ePub Author Question – How Do I Convert My Color Book to Black and White and Make a LOT More Money?

If you are self-publishing hardcopy books with color images, you may want to take a long, hard look at converting your book to black-and-white. The printing cost of a black-and-white book is just a fraction of that of a color book, which means you’ll be able to price your B&W book much cheaper and sell a lot more copies.

If you haven’t priced out the difference between color printing and B&W, you’ll be surprised. I’ll give you the numbers from one of my books as an example. 

My best-selling book is a 478-page book called Practical and Clear Graduate Statistics in Excel. I originally published the hardcopy version in color using Print-On-Demand from Lightning Source. The printing charge from Lightning Source was $44.02. At a retail price of $79.95 with a 20% wholesale discount (meaning that Amazon would get 20% of the sale price), I earned $19.94 per sale.

Introducing Lightning Source’s Convenient Publisher Compensation Calculator

Lightning Source has a convenient Publisher Compensation calculator on their web site. Below is a screen shot of the LS Publisher Compensation calculators running the numbers above: 

Lightning Source POD Publisher Compensation Calculator - Color Book

Lightning Source POD Publisher Compensation Calculator - Color Book

Now let’s take a look at the numbers after the same book is converted to B&W. The printing charge from Lightning Source was reduced to $9.90. At a retail price of $39.95 with a 20% wholesale discount, I earned $22.06 per sale. Cutting the retail price in half greatly increases sales and I even earn a few dollars more per sale. Below is a screen shot of the LS Publisher Compensation calculators running the numbers above: 

Lightning Source POD Publisher Compensation Calculator - Black-and-White

Lightning Source POD Publisher Compensation Calculator - Black-and-White

Not every color book will work as a B&W, but many will. Yours might.

Converting a book from color to black-and-white for the most part involves converting all images from color to grayscale. You will also need to create a new cover artwork file because the spine of a B&W POD book is thinner than a color POD book. This requires a whole new cover artwork .pdf file to be created and then uploaded to Lightning Source. Let’s do that first.

First step – Create the New Cover Artwork File

There are two files that must be created when submitted a book to Lightning Source for Print-On-Demand. Both files are .pdf files that must meet rigid, professional-quality printing standards defined by Lightning Source. The first .pdf file contains the book’s contents. The second .pdf file contains the cover artwork.

We have to create a new cover art .pdf when converting from color to B&W because of the thinner spine of the B&W version. B&W POD pages are slightly thinner than the pages in a color POD book. The spine of the B&W version of a book is therefore thinner than the color version. A thinner spine means that a whole new .pdf cover artwork file must be generated.

Introducing Lightning Source’s Convenient Cover Artwork Template Generator

Lightning Source provides a custom cover art template based upon the book’s dimensions, selection of color vs. B&W, binding type, and number of pages. Here are the inputs for Lightning Source’s cover template generator: 

Lightning Source Cover Artwork Template Generator

Lightning Source Cover Artwork Template Generator

The above inputs are for a B&W, 8.5 X 11 inch, perfect bound book, white paper with gloss laminate having 478 pages. I am choosing to have this template emailed to me as a .pdf file that I will open up in Photoshop. Note that the bar code will not include price information. This is nearly always the correct choice if your POD book will be sold in online retail bookstores such as Amazon. I do a lot of experimenting with pricing for all of my hardcopy POD books. That would not be possible at all if the barcodes on my POD books contained fixed prices.

Below is a blank Lightning Source’s .pdf art cover template based on the preceding inputs:

Lightning Source Blank Artwork Cover Template

Lightning Source Blank Artwork Cover Template


This file then should be opened in Photoshop and the work begins. A specific procedure must be followed when opening Lightning Source’s .pdf template in Photoshop to ensure that bar code will contain only black and white without adding any color. If the bar code contains any color, the cover artwork .pdf file will be rejected by Lightning Source. Opening the .pdf template incorrectly in Photoshop is one major cause of color appearing in the bar code. Here is the correct procedure for opening the .pdf from within Photoshop:

– File / Open / browse and select the blank .pdf template saved on your computer that Lightning Source has emailed to you.
– The “Import PDF” dialogue box will appear. Enter the input choices as follows:
– Crop To:  Media Box
– Uncheck: Anti-aliased
– The Width and Height dimensions sent by Lightning Source of the blank template should be correct
– Check:  Constrain Proportions
– Resolution:  300 Pixels/inch
– Mode:   CMYK Color
– Bit-Depth:   8 bit

After you have correctly opened the template in Photoshop, you can begin creating the front and back covers along with the spine. Red dotted lines in the blank template define the edges of the Safety Region for the covers and spine. No artwork or printing should extend past the Safety Region. The blue dotted lines on the blank template define the edges of the Bleed Region. Background color should extend to the edges of the Bleed Region, but not past it.

The bar code on the back cover can be placed anywhere on the back cover. It does not have to remain in its original position in the blank template

The final cover artwork .pdf that will be submitted to Lightning Source must have the red Safety Region lines and blue Bleed Region lines removed. Everything else in the blank template can remain. When you are ready to save it in Photoshop as the final .pdf, follow this procedure:

– File / Save As
– Name the file:   13-Digit_ISBN_cov.pdf    For example:  9781937159139_cov.pdf
– Format:  Photoshop PDF
– As a Copy:  checked
– Alpha Channels:   unchecked
– Layers:   Unchecked
– Use Proof Setup:   Unchecked
– Embed Color Profile:   Unchecked
– Save
– Adobe PDF Preset:   [PDF/X-1a:2001]
– Standard:   PDF/X-1a:2001

Saving the .pdf at the PDF/X-1a:2001 standard causes all colors to be converted to CMYK and ensures that the resolution is at least 300 ppi, which are two of the main Lightning Source requirements for the uploaded file. Here is what the final cover artwork .pdf in this case looked like: 

Final Cover Artwork .pdf File Ready for Upload to Lightning Source

Final Cover Artwork .pdf File Ready for Upload to Lightning Source

This cover artwork file is now ready for upload to Lightning Source. It will be a large file because of the 300 ppi resolution throughout. This particular file was 10.9 MB. Let’s move on to creating the black-and-white content file.

Second step – Create the New B&W Content File

The only difference between a color POD book and a Black-and-White POD book is the color of the text and images. The B&W book must have all images in gray scale and all text in black.

Converting all text to black is simply a matter of all selecting all of the text in the entire document (In MS Word click Edit / Select All) and setting the Font Color of the entire selection to black.

Converting all of the images to gray scale will take a bit more work.


How To Convert Color Images To Grayscale

To summarize the process, you’ll need to open each image in Photoshop, set the image’s color mode to grayscale, and ensure that the image is sized properly. After each grayscale image is inserted into the document properly, the document must be saved as a .pdf file that meets the PDF/X-1a:2001 standard, just like the cover. The final step is to run a check called the Preflight check in order to ensure that the entire .pdf file conforms to the same PDF/X-1a:2001 standard that the cover artwork .pdf file conforms must conform to.

The first thing to do is open each image file in Photoshop. The best and safest way to resize and transform an image in Photoshop is to first open it as a “Smart Object.” A Smart Object is a container-like layer that almost anything can be opened up in. No matter what you do to an image opened up as a Smart Object, Photoshop remembers all of the information about the original image and places that information back into the file.  To open an image as a Smart Object, click File / Open As Smart Object as shown below: 

Photoshop Opening an Image As Smart Object

Photoshop Opening an Image As Smart Object

Once the image is opened as a Smart Object in Photoshop, set the image’s size and resolution properly. Click Image / Image Size / and then set the correct setting in the Image Size dialogue box as shown below. The resolution for an image in a POD book should be set to 300 ppi (pixels per inch). Images that consist of line art should be saved at 600 ppi resolution.

The Width and Height dimensions in the Document Size box are the other two measurements to be set. For an 8.5 X 11 inch POD book, I try to make sure that an image’s width never exceeds 5.5 inches and its height does not exceed 8 inches.

The Pixel Dimension setting of width and height would be the dimension to be set if the images were going to be viewed onscreen, such as in an .epub eBook. For an .epub file, I try to ensure that all images are 72 ppi and no more than 500 pixels in width or height. Note that convention is to state the width dimension before the height dimension. Below is the Image Size dialogue box:

Setting Image Size and Resolution in Photoshop
Setting Image Size and Resolution in Photoshop

After setting the size and resolution of the image correctly, change the color mode to grayscale. Do this by clicking Image / Mode / Grayscale. If the image was not originally in CMYK mode, select CMYK mode first, and then select Grayscale. When you select the color mode (CMYK or Grayscale) you will be asked if you want to rasterize the image. You do want to allow Photoshop to rasterize your image at this point. Below is the menu selection of Grayscale.

Setting Image Color Mode To Grayscale in Photoshop

Setting Image Color Mode To Grayscale in Photoshop

Now that your image is properly sized and in grayscale, you can go ahead and swap out the old CMYK color image with the new grayscale version that you just created.

I like to create my content files using MS Word because it is so convenient to make changes. Another big reason that I usually create my content files in Word and not Adobe InDesign is that all of my clients will have MS Word on their computers. I can send my file to them as I am working on it to get their immediate feedback. I couldn’t do that if I did my content files in InDesign because most of my client don’t use InDesign. I don’t dislike InDesign. In fact, it is really a much more capable publishing program than Word. It’s just that my client don’t use it very often.

I am assuming that you have created your content file in MS Word. If you have swapped out all of the color images with grayscale CMYK images, you can now convert the Word document to the final .pdf content file that will be uploaded to Lightning Source.

The best tool to have on your computer for this is Adobe Acrobat. If Adobe Acrobat is loaded on your computer, you will have an Adobe PDF menu item in Word (this is the 2003 version) as shown below.

You’ll need to ensure that the .pdf file will conform to the PDF/X-1a:2001 standard required by Lightning Source. To do this, click MS Word drop-down menu item Adobe PDF / Change Conversion Settings as shown below:


Adobe Acrobat Change .pdf Conversion Setting

Adobe Acrobat Change .pdf Conversion Setting


The following Acrobat PDFMaker dialogue box will appear. Set Conversion Settings to PDF/X-1a:2001 and make sure Create Bookmarks and Add Links is unchecked. The PDF/X-1a:2001 setting will, by default, set all colors to CMYK. Leave security defaulted to none. Make sure that the page size is set correctly by clicking Advanced Setting / General /  Default Page Size. An 8.5 X 11 inch book should have the width and height settings at 8.5 and 11 inches. All other settings should be defaulted correctly.

Adobe PDF Maker - Correct Settings

Adobe PDF Maker - Correct Settings

After setting the Acrobat PDFMaker dialogue box correctly, convert the Word document to the final .pdf by clicking Adobe PDF / Convert to Adobe PDF.  It can take a little while for your computer to complete this process because the final .pdf file can be very large, particularly if there are lots of images. Images at 300 ppi are large files. The content .pdf file of the book shown here, Practical and Clear Graduate Statistics in Excel, was 101 MB.

After this .pdf file is created, it needs to be checked to ensure that it meets the PDF/X-1a:2001 standard required by Lightning Source for POD input files. The test to ensure that the PDF/X-1a:2001 standard is met is called a Preflight check. This is named after the check that pilots perform on the place before take-off.

Open the .pdf file in Adobe Acrobat. I use Acrobat Professional Pro Extended version 9.0. It is expensive software but worth every penny if you do lots of work with .pdf files.

To bring up the Preflight check on the .pdf content file loaded in Adobe Acrobat, click drop-down menu item Advanced / Preflight as shown below: 

Selecting the Preflight Check In Adobe Acrobat

Selecting the Preflight Check In Adobe Acrobat

ThePreflight dialogue box will come as shown below. Select PDF Analysis and then select “List page objects, grouped by type of object” as shown below:

Specific Preflight Check Selection

Specific Preflight Check Selection


You are most concerned that all images are at least 300 ppi and CMYK. 

Preflight Check Output

Preflight Check Output

Below we are expanding the image section of this report to view resolution and color mode of all images.

Specific Preflight Check Output

Specific Preflight Check Output


After you have uploaded the cover artwork and content .pdf files to Lightning Source from their web site, you will find out within usually 24 hours whether you have created both files correctly. If both files have been created correctly, you will see the following.

BOOKBLK Accepted  (BOOKBLK is the content .pdf file)
COVER Accepted

I have ordered a proof to be made and shipped to me. Below shows that this proof has been generated, but has not yet been shipped to me. 

Lightning Source Title Status - Cover and Content Files Accepts & Proof Generated

Lightning Source Title Status - Cover and Content Files Accepts & Proof Generated

I received the proof of this B&W version of the book and it looked great. Once again, great job by Lightning Source and now I should be able to make a lot more money selling this book in B&W than in color.

ePub Author Question – Should My Book Be in Color or Black and White?

Color printing is great but it will really jack up the retail price of your book’s hardcopy version.  I’ll show you the figures for one of my books printed in both B&W and color. The difference between the retail prices of each print type needed to provide the same royalty per sale is almost astonishing.

Clarify the Question

Before we break out the numbers, let’s clarify the opening question. What we are really asking is whether the hardcopy version of your book (the Print-On-Demand version if you are self-publishing) should have color images or black-and-white images. A book’s images are the only difference between the color book and a black-and-white versions of the same book. Both versions can have the same full-color cover and same B&W text. The difference between the two is whether the book’s images are printed in color or in gray scale. The images that appear in a B&W book have been printed in gray scale using only black ink. The images in a color hardcopy book have been printed in a color mode called CMYK.

The question of whether to use color or gray scale images is relevant only to printed, hardcopy books. An eBook’s price is not affected by the amount of color contained in the images. eBook images are displayed on the screen of an e-reader. Adding color to an eBook’s images doesn’t add cost to creating the .epub file or displaying the images. Printing a colored image on paper, on the other hand, is way more expensive than printing a gray scale image.

How much more expensive? Here are the numbers for one of my books.

If you are self-publishing, you’ll be using a print-on-demand (POD) company to print and ship your hardcopy books. The POD company partners directly with all online bookstores. When an Amazon customer purchases a hardcopy book, the order is sent to the POD company, who then prints and ships the book to the customer.  The only involvement that you the self-publisher have in this whole sales process is to receive royalty payments at the end of the day. Not bad.

Lightning Source as a POD Company

I use Lightning Source is my POD company for one simple reason. They allow me to make the most money. Lightning Source is the largest POD company with the most retail partners in the world. Lightning Source’s clout makes them the only POD company that can dictate to Amazon what Amazon’s wholesale discount will be. I set my wholesale discount for all of my POD books at 20%. That means that Amazon will receive only 20% of the sale price of one of my POD books. That is significant considering that Amazon keeps a full 65% of sale price of most of my Kindle eBooks.

Lightning Source also gets paid during the sale of each hardcopy book. Lightning Source is the printer and charges a fixed fee for printing each book during each sale. Lightning Source’s fixed printing fee depends on the type of printing, the binding type, and the number of pages in the book.

Lightning Source’s Publisher Compansation Calculator

Lightning Source has a convenient Publisher’s Compensation calculator on their web site that enables you to determine the retail price of your book that will provide a specific royalty payment. Simply input the following information into Lightning Source’s Publisher Compensation calculator:

– Type of book (color or black-and-white)

– Binding type from Lightning Source’s available choice of bindings

– Page color (white or creme)

– Number of pages

– Wholesale discount (the percent of the sale price that you allow the retailer such as Amazon to keep)

– Retail price of your book

The Publisher Compensation calculator then displays Lightning Source’s print charge and your publisher’s compensation.

Here Are the Actual Numbers

Here are the number for one of my books, just to illustrate the difference in pricing between the color and black-and-white versions of the same book.

One of my better-selling books is a 478-page manual entitled Practical and Clear Graduate Statistics in Excel. I originally printed the book in color and was selling it in hardcopy from Amazon at a retail price of $79.95. My royalty from each of these sales was $19.94. Here are the inputs and output of Lightning Source’s Publisher Compensation calculator in this case:

Numbers for the Color Book

– Color, 8.5 X 11 inches, Perfect Bound on White Pages with Gloss Laminate

– 478 Pages

– $79.95 List Price

– 20% Wholesale Discount


– $44.02 Print Charge

– $19.94 Publisher Compensation

If I simply convert all of the book’s images from color to gray scale and sell the book as a black-and-white book, here are the new figures (make sure you are sitting down when you read these):

Numbers for the Black-and-White Book

– B&W, 8.5 X 11 inches, Perfect Bound on White Pages with Gloss Laminate

– 478 Pages

– $39.95 List Price

– 20% Wholesale Discount


– $9.90 Print Charge

– $22.06 Publisher Compensation

By merely converting all images to gray scale, I was able to cut the book’s retail price in half and increase my profit from each sale. The difference is that the black-and-white print charge is only $9.90 compared to $44.02 for color.


If you want to earn the most money from the sale your books in hard copy, use Lightning Source is your POD company and sell your books in black-and-white.

ePub Author Question – How To Create a Great Amazon Cover Image That Will Sell Lots of Books

A book’s cover and its Amazon cover image are often very different but guess which one is more important?  Outside of brick-and-mortar book stores, a book’s cover won’t help sell at all. But who cares? Independent authors sell almost exclusively online. The Amazon cover image, on the other hand, is the second most important factor in getting a book sold online.

The book’s cover needs to be attractive when held in the hand but it’s the Amazon cover image that sells books. Well, not sell exactly. More like set the appointment for the closer. Amazon sales are closed by the book’s description, reviews, and Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. The Amazon cover image and its partner in crime, the title, need to hijack and overwhelm the curiosity of a casual Amazon browser in a split second. The Amazon cover image is lethal if it is loaded with the following three bullets:

1) Instantly legible title

2) Striking

3) Simple

First, contrary to popular belief, the book’s cover and the Amazon cover image do not have to be the same. They need to be similar not necessarily identical. Both need to have the same theme but the Amazon cover image is often most effective when it is a simplified version of the book’s cover.

How To Simplify a Book Cover Down To a Great Amazon Cover Image

Simplifying the book cover down to an effective Amazon cover image means doing the following:

1) Remove all text except the title and subtitle. Keep the subtitle only if it is brief.

2) Ensure that the title is instantly readable. It should be near the top, stand-alone, highly contrasted from its background, and large. Chose a font for the title that fits the theme and genre but remains easy-to-read when shrunk.

3) Use only one graphic. More than one graphic makes the postage-stamp-sized Amazon cover image too busy to stop a casual Amazon browser. That one graphic needs to be a grabber.

4) Ensure that each item, whether text or an image, is in its own space. Nothing should overlap.

5) Use only a few colors. The background should be only one color.

6) There should be only one focus. Anything else makes the Amazon cover image too busy.

7) Contrasts between elements and the background should be strong.

8) Your book’s genre should be instantly conveyed by the Amazon cover image.

9) The Amazon cover image should have similarities to others in its genre but must stand out in a noticeable way.

The Amazon cover image needs to have an outer edge to contrast it from the white background of its placeholder. If your Amazon cover image is white on its edges, you are allowed to outline it with a thin, black outline. An Amazon cover image that has white edges will fade into the placeholder background and not look like a book at all. Any momentary confusion generated by your Amazon cover image will prompt Amazon browsers to simply continue browsing.

Characteristics of an Ineffective Amazon Cover Image

You will lose sales if your Amazon cover has any of the following:

1) Hard-to-read title

2) Too many elements

3) Too much to read

4) A main image that doesn’t grab attention

5) No outside edge

6) Elements overlapping each other

7) Too many colors

8) Not enough contrast between elements and the background

9) More than one focus or focal point.

10) Doesn’t stand out from others in its genre

The Postage Stamp Rule

Pretend that you are creating a postage stamp. An Amazon cover image is just about the same size so this technique is very applicable. Postage stamps have only a single, striking image. The text on a postage stamp is stand-alone and easy-to-read. Nothing overlaps on a postage stamp. Postage stamps have only one background color. Postage stamps are always simple, never busy. Of course you can create a much more striking Amazon cover image than a postage stamp because of the fonts, images, and background colors that you have at your disposal. The important point is that your Amazon cover image needs the simplicity, contrast, a single focus, and legibility of a postage stamp.

View your Amazon cover image as it would be seen on Amazon by sizing it to approximately 1.5 inches in height and then save it as a jpeg at 72 ppi with 50% resolution. How’s it look?

The Billboard Rule

Imagine the you’re speeding down the highway and a billboard briefly catches your eye. What did you briefly notice? The billboard’s headline and one image if it was large enough….Anything else? Nope. But…what about all that great advertising text and artwork all over the rest of the billboard? Of course not. And why would any of that stuff be on a billboard anyway? The drivers are speeding along and the faraway billboards look tiny from the road.

You probably see where this is going. You’ll do well to create your cover image for the Amazon catalog is as you were designing a billboard to place beside a highway a ways back from the road. Place only enough on that billboard to catch your potential customers eyes as they are speeding along Amazon Highway. Just like on a highway billboard, anything beyond just a few main items will clutter, crowd, and confuse your book’s billboard on the side of Amazon Highway and your customers will just keep speeding along until a more focused billboard grabs their limited attention.

How To Know That You Have Created an Effective Amazon Cover Image

You’ve probably created an effective Amazon cover image if you are happy with your answers to the following questions:

1) How conspicuous and legible is the title?

2) Is your Amazon cover image busy or is it simple and focused?

3) If you have an image, will the image stop casual Amazon browsers in their tracks?

4) Is the overall contrast sufficient to make every element on the image stand out?

5) Is each element in its own space or is there any confusing overlap among elements in the image?

6) Does the Amazon cover image make the book’s genre instantly clear?

7) Does this Amazon cover image stand out from others in the genre?

ePub Author Question – How To Work With a Cover Artist To Create a Great Cover

How Important Is Your Cover?

A great cover will sell a lot more books than a mediocre cover. Your cover, particularly the thumbnail image, has to grab the casual Amazon browser who is skimming through rows of thumbnails in your genre. The book market is becoming crowded FAST – over 1,000 new books go on sale every day. You need to put your best foot forward and that best foot is a strong cover image.

Should You Create Your Own Cover Or Hire a Cover Artist?

Unless you are an experienced cover artist with demonstrated success, you should hire a freelance cover artist to do your cover. It will cost you at least several hundred dollars but will be one of the wisest investments you’ll ever make in your book.  If you have written a good book, the increased sales from a great cover will recoup your investment quickly. Paying a cover designer should not be thought of as a cost but as an investment that will pay for itself many times over.

Where Do You Find a Good Cover Artist?

1) Look at the web sites of a number of graphic designers and find several whose style you like the best. Make sure that the graphic designers who make your short list have experience doing book cover design. There is a learning curve, particularly when creating the cover artwork .pdf file for Print-On-Demand. Files submitted to a POD company such as Lightning Source have to meet a number of technical specifications exactly because these files go right into production. The cover artist needs to be experienced in creating these files.

2) Join author groups. Author groups are great sources for locating every type of professional help that a writer might need.

3) Graphic design schools have lots of talent that should not be too expensive. If you opt to employ a graphic design student, make sure that the student has the experience you need and is willing to work with a contract and meet deadlines.

4) Look on the covers of hardcopies and ebooks in your genre. The artists are sometimes listed on the cover.

What Are Important Questions To Ask the Cover Designer Before You Hire Him or Her?

1) The most important aspect of working with a cover artist is that you feel comfortable working with him or her. If you are a bit uncomfortable with an artist after one or two communications, you probably should continue your search.

2) Pay attention to the number of questions that the artist asks you. The more questions that the artist asks about your book, your concept, and your goals, the more likely you are to get a final product that is inline with what you want.

3) Ranking right up at the top of the list is the designer’s experience in creating book covers. How many did the artist do? How many in your genre? Take a look at them.

4) You should request a contract with your artist. If the artist doesn’t do a contract, he or she may not bring the professionalism to the table that you’ll want.

5) You need to have the right to use the artwork forever. If you have to renew a license in order to continue to use the cover artwork, you are taking a big risk. Your artist could move, raise licensing prices, or even refuse to relicense because of disagreement. The worse-case scenario would to lose a license for cover artwork used on a series of books. In this case you would have to redo all of the covers. Any brand equity that had been built as a result of cover recognition for your series is instantly gone. You never want to license cover artwork temporarily.

6) You need to get everything clearly spelled out regarding what you will be billed for. Cover artists often bill hourly. Find out what tasks are considered billable. You want to be paying your artist for creative artistic and design work. You don’t want to pay the artist for tasks that you could do yourself. If, for example, the artist bills for image searches, you might consider providing the images yourself. There are also lots of sites that you can find royalty-free images on. There are also plenty of well-known sites that sell the right to use images.

7) Related to the above point is a payment schedule. Make sure that payment terms and schedule are clearly spelled out. The artist may also request a downpayment, sometimes up to 50%.

8) The total cost for creating your cover will be at least several hundred dollars, maybe even more depending on how unique you want your cover to be. Be wary of a cover designer whose price seems too good to be true. You may not get the experience, amount of interaction, or the effort that you would like from the artist.

9) You’ll want to get a production schedule from the artist, complete with deadlines.

10) Don’t expect your cover designer to create illustrations, perform photography, or to have to secure the rights for images for your cover. If you have provided the images, you have relieved the designer of liability for copyright infringement. You may have to provide extra money to the artist if you would like him or her to locate stock images for your cover.

11) Make sure that cover designer can create the proofs in the form and format that you need. For example, if you are creating a cover for a Print-On-Demand hardcopy for Lightning Source or CreateSpace, you’ll be provided a custom .pdf template by the POD company. It is best if your cover designer has created covers in the past for the specific POD company that you intend to use. Each POD company has its own set of specifications and templates. You would rather have your cover designer at the top of that learning curve than at the bottom looking up. I can recommend Lightning Source as a POD company and have used them for all of my POD books. I have not ever used CreateSpace so I can’t  provide first-hand information about them, although I’m sure they do a great job as well.

12) Ask how many cover ideas you will initially receive from the artist. It is not uncommon for a cover designer only to provide a single cover concept and work from there. In the past, cover designers often provided more than one cover concept.

How Do You Work With Your Cover Artist To Get the Best Result?

1) Provide the cover artist with a detailed brief about what you would like for your cover. Your brief should provide your ideas about what overall effect and mood you would like the cover to evoke. Provide your ideas about color schemes and any other ideas of artistic expression related to the cover that you have.

2) Make sure your brief contains all necessary factual information such as page count, ISBN, binding format, binding size, color or black-and-white printing on pages, color of pages (for example, crème or white), and the name of the POD company that will be printing your book. Each POD company has its own technical specifications and template. You’ll need to provide the cover artist with enough information so that the artist can download a custom template from your POD company.

3) Your input should important to the designer. Equally important from your end is  to respect and trust  the designer’s creative, artistic abilities. The designer hopefully has worked on many more books than you and should know a thing or two. If you have found a good cover artist, listen to him or her. Your cover artist is the expert in the field of cover design. After all, you are shelling out good money for that expertise. You might as well get your money’s worth.

4) Don’t expect your cover designer to take photographs or do illustrations, Cover designers combine and manipulate images and type face to create effective covers. If you wish the artist to locate images for use on your cover, you may have to pay extra.

5) Be open to an experienced designer’s suggestions of how to change the cover concept to appeal to a wider audience. Authors sometimes define a book’s  target market too tightly.

6) Always insist on a contract with deadlines, payment terms, definition of billable hours, artist’s deposit requirement, copyright retention terms for the cover design, definition and specifications of what the final product will be, how the final product will be uploaded to the POD and also included in an .epub/.mobi eBook file if this will be created.

7) Learn as much as possible in advance about the publishing process and what the specifications required by the POD company mean. Get the cover artist to define the publishing process and also explain all of the POD specifications including the custom template in detail to you. The more you know about the entire process at the beginning, the more likely that the final product will meet your satisfaction. Get the cover designer to go over the template with you and explain what the “bleed” and “trim” areas are. It’s not as complicated as it may sound. The cover artist should be able to explain all of the POD company’s specifications and template in simple, understandable terms.

8) Expect the artist to respect your wishes if you have very strong feelings about some aspect the cover design. On the other side of the coin, respect the artist’s experience and talent. Try to keep in mind that the artist probably has worked on quite a few more books than you have.

9) Request changes if you see something that you would like changed. Before you request any changes, try to clarify exactly why you want the change. Be prepared to listen to the artist’s reasoning on why he or she created and laid out the elements of the cover in that way.

10) If you ask for lots of changes, expect to pay more for the additional work.

11) At the end of the day, do you best to hire talent, provide as much information as you can, and then try as much as possible to trust the skill, creativity, experience, and judgement of your cover designer.

ePub Author Question – What Goes Into a Great Cover?

Why Is a Cover So Important?

People do judge a book by its cover and a great cover will sell a lot more books. In the online world, a cover can make or break a book. Your cover is the most important selling tool that you have. Quite a few self-published authors don’t understand the importance of a great cover. Your cover is your billboard that will convey your book’s excitement and uniqueness. Just like a billboard, your cover has maybe 6 seconds tops to grab the casual Amazon browser.

The book market is becoming crowded FAST – over 1,000 new books go on sale every day thanks to the recent advances of self-publishing. Your book must stand out. Period. An amateur cover will make your book look, well…, self-published. The bottom line is that you’ll sell a lot more books with a great cover.

Should You Create Your Own Cover Or Hire a Cover Artist?

Unless you are an experienced cover artist with demonstrated success, you should hire a freelance cover artist to do your cover. It will cost you at least several hundred dollars but will be one of the wisest investments you’ll ever make in your book. Cover artwork, editing, and marketing are three areas that you need to spend money. Skimping on any of these will knock the wind out of your book sales.

If you’re a writer, write. Leave cover design to a professional cover designer. There is almost no chance that an inexperienced person will create a more effective cover than a pro cover designer (or even come close, or… even do a good job at creating a cover). Cover design is definitely a job for a pro.

The few hundred dollars that a great cover costs should pay for itself with increased sales almost immediately. The money you spend designing all of your covers might be the most effective investment you can make toward your long-term success as an independent author.

Another article in this blog will discuss how to locate and work with a skilled cover designer to create a great cover.

Should You Create a Cover with One of the Cover Template Packages Available?

There a lots of packages out there that provide templates which enable anyone to create a cover in no time. However, with 1,000 new books coming out on the market every day, a template-created cover won’t give you an edge. It will make your book a “me too” book. It’s not that hard to spot a cover that was created from a template. Hire a pro cover designer if you want your book to persuade a casual Amazon browser of your book’s genre to stop and take a look. That is the crucial first step on the path to the “Buy” button. Your book will not standout in the crowded market if you create your cover with a template.

The Most Important Rules of Cover Design

– By far the most important rule in cover design is to know your audience. You need to understand your genre and who reads it. Inspect as many books in your genre as you can. What are the similarities? What differentiates cover art work of the best sellers? What about the ones that aren’t selling well? The top selling books will always be ranked higher in an Amazon search of your book’s genre.

– Don’t worry about trying to appeal to everyone. The more specifically you know your book genre’s audience, the more accurately you can target them with your cover. The more focused your cover is on your genre’s audience to the exclusion of everyone else, the more books you’ll sell. That might sound illogical but is based of one of marketing’s most powerful principles of focusing the marketing efforts on the target market.

– Know the USP (Unique Selling Proposition) of your book. If you are writing nonfiction, your book needs to be solving an important problem that faces your target audience. The cover must instantly convey that your book will solve this problem. If you are selling fiction, your book must be providing a desired experience to your target market. The cover must instantly convey the experience that your target reader is seeking. Do you have an intimate understanding of the type of experience that your target audience is seeking? Can you articulate how the covers of some of the best-selling books in your genre individually convey that experience?

– The cover must make the genre clear in a second or two. If your cover’s presentation of the genre is even the slightest bit confusing to the casual Amazon browser, they’ll move on and you’ll lose a ton of sales. Clarity often trumps cleverness here.

– The cover must look professionally done. It is easy to tell if the cover was made using a template or by a person without cover design experience. An amateur cover is a sales killer.

– The cover needs to be clear and look great as a thumbnail. The title and subtitle should be clear on the Amazon thumbnail.

– A poor cover thumbnail will absolutely hammer your book’s sales. Believe it or not, the thumbnail image of your cover is more important than the full-size image. People now buy books online much more than in book stores. This creates a quantum shift in cover creation. The cover thumbnail must grab the casual Amazon buyer of your book’s genre. If your cover’s thumbnail isn’t instantly clear or does not resonate immediately with your target audience, you’re handing over book royalties that should be yours to a competing author. Tragic!

– Simplicity is generally better with covers. Clutter on the cover is major distraction to the casual Amazon browser, who needs to be able to instantly figure what’s special about the book. Simplicity also translates to a much better thumbnail.

– The cover should be eye-catching to differentiate the book from the crowd. Always remember that 1,000 new books are coming online every day.

– If you are writing any kind of a series, the cover should quickly identify the book as part of that series. Your covers create your brand. Consecutive books in your series must be instantly identifiable as part of that series.

– Your book cover should look like others in its genre, but stand out in some significant way that resonates with your target audience. It is very important that you can articulate specifically what makes your book special to your target audience. Just being different is not the key. Being different in a way that is important to your target is the key. Your title and cover need to clearly reflect this difference.

– Your title should be large and usually at the top of the cover. Keep the clarity of the thumbnail in the forefront of your thinking when creating all elements of the cover.

– The typography should match or be similar to typography of other books in the genre. Check out the typography of best-sellers in your genre. You’ll probably see a lot of similarity in typography. You might also see several distinct styles of typography that most of the best-sellers in your genre will fall into.

– The outer edges of your front cover should not be white. Your book’s front cover should be framed on all edges with color, preferably a darker color. A white edge will fade into the white background of the Amazon space holder. The viewer won’t be able to see the book’s outline and the book will not look like a book at all. Any confusion will prompt a good percentage of casual Amazon browser to simply move on to the next book.

– Always remember that the main purpose of the book’s cover is to persuade the browser to take the next step. Maybe that next step is to read the online product description or to take a look at the online book reviews. Maybe that next step is to persuade the viewer to read a sample of the book.

– The book’s title and cover thumbnail need to be traffic stoppers. The first step in the book selling process is catch your target audience’s attention. That’s your title and cover’s main job. If they are not doing their job, you’re handing hard-earned royalties over to a competing author. Amazon browsers will keep browsing until a title and cover grabs them. Make sure your title and cover have stopping power in your genre.

– The book’s spine should have only plain colors. No designs on the spine.

– Establish what the principal focus of your cover is. The principal focus of the cover should be the  book’s USP (Unique Selling Proposition), which is the main benefit that a reader will get from your book. Everything on the cover should sell your book’s USP. Every element on the cover either adds to selling the book’s USP or detracts from it. Evaluate every element on the cover.

– The title by itself should convey the book’s USP. Very important. The title and cover thumbnail need to stop traffic. They will only stop traffic if they clearly sell a USP that is highly sought-after by your target audience.

– Too many elements on a cover will also distract from the USP that the cover needs to quickly convey to the casual Amazon browser. Once again, simplicity is usually best.

– Don’t use too many colors. It is a bit confusing to the casual browser because it will make the cover thumbnail overly busy. Once again, simplicity is usually better. Use just a few colors.

– Don’t take the cover too personally. Let the cover designer do his or her thing. You should of course have lots of input into the design of your cover. It is important to remember that covers (at least, good ones anyway) are not usually created by the authors. Authors often have to detach themselves personally from the cover and put on the hat of an unrelated publisher who is trying to sell the book.

– Important stuff usually belongs in the top and right side of the front cover.

– Back to the first and most important point in this list – know your genre’s audience and study lots of book covers in your genre. What makes a good cover good? What makes a mediocre cover mediocre? Get specific. You really want to understand what signals “a good read” to your genre’s audience and why. This is the number one rule of creating a great cover.

What Goes On The Front Cover?

– Brief and concise title and subtitle

– Images

– Bullet points

– Short lists (usually with bullet points)

– Very persuasive testimonials or endorsements

What Does Not Go On The Front Cover?

– A very long title

– Any visual or image that distracts from the main selling proposition of the book

– Anything related to the price

– Testimonials or endorsements that are not powerful

What Goes On The Back Cover?

– Genre category in the upper left corner. Here is a link to: http://www.bisg.org/what-we-do-0-136-bisac-subject-headings-list-major-subjects.php  which list all major book subject heading and all 2800+ subcategories of books of the Book Industry Study Group.

– Sales copy. The back cover should make the browser want to take a next step and find out what’s inside.

– The sales copy should have a headline (tag line) and maybe a subheadline which need to be compelling and tell the browser why he or she needs to have this book.

– The sales copy should be short, sweet, and direct. Use bullet points if nonfiction. If fiction, present just the important details that will hook the browser.

ePub Author Question – What Are the Parts of an ePub File?

Let’s open up the hood and see what’s inside an ePub.

The first thing to know is that an ePub file is actually a compressed collection of files, just like a .zip file. In fact, if you make a copy of an ePub file and change the ePub’s file extension from .epub to .zip, you would have the following .zip file that can be unzipped to extract the contents so we can view them: 

An ePub file and a copy of the file with the file extension changed from .epub to .zip

An ePub file and a copy of the file with the file extension changed from .epub to .zip

We can now unzip the .zip file and view its contents. After unzipping, we see that an .epub file consists of the following two folders ( the OEBPS folder and the META-INF folder) and one file (the mimetype file):

The main three parts of an ePub file: two folders (the OEBPS folder and the META-INF folder) and one file (the mimetype file).

The main three parts of an ePub file: two folders (the OEBPS folder and the META-INF folder) and one file (the mimetype file).

If we open the META-INF folder, we can see that it has one file (the container.xml file) as follows: 

The one file in the META-INF folder - the container.xml file.

The one file in the META-INF folder - the container.xml file.

The container.xml file provides the location of the content.opf file as shown in the following image. The content.opf file contains important information such as the epub’s metadata (author name, published date, etc.), manifest (a list of every item in the epub file), and the spine (the order in which items are viewed as the reader scrolls through the epub). The content.opf file will be discussed shortly.

There will be additional lines of code in the container.xml file if encryption or digital rights management has been added to the ePub file. The container.xml file has been opened up below in the text editor Notepad++, which works well on a PC. You might use a text editor such as Text Wrangler if using a Mac.

The container.xml file provides the location of the content.opf file.

The container.xml file provides the location of the content.opf file.

Below is the mimetype file opened in Notepad++. The sole purpose of the mimetype file is to indicate that this is an ePub file.

The mimetype file has just one line which states that the file is an epub file.

The mimetype file has just one line which states that the file is an epub file.

Clicking on the OEBPS (Open eBook Publication Structure) folder reveal the following three folders (the Images folder, the Styles folder, and the Text folder) and two files ( the content.opf file and the toc.ncx file):

OEBPS folder's three folders (the Images folder, the Styles folder, and the Text folder) and two files ( the content.opf file and the toc.ncx file).

OEBPS folder's three folders (the Images folder, the Styles folder, and the Text folder) and two files ( the content.opf file and the toc.ncx file).


Opening the content.opf file in Notepad++ reveal three main parts of this file. The first part of the content.opf file shown below contains all of the metadata (author name, publication date, etc.) for the ePub file. The second part of the content.opf is the manifest for the entire ePub file. Every item in the entire ePub file is listed in the manifest. 

The content.opf file's metadata section and the manifest section.

The content.opf file's metadata section and the manifest section.

The third part of the content.opf file is the spine. The spine, shown below, provides the order in which the parts of the ePub file will be viewed as the reader scrolls through the ePub eBook. 

The content.opf file's spine section.

The content.opf file's spine section.

If we open up the toc.ncx file in Notepad++, we can view the contents of the ePub’s built-in navigational table of contents as follows: 

The toc.ncx file showing the built-in navigational table of contents.

The toc.ncx file showing the built-in navigational table of contents.

 Clicking on the Text folder reveals the collection of XHTML files that are the contents of the ePub eBook. Each XHTML file is a single section of the eBook.

The Text folder's XHTML files. Each XHTML file is a separate section of the ePub eBook.
The Text folder’s XHTML files. Each XHTML file is a separate section of the ePub eBook.

Opening up one of these XHTML files (New_Manuals.xhtml) shows the XHTML code. This is the same code that appears on web pages. An ePub file is just like a mini web site. One line of code contains a hyperlink and the last line links to an image, just like the HTML on a web page. 

The XHTML code of one of the sections of an ePub file, just like a web page.

The XHTML code of one of the sections of an ePub file, just like a web page.

If we open up any of the XHTML files in a web browser, it will open up just like a web page. We will open the above file (New_Manuals.xhtml) in the web browser Firefox and we’ll see that it views just like a web page, as shown below. This demonstrates how similar an ePub file is to a web site. In fact, the best tool to create an ePub is an HTML editor used to build web sites such as Dreamweaver or Microsoft Expression Web (my favorite).

Opening one of the ePub file's XHTML files in the web browser Firefox. This shows how similar an ePub file is to a web site.

Opening one of the ePub file's XHTML files in the web browser Firefox. This shows how similar an ePub file is to a web site.


Clicking on the Styles folder shows a CSS style sheet (stylesheet.css). The Styles folder will always contain at least one CSS style sheet. There can be more than one. Opening stylesheet.css in Notepad++ shows the CSS styles in this style sheet which control all formatting and styling in the XHTML pages. 

The CSS style sheet that controls all formatting and styling in this ePub document.

The CSS style sheet that controls all formatting and styling in this ePub document.

 The Images folder contain all of the images (jpegs, gifs, or pngs) in the ePub document as shown below:

All of the image file within the ePub document.

All of the image file within the ePub document.


Now you see how it all fits together and how an ePub document is very similar to a mini web site.

ePub Marketing – How Do I Set Up and Sell My eBook On My Own Site With ClickBank?

If you have written a book and also maintain a web site or blog focused on the same topic as your book, you may have a match made in heaven. You can monetize all that traffic to your site or blog if you can entice some percentage of your visitors to purchase your book. You could send interested prospects to your Amazon sales page but I suggest you close the sale right there on your site.

I’ve been selling my eBooks from my web site: http://excelmasterseries.com/  and my blog: http://blog.excelmasterseries.com/ a lot longer than I’ve been selling eBooks with Amazon Kindle. It has been a profitable undertaking for me because eBook sales from my web site is my second largest cash flow stream behind Amazon combined sales (Kindle  plus hardcopy print-on-demand units sold). The blog article written right before this one discusses the Pros and Cons of selling from you own web site using ClickBank for payment processing. This blog article discusses  how to set up your web site and account with ClickBank so you can sell your eBooks directly to visitors on your site.

First of all, what is ClickBank?

ClickBank was founded in 1998 and is a secure online retail outlet for more than 50,000 digital products and 100,000 active affiliate marketers. ClickBank makes a sale somewhere in the world every three seconds, safely processing more than 35,000 digital transactions a day. They serve more than 200 countries, and are consistently ranked as one of the most highly-trafficked sites on the web. ClickBank is privately held with offices in Broomfield, Colorado and Boise, Idaho and is a subsidiary of Keynetics Inc.

For me, ClickBank is my payment processor.

Visitors who purchase an eBook from my web site will go through this purchase and payment process with ClickBank:

1. A site or blog visitor arrives on one of my product sales pages: http://excelmasterseries.com/ClickBank/Students/Student_Excel_Master.php 

2. If the visitor clicks a purchase link on the above sales page, he or she would be directed to a ClickBank order form for the specific product Here is the ClickBank order form for the product in the sales page above: http://31.solvermark.pay.clickbank.net

3. When the visitor completes the order form, ClickBank processes the credit card or Paypal payment. As soon as the payment is approved, ClickBank redirects the visitor (now a customer!) back to the product download page on my web site. My product download page has links to  download the eBook in three formats (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) and links to download free e-readers  for each format (Adobe Reader for .pdf, Adobe Digital Editions for .epub, and the mobipocket reader for .mobi). I also provide my book in the .lit format but I don’t count .lit as a valid format any more because Microsoft has discontinued servicing that format. The following four consecutive images below show what the download page for this product looks like:



Download Page on My Web Site For a Product Sold Using ClickBank As The Payment Processor


There is really not much to setting your web site up with ClickBank to process payments for the sale of your digital downloadable products. After you have set up a vendor account with ClickBank and created your digital products, you are immediately ready to begin selling those products through ClickBank.

Setting up ClickBank to Perform Payment Processing For a Digital Product Involves Just the Few Following Steps:

1. On your web site, create a sales page and a download page for each product, similar to what is shown above.

2. Log into your ClickBank account

3. Go To Account Settings / My Products / Add New Product

4. Provide the name of the new product and a brief description. Finally, provide the URL of the sales page and download page (called the Thank You page by ClickBank).

That’s all there is to it. There are guidelines that must be followed when creating the sales and download pages. These guidelines can be found on the ClickBank site.

When a sale is made….

When a sales is made, ClickBank will immediately send an email to me with contact information for my new customer. I will then send the new customer a personalized thank-you email right away (nearly always that day). This has enabled me to start a number of deep relationships with my customers. It also goes a long way in reducing the number of refunds requested. In the two-and-a-half years I’ve been selling through ClickBank, I’ve only had a handful of refund requests and I believe the personal follow-up emails are a big part of that.

ClickBank charges 7.5% of each sale, plus $1. That’s a lot less than Amazon Kindle and Lightning Source charge. I gross 35% of the retail price of each Kindle eBook sold and about 30% of the retail price of a print-on-demand hardcopy sold from Amazon. Each eBook sold from my web site through ClickBank grosses me between 85% and 90% of my retail price.

ClickBank send out electronic payments three weeks after a sale is made. My payments have always been prompt and correct.

ClickBank is also one of the largest affiliate companies. You can drop your digital products into their affiliate network. I have not done so because I feel that my information products are not well-suited for sales through affiliates.

I’ve been using ClickBank for quite a while and I am a big fan of theirs. I especially like ClickBank’s ability to smoothly process payments from every corner of the world. I can’t recall every having had a problem with that aspect of ClickBank.
I like to use Paypal’s convenient invoicing system if I want to send an invoice through email for a service such as converting a book to epub format. For downloadable digital products however, ClickBank payment processing can’t be beat.