Getting Graphic with Your Work

My friend and fellow blogger over at Mad Genius Club, Cedar Sanderson, has been doing a series of posts on cover creation. Today, she tackles not only that but postcards and bookmarks as well. So, with her permission, I’m reposting it here since it is something we all need to keep in mind as we look at ways to promote our work. You can find her other posts on the topic here and here.

Getting Graphic With Your Work by Cedar Sanderson

And I’m not talking about describing the gory bits in gruesome detail. No, I had planned to do a walk-through tutorial today about creating a logo for your writing business. I hadn’t anticipated two things. One, to do a proper logo you need to create a vector file rather than image or illustration. I’ll get into what that means when I do the post – for today it matters because a week ago I ended my subscription to the full Adobe Creative Cloud, dropping back to Photoshop and Lightroom, and that means I don’t have Adobe Illustrator for showing how to do a logo. Which isn’t a bad thing, because most of you don’t have that, either, or you wouldn’t be asking me to show you how to do this. I did a little research, and downloaded Inkscape, the cousin of my favorite freeware graphic program, Gimp. Then I ran into the second thing I hadn’t planned on. You see, I’m getting married next week. I’m also traveling for several days attendant to that. I am afraid I ran out of time this week to teach myself Inkscape and create a tutorial. So! I put together some odds and ends of graphic design projects that can be useful to you all, and one that I was specifically asked for. I will be around to chat in comments, so feel free to ask questions. Oh, and Amanda wanted me to point out that things I discuss in this post, like guides and flattening layers, are pertinent to those of you working on print covers. So pay attention!

Postcards and Bookmarks

Having something to hand to someone who is interested in your book is a great thing. You can, of course, default to a standard business card, nothing wrong with that. You can do a lot with those. But today I’m going to talk specifically about the layout and requirements of the bigger, more art-heavy promo material. I take them with me to conventions to sign for people who own my ebooks but want a signature. I hand them out to… anyone who remotely looks interested when I say that I am an author. I give my local libraries packets of 50 bookmarks to keep with all the others on their counter. I can mail the postcards to libraries, schools, and other venues and promote myself and my books (I rarely actually do that, but it’s a possibility).

While you are shopping for a printer, you will discover that there are a lot of variations in size available. I’m using a 4×6 inch postcard, the standard size, for this batch. I may switch it up with the next one. Book marks can be laid out in the same way, so I won’t cover them individually now.

In Gimp, open a new file. Set the size to 4 inches by 6 inches (or what your printer requires), and then drop the Advanced Menu down, and set the dpi to 300 or 400. Do not leave it at 72 dpi, the default, as this will be rejected by any reputable printer and will look terrible if printed. Now that you have your new file open, pay attention to the print requirements for bleed. You will want there to be no live elements (important text or graphics) within 0.25 inches of the edges. You can click on the rulers at the left side and top and drag what is called a ‘guide’ to mark  your bleed area so you don’t put something there by accident.

I chose to lay out this postcard with three covers and represent my Pixie trilogy. I would not put more than four covers on a card, you don’t want it to appear cluttered. postcard layout

Open as Layers (found in the File menu dropdown) the covers or art you want to use. I generally use a jpg or png version of the covers so I don’t have to manage umpteen zillion layers in GIMP. Scale the covers to the desired size, you can do this easily with a right-click on the image and selecting Scale Layer. Using the move tool, place the art where you think you want it. Keep in mind you may have to move it again. This card was designed to have text on the front and a blank back, but you will note there is not a lot of text. This is a tool to interest them in what you have to offer, enough that they will take the next step. In the highlighted box, I have my website address. In the other corner, I have a QR code. These are scannable with a smartphone or tablet: this particular code will take them to Pixie Noir’s Amazon sales page, where they can look inside and read the sample. I want them there so they can buy as soon as I hook them.

When you’re ready to print, you will save this file as a pdf, just as you did for the cover for print. Make sure when you do so that you first merge all the layers, but save your work before you start this process. If you look closely at the screenshot above, you will see several layers of images, text, and other elements. All of those need to be flattened, or bad things can happen in the printing process. Right click on each layer thumbnail and select ‘merge down’ from the menu. DO NOT SAVE your xcf file at this point! You want to preserve all your xcf (Gimp) files for later. I’ll show you why in a minute. Now that you have everything smooshed, drop down the File Menu and select Export. Export your file as a pdf. Close your file and click discard changes.

Batch-Editing Art and Covers

This last week I had a chance to help out a friend who was in a bind. He had commissioned art for the covers of several stories, but they lacked a unifying element to tie the series together, and he wasn’t sure what to do to further signal his specific genre with the typography. This is not something many of you will ever have to do, most of us deal with one book at a time, but there are occasions when it’s a useful task, such as aligning covers for a series. And I told Dave I’d show how I did it, so he can tackle it himself if it happens again.

What I did was to open the first layer of artwork and lay the text out on it, along with the graphic unifying element (tentacles, to signal Lovecraftian cthuloid elements in the stories).

I’ll explain how I added the tentacles. After poring through the Dollar Photo Club for something suitable, I came up with the illustration below.


This is an illustration rather than a vector, which is better, but it will work.

The first thing you need to do is right-click the layer thumbnail in the righthand window, and look at the bottom of the menu, where you will choose ‘add alpha channel’ which allows you to have a transparency rather than white (default) background. Then I chose the ‘select’ menu, and then ‘select by color’ and clicked on the black around the octopus. Then I clicked on delete and eliminated all the black, leaving a suitable graphic.

The graphic element, I can now manpulate it without overlying it's background on the art.

Finally, I had one cover laid out with title, author name, and graphic unifying element (hereafter GUE).

Note all the layers in the righthand window.

Choose ‘Save as” from the file menu and name the file appropriately. Save it as an XCF file for now, you may need to manipulate it again. You will note the GUE is seen in the upper left and lower right corners. I had put just a little bit showing, and changed the mode (see top of righthand window, above opacity) of the layer to make it look like I wanted. Experiment with this, dodge, burn, lighten… powerful effects here.

Now that I’m happy with the fonts, layout, and this cover, I can move onto the next one. I simply click the little eye next to the layer thumbnail and make the art disappear. Eventually I will delete the unused layers, but I want all of them right now in case I need to make changes.


The art isn’t gone, it’s just not showing on the work area any longer.

I've already altered the title, and the GUE, the author's name I don't touch.

Now I go up and open the art for this cover from the File>Open as Layers menu. You may need to drag the art layer thumbnail in the righthand window down, until it is under the other elements. You may also need to scale it so it is the same size as the background you see above. Play around with your GUE layer some more, until it looks right on the art.

What the final product of another cover in the same series looks like

Using Save As, name and save this file, then repeat with changing the title and the art for each cover you are doing. Dave had six, but it took very little time once I had every thing set up to manipulate the art and GUE under the layers of the text and modifying elements (drop shadows and that sort of thing).

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