Tag Archives: Cedar Sanderson

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).

Saturday morning thoughts

Real life this week has taken priority over everything. Not that I’m complaining. For once, I have been thrilled to put aside everything else while real life upsets my schedule and puts my writing on the back burner. The downside, however, is that I don’t have much of a blog for today. I promise that will change next week. But for this week, well, I’m enjoying having my son home after more than a year and family always comes first.

Still, I won’t leave you guys in a lurch. There are several posts that caught my eye this morning. The first is a guest post over at According to Hoyt by indie author Christopher Nuttal. Chris is a prime example that authors can make good as going the indie route, if you work hard and remember that this is a business. His post is especially important, in my opinion, because he reminds us that we have to keep an eye on the economics of writing.

I agree with almost everything Chris has to say. I would only add, or perhaps expand, on one thing. When talking about how much conceptual editors cost as opposed to line editors, he notes that the conceptual editor is usually less than the line editor. That is true if you are talking, as he is, of only a basic conceptual edit job. But if you are talking a full content edit — where the editor not only spots the potential problems but offers suggestions on how to correct them, where the editor makes suggestions about the actual structure of the novel, etc., — you will pay much more for that sort of service.

I also agree, at least substantially with what he says about the paid promotion sites. I have used a couple and have seen a small spike in sales but I haven’t been able to track anything long term coming from them. Now, there may be one more factor to the success of the use of these services that may play a role in whether they are worth the money or not. It could be that the author needs to have a recurring presence in the service’s email to its customers, on its website, etc., so a name recognition of sorts builds up. I’m not sure but it is something I’ve been wondering.

Now for something I disagree with totally and completely. It seems Ursula K. Le Guin is still on the “Amazon is evil” bandwagon. This isn’t the first time she has railed against Amazon. She, like some other traditionally published authors, blame Amazon for most, if not all, of traditional publishing’s problems. While I will admit that Amazon is competition for bookstores and it has taken stands against publishers in order to keep the cost of books and e-books lower than publishers would like, there are other factors that have led to the state traditional publishing finds itself in now.

Failure to adapt to changing customer demands and to changing tech is one of those factors. The genesis of the big box bookstores, like Barnes & Noble and Borders, pushed the locally owned bookstores out of the market. Poor business planning and over-expansion, combined with the failure to recognize the importance of e-books, helped run Borders out of business and has continued to haunt B&N. Instead of railing against Amazon and claiming it doesn’t remember the past and doesn’t see the future, she should look closer at what her beloved traditional publishers have done — and not done — over the last 50 years. They have been so mired in the belief that if something has worked in the past, it should now. The problem with that is our technology and reader expectations and desires have changed. So, instead of adapting, traditional publishing cut costs by cutting loose many of their mid-list writers, writers who were the backbone of the company because they could be counted on to sell X-number of copies each and every time.

Finally, for those who are looking to go indie and want to put out print copies of your books, my friend Cedar Sanderson has a very good article, the first of two, on formatting your print cover. You can find it over at the Mad Genius Club.

Now, to find food and coffee and maybe write a little bit this morning before real life decides to resume again.

Writing with Love

(This is a reblog from Mad Genius Club this morning. Sanford and Cedar are good friends and I have watched from the sidelines not only as Cedar has grown into her own as a writer — a very good one — but also as the two of them have become a couple. I will be back next week, after I have finished the clean up from the house flooding in the heavy rains this week. Until then, have fun, read, and write.) 

This is a guest post by Sanford Begley. You can find his other work at the Otherwhere Gazette where he primarily writes wit and wisdom with a fannish tinge. Around here, he’s probably better known as Cedar’s First Reader, for reasons that shall become clear in the post. And I’m very happy he wrote this, I am up to my neck in a series of essays for the final exam of my Criminal Law class. See you all in the comments! 

I write nonfiction and opinion pieces. Those things should be written from the head. Fiction should be written from the heart. This isn’t to say that the heart doesn’t inform nonfiction, nor that you shouldn’t use your head writing fiction. Just that the emphasis is different. It is sort of like the difference between debating someone and wooing them. In debate you often use emotion to sway people, but to win you usually need facts, figures, and logic. In courtship you win her by wooing her heart, not by showing her that you are on track to make at least middle management by 35. Not that showing yourself as successful hurts any.

I can write lyrical nearly poetic scenes such as:
Today it is gloomy here in Ohio. The sky an opalescent gray extending all the way to the      ground. There is a mist in the air, too fine to be called rain and hanging so well that an umbrella is  useless. The temperature is so warm that no one could stand to wear rain gear. The students at the university are dealing with it by ignoring it, shorts and t shirts are the order of the day. Altogether it brings my emotions to a certain spot where I want to scream. “WET T-SHIRT DAY”

This does not mean that I can write fiction, it means I can use descriptive language and humor. Important for fiction writers but only a start. To write good fiction you must touch something inside yourself and inside your reader. You must be able to make him feel: good, bad something. If he doesn’t get an emotional charge out of your writing you have failed.

Sarah Hoyt has been known to say that to write well you must open a vein and bleed upon the page. This is what captures the hearts and minds of your potential readers. I think she has the essence of it. I get this because I have seen it.

As many of you know I am engaged to an author, Cedar Sanderson. As her fiance I have been privileged to watch her create some wonderful work from her mind and heart.  I am going to use her work to illustrate some of my points today. This is not because I am pushing her books, though if this results in new sales and fans I would be pleased. It is because I have been able to watch her so closely. I know quite a few authors, to some degree or another. I know her deeply, thoroughly,  intimately…Get your minds out of the gutter, I was talking about as an author. No, it doesn’t matter that my mind went there first. Behave yourselves!

We will start with an unusual example of putting her heart into her work, One Eyed Dragon A simple story of a tattoo artist with a very unusual customer in some variant of ancient Japan. The customer is protectress of the local village. The artist newly arrived and with a past, hinted at, but not detailed. At the time Cedar wrote this she was immersed in a course on Oriental art and history. Her love of the art and period spilled out onto the page . The story was a shock to her to write because it fit in with nothing she was doing. Her fascination with her studies made it happen.

Another example of putting emotion into a story is more personal for her.  Her story Memories Of The Abyss deals with the emotional struggles of her first marriage. This is the only story she has publicly stated that she wrote it by bleeding onto the page. Her pain both the remembered and the lingering pain of any failed marriage come through completely. She speaks eloquently though obliquely of her struggles and this comes through clearly. Someone who has never been in an abusive relationship can get a taste of it vicariously. Spilling heart’s blood like this can also help with catharsis for the writer.

Vulcan’s Kittens was a different type of putting her heart into it. Originally written in letters to her daughter at camp a mother’s dreams of a good life for her daughter seep onto the pages and into the hearts of the reader. Oddly enough, this Ya story has a lot of senior citizen male fans. Simply because that innocent love shines through. All love, after all, isn’t between a man and a woman.

The love in her writing That I am most familiar with is the love written into her fantasy trilogy Pixie For Hire Which consists of Pixie Noir, Trickster Noir, andDragon Noir. Pixie started as a short to make me laugh. Somehow talking about it expanded it into a trilogy…so far. I was a little down so she wrote about the tiny guy with the great big gun. As the books coalesced a lot of her love began to show. While I am not Lom and he isn’t based on me there were parts of our lives that got written into it.The reluctance of an older man who felt he was a terrible catch was taken from the early period of our relationship, Certainly the hesitations as the romance moved along were reflections of real life. In Trickster Noir a major plot point was the recovery of Lom from a near fatal experience. It rings true to men who have experienced it. That is because Cedar has had several men in her life who had to recover from such things. She captured the experience well enough that it can be painful to read about. Her love of books and libraries winds through the trilogy culminating in the library scenes in Dragon Noir.

I don’t know if you need to bleed into a story for it to be good. I do know that emotions liberally laced through it help. So if you want to write a story that stirs people, make sure it stirs you.