to use Calibre), and can’t be bought from for example iTunes. One fairly easy solution to that is Smashwords, which will distribute to a bunch of places for you.

So that’s what we’re doing. Note that, while the first book we’re publishing ourselves is technically now available, it certainly has not been out there long enough to validate our strategy. I’m saying what we chose and why, but I’m not saying how well it’s worked, because we simply don’t know yet.

Putting out an edition of a previously-published book is quite easy. You’re not, at that point, looking for input of the “developmental editing” sort, and you generally aren’t looking for a new copy-edit either (if you’re doing a revised edition, that changes things). You need a new cover (or you need to acquire rights to use the old cover), but other than that it’s all there waiting to be published.

Of course, people don’t stumble onto it and buy a copy just by chance very often. The big problem in selling books today is being noticed. In our particular case, Pamela has a fairly small but relatively dedicated base of existing readers, and Pamela and I, and our friends, have enough web / social media presence that we can get the word out to most of the people who care fairly simply. That should give us a decent number of up-front sales (as I write this, we have 6 sales of the trade paperback of Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary and 19 pre-orders of the ebook, within two days of it becoming possible to order at all, and before most of our attempts at promotion).

That strategy doesn’t do anything to push out into new readers. A lot of that happens because of people recommending the book to friends, though, and a new edition gets people talking about Pamela again (“buzz”), which reminds people who have been intending to try her books, and all these little things add up. Also, one reason for the timing on this being where it is is that Pamela is a guest at Vericon next month, which with luck will contribute to more buzz.

We’ve named our self-publishing operation Blaisdell Press, and it has a web page.

The next step will be getting a nice electronic manuscript file. Which I will deal with in another post.

Announcing Blaisdell Press

Pamela and I have been working since at least last summer on bringing some of her older works back into print ourselves.

It’s finally happening.  We’re calling the operation Blaisdell Press, and our first products will come out March 1st—paperback and electronic editions of Pamela’s 1998 novel Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary.

We expect to go on to publish The Dubious Hills, and possibly a standalone electronic edition of “Owlswater” (a trade paperback of something that short would have to be kind of expensive per word, but we might try that too to see if people want to buy it).

And then—we plan to publish the first edition of Pamela’s new novel Going North.