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Technical Considerations for Covers: eBooks and Print

Posted on 2014-Mar-04

by Paul Salvette

You Can’t Fake a Good Cover

Unless you’re a graphic designer or artist, it is highly recommended that you invest in a professionally-designed cover. You might be able to get away with editing from your neighbor, and you might be able to get away with uploading a Word document to KDP to convert into the eBook formats (although we hope you contact BB eBooks for our ridiculously low prices on high-quality eBook formatting), but you absolutely cannot have a second-rate cover. A good cover is even more essential for highly-competitive genres like Erotica, Contemporary Romance, and Crime/Thriller.

A good cover should make your book stand out, use genre-appropriate fonts, be risqué while pushing the limits of the vendor’s censorship policy (depending on your genre), and it must be readable as a thumbnail and full-page image. You can get a good idea for covers in your genre by looking at the excellent covers on Joel Friedlander’s cover design awards. Conversely, you can engage in snark by examining the crummy book covers at the appropriately-named Lousy Book Covers.

We don’t have the artistic talent in-house to do covers, so we highly recommend the following cover designers, some of whom go as low as $125 (a bargain at twice the price):

Let’s talk about the specs on covers as this is a constant source of confusion among the publishing community. Whether or not you are an artist, it is important to understand the technical considerations for covers. We have trouble ourselves just trying to keep up with all the changing requirements at the various vendors, so please let us know if we messed something up.

Embedded Covers for eBooks

At BB eBooks, we often get the question from clients about why they need to send us their covers when their eBooks are formatted. The reason is that eBooks must function as a standalone package, and no eBook is complete without a cover. EPUB2 and EPUB3, both Fixed-Layout and reflowable type eBooks, should always have the covers embedded on the first page. Additionally for EPUB2/EPUB3, there should be a link to the cover page in the Table of Contents. There is coding on the cover page that maximizes the cover image to the edge of the reading device’s viewport no matter what its size.

MOBI/KF8 is slightly different, since the Kindle Publishing Guidelines specify that there should not be any hyperlinks to the cover for reasons known only to Amazon. Fortunately, Kindle users can access the cover from the proprietary Kindle menu by tapping on “Cover” or scrolling backward to the beginning of the eBook. On the Kindle Previewer, you can access the Cover by scrolling backward or pressing CTRL+R.

PDF eBooks should also have the cover, since they must be standalone. Likewise, for All Romance Ebooks PDFs, a cover should be embedded on page 1 of the PDF since many All Romance Ebooks’ readers are going to run the PDF through Calibre. However, when publishing a .doc through Smashwords, the cover needs to be uploaded separately and there should not be a cover on the first page, since Smashwords’ Meatgrinder will compile the eBooks using the cover uploaded separately.

Generally, embedding a cover that is 1024px in height at 85% quality will work great on any eReading device. This usually equates to around 150–200kb of overhead in the eBook. Large image sizes (i.e. >2MB) can actually cause serious lag problems on eReading devices, and it is not necessary to embed the one your cover designer sends (it is easy for BB eBooks to downsize using a program like Gimp or Photoshop, so please feel free to send whatever you have). However, please note that Amazon is adjusting their guidelines and will require covers to be embedded at a larger size to support the new Kindle Fire HDX. This means the MOBI sizes will be much bigger, but thankfully the cover image size is not a factor in the dreaded delivery fee calculation if you’ve taken the 70% royalty option.

Ratio and Color Space for Covers

A fool’s errand is trying to resize the ratio of your eBook cover’s height to width based on a specific device. Amazon is notorious for providing arbitrary cover image guidelines based on whatever Kindle Fire version they have released that month. If your eBook cover is 1.3–1.6 (height:width) ratio, it will look fine anywhere. Go with what you feel looks best, and don’t restrict your artistic vision based on the latest gadget of the month.

Also, please note that covers should be in the RGB color space as they are intended for digital reading. Your cover designer can handle this for you, but it’s easy to do with Photoshop or Gimp. DPI isn’t really an issue for digital images (since you’re not printing it out), but 300 DPI works fine on any device.

Marketing Cover Images

One note of confusion is that all eBook vendors require you to upload your cover separately. This is for the eBook’s product page and not what gets embedded in the eBook. For these covers, the resolution specifications are different, but it’s always wise to upload a JPEG in the RGB color space. Below are the specs for the major vendors; but, basically you’ll be fine uploading a 1600x2400px JPEG that is under 2MB at any major vendor:

  • Amazon Kindle Store – Minimum of 1000px on the longest side and a height/width ratio of 1.6:1. (1563x2500px recommended by BB eBooks)
  • Barnes & Noble Nook Store – Between 5KB and 2MB and the sides must be at least 750px in length. (1600x2400px recommended by BB eBooks)
  • Kobo – Should be no larger than 2MB. (1600x2400px recommended by BB eBooks)
  • Google Play – No guidelines. (1600x2400px recommended by BB eBooks)
  • iBookstore – Minimum width of 1400px. (1600x2400px recommended by BB eBooks)
  • All Romance Ebooks200x300px for marketing cover only [embedded cover should have normal specs]. (200x300px recommended by BB eBooks)
  • Draft2Digital – “A tall rectangle” at 1600x2400px. (1600x2400px recommended by BB eBooks)
  • Smashwords – Minimum width of 1400px and height should be 1.3-1.65 times greater than width (1600x2400px recommended by BB eBooks)

Print Covers for CreateSpace/Lightning Source

The cover for the print edition is a different story. For both CreateSpace and Lightning Source it must be one big PDF file that includes the back cover, spine, and cover—including a bleed space. The PDF must be uploaded separately from the PDF print interior. The PDF should be 300 dpi, and there are helpful automated template builders for both CreateSpace and Lightning Source that provide a PDF layout based on the trim size, page count, and paper type of the print interior. At CreateSpace, they can add the ISBN barcode in the lower-right corner of the back cover after you upload the PDF, but at Lightning Source the ISBN barcode must be added by you or your cover designer in the lower-center of the back cover. CreateSpace allows the cover to be in the RGB color space; however, CMYK is recommended (since it will be printed and RGB is intended for digital display). Lightning Source requires the cover to be in the CMYK color space and it must be PDF/X-1a:2001 or PDF/X-3:2002 compliant. Preflight tools in Adobe Acrobat Pro (press Ctrl+Shift+X) can help test for this compatibility.

Often the file size of the PDF cover wraps is massive (i.e. >5MB), but that’s okay since they will be printed so device lag isn’t an issue—obviously. You have to be careful about having writing that extends into the bleed area, since it might get cut when the print book is created. The templates from Lightning Source and CreateSpace are helpful in this regard.

To determine the spine width on the print cover, it depends on the page count of the POD interior and the type of paper (cream paper is slightly thicker). The page count of a POD interior can depend on a large number of factors including trim size, font face, font size, outer margins, and gutter margin—just to name a few. A good rule of thumb is 300 words/page for the POD interior, but we have seen interiors ranging between 150-550 words per page depending on what the author wanted for their book. For this reason, it is best to wait until the POD interior is approved for publishing before finalizing a spine width and preparing the cover PDF.

Label: Technical and Design

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