Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Self-publishing - The Mechanics #2

Last time I shared my experience with two POD companies and the options they offered on cover design and formatting. This time I'm going to look at the artwork and software I've used to create covers.

There are numerous companies that sell images and photographs - type it into a search engine and you'll find them. The one I've used is although I've also been looking at recently. Again, dreamstime was recommended to me by a friend, and has been an invaluable source of images and inspiration for me. They even have a section of free images for use on blogs, and for those of us who don't have the budget for commissioned artwork, they are a reasonable alternative. Virtually every image on this blog is from there, aside from the odd personal photograph or those donated by friends.

But a great image isn't necessarily enough. I originally bought two beautiful images to use as potential book covers for a good price with the right to print 500,000 copies (maybe a bit ambitious in terms of actual books, but I can aim high! And there's always bookmarks, business cards etc.)

Both of these images work well as book covers in their own right. But I wanted the ability to do something more, something more creative or ambitious. As a teenager I would often draw images to accompany my stories, but my artistic abilities haven't grown with me, and I find it frustrating that I can't visually display my stories in the same way that I sketch them in literary terms.

Which meant finding software that could do the job. And it had to be free.

So a friend suggested GIMP. It's free to download, but I found it very hard to use. I made one piece of artwork and created the heading for my blog, but that was as far as I could go.

Then I was given a link for a free software trial for creating book covers. Click the link to see my review of Book Cover Pro, but the upshot was that I struggled with it; I found it a little limited and complicated without achieving the results that I was hoping for. Perhaps if I'd been able to devote more time to it during the trial I might have done better, but you can try it out for yourself here.

With the trial expired and the software expensive to buy, I was back to square one.

Then, on a whim, I posted a request via Twitter. I had two responses. One suggested GIMP, which I'd already tried, and the other suggested Aviary Phoenix.Whereas GIMP is a free download, Aviary is based on the website. On first investigation it looked horribly complicated, more so than GIMP, but it did provide some very helpful step-by-step tutorials. So I gave it a try - and failed abysmally. Again, my technical abilities let me down. Even though I followed the steps and re-read carefully, what came up on my screen was nothing like the example given, and I gave up. A more technically-minded friend offered to go back to GIMP and refresh her memory on its use and then take me through it, so I kept my fingers crossed.

But I'm stubborn. Oh, very much so! Being defeated by a piece of software wasn't something I was happy about, so I went back and tried Aviary again. And discovered that on my original attempt I'd messed up the very first step which meant that any others would fail no matter how closely I obeyed the instructions of the tutorial. D'oh!

So now, I can turn these:

into this:

And then with a little work on, into this:

OK, it might not look like the cover of the next blockbuster, but the difference is that 'I' made it myself. :)

The down side is that all of this takes time and experimentation, and a little cash to buy the images. However, for someone on a small budget with a few hours to spend on it, it's a more realistic option than commissioning artwork where, even with a stunning and capable artist, their final effort may still not be the image you had in your head.

Have you tried designing your own covers? What did you use and how happy were you with the results? Or did you commission something? I'd love to know, but I hope some of this helps you. :)

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