Tag Archives: PhotoScape

The Best of You

…Or, “Self-publishing, Mariachi-style”

I’ve been (re-)reading Robert Rodriguez’s books Rebel Without a Crew and RoadRacers: the Making of a Degenerate Hot Rod Flick. This must be my third or fourth time through Rebel and my second through RoadRacers, and it finally struck me: self-publishing is actually doing what Robert Rodriguez did, but with the printed format instead of films.

Let me explain: Robert Rodriguez made his first movie, El Mariachi, for $7,000. He was the entire crew. He conceived it, wrote it, shot it, edited it, and managed to get one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood to sell it to Columbia Pictures — even though that was not his original plan.

Well, the concept, writing, shooting and editing were, but he never planned on the movie being released theatrically. His original plan was to shoot three movies directly for the Mexican home video market, make all his mistakes there, and then show up in Hollywood ready to take on a “real” movie.

Self-publishing is doing the same thing. We are conceiving, writing, editing, formatting, and submitting our works to be published; either in eBook or print form, or possibly both. We ARE the crew. We’re learning as we go, and we’re saving a ton of money. And then, maybe… MAYBE… an agent or publisher will notice us and give us our big break.

Or not. Either way, the stories get out there for people to read, right?

In his books, Rodriguez talks about shooting “Mariachi-style.” This means taking inventory of your assets and working from there. When he wrote El Mariachi, he knew he had access to certain places for filming, specific guns, which type of camera. He knew his limitations and worked within them. Anything else would have cost more money.

With self-publishing, you do the same thing. If you have access to a computer with Microsoft Word, that’s great. You don’t have to pay extra. If not, use one of the free programs that are compatible with Word.

Need help formatting? Decide on your book’s size before you start, then download the free template for it from CreateSpace or Lulu or wherever you choose to publish.

If you’re designing your own cover, this means either utilizing your own artistic talent or that of someone you know who will work with you at a substantial discount — or better yet, free. In my case, it means going out with my sister and nephew to take pictures, then deciding which one fits my idea for the book cover.

One of the things I’ve talked about on this blog is free software, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. My first two books were written using Microsoft Office. For my third, I’ve swapped over to Atlantis, which is portable and free so I can use it on any Windows-based computer with a USB port that I have access to. I will still do my final layout in Word — but that will also be free, because I already have it. If my computer isn’t working, I can do it at the public library.

The photo editing software I use is free (and a lot of it is also portable). Between FotoSketcher, PhotoScape, and GIMP, I’ve got it covered. I use doPDF to create the final cover art and book file for CreateSpace.

The one place I fall down in Mariachi-style publishing is in self-publicity. While Robert Rodriguez is a master of putting himself out there, I’m still not at that point. I know that if I want to be more successful I’ll have to get over it. Or get over myself. Whichever it takes.

All I know is that I’m having fun. And if writing isn’t fun, you’re not doing it for the right reasons.

(Oh, by the way — that’s a Foo Fighters reference in the title.)


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Filed under Notes from the Author, Publicity

This One’s Mine

(Patti Rothberg song reference FTW!)

Coming this Fall to an online bookseller near you….

Book cover for ALL THAT REMAINS

Initial eBook cover design for All That Remains. Based on a photo taken by my sister, Wendy. (This will save me from having to go through the rights issue that I had on Welcome to Newtonberg. Well, that and also — it’s just a darn good picture. Perfectly captures the feel I was going for.)

Original photo was once again taken through FotoSketcher and then edited in PhotoScape. Total cost: a shake at Sonic while we were out taking pictures.

Next post will be after the first edit…


Filed under All That Remains, Notes from the Author

Come Together

So I was ready to re-create my book cover.  I downloaded a template from CreateSpace and prepared to edit it in GIMP.

This is what I got:

Book cover Template from CreateSpace

What was I supposed to do with this?!

Reading further on the CreateSpace Website, I discovered that this was to be the first layer of my new image.  I was to place my book cover elements over it in new layers, turn off this layer, and then export the my elements as a print-ready PDF document with embedded fonts.


I had little to no problem putting my own book cover elements over it.  It seemed that GIMP wanted to add a new layer for anything I added by default, so that was no problem.  Turning off the original layer?  Not that big a deal, either.

I started by adding a solid background the same size as the final book cover.  That way I could lay my cover and back cover elements over it and any uncovered areas would be the same color.  I just had to mentally remember not to put any elements in the lower right-hand corner of the back cover.  I still wanted to be able to see my guidelines, so once I had the background lined up, I turned it off until I was almost finished.

Although CreateSpace told me I wouldn’t need a spine for a book fewer than 100 pages or so, I created one anyway since there was a place for it on the template.  At the end of my editing, I eventually exported two versions — one with the spine and one without.  I submitted the one with the spine first, and figured if they rejected it, all I had to do was submit the other one.

For the back cover, I cropped my solid background to create an image the same size as my front cover art.  I saved this under a different name and used PhotoScape to create text blocks in the same way I added my author and title to the cover.  Then I layered the final result onto this image.   Then I saved the whole thing as a GIMP project file so I could edit it later if I needed to without having to create all of the layers again.

I was ready to export it as a PDF with embedded fonts.  Not as easy as I thought.

First of all, GIMP doesn’t have a function to export as a PDF.  I had a PDF printer installed on my computer already (CutePDF).  I used this on a regular basis to print online payment receipts and other things to PDF.   But I didn’t think it embedded the fonts.  (At least, there was no option to do so.  If it does, it does it without asking.)

I needed to be sure the fonts were embedded.  Once again, I’m cheap. (Do I really need to keep saying that?)  Free is best for me.

After a little research, I came up with another option. doPDF.  It does everything CutePDF does, but it also offers the option of embedding fonts. And (say it with me now): it’s free!

The only lingering question in my mind was this: is printing to PDF and exporting as a PDF the same thing?  Logic tells me “yes”, since you end up with a PDF file either way.  But we’re talking about computers here: logic doesn’t necessarily mean what I think it means.  All I could do was try.  My final book cover looked like this:

Final cover image - CreateSpace

The good news?  My cover was accepted, somewhat.  They recognized the PDF format and the embedded fonts.  CreateSpace removed the spine because my book was so short. But my first submission didn’t look right in the digital proof.  My cover art was too far to the right and was cut off.

I opened the GIMP project file and moved the cover layer over to the left a bit.  I printed a new PDF and uploaded it.  This time it was accepted.

The digital proof looked great.  I was ready to order a print copy of the proof for final review.

Next: Adventures in Kindle publishing, and a hiccup…


Filed under Notes from the Author, Welcome to Newtonberg

I Me Mine

After I exported the resulting image from FotoSketcher as a PNG file, it was time to add the title and author information to the cover.

My first thought was to simply put a bordered box on the cover with the information.  However, that would cover up too much of the image.  I liked the whole street scene and wanted readers to be able to see as much of it as possible.

Simply putting the text over the image was out, as well.  Aesthetically, it just didn’t look good.  The background was busy; text would be hard to read.

The solution presented itself: PhotoScape had the function to create a semi-transparent box (semi-opaque box?  Six of one, you know the rest…) on an image.  I could create one, then put my text in that.  The words would be legible, but it wouldn’t mess up the image too much.

Opening the image in PhotoScape, I chose the “Editor” function.  From there, I chose the “Objects” tab at the bottom of the screen and clicked on the “Rounded Box Mode” button.

Before drawing the box, I chose a white background color, since I thought that would look best for the semi-transparent box.  I set the opacity level somewhere around 20% (it’s not an exact science, since there aren’t any indicators), and drew my box.

A couple of warnings about PhotoScape — first of all, CTRL-Z is your best friend.  You can’t move the box after it has been drawn, so if you put it in the wrong place, you have to undo it and do it again.  Secondly, if the opacity level is off, you also have to undo.  My suggestion is to draw boxes until you get the opacity level right, and then focus on getting it in the right location.

Cover with title box

Once the box was drawn, I was ready to add the text.  Again, this was pretty simple — I just chose the “Text” button (also in the”Object” tab).  This brought up a text window where I could enter my text and play with font faces, size, opacity, shadow, etc.  Since I wanted the title and author to be two different sizes, I did this step twice.  The first time I took care of the title and got it the way I wanted in a larger font size. (Note that the font size in the text window only goes up to 100-point.  Once you have the text box on the screen, you can drag the text box to make it even larger.) 

Once I got that, I created another text box, added the author information, and set the font size smaller.  I moved the individual text boxes around on the screen until they were right where I wanted them.

Cover with author and title

The cover still looked a little plain to me, though; almost as if someone had just plastered a sticker over it with the title and author information.  What to do?

I decided to dress it up a little bit with a couple of flourishes above and below the text.  Back to the Google/Bing search.  I searched for “flourishes”, “curlicues”, “text art”, and anything else I could think of.

One of the challenges was size.  Remember, this book cover was 1600 x 2560 pixels, so the flourishes would have to be large, too.  It’s easy to find flourishes/curlicues that are about 150-200 pixels wide, but they look horrible once you blow them up.  You have to find one that’s about 500-750 and shrink it down.

The other challenge was opacity.  I either had to find GIFs or PNGs, or I had to find JPGs with a solid background color that I could convert.

After a while of searching I found one that would work.  I also created a copy that was mirror image so the flourishes would be symmetrical.

Once I had my flourishes, I used the “Photo” button on the “Objects” tab to insert them into the image.  Since my originals were GIFs, there were some areas right around the flourish that weren’t transparent and caused a bright white edge to appear around the flourish. I played with the opacity a bit to remove these harsher edges.

PhotoScape - almost finished
I had my cover image.  Almost.

All I had to do was to take it back into FotoSketcher and add a canvas texture to it.  Even though I was happy with the semi-transparent box, it still looked pasted on.  I wanted the whole thing to look like a work of art.

I exported the whole thing as a PNG file from PhotoScape and opened the image up in FotoSketcher. I chose “Frame, Texture, and Text Only” from the “Drawing Style” menu.  Because I had originally used the “Oil Pastel Sketch (color)” option, I chose “Strong Texture” to make the final image look more like a painting.

FInal book cover

(To fully appreciate the difference the canvas texture makes, be sure to click on the two previous images and compare them.  And yes, I am aware that the flourishes are different on this image than on the previous image. Laziness has its drawbacks.)

And that was it.  I had my final cover.  I was ready to upload my eBook to SmashWords.

Wasn’t I?

Next: Formatting, formatting, and (wait for it)… MORE formatting!

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Filed under Notes from the Author, Welcome to Newtonberg

Here, There, and Everywhere

So, I needed a cover for my eBook.

SmashWords specified that in order to be listed in their Premium catalog, and to be listed in iTunes, the cover had to be at least 1400 pixels wide.  Amazon recommended at least 2500 pixels tall.  I set the goal for my beginning image to be at least 1600 x 2560, to maintain a pleasing image that wasn’t too narrow.  But where to begin?

Well, I knew I couldn’t afford to commission a cover image from anyone I knew.  I had no money, and I wasn’t about to ask my friends to do it for free.

I could, however, find a photo online.  I knew that I needed to find a picture that was either copyright free or royalty free.  Or, I could simply ask.  No harm in asking, and after I finished converting the image into the way I thought my cover should look, it wouldn’t be the original photo anymore.  It would be derivative art; so all I really needed was the photographer’s permission.

If I could find the appropriate image to start with, I had access to several free image editing programs that I knew I could use to create what I wanted. (Yes, I did say “free.”  I told you I was cheap.)

These programs are:

  1. FotoSketcher (http://www.fotosketcher.com): To allow me to convert the original photograph to a sketch, a painting, a drawing, or any number of other artistic styles.  It would also allow me to add a “canvas overlay” effect at the end to really make the whole thing look like a real painting.
  2. PhotoScape (http://www.photoscape.org): For adding text, shadows, etc.
  3. GIMP (http://www.gimp.org): For everything else, including the final cover layout for the print book (but more on that later).

(I could probably have done all of the image manipulation in GIMP if I had taken the time to learn the program better, but I was already comfortable with FotoSketcher and PhotoScape, so things went quicker for me, even though I used several programs.  To keep the image quality from downgrading too badly, I saved each stage as either a PNG or TIFF file [depending on which format the program supported] until the final step, when I exported the completed cover as an uncompressed JPEG.)

I had the software, I just needed the image.  Like almost everyone else, my first thought was to try Google.  Google Images, however, doesn’t allow you to search by a specific size.  Limiting results to “Large” says that the width has to be at least 1776 pixels, which is good, but that the height can be as little as 810 pixels. It doesn’t allow you to specify the orientation of the picture; in this case, I absolutely wanted a portrait orientation.

Bing Image search allows you to limit the results more, including the orientation, size, and result type.  So I started there.

This part took the longest, just scrolling through the results, trying to find what I wanted.  I tried dozens of search terms in various combinations.  I even switched back to Google Images anyway, regardless of their search engines limitations. Finally tried searching Flickr as well, using their search engine to limit the results by Creative Commons license terms.  If I could find a picture where the photographer has already spelled out that derivative works could be made from it, then I was a step closer to finishing my book cover.

After all of that, I ended up with three possibilities.  I e-mailed the Websites where all three photos appeared, asking permission to use the photo and explaining what I wanted to do with it.

Finally, I got a response.  The response came from a different e-mail address than where I’d mailed the request.  Apparently the Website I’d e-mailed forwarded my request to the original photographer. (This was one of the reasons for the permissions issue I mentioned in my last blog entry.)

At any rate, the photographer gave me his blessing, and it was time to begin.

Next: Converting the original photo using FotoSketcher…


Filed under Notes from the Author, Welcome to Newtonberg