As part of her series on ebook production, Anne has invited me to prepare some distilled guidelines for ebook covers. This is part one of a mini-series on the cover. In this segment, I tackle best practices in regard to the major marketplaces. Part two will be about graphic design.
Ebook Cover Requirements
You might not believe it, but you should be able to satisfy all major ebook marketplace requirements for cover size if you follow two simple rules:
- The small dimension (width) of your cover should be at least 1400 pixels, which sounds like overkill given that your book cover will almost always be displayed either as a thumbnail or at about 400-800 pixels when viewing the ebook on a reading device, but I guess we need to prepare for that one in a million ebook aficionado who insists ebooks are best read on a plasma television screen. (Okay, I exaggerate, but this does make the cover wider than the screen of my 13′ MacBook Pro.)
- Your cover must be taller than it is wide, like most physical books. Most stores will recommend that your specific ratio is close to 6:9, but will not enforce exactitude. Others such as Barnes & Noble prefer a tall aspect, but do not require it.
You should consult the literature for the marketplaces you plan to partner with, but if you make it bigger than 1400 wide, you should be set for most (I won’t claim all) stores, including these biggies: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Also I highly recommend picking a value somewhat above 1400 pixels but probably less than 2000. In resolution, bigger is better, but you aren’t going to be putting this on a billboard or a movie screen…Or are you?
Note: It is my opinion that if you go out of your way to generate five different versions of the cover for various purposes, you are making work for yourself. If you are converting through Calibre, it doesn’t matter what resolution cover you feed it, you can unzip an epub from Calibre, look inside, and see that the cover dimensions have been reduced to something like 546×729–the specific scale depends upon what device you chose to optimize for. When you open that same file up on a device with a different screen size, that device will resize that image automatically. (This implies that the best practice would be to always optimize for a device with a large screen, so it will scale down on most devices. Choosing “Tablet” or “Default Output Profile” will use large images, for example.) So my takeaway point is: make it easy on yourself, create no more versions of your cover than you absolutely need. I believe that number is just one. This doesn’t include working copies and source files, obviously.
There are other best practices you should observe as well, but with the possible exception of iTunes–the pickiest of partner programs–non-compliance might not necessarily be a deal-breaker.
- The title should match the internal title (as on the title page), and both should match the title you enter as metadata, non-standard styling such as untraditional capitalization aside. Unlike album art, which need not display the title of the work, your ebook cover should. A double-standard, I know…but resist the urge to get avant-garde.
- The cover should be a unique identifier. It must not be identical to the cover of any other book, even one of your own, except of course other editions of the same content.
- This should go without saying, but you must have rights to the cover image, including the rights to all parts of the image for all regions and formats in which you wish to sell. If you did not produce all of the visual elements yourself (including fonts!), you need to make sure those elements are licensed for commercial use. (You can find fonts of varying levels of free-use licensing at www.fontsquirrel.com, a great resource for the semi-pro designer or designer on a budget. Also, common fonts like Times New Roman and Arial are fair game, but they aren’t likely to help your graphic design street cred much. Nor will Papyrus…)
How to Resize Your Image
Say you are in a spot where you have a preexisting image that you want to use but it is inconveniently low res, or that you, not being a graphic designer, failed to create a high-res image to begin with.
There are free tools floating on the Internet for image resizing. Check out Smilla, for example. I believe this is the software I tried out at one point, but then I abandoned it because a side-by-side comparison with the same image enlarged in Photoshop showed that Photoshop did at least as good of a job. But if you don’t have Photoshop, check out Smilla.
For Photoshop: Simply do a good ol’ Image>Resize>Image Size. Enter your desired dimensions and select “Bicubic Smoother.” Good Guy Photoshop even tells you (at least in Elements 8) that this is “Best for Enlargement”.
Once is enough. Resize the same file as few times as possible. Really, once is too much already. Be sure you keep an original version of the file so that if you miss the mark on your first resizing, you can go back to the original and resize that. The more you fiddle with size, the more distortion you will introduce.
Make sure you zoom in to 100% on your resized image and see that it looks good at full size. If not, try enlarging it with different settings, or try saving it with different settings or as a different format: png instead of jpg, for example.
PNG or JPEG?
Personally, I like PNGs. They look better to me. At least they don’t exhibit that little bit of noise or distortion that JPG compression sometimes introduces.
However, Amazon Marketplace requires that you upload a 1400+-pixel-wide JPEG of the cover. So at the very least, you should have a JPEG, and if that JPEG looks good, you might as well use it for everything. While low-quality jpgs are sometimes noticeably distorted, a high-quality one should not be. Just open it up and check it at 100% zoom before you upload.
For maximum compatibility and at least passable specifications, take one last look at your cover and ask yourself: Is your cover file
- a jpeg (or jpg)?
- at least 1400 pixels wide?
- displaying the title as it appears in the metadata and inside the book?
- pretty to look at?
Really that’s all you need, and it’s not much to ask if you think about it. So don’t be overwhelmed.