How to Learn Photoshop for Bookcovers

 

Photoshop is the professional standard for book covers. The question used to be if Photoshop CC was worth the nearly absurd cost. For the first time desktop software leasing made sense. 6,000 bucks is unbelievably expense. Adobe’s Photoshop CC is now 19 dollars a single month or 10 dollars every month for a year.

Photoshop_icon.svg

The big question is do you really need Photoshop CC or will the consumer version, Photoshop Elements, be good enough? Photoshop Elements is missing a few things that I think separate something that looks professional and something that looks shabby. What features am I talking about? Blend modes and the opacity slider. The blend modes allow more control in the way image layer over each other. If composting two images is required, blend modes are huge. The opacity slider controls how strongly one image imposes on everything below. Another big one the text kerning or fine tuning the spacing and position of each letter. Almost every single book cover I’ve ever seen use kerning, stretching letter, composting, and blending tweaks.

 

stock images

Making a book cover requires a few things. Access to Photoshop, a book cover idea, a repertoire of Photoshop effects, and a collection of stock photos that can be used for a cover. The last one is the toughest if graphic design isn’t your day job. Look at this list over on Medium for free stock image sources. Check the usage rights always. Watch a ton of Youtube videos to build a repertoire of Photoshop effects. Look at an earlier blog post for book cover ideas. Now we have everything we need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photoshop isn’t a daunting thing to learn. The entire process is basically the tweaking and playing around with sliders governing everything in there. You can be artistic or not. It all comes down to comparing an image before and after every change that’s made. What looks better to your eye and such.

 

I’ll show something that I stumbled into while trying to do something else. I had this image. I wanted to add another image around the color gradations (one color changes to another). I tried making a highly detailed mask by copying the picture and getting the difference from the original slightly shifted. That got me something strange. It looked like an interference pattern.

 

I tried removing the color from both. Didn’t work. Then I started playing around. Trying every possible combination of color and no color, each blend mode, opacity level. Something along the way looked interesting. That’s how this happened. More details here.

 

In two weeks, I’ll post a gallery of everything I’ve done so far, photo-manipulations and book covers. Another fiction post coming up soon.

 

Later guys.

 

GK

subscribe button

The Art of Query: Figuring this Out

 

After finishing and editing a book, the next step is publication. I’ve had a backup plan in case traditional publications doesn’t work out, self-publishing. There’re a lot of reasons to try traditional publishing. The reach of the work and the focus on writing versus marketing, among others.

 

Most publishers don’t consider work that isn’t agented. You can find a few smaller publishing houses that consider work directly from writers. So I needed an agent. The whole publishing business is completely foreign to me. Jane Friedman’s site helped a ton. Everything in this post is from there in some form. A great resource for anyone trying to get into the novel writing business.

jane-friedman.jpg

Getting an agent requires a finished manuscript. Then you write a query letter to agents. A query is a cover letter brought to its pinnacle. Basically, this query asks if an agent wants to receive your full manuscript. The easiest way through this process is with someone vouching for you. Very similar to job hunting. If someone can speak for you within the company, getting the job becomes much easier. Writing conferences are the best place as I’ve read. Still, need a query but much easier.

 

I don’t have any contacts in the publishing business. I need something that works as a great query. Getting traditionally published is very difficult.

jane friedman2

This article I found on Jane Friedmann’s website explains how to write one. First, find an agent that’ll like your book based on what they’ve represented before. Then research the agent and personalize the first paragraph as to how you book is a good fit for them. “I’m querying you because you represented X. I think [My book] would interest you.” Something like that.

 

Then you list the title and word count. The following paragraph is a short paragraph that sounds like the book. It should extol what the book’s about, it’s virtues, and hook the reader. This is basically like a summary with a hook.

 

The final paragraph is about your writing related biographical information. Finally, end with asking them to request the full manuscript. And “Thank you for the consideration” or something like that.

 

Include everything else as directed by the Agent’s submission guidelines. Take this very seriously and double check everything. Agent’s name included.

 

This is the first query I sent out to agents the first time around. As you can see I didn’t exactly follow those guidelines.

 

I’m writing you because you helped [X] by [Y] get published.

Please follow Connor Abby in Remember, a science fiction novel with more than a hint of science that runs in a space of 120.000+ words.

Connor Abby — a normal, everyday research scientist — ends up in the middle of an age-old conflict between altruistic science and a science-obsessed government, culminating in the murder of Irena Mekova. Connor undoubtedly gets embroiled in the situation partly due to factors beyond his control. Join him on a journey through a world of tech, dreams, and shifting alliances. Discover what he’s really capable of. Is Connor ultimately responsible? Is he guilty of murder? You decide!

Please request the full manuscript.

Thank you for the consideration,

 

I didn’t get positive replies. I thought the query didn’t really match the writing style of Remember. I tried a different query. This one below. I should’ve cut the biographical information. Nothing related to writing.

 

I am writing to you because, you helped [X] by [Y] get published. Please consider Remember, a science fiction novel that runs in the space of 107,077 words.

Conor passes through life streamlined against major shifts in the wind, until an engineered car accident sends his world off-kilter and onto a tangential trajectory. Conor Abby, scientist (neuroscience research), doctor, thinker, realist, friend, employee, lover, recovering from memory loss, everything feels new, but still familiar, living life, moving on, surviving with who he is, a person under pressure, someone’s thumb, forced into things beyond his control, espionage, murder, arson, thievery, subterfuge, almost anything, without losing the person he is, which is what exactly at this point? Who in the year 2417 takes interest in such a fellow? Whom? Well… everyone… from the government, terrorist groups, and possibly others but why? His ability to lie beyond methods of detection? Maybe his recollection of dreams, vivid and dense with detail, or maybe the actions he wills into being. There is just something about him that reconciles these roles, attributes even. Who is Conor Abby? Find out in Remember.

I have Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative disorder. This gives me a vast amount of medical experience that I’m more than willing to talk about. My life story begins with emigration from India under the auspices of the H1-B visa at age five. Most people think of me as smart, remembering information well, motivated, happy, and without any college degrees. What just a few people know is I have been meditating for various amounts of time, starting around ten years ago.

Please request the full manuscript of Remember.

Thank you for the consideration,

 

That didn’t change the results.

 

I had a lot to think about. Either my query, my writing, or something I sent wasn’t working. I did an internet search for first book length. It turned out, getting something over 50,000 words published as a new writer is very hard. That agreed with everything I’d seen. I knew getting Remember down to 50,000 words would be really hard.

 

I decided to self-publish Remember as an e-book and physical form. A post about that is coming up shortly. I delved into another writing project to reach a few goals. Under 50,000 words, the law of averages when it came to characters, four perspectives, relatable characters, real locations, New York, and 6 months for the first draft. It basically takes me 6 months to simply type 50,000 words. That’ll come soon. During this whole query process, I was writing the sequel to Remember. That’s on hold. Wrote up an entire plan. And wrote about 1/16 of the first draft in 2 months. That’s going up soon.

 

GK

subscribe button

What Should My Novel’s Cover Look Like?

 

Book covers are the first thing any potential reader sees. A book shouldn’t be judged by it’s cover, but first impressions are really important. I’m writing this to explore my ideas about how to decide what should be on a book cover.

 

I learned a lot by watching these videos from Chip Kidd. He talked about a few theories of graphic design. Don’t put a word in text and show a picture of the same thing.

Mystery or clarity. The cover should gently nudge a reader in one direction or clearly show what the book is about. Carefully decide on a balance.

The final video is a collection of book titles, book descriptions, and cover iterations.

Also, keep in mind, the cover should fit the conventions of the genre. The advice I’ve heard is go to a library, find a lot of books in your genre, and identify trends. I’ll give the covers of books I’ve read and what I think are the conventions for each.

Science Fiction: Frequently shows something that’s different in the world that’s created inside. Basically, the story element that’s makes it Science Fiction. Sans-serif font.

Fantasy: The person or object that makes the book fantasy. Frequently a person. Sans and Serif fonts.

Thriller: Person or text. Big font. High contrast. Simple lettering usually.

Young Adult: Sans. One main graphic or image. Background that isn’t too distracting. Clear images.

Romance: Two people together or something symbolizing love. Slightly interesting font.

Literary: Interesting text. Simple background. Setting, object, or overall idea.

Fiction: Person, place, or thing of focus in the story.

Mystery: Something that relates to the scene of the crime, victim, or perpetrator.

Non-fiction: Person, place, or idea the book is about.

 

I hope this helps. Graham Kar out.

 

GK

subscribe button

The Most Basic Cover You Can Make

 

Remember is in need of a new cover. I made one that doesn’t look right. That was before researching anything and based on the covers of other Science Fiction books I’ve read. It was totally free and I made it myself. I used free graphic design software available easily on the web. I used Inkscape, something very similar to Adobe Illustrator.

inkscape

I went through the built-in tutorials that guide you through the tools available in the app. That was more than what I needed for a simple cover. I knew the results wouldn’t look professional, but it would be close enough. I would first need to find a stock photo. With Inkscape, I would add the title, author, and back description. I already wrote all of that. The best source for free stock images that can be left almost unchanged is Unsplash.com. They have lots of free images that can be used anywhere including print, physical output, or digital. I looked through hundreds searching for anything that could work. Going the free route without editing the pictures, it was really tough to find exactly what I was looking for. I also downloaded anything that I liked for future use.

silhoutte into space

Remember is about a guy that loses his identity. He tries to regain the person he was. I think this picture shows that. A person looking up at the stars. Stars are up in the abyss of outer space and could be thought to symbolize neurons. Star gazing could be thought of as a form of discovery.

 

I used the text tool to add the other components. The letter spacing sometimes required adjustment to make everything even.

I discovered a big problem. My protagonist is male and the silhouette is clearly female. I needed to cut out some areas of black and replace it with some part of the background. It’s much easier to do that in Photoshop. I used Inkscape. I drew shapes where the black needed to be removed. I copied the image and everything I drew. I deselected everything. I moved the drawn shapes over a place that matched the area I wanted to replace. Then I selected the image followed by the drawn shape. I went to: Object > Clip > Set. That cut the shape outlines from the background image. I repositioned the cutouts where the black had to be removed.

That got me this. Second attempt but good I think. I didn’t look like a book cover from a publishing house still.

I also made this alternate cover with a picture I found. I counter shaded the text.

altcover3

Later Blog Readers.

 

GK

subscribe button

The Things Separating Man and Beast

 

A fictional construct of the mind.

 


 

I hang, suspended by this ball of cast iron bars, high up in some leafy mammoth. A firm, swift tug on the rope holding the cage — through some form of pulley — sends me down from whatever method of comfort I have necessarily employed. I land with the grace of land-bound seal or walrus upon the welt-inducing corrugation of metal bars and air. The descent into the light penetrating fog — beautifully hiding the goings-on at the surface — perpetrates an animalistic, lizard-brain originating rage through me.

 

The moment of release lies near as through thickening fog a group emerges. The usual screams and yells of fear, anger, and hatred fill the air accompanied by a single wail of deep longing and hurt. From within the heart of the assembly, two people, my parents come forth, tear soaked and still streaming. I extend one arm by the cage, out to them, which they hang to with desperate and strong hands. At this, my ascent to prison and isolation begin as every other day, my endless cycles of suffering continual. Grabbing the bars (seen as fitting) is the recourse of choice. I shake my cage wildly, issuing a guttural sound from deep down. An abrupt drop of this cell knocks me out.

 

GK

subscribe button

The Books We Read Make a World of Difference

 

Reading will always go hand in hand with writing. Current reads are the tools we use to find what works for readers. Sometimes it’s easy to forget during the solidarity of the writing process that we write for others to read. The accepted content varies over time. For example consider a novel like Vanity Fair. In the 1800’s, extensive backstories and drab descriptions of settings were in good form. Exactly like Shakespeare. In the 1600’s, iambic pentameter or heptameter of George Chapman was popular. These days it’s concise prose without too much unjustified extra content, like backstory and description of the mundane. This will be about a few books I’ve read recently. I won’t keep you in suspense. They are The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, Sharp Objects and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, and Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher.

 

One of my writer friends recommended The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a Pulitzer Prize winner. The story is nearly an alt. history of the heyday in the comic books, the 1940’s through 1960’s. Along with Stan Lee and Sam Kirby, add Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay. Kavalier is a Jewish refugee from Nazi-controlled Europe previously the apprentice of an escape artist. Clay is a misanthropic writer interested in comic books and becoming the next great American writer. Clay penned the inking and Kavalier did the illustrations. The story followed their lives for the next two decades.

kavailer-and-clay

This book taught me a few valuable lessons. Literary prose works for established writers. Getting people to read literary prose from a yet unpublished writer is asking too much. Chabon used lots of words that were new to me like prestidigitation, opprobrium, and razz among others. A pre-collegiate vocabulary isn’t enough to write at a high level. Chabon frequently went on tangents, devoting page space to the stories written by Clay. Large parts of the book detail the fictional comic book heroes, The Escapist  and Luna Moth. I liked these parts a lot. Chabon made me wish to actually read the comics he described. The Escapist thrilled me. Luna Moth was perfectly hot and written with style. Going on tangents can work if done expertly.

 

Two books by Gillian Flynn taught me a lot. I’ll start with Gone Girl, the one I read first. The story started with Nick Dunne waking up next to his wife, Amy Eliot Dunne. We follow along as Nick left their house that morning. We watch the events as he discovered his wife is missing. Nick’s experiences through the investigation is chronicled. In the meantime, we read through Amy’s journal from the night they first met onward.

 

Gone Girl was amazing. Flynn found a way to justify an incredible amount of backstory. In Amy’s journals, we are looking for an evidence that Nick is capable of killing his wife. Amy left a series of limericks as part of this anniversary tradition they have. This allows Nick a chance to relive even more memories as he follows Amy steps before her disappearance. Throughout Amy’s journal, she wrote a series of multiple choice questions. After all, she was a quiz writer at some magazine. The story is allegorical to the dynamic within a marriage. Strong writing brought the story through easily to the reader.

gg

This novel taught me a few important lessons. Great writing with a great story sells. Gone Girl was on the New York Times Best Sellers List for over two years, won two awards, and was made into a movie. A well selling book is relatable. Intense literary tendencies can work if done really well or above par.

 

Sharp Objects is about a young reporter returning to her hometown, to follow-up on a serial murder investigation. Going home, brings back a lot of old memories. Everything is creepy in a way that adds character to a small town. The end is nearly impossible to figure out.

sharp

A few lessons saw me through to the end. There is place for complicated sentences in modern, non-literary fiction. Feel free to include introductory, dependent, independent, and concluding clauses as long as the coherence or smoothness doesn’t reduce. Details are okay if it adds something like a feeling you want to convey, hints, misleads, or does something to make the story better. It doesn’t matter who you are, traditionally publishing a first book over 200 pages is incredibly difficult, if not impossible without something else going for you. Gillian Flynn was a reporter for Entertainment Weekly and her first book is 200 pages long.

 

Station Eleven is a literary science fiction novel that redefined what sells. The story follows the creator of a small batch comic titled as Station Eleven. The comic was about a lone doctor on space station destined for destruction. We follow the comic author’s life through her relationship with a previously famous actor and beyond to death. The actor connected with a young girl on the set of a play. We follow this young girl after some type of apocalypse. Another character is followed through the cataclysm. Basically a literary novel without an easily defined plot but gives a feeling of actually being there.

station 11.jpg

Emily St. John Mandel is a great writer that has a lot to teach. I remember this one sentence that, simply put was amazing. I read this one sentence that perfectly summarized the work duties of an executive assistant. This sounds boring but encapsulated in a richly complex sentence made it interesting beyond belief. After reading the paragraph, it was stunning to see it was all of three sentence. I have a ton of work left to be that good, especially that smooth. Literary novels follow characters, things, and places through a series of event to shed light on existential questions. Keeping the reader oriented can be difficult, but when it works, you can do anything.

 

The Goldfinch follows the young Theodore Decker after his mother dies in a tragic museum explosion. He spends a years with his gambling father in Las Vegas. Then we see years an apprentice and an antique dealer. Finally married to a beautiful woman. Through it all, we feel his emptiness and longing for what he lost all those years ago.

gold2

This book is dense. For maybe the first time, a modern book required me or the reader to slow down and take in everything. I can’t imagine writing and editing a book for ten years. My motivation wouldn’t survive that long for one project. Literary novels create experiences with beautiful imagery. This can be done by making the ordinary pretty or choosing events that allow lavish imagery. Donna Tartt does this through a series of drug experiences and smoky, dark scenes with nothing happening very fast. There is literary and then there is great literary.

 

Infinite Jest is the longest book I’ve ever read. David Foster Wallace wrote a book that’s a traumatic experience to read. It incorporates a little of everything from drug addiction, depression, film theory, world diplomacy, tennis, and North American diplomacy among other things. The story follows a family that owns a tennis academy, a rehabilitation center just down the road, and a meeting between American counter-intelligence agent and a double agent from a Canadian terrorist group. That meeting got annoying with the frequency Wallace returned to it and its length. The use of parentheses to denote the antecedent of pronouns was frustrating. The ending left me disappointed. There was such a long build-up and the ending was outside the time frame of the prose. Wallace doesn’t hold our hand through to the end and shoves us to figure it out. The length made me really struggle to put the ending together. All that aside, Wallace gives us an almost unabashed look into the human psyche at its worst.

infinite-jest

Wallace gave me a few irreplacable tips. Merging different styles can slow a read down but you need literary clout to keep a reader in it. Infinite Jest uses ebonics, first person, third person, monologue, footnotes, and various other styles throughout. Detours are again okay. A grasp of words beyond most, makes a book really hard to read.

 

Then we have Storm Front (Dresden Files #1). A wizard/private detective investigates two different cases. The plot is rote. The two cases have to collide right? Add in wizardry, a police detective, a overseeing wizarding board breathing down his neck, a few rules about what’s allowed, and dark magic to get Strom Front. The language simple and easy to digest. The wording steps out of the way and puts the story front and center.

storm-front

I learned a lot that supports everything I’m getting into. Simple construction works really well. Readers like familiarity. The woman characters are femme fatales with a slight variation, usually. We have a hot reporter with a pen instead of a gun. A pretty detective with a badge and gun. A true femme fetale with information and no gun. I really liked a scene where the wizard questions the woman with information. Butcher does a really good job describing her smoky, contralto voice. I did something like that but not really well in my first book. I need to keep working on maintaining a feeling for an extended period of time. Keep the action coming and use the lulls wisely. Choose when to give exposition and what to say with care. Add something new to the genre like the present day, vampires, and sex as used by Butcher.

 

Reading is invaluable to a writer. It has always been a big part of my life and will continue to be. These books were read over the course of a year. Another year of reading will bring more lessons and interesting worlds. I look forward to it. Come back in two weeks for the next post. Until then, Graham Kar out.

 

GK

subscribe button

The Schizophrenic or (The Pessimistic Voice that Says No.)

I liked Birdman in general.

 

The casting added something that felt real to me, Michael Keaton (Riggan). I remember him well from that 90’s Batman franchise directed by Tim Burton, That was the only time I remembered who he was apart from the character. I recognized Naomi Watts (Lesley) from somewhere, probably King Kong. The character that really got me in the story was Sam (Emma Stone). I found the problems in her attractive, probably because I wrote a similar character a few months ago.

birdman-walking

The cinematography drew me in. It was a window into the normal world, walking and how everything looks from that angle. I sit or lay down throughout my day. Every rarely am I looking from eye level of someone standing. The camera shifted in and out of third person to different character perspectives. I liked the closeness to the characters talking. The frustration of Sam when spoke about how outdated her father was became visceral in a way that movies almost never have for me. I sit all the time. People are either right next to me or in front 4 feet away. Imagine never directly facing someone when you talk or being 4 feet away. Looking over railing is impossible for me. I have to parallel park my chair or look at the railing from feet away. This was shown once in Birdman.

_MG_1102.CR2

The rooftop scenes were scary. Heights are down right scary if you can’t stop yourself falling. I can’t. Truth or dare seems so unrealistic and overused. Do people actually play that game in situations of hidden attraction or friendship? That part where Mike (Edward Norton) describes Sam as special, “burning the candle at both ends”, sounds written. The options there are either call it out or change that part into something else. I would have described it differently. Still good.

birdman-flying

The superpowers were interesting even if we couldn’t be sure they actually existed. Levitation, telekinesis, and flight. Everything the fictional Birdman could do. Riggan became so invested in the character, it became a part of him as a voice that degraded him. We all have a little voice in the back of heads, telling us everything that could go wrong. It was an interesting plot piece that severed as an easy source of motivation.

 

A great movie.

 

GK

subscribe button